by JR Valrey
“My Father Belize” is a sad, beautiful, monumental, yet lonely piece of cinematic art that will be screened twice at this year’s Oakland International Film Festival. This film was superbly written and pulled me not just into the storyline, but had me looking at my own life and my relationship with my father and my son.
“My Father Belize” is an emotional look at how males within one family see each other after immigration and acculturation. It is a story about love and the power of communication and understanding.
For so many Black families from the U.S. as well as immigrating to the U.S., it is important for our community to see love, understanding and forgiveness between Black males in a family, especially while living in a hostile environment where the corporate media is so diabolically bent on showing us images of us as dysfunctional.
“My Father Belize” made me tear up, so I recommend y’all go see it. Check out Kerby Garcia as he talks about being one of the film’s co-stars.
M.O.I. JR Valrey: How did you end up getting a co-starring role in “My Father Belize”?
Kerby Garcia: My wife and I were in the midst of renovating our home in East Oakland during the summer of 2018. On June 18, Leon Lozano, co-writer and director of “My Father Belize” messaged me on FB saying, “Hey Kerby. I’m putting together a short I plan to shoot in Belize. Do you act? If so, would you like to read for one of the roles?” (Back story on Leon and I: We both attended Fremont High school in Oakland together. We haven’t heard from nor seen each other in over 20 years.)
Intrigued by where the film was being shot, I quickly responded, “Yes, I’m interested” and continued on with our massive construction project in the house. Leon emailed the screenplay over that same day and asked me to send a video recording of my reading. Due to the constant laboring of remodeling our home, I wasn’t able to open up that email and respond until over two weeks later on July 2. I anxiously recorded the reading and sent it over to him.
Within a few days, I was invited to the Fourth Annual Belize Film Commission Luncheon in Los Angeles. It was at this event that I found out I had landed the role to play cousin Nigel in “My Father Belize.”
M.O.I. JR: What did it mean for you to do a film in Belize, be it that your family is from the country?
Kerby Garcia: I was born in Belize. Corozal Town to be exact. So, it meant the world to me to be a part of this project. This is a special story that I felt drawn towards. I just wanted to make my Belizean people proud with my performance in this film.
I read the story and it was relatable to me in many ways. My father too had passed. We were just getting closer to his children before his sudden death. He departed leaving behind a family of broken hearts and children with unanswered questions. This movie will definitely compel you to initiate some bold conversations with your family.
M.O.I. JR: How have people been receiving the film? Did people in Belize see it?
Kerby Garcia: The film’s responses has been heartwarming. People are receiving “My Father Belize” with open arms, big smiles and plenty of laughs. It’s always a great feeling when you hear an audience’s joyful outbursts.
Folks in Belize haven’t seen it yet. Our Belize screening is in November 2019. We can’t wait to see our people and make them proud.
M.O.I. JR: I know you and you don’t have an accent. Was it hard for you to pick up a Belizean accent and the patois for the film?
Kerby Garcia: The creole accent isn’t hard for me. Natural ting mein! It’s just like riding a bicycle. It gets stronger the more I’m around my people.
To be truthful, I got a little nervous when my cousin Sharon Gibson was taking me to catch the little plane to Placencia for the shooting of the film. She looks at me and says, “Bwii mek sure yuh praktis yuh kriol noh.” I was like damn, cuzz I lost it? Lmao.
Belizeans notice right away if you’ve been away for too long. They can tell by the black colored locks. The sun and salted sea water naturally dye your hair sandy brown and sometimes even blonde.
Other dead giveaways are if you can’t comprehend the creole language, catch the creole jokes, dance punta, oh rasss! They’ll say, “Cho mein u dah yanky bwii now.” LMAO!
M.O.I. JR: How was it working with the legendary actor Roger Guenveur Smith?
Kerby Garcia: Working with Roger was exciting! I didn’t get to go over lines with him beforehand like Arlen and I did, so I was thrilled and nervous when we entered our scene together. I found it a bit challenging at first because his approach to the specific scene was unorthodox to me.
He would grab lines out of order, plus throw in some improv then hit me with another random line. I kept waiting for the director to say cut lol. It took a couple takes and then I found my groove.
I remember whispering to Arlen, “Yo, he not reciting the lines in order.” Arlen stared back at me, in character, like, I know right (with his game face on).
We gelled together and made magic in Belize. The whole team was a pleasure to work with. Kisha Sierra and the young actor Kodie too. Very talented team.
Roger was hella cool. Very humble guy. I have a snapchat video of him and I on set. The scene was him and I picking up Sean from the airport. We were jamming to a song by one of the local Belizean artists in the truck. We recited lyrics together, “Inah Belize – we smoke di eva-green treez. Inah Belize – we hav di best rice and beans.” Lol … Good times!
M.O.I. JR: The main character had a son while on an extended vacation to Belize. Is that a common phenomenon in countries that have a large tourist industry and emigrant population?
Kerby Garcia: Absent fathers is a condition that is common in many regions of the world. Some cultures just don’t talk about it.
In Belizean culture they’re certain things that are silenced by our elders. We hush it up, suck it up, and push on. This film will hopefully encourage people to open up some dialogues with family members who haven’t talked to each other in a while. It’s time to start healing some of those broken relationships with our folks.
M.O.I. JR: How vibrant is the Belizean film industry? What do you like and dislike?
Kerby Garcia: Belize is lit! The film industry there is on the rise for sure. My fam Tareek Young of Young Starr Entertainment along with the Belize Audio Visual Industry Association (BAVIA) are doing a great job over there. BAVIA is an association of professionals who provide services to the audio-visual production industry of Belize.
Some of the most talented people I know are from Belize. And I’m not just saying that because I’m Belizean, lol. I recently learned that a brother by the name of Nigel P. Miguel, who is the director of the Belize International Film Festival, has made some historical accomplishments here in the US.
Look up Nigel P. Miguel. Born Belizean, ex-pro basketball player, actor who was in classic films like “Colors,” the late ‘80s film “White Men Can’t Jump” and “The Air Up There,” just to name a few. He was a technical advisor on the movie “Space Jam” and for several years he was the stunt double for Michael Jordan. Blew my mind when I found this out.
This brother also landed numerous commercials for Reebok, Converse, Nike and Pepsi in the early ‘90s. I hold myself accountable for not obtaining this information about one of our legendary natives earlier on. This is motivation to me! If there’s anything I dislike, it would be the lack of support for each other as Belizeans, in Belize.
M.O.I. JR: Do you see yourself being involved in more projects that are shot between the U.S. and Belize?
Kerby Garcia: Yes, I do! While filming in Belize, Ron Sierra, co-writer for “My Father Belize,” and I spoke about potential projects that may be on the horizon. Another one of my good brothers from Nigeria, Chukuka Chukuma, executive producer for a Nigerian film, “God Calling,” also spoke about an Africa and Belize project. Belize deh bout ras … we everywhere lol. So yeah, bring the work and I’ll be ready.
M.O.I. JR: What’s next for you as an actor?
Kerby Garcia: It’s difficult for me at times. I am a man of many talents who often gets lost in the midst of creation. Staying close to brothers like Ron Sierra and Leon Lozano will keep me on my toes.
On a more serious note, my next step involves studying my favorite actors and actresses, preparing myself for future roles and executing my personal goals one at a time.
M.O.I. JR: When does “My Father Belize” screen?
Kerby Garcia: We have two screenings at the Oakland International Film Festival coming up in September, on Thursday, the 26th, and Friday, the 27th, at the Regal Theater in Jack London Square. Here are the ticket links:
- Screening #1: oiff.org/day-8
- Screening #2: oiff.org/day-9
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author and filmmaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. And tune in to BlockReportTV on YouTube.