ST. JOHN’S, Antigua – When The Sweetest Mango was released 17 years ago, becoming the first indigenous feature film from the Eastern Caribbean, the creators hosted independent screenings in cinemas and auditoriums so audiences could experience an Antiguan movie on the big screen. Now you can watch this Caribbean classic on your favourite device thanks to the continued partnership between HAMAFilms Antigua and StudioAnansi.TV.
StudioAnansi.TV, a digital movie platform focused on distributing original Caribbean films, premiered the romantic movie on Valentine’s Day. It is the second movie from the HAMAFilms Antigua catalogue now streaming on demand.
Romola Lucas, founder of the digital channel has seen first-hand how audiences in the Diaspora respond to the film, which features young Antiguan actors in a storyline which resonates with Caribbean nationals everywhere. “People love the films and are genuinely entertained by the stories.”
The Sweetest Mango is a romantic comedy that tells the story of Lovelyanne Davies who returns from Canada to Antigua and her struggles to adjust to life on a small island, working through professional turmoil and being embroiled in an unexpected love triangle.
It has been a long road to digital for The Sweetest Mango, which is the love story of the movie Director Howard Allen and his wife and Executive Producer Mitzi Allen. Since its release, the film has been featured in over 20 film festivals across the Caribbean, North America and as far as Taiwan. It has been archived at the TIFF Film Library and curated by Universities in North America. It received region-wide cable distribution with Carib Vision and has been part of the Travelling Caribbean Film Showcase and was subtitled in Spanish and French Creole by the Cuban Film Institute.
“I think one of the reasons the film was so popular when it was released in 2001 was because the idea of an indigenous and totally home-grown film in the OECS was still a novelty and films featuring black people in love were also very rare,” shared the director. “Audiences are genuinely drawn to the couple (Richard and Lovelyanne) and relate to their experiences and challenges. They also enjoy the music and beautiful scenery.”
There were no green screens available for the film produced and marketed on a shoe string and sound effects were au naturel. Allen said one of the most difficult scenes to shoot was on the first day of production. “We were shooting the scene where Richard introduces Lovelyanne to his sister. First the actors would get their lines right, but the crew would have some technical issue then we would solve it and the actors would forget the lines. Eventually the actors and crew were in sync, but we would hear animal noises outside the house. We were shooting in a relatively small space and the heat from the lights became more and more intense.”
With Caribbean islands undergoing dramatic changes due to economic and climate changes, the film provides a look into a past that is quickly disappearing.
“Films like The Sweetest Mango do a lot more than just entertain. For example, there are a lot of venues and locations in the film that either do not exist anymore or have been significantly transformed since the making of the film; so the film functions as a sort of historical document. Someone who is 17 years old today can learn so much about Antiguan culture, relationships and society in general from their parents’ perspective and understand what Antiguan life was like then. I have learned so much about American culture without ever living there but by consuming hours and hours of American film, television and music,” Howard revealed. “The films also work as a means of empowerment because young people can not only see themselves on screen, but they can also see filmmaking as a way to tell their own stories.”
Now that the distribution and movie viewing landscape has changed, the director said making a film today comes with new considerations.
“I would really have to consider how the film would be distributed. The Sweetest Mango was first screened independently for months then played in the local cinema and was eventually released on VHS then later on DVD. Now it’s making its debut online on StudioAnansi.TV. How a film is distributed affects how many people will eventually see it and how well it does commercially, and that information can help to guide the production of the film.”
Lucas knows her paid streaming movie channel for Caribbean stories is still in its early days, but she believes stories such as The Sweetest Mango are worth sharing. “I really enjoyed the authenticity of the love story. From their initial awkward meeting under the mango tree, through their conflict and its ultimate resolution, with good old Caribbean humor, I think made it a great film.”
The HAMAFilms team have promised a special surprise when The Sweetest Mango turns 20. We can hardly wait. In the meantime, watch this romantic classic to your heart’s content on StudioAnansi.TV.