US writer and theatre critic Hilton Als, who will be programming four nights of screenings at StudioFilmClub as part of the trinidad+tobago film festival/09
Filmmaking isn’t just about directors, though some of them might like to think so. Yes, the director is often the sine qua non of a film, especially in independent, auteur-driven cinema. But that doesn’t mean that the other people involved in making a film are inconsequential, or interchangeable. Even if a film is a director’s personal vision, you still need other people to help bring that vision to life.
One such person is the cinematographer. The cinematographer–the director of photography, properly speaking–is responsible for a film’s look, its visual style. And since film is a visual medium, that makes the cinematographer important; sometimes, almost as important as the director. In a film like Steve McQueen’s Hunger, one of the narrative features being screened at the Festival, the cinematography is key; the austere look of the film, with its bleached-out colours, complements and reinforces the stark subject matter. So it’s no surprise we’re thrilled that the cinematographer of Hunger, Sean Bobbitt, will be attending the Festival. Not only will he be here for the film’s screening, but he will also be conducting a workshop on the art of cinematography. (And if you’re interested in cinematography, I suggest you sign up for the workshop now, before all the places are gone.)
Another person who’s key to cinema, though not necessarily to the filmmaking process itself, is the critic. Now I know there are people who will quibble with this, and say that critics aren’t really important, that they’re just failed artists or know-nothings who only like to bad-talk everything. These people, however, are wrong, and I don’t just say that because a critic myself. Robust critical discourse is key in the arts, in any culture–but that’s another post entirely. Suffice it to say that the critic matters. And we’ve got one of the best, Hilton Als of the New Yorker, coming to the Festival to programme the four nights of screenings at StudioFilmClub. The films Als has chosen to screen are largely experimental, challenging the conventions of traditional filmmaking. They should prove thought-provoking, conversation-inspiring viewing–come along to StudioFilmClub to see them and you may even find yourself in a conversation with Hilton Als.
Of course, you’ve got to have actors to portray the various roles in films (or in the case of biographical films, subjects to make films about). Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob’s documentary Carmen and Geoffrey is the story of New York-based dancers Carmen de Lavallade and her husband, Trinidad-born Geoffrey Holder. I described Holder in a previous post as larger than life; a striking six foot six, with a booming voice, this dancer-painter-actor is an artistic renaissance man if there ever was one. And he’ll be here, this renowned son of the soil, for a screening of Carmen and Geoffrey which takes place before the awards ceremony and reception that closes the Film Festival on September 29.
We hope you’ll be coming to the Festival too, because ultimately, the members of the audience are our most important guests. Indeed, without people to watch them, there wouldn’t be any films at all.
No laughing matter: a scene from Paulette James’ Enter the Preacher
Ironic humour more to your liking? Then feel free to laugh (ironically, of course) during the dramatic feature, Horn of Plenty, in which director Juan Carlos Tabío spins the tale of people being driven slightly nutty by the thought of instant wealth. Note: if this film had an Ingredients label, morality would definitely be on there, somewhere near the top. If you’re looking for pathos-infused humour that speaks of race and class and the human condition, then check out the Kalup Linzy videos that will be screened at StudioFilmClub on September 17. Linzy reinvents classic Soap Opera plots, but instead of tracking the lives of the white and upwardly-mobile, he follows the black inhabitants of a small, Southern-U.S. town. The fact that Linzy plays some of these rolls himself in drag (and voices all of the characters) is just one of the funny elements of this body of work, which one film critic describes as Faulkner by way of Tyler Perry.
Don’t go chasing waterfalls: a shot from Sistagod II: Her Second Coming, directed by Robert Yao Ramesar of Trinidad and Tobago
“Trinidadian films? Such things exist?” If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that (or something like that), I’d be–well not rich exactly, but I’d have some good change. Yes, Virginia, Trinidadian films do exist. To explain why you probably haven’t heard about (far less seen) most of them, however, would involve getting into issues that neither time nor space allow.
Rather, let’s consider that Trinidad and Tobago does have a nascent film industry, and a crop of talented filmmakers eager to make films and access a forum where they can be seen. Which is just what the trinidad+tobago film festival provides: a place for local directors to show their films, whatever style or genre they might be. This year more than half of the 70-plus films being screened at the Festival are local. Most of these are short films–many of them coming out of the Film Programme at UWI–though there are a few of feature-length. What is wonderful about these features is that they reflect a refreshing diversity. There are films by established filmmakers, as well as up-and-coming directors; narrative films, documentaries and experimental films; and films by both women and men.
One of the more anticipated local films of the Festival is The Ghost of Hing King Estate, directed by veteran filmmaker Horace Ové. Based on true events, Hing King is a supernatural thriller about mysterious deaths on an agricultural estate. It’s perhaps the most conventional of the local features, and has an ensemble cast of who’s who in acting in Trinidad and Tobago.
Another highly anticipated film is Mariel Brown‘s documentary The Solitary Alchemist. Back in 2007, Brown’s first documentary, The Insatiable Season, took home the people’s choice award at the TTFF. That film followed mas man Brian MacFarlane during the production of his Carnival presentation for the previous year. The Solitary Alchemist is, similarly, a portrait of an artist; this time, jeweller Barbara Jardine is the subject of the gaze of Brown’s camera.
Following up the screening of his film Sistagod at the TTFF in 2006, Robert Yao Ramesar returns with that film’s sequel, Sistagod II: Her Second Coming, the second film in a post-apocalyptic trilogy about the coming of a black female messiah. An established filmmaker–some of his short films were screened at the Kairi Festival back in 2002–Ramesar has always worked in the experimental mode, and the supernatural features heavily in his symbol-laden work.
Filmmaker, artist and writer Jaime Lee Loy‘s Festival offering, Bury Your Mother, is also an experimental film. Lee Loy’s most ambitious film to date, it follows up a number of short videos, and a documentary on young, unwed mothers (motherhood is a recurring theme in her work). Of the local films being screened at the Festival that I’ve seen so far, Bury Your Mother is particularly noteworthy. It is, admittedly, a demanding, unsettling, at times even upsetting film. It is also a visually powerful, haunting, accomplished work by a talented and serious young filmmaker. That’s just my opinion, of course. See it for yourself at the TTFF and make up your own mind. In fact, see all the local films, and then if anyone ever asks you if there’s filmmaking in T&T;, you’ll be able to give them an answer.
Ishmahil Blagrove Jr., the UK-based, Jamaican-born director of Forever and This is Our Country Too
John Donne once said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” No film festival is an island, either, even when it takes place on an island or, in our case, two. One of the best parts of putting on the trinidad + tobago film festival is the opportunity afforded to interact and form alliances with organisations and people around the world who work tirelessly to promote the moving image.
This year, we are pleased to be a festival partner of the The Black Filmmaker (bfm) International Film Festival (IFF). First held in the UK in 1998, the bfm IFF is the leading and longest running platform for Black World Cinema in the UK, catering to everyone but with a special focus towards Black, African, and Caribbean audiences. Filmmakers from the bfm IFF will join us for the run of our festival as members of panels and workshops and/or to answer questions after their films, which will be screened for the first time in Trinidad and Tobago.
Joining us is Ishmahil Blagrove Jr., a British director/producer with several documentaries under his belt. Among these are Forever (Hasta Siempre), which questions the future of Cuba in a post-Fidel era, and This is Our Country Too, which takes a searing look at an Australia divided. He is the editor of riceNpeas.com, the website of an independent film production company that specialises in producing hard-hitting social documentaries. Blagrove will be present for the screening of his films and is a panelist for the festival workshop, The Documentary: In Theory and Practice.
We’re also happy to welcome Lawrence Coke, a British director who has been making films since 1997. He will be in attendance at the festival screenings of his award-winning short films: Melvin: Portrait of a Player which is, well, a portrait of a player; Morally Speaking, a sharply observed sex comedy; and One Day at a Time, a stark, anti-gun film.
Also joining us is Rachel Wang, who teamed up with director Mark Currie in 2001 to form Chocolate Films. Over the years, they have made award-winning short dramas, documentaries, and community film projects. Wang will be present for the screening of Afro-Saxons, which takes a most intriguing look at the world of African-Caribbean women’s hairstyling in Britain.
We are honoured to welcome our bfm guests, and also pleased to announce that filmmakers from Trinidad and Tobago will be guests at the bfm IFF in London in November of this year.
We’re still not done with our guest list, though! Look out for another post or two or more on our invitees.
Carlos Reygadas of Mexico, the writer and director of Silent Light
Filmmaking is a painstaking process. It takes many dozens, even hundreds of people working for months, sometimes years to bring a film to the big screen. Which is why we at the trinidad+tobago film festival think it’s important not just to show good films, but to acknowledge the people who make these films, and give you a chance to interact with them. To that end, we’ve asked a number of directors, producers, actors/film subjects, and others to be a part of the Festival, and we’re delighted that many of them have accepted our invitation.
One of a the directors who will be in attendance is Maria Govan of the Bahamas. Her film, Rain, will open the Festival on September 15. Rain, the affecting story of a girl who battles tough odds in her quest to be a world-class sprinter, is Govan’s first feature-length film. It’s also the best Caribbean film I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m really glad Govan will be here to talk about it.
In contrast to Maria Govan, India’s Adoor Gopalakrishnan is a filmmaking veteran, a legend even. He has a dozen feature films to his credit, his latest being his Festival selection, the portmanteau film Four Women. In a career that has spanned four decades, Gopalakrishnan has gained the reputation as India’s leading art house filmmaker, and it will be quite an honour to have him here.
It will also be an honour to have Carlos Reygadas at the Festival. Reygadas, I think, is one of the best young art house filmmakers at work today: an auteur in the truest sense of the word. His films reflect an uncompromising, sometimes controversial, personal vision of what filmmaking should be–a vision quite at odds with much of contemporary cinema. And while Reygadas’ Festival selection, Silent Light, is more conventional when compared with his previous work, it nevertheless remains firmly a Reygadas film, a challenging, sometimes mystifying cinematic experience, yet ultimately a sublime and exhilarating one.
Making a second appearance at the Festival is Adam Low, the British documentarian, who was here last year for the screening of his film about VS Naipaul. This time Low’s Festival film is The Cinema of Satyajit Ray, a portrait of the late, peerless Indian filmmaker. Low will also take part in a workshop about documentary filmmaking, and lead another workshop about the use of archive material in making documentaries.
Many more guests are expected to attend TTFF09. Look out for further posts on invitees.
Cobo, by festival artist, Eddie Bowen, the official artwork of the trinidad+tobago film festival/09
The media kit and programme schedule for the trinidad+tobago film festival/09
Yesterday was a busy day for us at the trinidad+tobago film festival. Last evening, the unveiling of the official Festival image, Eddie Bowen’s Cobo, took place at the National Museum; this was preceded in the morning by the media launch, which was also held at the Museum.
Speaking to the gathered members of the media at the launch were Bruce Paddington, the founder and director of the TTFF; Kisha Wilson, corporate communications officer of Flow, the Festival’s presenting sponsor; Carla Foderingham, the CEO of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, one of the supporting sponsors; Wynda Chandler, community relations officer of the National Gas Company, also a supporting sponsor; and Eddie Bowen, the official Festival artist. Marina Salandy-Brown, executive director of the TTFF, was master of ceremonies.
Kicking things off was Bruce, who gave a potted history of the TTFF. He remarked that this year, submissions were up an astounding 500% over last year, and that this year’s Festival will be the biggest yet, with over seventy films, more than half of which are local films.
Kisha Wilson spoke on behalf of the cable television company Flow, the presenting sponsor of the Festival. She talked about the pay-per-view system, introduced last year, whereby films screened at the Festival will be made available after the Festival to Flow customers to watch at home, with 100% of the proceeds going to the filmmakers.
Carla Foderingham then spoke of the involvement of the T&T; Film Company with the Festival, including its sponsorship of the TT$30,000 award for best locally-made film, while Wynda Chandler spoke of the National Gas Company’s sponsorship of the US$10,000 jury prize for best film.
Rounding things out, Eddie Bowen gave a tantalising preview of his talk on the rationale behind Cobo, this year’s Festival image. He mentioned being inspired both by last year’s Festival image, Peter Doig’s Lapeyrouse Wall, and by an actual cobo he encountered at Toco, on Trinidad’s north coast. He also noted with satisfaction the carte blanche brief he was given by the Festival for coming up with the image, which seems guaranteed to get people talking.
Filmmaker Thomas Jemmerson (director of the short film Queen of the Brands, which screens on the opening night of the Festival), Emilie Upczak, Creative Director of the TTFF, and Bruce Paddington take a look at the Festival trailer
Cry me a river: a shot from Sita Sings the Blues, directed by Nina Paley of the USA, which screens at the TTFF09 as part of the festival’s new heritage element
The trinidad+tobago film festival is four years old this year. That’s pretty young, especially if you consider that the world’s longest-running film festival, the Venice Film Festival, got its start in 1932.
Because the TTFF is so new, we’re still very much finding our feet. We keep trying new things, tinkering with the formula for producing a great film festival, one that is up to standard with other film festivals around the globe and is also a reflection of our unique identity.
When the Festival began, it was virtually all film screenings, at one venue, with sometimes a director present. Then we added outreach screenings, taking the Festival to other parts of the country and thereby making it more geographically inclusive. Then, because the TTFF is as much about fostering local filmmaking as it is about film viewing, technical workshops and discussion panels were included. We also added people’s choice awards, to make the Festival more interactive and give filmmakers a further incentive for screening their films. And we included social events–alright, parties–which as any Trini knows need no justification.
So what’s new this year? There are two major changes. First, the awards element of the Festival has been expanded. There are still three people’s choice awards for best feature-length dramatic narrative, feature-length documentary, and short film, but these now come with cash prizes of TT$5,000 each. More significantly, there are now two jury prizes. The first, for “outstanding achievement in creating a feature film that reflects the Caribbean spirit”, is worth US$10,000. (That’s right, US.) The second, for the best locally-made film (that is, by a filmmaker resident and working in Trinidad and Tobago) is worth TT$30,000.
Also new to the Festival is the heritage element. This acknowledges and celebrates the various national cultures that have influenced the Caribbean, and Trinidad and Tobago in particular. This inaugural year the heritage element focuses on India, which not only has the world’s largest film industry but has produced some of the world’s best filmmakers and films. While most of the attention in Indian cinema usually goes to Hindi-language films–the films of Bollywood–the TTFF09 will showcase other aspects of Indian film. Pather Panchali, the majestic first film by India’s greatest ever filmmaker, the Bengali director Satyajit Ray, will be screened, along with a documentary about Ray by British filmmaker Adam Low (whose documentary on VS Naipaul was screened the Festival in 2008, and who will again be in attendance this year). A recent film by India’s current leading arthouse film director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan of Kerala, will also be screened, as well Sita Sings the Blues, an amazing animated musical version of the Hindu epic the Ramayana, by American filmmaker Nina Paley.
Other changes to the TTFF this year include the expansion of the screenings at StudioFilmClub from from two to four nights, and at the University of the West Indies to two full days and evenings. A few other smaller changes have also been made here and there, which, if you’ve been a regular at the Festival over the past few years we hope you’ll notice and enjoy. We greatly desire your input as to how the TTFF could improved in years to come, so look out for the feedback boxes at the various venues once the Festival begins. We may not have the stature of a Venice or a Cannes Film Festival just yet, but with your help we’re working on it.
Is it possible to love a bird that feeds on the carcasses of decaying animals? Is it possible to grow increasingly fond of he of the sharp beak and dark disposition, not to mention the disarming [fill in the blank]? A few months ago, we might have blanched at these questions but, as it turns out, we at the trinidad+tobago film festival/09 have recently spent some time with a creature that encapsulates all of the aforementioned and not-so-endearing qualities—the Cobo, our local bird of prey. Having said that, you might be led to believe that we’ve been keeping company with a vulture as it simultaneously tears into a rotting fish and flaps its wings in an attempt to get us away from its dinner, but please, allow us to explain.
Every year the film festival selects an artist who creates a piece of work to serve as the primary image of the festival. In 2008, our artist was Peter Doig, whose limited edition silkscreen print, Lapeyrouse Wall, disappeared in what seemed like five minutes. It became the first picture in a new and unique collection of “Festival Art” sponsored by the National Museum and Art Gallery. Earlier this year we asked Eddie Bowen to be our Festival Artist and he enthusiastically accepted. Never one to avoid affronting the narrow-minded, Bowen pushed aside picturesque ideals of the islands, and chose to focus instead on our most notorious winged creature, a.k.a., the Cobo (or Corbeau, if you wish to be proper about it).
We’ve now heard the indignant question more than a couple of times: A Cobo? A Cobo is your festival image? Yet, through the criticisms of well-meaning folks, we’ve flown with pride next to our Cobo, claiming that although, yes, he is one nervous and devious bird with a penchant for munching foul things, he is gritty and real and a true representation of Trinidadian (and Caribbean) culture from the inside looking out, rather than the outside looking in. He is a whole cast of characters—the priest, the trickster, the garbage man, the Midnight Robber. He is the shadow, he exists in the wake of our consumption, picking, cleaning, and transforming our landscape. Represented through Bowen’s eye and skillfully rendered in graphite and pen, the Cobo becomes a complex and, dare we say it, surprisingly beautiful bird.
But you’ll be the judge. Please join us at 6pm on Tuesday August 18 as we unveil Bowen’s Cobo at The National Museum and Art Gallery on Keate Street, Port of Spain. Signed and numbered limited edition silkscreen prints of the Cobo, produced by Axelle Fine Arts in New York City, will be on sale at the event for TT $2,500, or you can contact the festival office at (+)868.621.0709. There are only 100 prints in this edition; don’t miss out on the chance to casually mention to friends that you keep your very own Cobo at home, right above the dining table.
22 Jerningham Ave,
Belmont, Port of Spain,
Trinidad and Tobago, WI