VS Naipaul at the TTFF
Sreenshot from the Bhoe Tewarie interview with VS Naipaul.
A young woman got up after the screening of the documentary, the Strange Luck of VS Naipaul, last Saturday evening at the TTFF, to address the film’s director, Adam Low. With tears in her eyes, and with a breaking voice, she remarked how Low had humanised and made sympathetic a man who many people, including herself, have strong feelings against.
Screenshot from the Strange Luck of VS Naipaul.
VS Naipaul remains ever the controversial figure, and Low’s documentary, made last year as a sort of complement to Patrick French’s magisterial biography of Naipaul, will no doubt divide audiences. One point that seems to be agreed on, however – certainly judging from the reaction at this screening – is how well Adam Low was able to capture and present his subject, whatever people’s opinions of the subject himself.
Adam Low and Bhoe Tewarie field questions and comments from the audience.
Joining Low in the post-screening Q&A; was Dr Bhoe Tewarie, former Principal of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, whose illuminating interview with VS Naipaul was screened before Low’s documentary.
Bhoe Tewarie gives his opinion of the writer and man, VS Naipaul.
Selwyn Ryan, political scientist, was part of the audience.
So was attorney Desmond Allum.
The Black Mozart in Cuba & Venezuelan short films
Screenshot from the Black Mozart of Cuba.
Who was Joseph Boulogne? That was a question perhaps most of the audience were asking themselves before yesterday’s screening of the Black Mozart in Cuba. After the film, however, the question everyone was asking was: why hadn’t we heard of Le Chevalier de St George before?
Joseph Boulogne, Le Chevalier de St George, was a classical composer and violin virtuoso born in Guadeloupe in the mid 18th century. A mulatto, the son of a slave and her master, he achieved enormous success in Paris and was said to be Marie Antoinette’s favourite musician. He was also a top fencer, and led a regiment of coloured soldiers during the French Revolution. Yet when he died in 1799 he was all but forgotten, allegedly the result of a campaign by Napoleon to have him erased from history.
Screenshot from the Black Mozart of Cuba.
Interest in Le Chevalier began to rekindle about 40 years ago; the film the Black Mozart is the latest act in the rehabilitation of the memory of this extraordinary human being. What makes the film more than just a typical biographical documentary, however, is its skillful combining of the life of the man with a look at a festival of events held in Cuba a few years ago to celebrate his life and work. The result is a truly engaging and important film.
Stephanie James of Guadeloupe, co-director/producer of the Black Mozart in Cuba.
Trinidadian Steven James, husband of Stephanie James and director of the Black Mozart in Cuba.
Cross-section of the large crowd.
Steven James’s proud parents.
The enthusiastic crowd made for a lively Q&A; session after the screening of the film.
TV presenter Magella Moreau has her say during the Q&A.;
Adam Low, director of the documentary, the Strage Luck of VS Naipaul, and Naima Mohammed, TTFF Workshop Coordinator.
Screenshot from Adan y Eva, one of three short Venezuelan films screened before the Black Mozart in Cuba.
Screenshot from Historias del Viento, the second Venezuelan short film at yesterday’s screening.
Screenshot from El Café de Lupe, the final short film screened.
Film Makers Panel 2
In addition to the 67 films being shown, the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival has also become fertile ground for conversation on the way forward for film, not just in Trinidad and Tobago but the region.
At the second Film-makers panel held on Friday at the Normandie, both audience members and panellists stressed the need for collaborations to be set up across the islands and to a larger extent the global south – Africa, South America, the Middle East, all of which have thriving industries.
Trinidad-born, Venezuela based film maker Michael New, knocked the ‘Hollywood fantasy’ that informs any discussion on film in the region. He suggested that more money should be put into documentaries rather than feature films.
Responding to questions from the audience on the dilemma of the local film-maker choosing a subject that has wider appeal as well as the best length for a documentary, British producer Adam Low said the most important thing is to have high production values, regardless of the subject.
He also suggested having two cuts of a film, one for the local audience and the other for an international. Citing his own experiences with having to cut run times for his own documentaries to fit into television programming schedules.
He also agreed with the idea that documentaries were becoming a more popular way of visual storytelling.
“As television abdicates its responsibility, festivals dedicated to documentaries have cropped up around the world.”
But Low also thought that while the new technology was making film making more accessible, it had undermined the system of apprenticeship in film. “So everybody wants to be a director, but doesn’t really know what that involves”.
There was also heated discussion on the use of sound in documentaries.
Sam Watson a musician and sound expert felt that it was important for directors to really know what they wanted to get out of the soundtrack and also to give local musicians a chance to create original scores instead of incurring high costs for rights to use previously recorded music.
Underlining the whole discussion was the idea that Caribbean film makers needed to create their own visual notions of region and innovate ways to get around the challenges and limitations.
British filmmaker Adam Low.
Trinidad born, Venezuela based Michael New
Stephanie James of Guadeloupe Production House Shakti Productions.
TTFF at SFC III
Screenshot from Paradise Omeros.
Isaac Julien isn’t your ordinary filmmaker; his films are not your ordinary films. If you come to an Isaac Julien film looking for conventional story, plot, action and characterisation, you will undoubtedly be frustrated. If, however, you engage an Isaac Julien film as an artistic experience – in much the same way you would experience a painting or other work of visual art – and in particular, if you experience it in the multi-screen installation form that many of his films take, you may find the experience much more rewarding.
Screenshot from Fantôme Afrique.
Last Thursday evening at the StudioFilmClub, a large crowd turned out as the second of two evenings of screenings of Isaac Julien’s films took place, as part of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. (The first was dedicated to a screening of Derek, Julien’s feature-length biopic of the late Derek Jarman.) This second evening was dedicated to a selection of Julien’s shorter works – Paradise Omeros, True North, Fantôme Afrique, Western Union: Small Boats, and Baltimore. They were shown in single screen format, not their original multi-screen versions; they were also screened one right after the other, giving the viewer less than ideal amount of time to properly digest what she or he had just seen (but how much time is ideal, anyway?).
Screenshot from True North.
Yet the five films almost all had overlapping themes and concerns – journeys and travellers, the plight of the migrant – and a number of them had at least one recurring character, giving them a palpable thread. They were also undeniably beautiful to watch: some of the images are still replaying themselves in my head over a day later. What all these images add up to, however, is something that cannot be said from a solitary viewing. Isaac Julien makes films, but he also makes art, and like the best art, they need to be experienced and re-experienced to be fully appreciated.
Che Lovelace and Peter Doig, founders of StudioFilmClub.
Emilie Upczak, Associate Director of the TTFF, and Marina Salandy-Brown, Executive Director of the TTFF.
Sterling Henderson, journalist, and filmmaker Edmund Attong.
Artist Tessa Alexander.
Artist Dean Arlen makes a comment during the post-screening Q&A.;
Artist Mario Lewis.
Christopher Mendes, owner of the Reader’s Bookshop.
Isaac Julien and Judy Raymond, editor of the magazine Caribbean Beat.
Who Let the Dogs Out?
When Oyetayo Raymond Ojoade pitched the idea of a documentary about stray dogs to his lecturers at the Film Studies Programme at the University of the West Indies, they were less than enthusiastic. Who would want to see a documentary about that?, they effectively said.
Yet Ojoade persisted. Coming from Nigeria, where stray dogs simply do not exist, he noticed the proliferation of them here in a way that locals, perhaps being accustomed to their ubiquity, do not. So he set to work, and Who Let the Dogs Out?, which screened on Wednesday 24 September at the TTFF, is the eye-opening result.
Who Let the Dogs Out? looks unflinchingly at the problem of pariah dogs in Trinidad, and what is (or isn’t) being done to address the situation. It is a difficult film to take in: I’m not squeamish, but could hardly bring myself to watch the scenes showing rounded-up strays being euthanised, bagged and disposed of. Ojoade shows it all without blinking, though I found the power of these scenes undercut somewhat by his manipulative use of music here – Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia”, from the Aids drama, Philadelphia.
The thorny issue of euthanisation, and by extension that of spaying and neutering animals, came up in the lively post-screening discussion, which included a member of the Animal Welfare Network charity.
Marina Salandy-Brown, TTFF Director, from left, filmmaker Oyetayo Ojoade, and his collaborator, Chloe Syriac.
Members of the audience take part in the post-screening discussion.
A member of the Animal Welfare Network (whose name I unfortunately did not catch) speaks on the topic of the spaying and neutering of pets. The screening was a benefit for the AWN.
Dr Jean Antoine, member of the faculty of the Film Studies Programme at UWI.
The Siege screens again
Due to its overwhelming popularity, the Siege, Junior-Andrew Lett’s documentary about the 1990 aborted coup will be given a third screening at the film festival. The screening takes place at MovieTowne this Sunday, 28 September at 8.00pm, and will precede the Venezuelan feature film, Francisco de Miranda.
Screenshot from the Siege.
Alabaster Moon & the Siege
A sold-out audience was on hand yesterday afternoon at the TTFF for the screening of the films Alabaster Moon and the Siege. Made by first-time director, artist Sarah Beckett, with assistance from veteran filmmaker Alex de Verteuil, Alabaster Moon is a visually sumptuous experience, a film that looks at the process of making art, particularly the process of collaboration.
In contrast, the Siege is a haunting, disturbing document of the events that took place at Trinidad and Tobago Television during the attempted coup of 1990. It is directed by Junior-Andrew Lett, a former TTT employee and a student in the film studies programme at the University of the West Indies.
If the slew of audience comments after the screening of the Siege is anything to go by, the events of July-August 1990 still touch a raw nerve for many in this country. The filmmakers admitted the half-hour documentary is a work in progress, and are intent on expanding it to include more interviews and file footage, to give a fuller picture of those six days of terror.
Screenshot from Alabaster Moon.
Screenshot from Alabaster Moon.
Screenshot from Alabaster Moon.
Artist Sarah Beckett, director of Alabaster Moon.
Sarah Beckett and filmmaker Alex de Verteuil, co-director of Alabaster Moon.
Screenshot from the Siege.
Screenshot from the Siege: Raoul Pantin reads from his book on the attempted coup, Days of Wrath.
Screenshot from the Siege: Yasin Abu Bakr, head of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, speaks to the nation live on television on the evening of July 27, 2990.
Screenshot from the Siege: a former hostage recounts what happened.
From left, editor Dion Boucaud, writer and narrator Francesca Hawkins, and director Junior-Andrew Lett, the principals behind the Siege.
Veteran journalists Jones Madeira and Raoul Pantin, who were among the hostages at Trinidad and Tobago Television during the 1990 attempted coup.
A member of the packed audience makes a point during the Q&A; session for the Siege.
TTFF at SFC -Isaac Julien’s Short Films
STUDIOFILMCLUB is pleased to be part of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival again this year and we are thrilled that UK/ St Lucian artist filmmaker Isaac Julien is here to screen two nights of his films. Following last weeks screening of DEREK Isaac will be screening a selection of his recent shorter films including PARADISE OMEROS which is partially inspired by Derek Walcott’s epic poem. A biography of Isaac Julien is listed below this synopsis.
STUDIOFILMCLUB is located in the front foyer space of building 7.
Our screenings are FREE and all are welcome to ALL.
THURSDAY 25th September – 8:30 pm SHARP (doors open at 7:30)
Isaac Julien short film programme (91 minutes approx)
Isaac will introduce his films and there will be an opportunity for an informal post film discussion
* please note – this is not necessarily the actual running order…
Paradise Omeros delves into the fantasies and feelings of “creoleness” – the mixed language, the hybrid mental states and the territorial transpositions that arise when one lives in multiple cultures. Using the recurrent imagery of the sea, the film sweeps the viewer into a poetic meditation on the ebb and flow of self and stranger, love and hate, war and peace, xenophobe and xenophile.
Set in London in the 60s and on the island of St Lucia today, Paradise Omeros is loosely based on aspects of Derek Walcott’s epic poem, Omeros. The Nobel Prize winning poet, and the musician and composer Paul Gladstone Reid collaborated with Julien on the text and the score for the film, respectively.
True North is a meditative film comprising reflective images of the sublime, and, like Paradise Omeros, uses the landscape as a key location and theme. The film is loosely inspired by the story of the black American explorer, Matthew Henson (1866-1955). One of the key members of Robert E. Peary’s 1909 Arctic expedition, Henson was controversially and arguably the first person to reach the North Pole.
Shot in the spectacular landscapes of Iceland and Northern Sweden, True North offers a fascinating new visual reading of space and time and their relation to counter-histories. The film contests binaries which are present in many notations of expedition and adventure that clutter the history of discovery – here reason, order and stability are replaced by irrational meanderings, symbolic gestures from shamanistic tropes and the constant seeping inertia of the ice.
In Fantôme Afrique, the impact of both cultural and physical location is explored through a juxtaposition of images of Africa that consist of both the cosmopolitan realities of contemporary African life, and the traces or “fantômes” of an imaginary Africa that exists primarily in the imagination.
The film weaves its references through the rich imagery of urban Ouagadougou, the centre for cinema in Africa, and the arid spaces of rural Burkina Faso, and is punctuated by archival footage from early colonial expeditions and landmark moments in African history. At the same time two actors/dancers move through the constantly shifting landscapes – from ancient mosques and indigenous buildings to urban nocturnes shot during FESPACO, the pan-African cinema congress – offering a study in locomotive contrast.
Western Union: Small Boats
To escape deplorable economic and human rights conditions, thousands of African and Asian “clandestines” depart each year from North Africa on the 100-mile journey across the Mediterranean Sea to the southern coast of Sicily. Setting off in large boats they are transferred mid-sea to overcrowded smaller fishing boats where they drift for days on end until they are sighted by the coastguard or sink. Local fishermen often spot the boats first and have been complicit in what is frequently described as the “Sicilian Holocaust.”
In Western Union: Small Boats, Isaac Julien depicts the picturesque Sicilian seaside village of Agrigento and the grandeur of Palazzo Gangi (famed location from director Luchino Visconti’s masterpiece The Leopard) in stunning juxtaposition to the deadly voyage of the clandestines. Employing a suggestive, non-representational cinematic style, the film subverts strict narrative, creating a collage of sound and image. Throughout the film are a series of choreographed vignettes echoing and rearticulating these dramatic voyages. Western Union: Small Boats is the final installment of Julien’s trilogy of cross-cultural cinematic travelogues that includes True North and Fantôme Afrique.
Baltimore is partly a pastiche of 1970’s Blaxploitation cinema and partly a surrealistic allegory about race, class and history. Soundtracked by sirens, gunfire and angry dialogue lifted from old films, the movie follows a young woman and a gray-bearded older man (the actor and director Melvin Van Peebles) as they move separately from the gritty streets of Baltimore into the city’s Great Blacks in Wax Museum.
Inside the museum the couple become players in a dreamlike cat-and-mouse game that takes them from tacky exhibits into the palatial Peabody Library and the galleries of the Walters Art Museum, hung with European old masters. In one of these galleries, the man discovers a group of sculptures from the wax museum and comes face to face with his own wax image in the company of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the end the man and woman return to the street as a tough male movie voice intones: ”The party’s over, baby. It’s dawn. It’s reality.”
Isaac Julien – biography
Isaac Julien is one of Britain’s foremost artists, as equally acclaimed for his fluent and arresting single-screen films as his vibrant and inventive gallery installations. Moving deftly between filmworld and artworld, Julien remains one of the most original voices on the contemporary art scene.
Julien was born in East London in 1960, the son of St Lucian parents. He studied film at St Martins College of Art, London (1980–85). As a student his films dealt with current real life situations such as the death of a young black man, Colin Roach whilst in police custody (Who Killed Colin Roach?). Another film centred on the Notting Hill Carnival riots (Territories, 1985). He was subsequently at the forefront of the new wave of British Black filmmakers, instrumental in setting up the Black film collective SANKOFA where he made films such as This is not an AIDS Advertisement. Julien came to prominence in the film world with his 1989 drama-documentary Looking for Langston, gaining a cult following with this poetic exploration of Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. This following was expanded in 1991 when his film Young Soul Rebels won the Semaine de la Critique prize for best film at the Cannes Film Festival.
In 2001 Julien was nominated for the Turner Prize and was the recipient of both the prestigious MIT Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts (2001) and the Frameline Lifetime Achievement Award (2002). His work Paradise Omeros was presented as part of Documenta XI in Kassel (2002). He won the Grand Jury Prize at the KunstFilmBiennale in Cologne (2003) for his single screen version of Baltimore, and the 2005 Aurora Award. His widely acclaimed documentary film, Baadasssss Cinema was made in 2002.
Julien was a jury member at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival and the 2007 Rotterdam International Film Festival. He has had solo shows at the Pompidou Centre Paris (2005), MoCA Miami (2005), the Kestner Gesellschaft Hanover (2006) and Metro Pictures New York (2007). He is represented in the Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, Guggenheim and Hirshhorn Collections.
TTFF at UWI
The TTFF outreach programme was at the Film Studies Department of the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies last evening, for a screening and discussion of the documentary On the Map by Annalee Davis.
On the Map looks at the issue of migration within the Caribbean, focusing on undocumented workers and their various challenges. It also looks at broader Caribbean issues, including the question of Caribbean identity. Director of the TTFF, Marina Salandy-Brown led the discussion with Annalee Davis and the audience.
Screenshot from On the Map.
The audience, which comprised mostly of students from the Film Studies Department of UWI.
Filmmaker and artist, Annalee Davis.
Marina Salandy-Brown leads the discussion.
Television news presenter and student at the UWI Film Studies Dept, Francesca Hawkins, left, and Dr Jean Antoine of the Film Studies Dept.
Filmmaker and member of the faculty of the Film Studies Dept, Robert Yao Ramesar.
Change of screening
Please note that tomorrow, Wednesday 24 September (Republic Day) the three o’clock screening of the TTFF will be the films the Queens of Curepe, the Psychology of Dancehall, and Scoundrel, and not what was originally advertised. Apologies for any inconvenience.