Jason Jeffers is on a mission to show that the Caribbean is more than rum, white sand beaches, turquoise seas, and good music.
The filmmaker, writer, and musician born and raised in Barbados is one of the founders of Third Horizon, a collective of Caribbean creatives based here in Miami, and the Third Horizon Film Festival, which showcases the best in film from the Caribbean and its diaspora.
He came to Miami 20 years ago to go to FIU and worked as a reporter and writer for several years, but after losing a job, he took a leap of faith and headed to Haiti to film a passion project. That’s when Third Horizon really began taking off.
We talked to Jason about giving voice to authentic stories from the Caribbean and what it took to get there.
HOW HE GOT STARTED
About six years ago, Jason was a ghostwriter for self-help and holistic health authors and managing an author’s website. After a breakup and losing his job, he took kind of a crazy gamble after spotting a video on Reddit of two men in Haiti fencing with machetes.
“I’d always been taken with the iconography of the machete. Everyone has fight machetes at home. It’s a tool, it’s a means of self defense… I always called it the excalibur of the Caribbean…. It’s whatever you need it to be. It’s always been this symbol of empowerment.
So, I see two men fencing on Reddit in my bathrobe, no job, no girlfriend, and I thought to myself, “If there’s ever a time in my life to go to Haiti and learn how to fence with a machete, it’s right now.”
So Jason booked a ticket to Haiti with friend and filmmaker Jon Kane, who directed what became a 12-minute film called Papa Machete. Jason wrote and produced it.
“It felt like the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life… but it was magic…. It was a spiritual experience that completely and utterly changed my life,” he said.
WHY THIRD HORIZON IS NEEDED
Jason and Jon faced nonstop rejection when they first started shopping their film around. But then the film got selected for the Toronto International Film Festival. Papa Machete premiered there in September 2014.
The initial rejections, coupled with shallow conversations about the Caribbean in Q&As on the film circuit, birthed the idea of Third Horizon as a festival. In December 2014, they got a grant from the Knight Foundation to launch the first Third Horizon Film Festival, which they held in 2016.
“When we weren’t getting in, we kept thinking that people just don’t get why the Caribbean is important. They just see it as rum-soaked paradise and jerk chicken on the beach, these visions of paradise and exoticism. That’s there, but it’s so much more, it goes so much deeper,” Jason says.
THE MOVIES HE RECOMMENDS TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE CARIBBEAN
- The Stuart Hall Project – It’s about one of the fathers of cultural studies, who was one of the first people to explore ideas of representation, Jason says.
- The House on Coco Road – Director Damani Baker grew up in Oakland, but his mother moved the family to Grenada, which was undergoing a peaceful Communist revolution at the time. The U.S. invaded, and this documentary is about the fallout of that.
They screened both of these films at the first Third Horizon Film Festival.
WHERE HE GOES TO FEEL INSPIRED
- The Everglades – “As much as I love this crazy carnival of a city we have here, city life wears me down. I need to be in nature.… If it’s a weekday and I can’t go the Everglades, I go to a place like Greynolds Park.”
- The library – “We also have an amazing library system. I feel like the people in this city don’t appreciate our library system as much as they should.”
- Seven Seas Karaoke – Jason calls this spot the “true mecca” of South Florida karaoke. ”I’ve completely been neglecting my musicianship. And I’m a singer. Karaoke is a really slummy way of doing it, but it gives me the fix that I need to just get on stage and belt out.”
Head to thenewtropic.com to read more about what Jason’s most proud of and who he’s fanboying over. The third Third Horizon Film Festival is this fall. You’ll find details here as the date approaches.