22–28 Sept 2021
Save the Date

And the ttff/09 Winners are…

First off, apologies. There I was, all set to liveblog the closing ceremony of the trinidad+tobago film festival/09. Then I get to the venue, and what do I find? No WiFi access. (Is there a worse way to break a blogger’s heart?) Anyway, there will be a fuller post later, with photos, but for now, here are your winners….

Best film

Carmen and Geoffrey, directed by Nick Doob and Linda Atkinson

Best Trinidad & Tobago film

The Solitary Alchemist, directed by Mariel Brown

People’s choice award, best feature film

The Ghost of Hing King Estate, directed by Horace Ové

People’s choice award, best documentary

Mas Man, directed by Dalton Narine

People’s choice award, best short

Coolie Pink and Green, directed by Patricia Mohammed

Congratulations to all winners. More to come soon.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan at UWI

Indian filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan speaks at the screening of his film Four Women, which took place yesterday at UWI

How do you know when you’re in the presence of a Great Artist? Yesterday afternoon at the School of Education at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, the University’s Film Programme, in association with the Indian High Commission and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Cultural Cooperation, hosted the Indian director Adoor Gopalakrishnan, for a screening of his TTFF entry, Four Women.

Having seen the film previously I knew how good it was, and I knew that Gopalakrishnan, with a dozen feature films and many short and documentary films to his credit, is one of India’s greatest living filmmakers. But it wasn’t until after the screening when this small, soft-spoken, grey-haired man took questions from the audience that his true genius was impressed upon me. The session, which lasted around forty-five minutes, could have gone on for hours, as Gopalakrishnan spoke with eloquence and wit about a host of topics, including the nature of Indian cinema, adapting literature to film, working with famous actors, and how much you can tell about a man by the way he eats his food. Here are some quotes from a conversation with an undeniably Great Artist.

“Indian cinema is widely taken for Bollywood. I am an outsider to Bollywood. It [Bollywood] sort of tries to entertain you, whatever you take to be entertainment.”

— On mainstream Hindi-language cinema (Bollywood), and his relation to it

“There is no one Indian cinema. There are Indian cinemas, [and] there are equally bad films in all [Indian] languages.”

— On the notion of Indian cinema as a monolith, and the idea that all non-Bollywood cinema is superior to Bollywood

“A whole country’s cinema is being misrepresented by Bollywood.”

— On the hegemony of Bollywood

“The DVD can never match film projection. Never. Maybe one day.”

— On DVD vs film projection

“What is written is meant to be read. What I do is for you to see and hear.”

— On the difference between written texts, and filmic adaptation of those texts

“They are all fine artists…. They are wasting their talents in bad films, and they know it. [So] they are excited to work with me.”

— On the actors, many of them commercial Indian cinema stars, he works with

“Just think…don’t ‘act’. I can read your thoughts in your face. That’s the magic of cinema.”

— His advice to his actors

“Ultimately, the actor is acting to me, not the audience. I am the audience.”

— On the difference between directing actors for screen as opposed to stage

“I never compromise.”

— On what makes him unique as a director

Liveblogging the TTFF09 awards

Dear Friends of the Festival,

After two weeks of films, workshops, Q&A; sessions, panel discussions and parties, the trinidad+tobago film festival/09 comes to an end this evening, with the official closing film, awards ceremony and reception at MovieTowne.

At 5.45pm the screening of Carmen and Geoffrey takes place, with guest of honour Geoffrey Holder in attendance. After the screening, the awards will be announced. This year, in addition to the regular people’s choice awards (for best short, best documentary and best feature), there are for the first time jury prizes, for best film and best locally made film. All awards cary cash prizes: the prize for best film is US$10,000, the best local film is worth TT$30,000, and each people’s choice winner gets TT$5,000.

The awards will we announced from around 8pm, and Melanie and I will be bringing the results (almost) live, as they are announced. So log on and join us for all the action, and see if your favourite film from this year’s festival walks away with any honours. Unfortunately, we won’t be blogging the after-party–you’ll just have to imagine what that was like for yourselves.

Until this evening!

The Cinema of Satyajit Ray and Coolie Pink and Green at MovieTowne

Patricia Mohammed speaks after the screening of her film, Coolie Pink and Green

Adam Low speaks after the screening of his film, The Cinema of Satyajit Ray

On September 25 the ttff/09 screened two films as part of our new heritage focus. This year the cinematic spotlight was on India so, of course, we couldn’t let the festival pass without taking a look at the work of Satyajit Ray, arguably India’s best filmmaker. UK documentary filmmaker, Adam Low, was present for the screening of his film, The Cinema of Satyajit Ray. Immediately following Low’s documentary was the experimental short, Coolie Pink and Green, which was directed by Patricia Mohammed, a Trinidadian scholar. After the screening of the two very different films, Low and Mohammed answered a few questions about their experiences making their works.


When an audience member commented that Ray looked like a scary person to shoot, Low said that, no, Ray had been extremely obliging throughout the interview process, which took place over a few days, fairly recently after Ray had been ill. Low said that the making of the film had been a happy experience and that what he ultimately took out of it wasn’t the cultural differences between himself and Ray but the lesson that “the distance between us is very small; we’re closer than we think.” Another crucial point that Low brought up at the Q&A; was the importance of a filmmaker finding and then using his or her own visual language. And, as for spoken language, Low firmly believes that it shouldn’t be a barrier to understanding a film as, “the most important moments are felt, not spoken. There’s no need to state things when you can show them.”

Pat, on the other hand, took a slightly different approach to her film, which relied, in part, on a spoken narrative. When asked why she chose to make the film and why she chose to call it what she did, Pat replied: “I wanted to make a film about India but specifically for Trinidad & Tobago . . . As for the name: ‘coolie’ has been used as a derogative word [to describe people of Indian descent] so I wanted to confront the use of the word in order to remove the stigma attached to it. The second part, the ‘pink and green’ I included for aesthetic value.” The film emerged in a different way—through verse—as Pat wanted to “move beyond the style of documentaries. Instead of talking heads I decided to go to something more poetic,” she noted.

The ttff heritage element acknowledges and celebrates the various national cultures that have influenced the Caribbean, and Trinidad and Tobago in particular. In this, our inaugural year of the heritage element of the festival, the focus was on India. Next year we’re thinking Africa but we’ll, of course, confirm that once we’re sure!

Christopher Din Chong, production and editing assistant of Coolie Pink and Green speaks after the screening. To his left is crew member, Michael Mooledhar

Adam Low (centre) speaks with visiting filmmaker, Juan Gélas, and ttff creative director, Emilie Upczak before the screening of his documentary


The second filmmakers’ panel

Filmmakers’ panel, from left to right: Marina Salandy Brown (moderator), Ishmahil Blagrove, Adam Lowe, Mariel Brown, Steve McAlpin, Lawrence Coke, and Juan Gélas

Last Friday, members of the ttff sat with a few of our guest filmmakers at Chaud Restaurant for a panel moderated by festival executive director, Marina Salandy Brown. This was the second and final filmmakers’ panel for the 09 season. We welcomed the public to come take in the discussion free of charge, and the coffee and pastries were on us, too. Marina asked several interesting questions throughout the discussion, many of which have been or will be answered in detail in previous or subsequent posts. Two very simple questions asked were ones I hadn’t yet heard answered by our guests: “How did you become a filmmaker?” and “Any last words?” If you’ve ever wanted to ask either of these questions, then read on. Even if you haven’t wanted to ask either of these questions then I still suggest you read on, as the stories to follow are as much about society and choice and Life as they are about specific aspects of a career in film.

Juan Gélas, French/English documentary filmmaker based in Paris. His film, The Metamorphosis of Anguilla was screened at ttff/09
As a producer some 10-15 years ago, Juan gave cameras to filmmakers and sent them out to make films. He found the energy surrounding filmmaking to be incredible and soon knew enough about making films, although he wasn’t technically sound. Then came the digital age when cameras became affordable so he got one and began learning how to shoot himself. He shot often on his own and began to move into the independent filmmaking world. He likes this relatively new and freer method of making films but acknowledges the challenges of finding a way to finance the films he wants to make. The flip side of that, however, is that he has a lot of power as a sole filmmaker, as he has the opportunity to tell the stories he wishes to tell in the way he wishes to tell them. He also will spend months shooting the same subject (not continuously, of course) as he likes the bonds he makes in the process of making a film.
Juan’s last words: Not every story can be told, not when you’re dealing with reality and the world.

Lawrence Coke, UK filmmaker and bfm guest. His short films, Melvin: Portrait of a Player, Morally Speaking, and One Day at a Time, were screened at ttff/09
Award-winning master of spinning a succinct yarn, Lawrence starting making short films as a way to explore improvised comedy. He made a deliberate decision not to shoot his shorts in the same style—each is a testament to doing something slightly different. “Comedy is easy,” he notes. He also believes that shorts are a great way for a filmmaker to establish his or her track record, which goes a long way towards getting funding for larger projects. Case in point: Lawrence is currently working on expanding one of his shorts into a feature.
Lawrence’s last words: When dealing with the media, it’s important to find out who you’re working with. Research it. You need to have a clear and concise idea and a sense of responsibility as a filmmaker.

Steve McAlpin, US/Jamaican filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. His film, Bashment: The Fork in the Road was screened at ttff/09
Steve was a slam poet at the time he and his friends decided to make a film about their experiences of moving to America. They hadn’t planned on making it for anyone but themselves. Using MS Word, they wrote the script over a summer break, shot it over 8 months with a home camera and then put it together with an editor. They made 2,000 DVDs and sold them out in 2 weeks and then made 2,000 more but, by then, the film had been heavily bootlegged so demand for the DVDs decreased sharply. But the overall experience left them surprised them and gave them the confidence to make a more polished film. Their second film built on their experience of making the first.
Steve’s last words: I encourage you to take the time to learn all aspects of film, from the ground up. It’s Ok to start where you start, but be sure to get better.

Mariel Brown, Trinidadian documentary filmmaker. Her film, The Solitary Alchemist, screened at ttff/09 and her film, The Insatiable Season, was a People’s Choice Award winner at the ttff/07
In her early 20s, Mariel was a journalist for a local TV station but routinely had near nervous breakdowns and an ulcer or two. She loved the medium of TV but would fall apart every day and recalls that her father once told her that, “Journalists lived with their faces pressed against reality.” At the time she worked in TV, there was nothing else going on other than making news so she shot the pilot of a cooking show but then left Trinidad for Jamaica, burnt out in her mid-20s. She fell in love with (and in) Jamaica and stayed for a few years but returned to Trinidad at 29 and sold her cooking show to a local station and then made the show for 6 seasons. But she remained “most interested in trials of the heart and why we make the decisions that we make,” and so she set out to explore just that through documentary films.
Mariel’s last words: Don’t apologise for where you have to start; ultimately, it has no bearing. Be sensitive to your subject. There’s no need to reveal everything that you could reveal.

Adam Lowe, UK documentary filmmaker. His film, The Cinema of Satyajit Ray, screened at the ttff/09 and his film, Arena: The Strange Luck of V.S. Naipaul screened at the ttff/08
Adam started with a few words to the wise: A person is never who you think they are. You have to register and monitor your own connection to your subject. At a young age, Adam got an apprenticeship with the BBC and worked hard to make himself indispensable. He became a producer in his 20s and, in the 80s was sent to Trinidad to shoot a film on Shiva Naipaul. He admitted to being a bit different than our other panelists, in that he “doesn’t know one end of a camera from the other.” But he found a niche position in making films about artists and writers and such, and thinks of film biographies as fascinating and noted that his canvas has gotten bigger and bigger over the years. Adam spoke about becoming absorbed in his work and of the fact that he learned and earned his reputation and was never one to follow a traditional route—a route that, he admits is difficult but not impossible to pursue.
Adam’s last words: Eliminate obvious use of the word, “I”. When filmmaking is at its best, people will experience your individual perception of a subject.

Ishmahil Blagrove, UK documentary filmmaker and bfm guest. His films, Hasta Siempre and This is Our Country Too were screened at the ttff/09
Ishmahil once worked in personal security and, through this work, met a lot of filmmakers. He knew he wanted to be more intimately involved in filmmaking and so learnt how to operate a camera and got a job working for the BBC and Channel 4 as a correspondent. He soon realised, though, that working for an organisation meant that he would not have complete creative control over the stories he wanted to tell. Once the technology to make films became affordable and, thus, accessible, he acquired his equipment with the goal of being totally independent. He quit the BBC and got together with a few others to found his current independent film company, RiceNPeas. Today, they shoot films around the world, keeping the costs as low as possible through innovative measures.
Ishmahil’s last words: Reinvent the wheel; learn to draw but then throw out the rules. There’s no such thing as being objective. Be aware of yourself and your prejudices and class dynamics. Live in your own experience and lose the romance.

The use of archival footage in documentary filmmaking

British documentary filmmaker Adam Low at yesterday afternoon’s workshop

So yesterday afternoon at the Hotel Normandie, after the team-led morning workshop on the theory and practice of documentary filmmaking, British documentary filmmaker and trinidad+tobago film festival regular Adam Low, who was part of the morning session, did a solo stint on the use and misuse of archive film footage in documentaries.

The subject might seem a somewhat obscure one, and I myself admit to being slightly taken aback when I first learned it was one of the workshop topics at this year’s festival. But just give it a moment’s thought and you’ll realise that for many, if not most documentary filmmakers, archive material is manna, and knowing how to effectively manipulate it is key to mastering the art of the documentary. Adam’s presentation was thorough and incisive–not to mention extremely enjoyable–and I found myself taking such copious notes that I’ve decided to make this post much more detailed than usual.

After quickly running through the different types of archival footage there are, Adam began to discuss the different ways the material can be used to achieve various ends. He did so by playing clips from a number of films by well-known documentary filmmakers, and examining how archive footage was used in each of them. He began with one of the giants of the documentary, Errol Morris, and clips from his 2004 Academy Award-winning film The Fog of War, about Robert McNamara, who was the US Secretary of Defense during the War in Vietnam.

The Fog of War is essentially a filmed interview with McNamara, interspersed with archive material. The material is mostly quite mundane propaganda military footage, but, the way Morris edits it together, and with the addition of music, as well as bits of taped conversations between McNamara and then US-president Lyndon Johnson, the footage is made ironic, and what McNamara says is undermined and ironicised as well. “It’s extremely chilling in the way that the archive material is used,” said Adam. “It’s used in this poetic way–it becomes a work of art.” He added, “Archive is only of any real consequence if you do something creative with it.”

The next film Adam showed clips from was First Contact, a 1983 Australian documentary about the native people of the interior of Papua New Guinea in the 1930s encountering outsiders for the first time. The extraordinary archive footage in this film is actually what is known as “found” footage–specifically, film that a prospector shot on a camera he took with him to PNG. Here Adam talked about the sensitivity needed in using such personal footage; one must remember, he said, that the people in this footage aren’t actors. More than this, such footage can be problematic, and can come across as exotic, even racist. Yet the primal power of the footage cannot be denied. “Archive footage has the incredible capacity to take you back in time, and bring into focus distant events,” Adam declared.

After First Contact was the 2008 documentary The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, directed by Vikram Jayanti, who, like Adam, makes documentaries for the BBC Two Arena series. Like The Fog of War, Phil Spector is essentially an interview with its subject, intercut with archive footage. Some of the footage is from performances of songs that Spector, the great music wizard who pioneered the “wall of sound” in the 1950s and 60s, wrote and produced. But the bulk of the archive is from Spector’s 2007 trial for the murder of his companion Lana Clarkson.

Although Jayanti was banned from the courtroom, he had (free) access to the filmed footage of the trial, and he uses it to astonishing effect in his film, which is, on the surface, about Spector’s life in music, and not about his tribulations at all. “You give a meaning to the archival footage which you didn’t have before,” said Adam, noting the importance here of proper editing. He then played two clips showing scenes from the trial: one was of Spector’s past girlfriends testifying to his violent nature, overlaid by the Crystals’ infamous “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)”, the other showing Spector’s lawyer arguing that the evidence implicating his client was false, soundtracked by the Beatles’ “Let It Be” (Spector famously produced the Fab Four’s last album).

“We should have a ‘Do not try this at home’ label stuck to this film,” joked Adam, about the film he next showed a clip from, titled, coincidentally, It Felt Like A Kiss, by the king of archive material, the British documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis. This is a film composed entirely of archive material, and its theme is how power works in our modern world. It features footage of, among others, Eldridge Cleaver, Doris Day, Philip K Dick, Enos (a chimpanzee sent into space), Rock Hudson, Saddam Hussein, Richard Nixon, Lee Harvey Oswald, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Tina Turner. All the footage is cut together in a spellbinding way, with, again, the potent use of music, and the bold use of captions. Adam admitted to showing the clip as an extreme example of the use of archive material; Curtis is a unique filmmaker, and no one else does what he does.

Finally, Adam rounded out his presentation with clips from a personal project–not one of his own documentaries, but a film he was asked to do some archive research on. He explained how, with very little budget and only two weeks to work in, he was able (with the assistance of professional archive researchers in the UK) to access and put together archive material to make a film clip to the client’s satisfaction. He noted that much archive material is available free at such places as archive.org, and that the BBC is in the process of putting all of its archives online for public access (though not for free).

“I use archive in my films all the time, and it’s very enjoyable,” said Adam as he wrapped up. As he said this, however, I couldn’t help but think that for someone like Adam Low who is British and works a lot with the BBC and has access to much great archive material, it’s quite easy to make such a statement. Trinidad and Tobago filmmakers (as well as writers) know how little proper archive material, relatively speaking, is available here, and how difficult such material can be to access where it does exist. But as I was thinking this, Adam made one final point, in answer to a question from the audience.

“Archive is so powerful that if you use it properly, you can make it appear that there’s more than there is.”

Making the most of what you have–good advice not just for documentary filmmakers, but filmmakers in general.

Catherine Emmanuel, TTFF workshop coordinator, assists Adam Low in his presentation

The audience takes in Adam’s presentation

bfm at SFC

ttff/09 bfm guest filmmakers Ishmahil Blagrove (holding mic) and Lawrence Coke

Thursday night marked the final StudioFilmClub screenings for the trinidad+tobago film festival/09. The three nights of last week’s programme were programmed by Hilton Als, who chose as his focus artists’ films and issues of identity surrounding womanhood. This week’s programme differed as the ttff and SFC welcomed the visiting bfm—Black Filmmaker—group from the UK. Present at SFC last night were Nadia Denton, bfm’s film festival director; Ishamhil Blagrove, independent documentary filmmaker; and Lawrence Coke, filmmaker. Although UK-based, both filmmakers have roots in the Caribbean.

Before the screenings, Denton gave a little background on the bfm, whose International Film Festival (IFF) is the leading and longest running platform for Black World Cinema in the UK catering to African and Caribbean audiences and those interested in Black arts. In a sort of inspired exchange programme, Trini filmmakers will attend the IFF in London in November.

Three films from bfm filmmakers were screened at SFC. First up was Coke’s Melvin: Portrait of a Player, a short film that tells the tale of that guy we all know–the one who is God’s gift to women . . . or so he thinks. Melvin was completely improvised and made mockumentary black-and-white style. After the screening, Coke answered a couple of questions on the film. People, inevitably, wanted to know if Melvin was based on a specific person. “He’s an amalgamation of a lot of guys,” Coke said, adding that he and his friends really just looked for situations that would make them laugh, his main goal being to document that air of confusion that exists in male/female relationships.

Next to be screened was Blagrove’s documentary, Hasta Siempre, a film that offers a unique perspective of Cuba from the inside by highlighting what life is like for ordinary Cubans. We were treated to revealing interviews with a cross section of people; ultimately, the image of Cuba that emerged is one of its citizens’ pride and their ability to make happy lives in what many perceive as a desperate country. After the screening, Blagrove answered a few questions, the first being how he was able to film in Cuba given their weighty press restrictions. “We applied for journalist visas in August 2005 but were denied,” he said. Instead of giving up, his company enrolled a 19-year old guy in a Havana film school, which, of course, was the perfect cover for making a film. The end result is a powerful message of people not only searching for themselves and defining their identity but of a society where there exists a real concern for one’s neighbour, and one in which worth is not measured by possessions.

Last on the night’s bill was Afro-Saxons, a film by Rachel Wang who, unfortunately, had to cancel her trip to Trinidad at the last minute. Afro-Saxons is a fascinating exploration of the world of Black women’s hairstyling in London. Wang interviewed and followed a colourful cast of characters who banded together to tell a tale that was relatively unknown in our parts, yet oh so familiar.

After the last screening it was business as usual at SFC which, of course, meant drinks and liming and smoking and discussing the films that we’d seen and, best of all, chatting with our guests. All in all, a good night.

A full house at Thursday night’s SFC programme

The Solitary Alchemist at MovieTowne

Director Mariel Brown (centre) enjoys a hearty round of applause after The Solitary Alchemist, a portrayal of the life and art of Barbara Jardine. With her from left are: Barbie Jardine, Marina Salandy Brown (ttff director), Sean Edghill (cameraman) and Eniola Adelekan (cinematographer)

Yesterday evening, a full house at MovieTowne POS sat enraptured by filmmaker Mariel Brown‘s documentary, The Solitary Alchemist—an intimate and moving portrayal of the life and art of Trinidadian jeweller, Barbara Jardine. The film traces Barbie’s history, from her education at London’s Royal College of Art to the return to her native Trinidad in 1974 and her life here since, with a present-day focus on Barbie’s creation of a new work for an exhibition in Scotland.

After the film, Mariel answered a few questions with Barbie and Sean Edghill, her cameraman, and Eniola Adelekan, her cinematographer. When asked why she chose to make a movie on Barbie, Mariel said the following: “I have childhood memories of my mother dressing up, getting ready to go out. And then, when I was 16 I saw an exhibition of jewellery at Precious Little and Barbie’s piece, In Memoriam was there and I was absolutely gobsmacked as I had never seen figurative work like that.”

Years after the show, Mariel curated an exhibition of work by locally-based artist/jewellers and got to know Barbie a bit better. She was delighted when the artist invited her to see a piece she was making, and noted last night that it was evident that Barbie was open to sharing her creative process. After Mariel was asked in 2006 to edit on a book on Barbie, she got to know the artist a bit better and became even more fascinated and realised that there was a story there she wanted to explore.

There are quite a few beautiful shots of Barbie’s jewellery in the film and, for this, Mariel gave credit to Eniola and Sean whose technical skills and sensitive eyes succeeded in accomplishing an extremely difficult task. Eniola spoke briefly of the “infinite discipline and patience” required for the work they did in shooting Barbie’s pieces, as well as the fact that the silence and stillness of shooting sometimes left him transfixed. Also of note in the film: there is almost no imposed light whatsoever, a deliberate move as Mariel wanted Barbie’s home to feel like it does on any given day when there is no camera and crew there. This allowed for a greater intimacy between filmmaker and subject and, in turn, for greater intimacy between viewer and subject. Also of note is the musical track, which was composed specifically for the film and lends itself especially well to specific moments without overpowering the purity of the narrative.

When asked if she had made any compromises, Mariel said that she would have gotten an editor if she could have afforded one instead of editing the work herself (a task for which she pushed herself as far as possible) but, other than that, no. She also told of the process of shooting and how it took longer than she had initially planned. Three months turned to five months and then six, and, before she and Barbie knew it, it had been three years. And, as Barbie noted, it was “three years of ups and downs for both of us.”

And, on the subject of collaboration: To me, one of the loveliest things about the Q&A; was that Mariel insisted on having Barbie and the two people who worked so tirelessly on the film by her side as she spoke; that she wanted to share the experience with them, and to acknowledge to everyone present the hard work that they did and the fact that the film couldn’t have been made as it was without them. The line of people who stood in front of us: subject, filmmaker, festival director, cameraman, cinematographer, got me to thinking about a film as a miniature life: sure, we might be able to make it without each other, but would the end result be anywhere near as good? Perhaps my sentimentality was a function of watching a film with such strong emotional content. But after Barbie said her last words for the evening—”When you put yourself in the hands of a biographer it’s a gesture of trust in that person. I have to thank Mariel for treating me and my work with enormous sensitivity and respect.”–I suspected that what I had perceived as sentimentality was, perhaps, something a bit deeper.

A still from The Solitary Alchemist

A full house takes in the post-screening Q&A;

Eniola, Mariel, and Sean at MovieTowne after the screening

This is Our Country Too at MovieTowne

bfm guest, Ishmahil Blagrove answers a few questions after yesterday’s screening of his documentary, This is Our Country Too. Moderating is ttff director, Marina Salandy Brown

Hello readers, first of all I’d like to apologise for the fact that this post is a day late (hopefully it’s not also a dollar short). We’ve had a busy few days at the festival, so much so that the proliferation of panels and Q&As; have meant that I’ve spent a good part of my days scribbling furiously in cinemas and conference rooms, rather than at home typing.

ANYWAY. Yesterday afternoon we kicked off our ttff/bfm screenings at MovieTowne, POS with the documentary, This is Our Country Too, an educational and downright anger-provoking look at how years of misguided, oppressive and racist official policies have led to the formation of two Australias: One, the wealthy, progressive nation that most outsiders see; the other, the Australia of marginalised Aboriginal communities, beset by a host of problems. Present at the screening was director Ishmahil Blagrove, who answered a few questions after the film.

As with many of our documentary Q&As; thus far, the first question raised was why Blagrove chose to make this film. He responded by saying he felt that “the presence of Afro-Asiatic individuals in that part of the world has been excluded from the wider Diaspora.” Blagrove’s company, RiceNPeas Films, is committed to telling stories of the African individual, not just from the Diaspora but around the world.

Blagrove then spoke a bit about the making of the film, which took three months to shoot, partially due to the difficulty of negotiating a country as vast as Australia but also because of the difficulty of penetrating the culture of the Aborigines who were, understandably, a bit wary of outsiders documenting their lives. He spoke of wanting to film a coming-of-age ceremony and being refused access until one of elders was consulted and he adopted into the clan.

One parallel drawn by an audience member was of the parallels between the Aborigines’ story and that of Blacks and slavery. Blagrove then talked a bit about how important it is that we are able to negotiate a changing world, and that we can’t cling to our puristic views any longer. At the end of This is Our Country Too, there is footage of Australian PM, Kevin Rudd making a formal, public apology to the Aboriginal community. Around that time, there was a lot of excitement and hope for the future of the divided country, but little has changed since then.

On the issue of exploring hypocrisy, Blagrove noted that this is the main issue about debate and discussion—that it “brings forward new stories and perspectives and creates further dialogue,” just one of the reasons he makes the films that he does. The director also spoke about how angry he would become filming some of the stories he had, citing as an example his documentary, Blood Diamond, which came some five years before the Hollywood movie of the same name. Being in Sierra Leone during the war, he wanted to save people but found that it was beneficial to become desensitized and detached. “Our experiences make a story subjective,” he noted. I wanted to be as objective as possible in order to tell the story.”

A quick note again to mention that the ttff this year welcomes a few members of the bfm and the bfm, in turn, will host a few local and regional filmmakers during their November film festival in London.

A still from Blagrove’s documentary, This is Our Country Too

bfm guests at MovieTowne after the screening (from left to right): Lawrence Coke (filmmaker), Ishmahil Blagrove (filmmaker), Nadia Benton (bfm festival director) with Jamaican/US filmmaker, Steve McAlpin



Apologies for the lack of photos with this post, but I’ve been having good old technical difficulties today. Will add the photos as soon as possible.

I’ll be the first to admit it: last year’s partnership between the trinidad+tobago film festival and the University of the West Indies wasn’t exactly a smashing success. Cobbled together at the last minute, the UWI programme for the ttff/08 left much to be desired. Determined not to have a repeat of last year, this year we meticulously planned two days and nights of screenings at UWI, and I am thrilled to report that yesterday, the first day of the programme, was a huge success.

Screenings started on campus from 11am at the Institute of Critical Thinking with a double bill, the student short The Contemporary Sorcerer, directed by Roger Alexis, followed by Carmen and Geoffrey, the wonderfully affectionate documentary portrait of Trinidad-born dancer-actor-painter Geoffrey Holder, and his wife, doyenne of the New York dance world, Carmen de Lavallade, directed by Nick Doob and Linda Atkinson. The screening of Carmen and Geoffrey was a joy to behold, with some of the more than fifty audience members–many of them contemporaries of Geoffrey Holder–getting into the spirit of the film and cheering, or making comments whenever Holder (almost invariably it was Holder) said something witty or striking, about his colonial childhood, experiencing racism in the US, or how to keep a marriage working (“Men, don’t change your wives. My wife is Carmen de Lavallade, not Mrs Holder. Mrs Holder is my mother.”).

The 1pm screenings continued the theme of biographical portraits of creative personalities, with screenings of a film by former UWI principal Bhoe Tewarie about VS Naipaul, Tribute to a Native Son, and Adam Low‘s Cinema of Satyajit Ray, about the late, great Indian filmmaker. Both directors were in attendance and introduced their films, Low noting that he shot his not long after Ray had had a heart attack (this was in 1988). This resulted in Low, under Ray’s doctors’ orders, only being able to film his subject for an hour a day for four days. He also noted that since the shoot was a relatively uncomplicated one, he didn’t bring a film crew with him from England to Calcutta, but worked instead with Ray’s own crew on the documentary.

After the post-screening Q&A; session, Low then introduced Satyajit Ray’s first feature film, Pather Panchali, with some help from His Excellency Shri Malay Mishra, the Indian High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago. I’d heard that His Excellency was something of a film buff, but nothing could have prepared me for the detailed, even scholarly, introduction he gave to the film. But what surprised me–and much in the audience, including the Film Programme’s coordinator/ttff Founder Bruce Paddington–even more was his unexpected announcement that the High Commission had decided to endow a professorship in Indian cinema at the Film Programme at UWI, to start before the end of 2009.

As for the film, well, what more can be said about Pather Panchali? One of the masterworks in world cinema (along with Aparajito and Apu Sansar, the two films that complete the Apu Trilogy), and one of the three or four greatest first films, Pather Panchali continues to delight the more I see it. It is such an amazingly assured debut, with its brilliant bringing together of luminous cinematography, near-perfect performances and the astoundingly effective use of motifs and music. Ray went on make many more films, some of them better, technically speaking, than Pather Panchali, but for me nothing he did in his later career could surpass the achievement of the Apu films–all human life is there.

The daytime screenings over, the evening screenings then took place at the Film Programme’s spacious, soon-to-be new new location at Carmody Street, just off the UWI main campus. The films Suck Meh Soucouyant, Suck Meh, by Oyetayo Ojoade, and Yao Ramesar’s Sistagod II were shown. Apart from the screenings, the occasion was an opportunity for the Film Programme to honour the achievements of its students–a number of whom have film in the Festival–as well as honour the graduating class, the Programme’s first. It was a fittingly celebratory end to a great day of celebrating film.

And the ttff/09 Winners are…

Adoor Gopalakrishnan at UWI

The Cinema of Satyajit Ray and Coolie Pink and Green at MovieTowne

The second filmmakers’ panel

The use of archival footage in documentary filmmaking

bfm at SFC

The Solitary Alchemist at MovieTowne

This is Our Country Too at MovieTowne


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