22–28 Sept 2021
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Filmmaker in focus: Kevin Adams

Kevin Adams is going places. A young Trinidad & Tobago filmmaker, Kevin left local shores as a teenager for the United States, where he studied filmmaking before working for Sony music in its video production department. He recently returned home and has just completed his first short film, titled No Soca, No Life. A feature-length version of the same film, Queen of Soca, is almost complete. Recently Kevin stopped by the ttff offices to chat about his films, explain how he got into filmmaking, and give us his candid views on the state of the local film industry.

trinidad+tobago film festival: No Soca, No Life is your first film, a 30-minute narrative. Could you tell us what it’s about?

Kevin Adams: It’s a simple story, a sort of rags-to-riches story about a girl, Olivia, living in Morvant, who’s trying to get out of [poverty] and become somebody.

ttff: She decides she’s going to become a soca singer.

KA: She starts off as a choir singer, singing in church. Her moms is definitely not down with the soca stuff, and wants her to continue in the church. There’s a mishap, and her moms ends up in the hospital, and Olivia has to fend for herself. The only thing she really knows how to do is sing, so what she does is use her voice, and ends up getting involved in soca.

ttff: And the feature-length version, Queen of Soca, will expand on this story.

KA: Absolutely. With the short version we had to cut out a lot of the subplots—she has a boyfriend, there’s a producer, her moms is involved with a preacher. All these different things. What we had to do was keep [the short] directly on Olivia. In the feature-length version you get the full aspect of every person in the story.

ttff: What was it like making No Soca, No Life, and what you’ve shot so far of Queen of Soca?

KA: Finding cast and crew in Trinidad was not a simple thing. Being in the US [previously], I didn’t know many people here and what they’re doing. Out there I could find someone with the snap of my finger. It took a good couple of months to put a nice little solid crew together. But my DP (director of photography) is someone who I trust, and I actually brought him from the US, we went to school together. So that was the easy part. I think once you have the DP everything else sort of falls into place. I’m not saying everything will work perfectly, but it will fall into place.

Cast was another thing. I saw some soca artistes who came down to audition [for the lead role]. Terri Lyons, from the moment everyone on the production team saw her, it was like, there’s no way we could do the film without her. She’s phenomenal, and I don’t think she ever took an acting class in her life. Besides that, Penelope Spencer, who plays Olivia’s mother, helped out a lot [with preparing the actors for shooting].

ttff: How long was the production?

KA: We were supposed to shoot for 17 days. We were rained out four days out of those 17 days. It wasn’t smooth, because it was rainy season—that’s something I’m definitely going to take note of in my next production!

ttff: How did you decide you wanted to become a filmmaker?

KA: I moved to New York at the age of 14. I went to school, then didn’t really have the money to go to college. I was a big footballer player at the time and got a partial scholarship to go to college to play football. It actually didn’t pan out, because we didn’t have the money to pick up where the scholarship left off. So I ended up working for three years at a restaurant in New York City before I tried to figure out what I was going to do with myself.

What came to mind was, when I was in high school, my English teachers said to me, “You know, your writing is so expressive, even though your grammar is not that good. We can always visualise what you’re telling us.” Based on that I said, “You know what? Maybe I can be a writer.” And so when I was looking for colleges, Brooklyn College, which was maybe 15 minutes away from where I was living, I looked at their syllabus and there it was: screenwriting. And I saw that there were some [film] production classes that came with it. So it all just fell into place. The first two years were all written classes, but in the third year they put a camera in your hand, and that was it. That bug bit me.

ttff: Last year you were selected to participate in the film festival’s first ever Focus: Filmmakers’ Immersion, an intensive three-day creative workshop for 12 selected Caribbean filmmakers. What was the experience like?

KA: First of all, the year before that, I was one of the winners of the festival’s short promo competition. It was good, I felt I was on the right path. The following year when Focus came around, I said, let me go up and try something. I have two other feature-length films that I’ve written, and I said, “If I could pitch one of these and it works, it works. And if it doesn’t work maybe these people can help me improve on it.”

And that is exactly what took place. A movie I wrote before Queen of Soca, I’m calling it Steel now, a pan movie, I pitched it, and they felt, it’s an interesting idea, but there’s a lot that’s missing. And when I sat with the Focus group, oh my goodness man. From script development, knowing your characters, knowing your dramatic structure—they helped you with everything. And while I didn’t win the overall pitch competition, I did win a trip to the Bahamas International Film Festival. That was another great experience.

ttff: Now that you have your first completed film under your belt, and have almost completed your first feature, what do you think are prospects for the film industry in the Caribbean, and what do you think needs to be done to help take it forward?

I’ve always been big on unity, and honestly speaking, that’s one of the main things that’s missing here in Trinidad & Tobago. And when I say unity, I mean getting a group of filmmakers to sit together to get some progression in each aspect of filmmaking. Certain people have the equipment, certain people are the good writers, some people are good technically. Everyone is in their own group, and no one is saying, “Listen man, if we come together to do for the greater good, we can move ahead quicker.” This is big business. I can’t see how people in Trinidad can’t come together and say, “You know what, we’re looking at not just a million people in Trinidad, but at numbers worldwide, if we can put together some great productions and sell them internationally.” We need to come together and look at the bigger picture.

No Soca, No life premieres later this year. Queen of Soca is slated for a 2012 release. Both films may be found on Facebook.

Photo: Kevin Adams (with glasses) on the set of No Soca, No Life

Academy Award nominee Chico & Rita to screen in Tobago

A brilliant piano player and a beautiful singer from Cuba chase their dreams—and each other—across the globe in the majestic Chico & Rita, the next installment of the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) and bpTT’s Community Cinergy series of film screenings.

The screening takes place at the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort, Tobago Plantations Estate, Lowlands, Tobago on April 9 (Easter Monday), from 7pm. The film, which is in Spanish with English subtitles, is for persons 14 years and over. Admission is free of charge, and dinner, snacks and drinks will be available.

Chico & Rita follows the fortunes of its title characters as they travel from Havana in the 1940s to the bright lights of New York and beyond. Love and passion unite them, but success and the social and political upheavals of the time threaten to tear them apart.

Described by the New York Times as “Sexy, sweet and laced with a sadness at once specific to its place and time” and “an animated valentine to Cuba and its music”, Chico & Rita was nominated as the best animated feature at this year’s Academy Awards.

The film—which has a ravishing score by nonagenarian Cuban music legend Bebo Valdés—was also the opening night selection of the ttff/11.

The ttff is held annually in September and is presented by Flow, given leading sponsorship by RBC Royal Bank and bpTT, and supported by the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company, the National Gas Company, the Tourism Development Company, the Tobago House of Assembly and the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism. For more information visit www.ttfilmfestival.com.

ttff joins Eye on Films network

In a move that will help strengthen the Caribbean’s presence in the global film market, the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) has been invited to join Eye on Films, a global film network developed by the French sales and distribution company Wide Management, with the support of the European Union’s MEDIA Mundus programme.

Founded in 2011, Eye on Films guarantees the circulation of a selection of feature films by first-time filmmakers in partner film festivals in Europe and around the world, as well as the commercial exploitation of these films.

The project aims to implement a selection of recent films, first or second features (fiction, animation or documentary), never screened or released outside their country of origin. Selected by the members of the Eye on Films network, the films will have the opportunity to be screened in the different festival partners and to be released via the distributors of the network.

One main aspect of Eye on Films is the idea of reciprocity between Europe and non-European countries. Within the framework of Eye on Films, European film festivals are encouraged to screen non-European titles. Reciprocally, non-European festivals are encouraged to screen European titles under the Eye on Films banner.

Eye on Films further aims to create synergies between its partners, in order to maximize the visibility, promotion and marketing of its titles. Currently the network has 31 international partners—15 film festivals and 16 distributors—and includes festivals and distributors in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Australia and North America.

The ttff is the only film festival in the Caribbean to be a part of the Eye on films network.

More information about Eye on Films, including a full list of its network partners, may be found here.

UWI to host next ttff, bpTT Community Cinergy screening

Jean Gentil, the top prize-winning film at last year’s trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) will be screened on Saturday 31 March from 7pm at UWI, as the ttff bpTT Community Cinergy series of film screenings continues.

Written and directed by Laura Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, Jean Gentil tells the poignant, fictional tale of a Haitian immigrant in the Dominican Republic and his attempts to find a job, a place to live and, ultimately, a sense of purpose. The film, which is in Spanish and Haitian Creole with English subtitles, has been critically acclaimed worldwide, and won the jury prize for best narrative feature at the ttff/11.

Preceding Jean Gentil will be a short film, Directions, by Trinidad and Tobago filmmaker Renée Pollonais. Winner of the audience award for best short film at the ttff/08, this is a humorous look at the local predilection for giving bad directions.

The screening of Jean Gentil and Directions is free of charge and will take place outside UWI’s Student Activity Centre. There will be food and drinks on sale, and you are asked to bring blankets, beach chairs or other seating.

Image: A still from Jean Gentil

Transforming young lives through the power of cinema

An uplifting film about the power of faith and perseverence will be screened at the Youth Training Centre (YTC) in Arouca on March 17, as the T&T Film Nights series continues.

T&T Film Nights is an initiative of the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff), sponsored by the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company (TTFC). This screening is taking place as part of an ongoing partnership with Nalis, which in 2008 opened the library facilities at YTC.

The film, called To Be King, a ttff/11 selection, was written and directed by Steve Rahaman, a Trinidadian-American filmmaker. It tells the story of a young man, Tyrone King, the son of a famous professional boxer who himself was a boxer but quit when he lost his family.

When he crosses paths with the man whose actions led to his father’s death, Tyrone decides to make a comeback. He must now find the inner strength he needs to defeat the odds and become a champion.

The movie will be preceded by an entertaining short, Sweet Fries, also a ttff/11 selection, by local filmmaker Renée Pollonais, who will be on hand to introduce her film and speak to the young lads of YTC about the possibilities of a career in filmmaking.

YTC has as its main aim the rehabilitation and training of the lads committed to its custody, which would allow them to return to and function beneficially in the society from which, by due process of law, they have been temporarily set apart.

To this end the centre has an active and varied programme of activities, including academic study, arts, sports and technical-vocational training. The screening of To Be King and Sweet Fries forms an extension of this programme, and seeks to harness the potent power of cinema for the purposes of social transformation.

Please note that this is a closed screening, for the young lads of YTC only.

Filmmaker in focus: Kevin Adams

Academy Award nominee Chico & Rita to screen in Tobago

ttff joins Eye on Films network

UWI to host next ttff, bpTT Community Cinergy screening

Transforming young lives through the power of cinema

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