When most of us think of coconuts, we picture sun-bleached, palm-fringed beaches or an ingredient in tropical cocktails. When holistic nutritionist/health advocate Tamer Soliman thinks of them, he sees coconut oil: a bountiful food source with legendary properties and an overlooked national treasure, particularly with palms culled daily to make for way for shiny new condos.
Inspired by the growing global interest in the many uses of this “liquid gold” and its numerous medicinal uses, Soliman felt compelled to find out more. Originally from Canada, he has long proselytized about eating fresh local produce.
He first realized the potential of coconut oil during cook-and-chat sessions with Joel Walton, a passionate food-to-table activist and organic farmer in Lower Valley. Walton explained that the homegrown former staple in local kitchens had been long overlooked in favor of imported highly processed oils.
“It was only when I became a nutritionist that I realized the power that traditional culinary practices had over keeping us healthy, and how many of these practices were, unfortunately, falling by the wayside,” Soliman says.
Through those chats and through listening to other locals, who spoke about the days when coconut oil, meat, milk and water were central to Cayman cooking, the nutritionist was keen to find out more. Why and when, for instance, had imported oils replaced coconut oil in cooking and baking and why was the oil only now making a small but spirited resurgence locally?
These questions soon turned into an obsession for the food watchdog-turned-food detective. Piece by piece he came to uncover the history of coconut oil production in Cayman, sourcing additional information from museums and local media archives to uncover a story every bit as interesting as the history of the islands themselves.
Once Soliman had unearthed overseas involvement in the decline of the oil he became a man on a mission: quite simply to change our thinking about the humble coconut.
The production process
To further his goal of making a film on the hidden history of this seemingly innocuous foodstuff, he recruited the help of documentary filmmaker Rob Tyler, and as a result, Sympactful Wellness Media was set up. A spirited individual with a passion for creating movie shorts, local filmmaker Tyler was pivotal to visualizing the “Bright Spot” documentary, having embraced the concept in fleshing out the creative aspects, images and technical perimeters of the short.
Written and narrated by Soliman, the “Bright Spot” project took 10 months to complete in terms of post- and pre-production, with both him and Tyler taking on the roles of co-directors and producers. As the credits attest, the film was largely assisted by their local-history technical crew.
Business partners and co-producers Jeremy Walton and Stephen Price financially underwrote most of the project, along with generous donations from community-spirited individuals who believed in the project.
Their dreams were realized upon the completion of the film, which subsequently gained official selection at the CayFilm (Cayman International Film Festival 2015), the monthly edition of the Miami Independent Film Festival 2015 and the Iphias International Film Festival in Jamaica.
Calling for a change
Inspired by an idea from positive deviance activist Jerry Sternin, “bright spot” thinking calls on communities to re-embrace successful, traditional practices that have fallen by the wayside so as to re-energize and change lives for the better.
“Making a film about health wasn’t something I’d planned for,” says Soliman, “but I couldn’t resist taking on the challenge with Rob once I had a message to share: to tune out the chaos of the nutritional sciences and simply help people here to embrace the ‘bright spot.’”
As the story unfolded and the documentary took shape, it became increasingly clear to them that Cayman’s bright spot could indeed be coconut oil – a food that modern research claims is one of the healthiest oils in the world.
The fruit of their efforts is a series of interviews in which various Caymanians and historical/political commentators offer their views as to why coconut oil lost its preeminence in local homes. Compelling and insightful, the 22-minute documentary short, in uncovering the underlying forces which include the cynical and hugely disruptive sales tactics by overseas business interests, shines a light on a previously little-known aspect of Cayman history.
“Bright Spot” invites the viewer not only to see the humble palm as the health tree of the Cayman Islands, but also to engage actively in addressing the issues of overcoming the hurdles of the past and returning this healthy, traditional oil to our kitchens, bathroom cabinets and lives.
Tickets and after party
Tickets for the “Bright Spot” premiere screenings at Regal Camana Bay Stadium 6 on Nov. 28 at 6:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. are now on sale for $25. They are available via 917-5282 or email [email protected].
For all updates on the film, visit the “Bright Spot” Facebook page.
Attendees will receive swag bags before the screenings and can take part in the brief question-and-answer sessions following each screening. The audience is also invited to attend the exclusive “Bright Spot” post-premier party at Abacus featuring coconut-themed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
Following the screenings, the film will be available on Vimeo at vimeo.com/swmedia.