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Post-Colonial, Bona Fide, Cape Verdean-American Diva

Claire Andrade-Watkins brings the voices of African and "Cape Verdean/Brazilian/Portuguese" filmmakers to the big screen.

By Evelyn Adams Carrigan

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Claire Adrade-Watkins.

For anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of meeting Claire Andrade-Watkins, they would warn you to fasten your seat belts and PAY ATTENTION! Claire is a cyclone of positive energy, attitude and purpose, sweeping you up in her enthusiasm. Her vision is clear: to document, preserve and distribute cultural media from Africa, the Caribbean and the United States, with an emphasis on Cape Verdean-American and Cape Verdean history.

Claire’s passion for bringing the voice of the African Diaspora to the masses stems from 20 years as a historian and filmmaker, perpetuating the self-fulfilling prophecy of "if it’s an African film, it must be non-theatrical or educational." Finally Claire realized that there truly is a more commercial niche for such products, and that they can follow the standard distribution path of theatrical release, television sales, and video.

Claire started her own distribution company called SPIA media (spia meaning "to look"), and in only three years has garnered success with the Cape Verdean/Brazilian/Portuguese film "Testamento," proving that this can be done. "Testamento" premiered at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in April 1998, where she set records for grosses, then continued on with theatrical releases throughout New England, New York, and Los Angeles. The film opened in Toronto in July 2000, and is still being shown there, as well as on HBO/Cinemax and SBS Australian TV. "Testamento" is also being released by Fox Lorber/Winstar this July.

Another amazing import has been the film "Sarraounia," an epic African film by one of the "fathers of African cinema," Med Hondo. This film is a historical re-enactment of how Sarraounia, the West African tribal female warrior, fought off the French imperialists during their 19th century Expansion. It opened at the MFA this March, with positive reviews from both the Boston Globe and the Phoenix. Loren King from the Globe recommends that "Sarraounia" be seen "on the big screen for its epic scale and visual and acoustic detail to be appreciated. It is a stunning work that deserves its place in the world-cinema canon." Audiences have been both entertained and informed, giving praise to Claire for having the guts to pioneer this uncharted niche.

Something to look for this coming year is Claire’s documemoir, "Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican," which blends her personal history of growing up in a close-knit Cape-Verdean community with the 200-year history of Cape Verdeans in America. The title comes from a gross misperception of an old boyfriend’s brother, who lumped Claire in with a race, rather than understanding her ethnicity. Her reason for making this film was partially due to a "lifelong frustration from living in a hyphenated space as a Cape-Verdean American. As a result, the presence of Cape Verdeans, like other 'hyphens' in America’s cultural, ethnic, and historical landscape, is often overlooked." With amusing anecdotes and poignant personal narratives, "Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican" is a film that will finally put Cape Verdeans in the hearts and minds of filmgoers everywhere.

It takes courage, tenacity and passion to seek out and establish a place in the oversaturated distribution business, especially as a woman. But for Claire, this dream is more than "find a need and fill it." She strongly believes that there are stories to be told and voices that need to be heard across borders so that we may have a better understanding of cultures that have been ignored or deemed insignificant by the world-cinema community.

Claire was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, and moved to Boston to earn her degree at Simmons College. She has been a professor in the Visual and Media Arts department at Emerson College for over 20 years. Her classes include Post-Colonial Cinema, Black-American Independent Cinema, and Business of Independent Production. "I teach what I do, and do what I teach," merging theory and practice in history, production and distribution.

Visit SPIA’s Web site at www.spiamedia.com to find QuickTime movies from "Testamento," "Sarraounia," and "Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican," as well as stunning photos from Cape Verde.