10 Essential Films For An Introduction To Caribbean Cinema

6. La Gran Fiesta (The Great Party) (1985) Marcos Zurinaga

La Gran Fiesta 1985

Marcos Zurinaga directs an ensemble cast in “La Gran Fiesta” (The Great Party), including the late great Raul Julia. It tells the true story of the last big party held in the luxurious “El Casino de Puerto Rico”. Puerto Rico’s Casino was handed out to the United States military in 1942. After the handout, the Casino was used as a center for their military services and entertainment for the troops when they were stationed on the island.

Grandiose in scale, “La Gran Fiesta” is an excellent comedy about high class snobbery and the political situation the country was going through in the 40’s during the worst years of World War II. Even with Raul Julia’s star power, the film never got the recognition or the accolades it deserved outside of the island, in the way becoming a forgotten masterpiece.


7. Dios los cria (…And God Created Them) (1979) Jacobo Morales

Dios los cria

The second entry from Puerto Rican director Jacobo Morales, although this one is a bit less known than “Lo que le pasó Santiago”, it is credited for paving the way for a new resurgence in local cinema. The film is divided in five short stories that deal with infidelity, religion, poverty, love and prostitution.

Two years after the movie premiered in local cinemas, it was presented at the Cannes film festival in the “Un Certain Regard “category which feature original and different works in film.




8. The Harder They Come (1972) Perry Henzell

the harder they come

Hailed as one of the best films of the Caribbean and the one that brought reggae music to the world, The Harder They Come is a crime film set in Jamaica and starring reggae legend Jimmy Cliff in which we get to witness the gritty tale of “Ivan”, a young aspiring reggae singer who, after moving from rural Jamaica to Kingston, finds out that living in a big city is not what it’s all cracked up to be. Distraught with the struggling life he was living in, Ivan decides to try his luck in the local drug trade, selling ganja.

The magazine Rolling Stone placed the movie’s soundtrack at #119 in their list of “The 500 greatest albums of all time”, and the company the Criterion Collection gave the film an excellent DVD release a few years ago which as of this moment is out of print.


9. The Man By The Shore (1993) Raoul Peck

The Man By The Shore (1993)

Directed by Haitian born filmmaker Raoul Peck, “The Man By The Shore” is the story of Sarah, an 8 year old girl who went on to live with her tough grandmother after her father was forced into political exile by the Haitian government.

Narrated almost 30 years after the events, the movie takes place during the tumultuous decade of the 60’s, under the iron fist ruling of Haiti’s President at the time, nationalist dictator François Duvalier.

It has been said that the film is an autobiographical depiction of the director’s life as an 8 year old kid in Haiti before fleeing to Léopoldville, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The film was screened in competition during the 1993 Cannes Film Festival in France, and it is highly regarded as the best film that has come out of Haiti.


Dominican Republic


10. Sanky-Panky (2007) José Enrique “Pinky” Pintor

sanky panky

A little back story first. According to definition, a Sanky-Panky is a male worker usually found in the Dominican Republic. These people are mainly found in swanky beach resorts in the capital Santo Domingo in hopes of finding their ticket out of poverty. Instead of trading their bodies for money, the Sanky-Panky develops a “real relationship” with its benefactor, even keeping in contact with the person after they left the resort.

Sanky-Panky is a funny romp about Genaro, a scrawny guy who goes to a beach resort to work and to see if he could get a “Gringa” to marry him just so he could get a Visa and in the process securing his future as a citizen of the United States.

The film was a huge success in the Dominican Republic, making it the most successful film of all time, ensuring a sequel which was made several years later and went on to be released with great success locally.

That same year the movie was shown in the 24th Chicago Latino Film Festival to great reviews.

Author Bio: Ivan works and lives in Puerto Rico. He studied Cinematography and Directing in CCAT (Television Art and Sciences College). He has exhibitions in mayor group shows, presenting his work with internationally recognized artists from PR, France, Taiwan, Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, USA, Greece and Belgium. At the moment Iván is the official documentarian of Wallpeople, San Juan. He also collaborates with different street skaters and street artist collectives as his video and documentation producer.