22–28 Sept 2021
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awards announced for 2013 trinidad+tobago film festival

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The 2013 trinidad+tobago film festival celebrated its filmmakers at the gala awards ceremony last night at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad.

The excitement was tangible in the atmosphere as the crowd waited for the ceremony to begin. There were 12 categories with 14 winners, two of the categories having joint winners.

Here’s the list of winners in full:

RBC Focus: Filmmakers’ Immersion pitch prize (TT$20,000)
Winner: Shakira Bourne

BpTT Student Award (An all-expenses-paid trip to the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2014)
Winner: Maryam Mohammed

BPTT Film in Development Award (TT$20,000)
Winner: Kevin Adams

Best New Media artist (TT$5000)
Winner: Olivia McGilchrist

People’s Choice Award: Best Short Film (TT$5000, sponsored by NH International)
Winner: Jab in the Dark, directed by Robert Macfarlane

People’s Choice Award: Best Documentary Feature (TT$5000, sponsored by Agostini Insurance Brokers Limited)
Winner: Songs of Redemption, directed by Miquel Galofré and Amanda Sans

People’s Choice Award: Best Narrative Feature (TT$5000, sponsored by FLOW)
Winner: God Loves the Fighter, directed by Damian Marcano

Jury Prize: Best Local Short Film (TT$10,000, sponsored by the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company)
Winner: After Mas, directed by Karen Martinez

Jury Prize: Best Local Feature Film (TT$20,000, sponsored by the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company)
Winner: God Loves The Fighter, directed by Damian Marcano

Jury Prize: Best Short Film: (US$2,000, sponsored by the National Gas Company)
Joint First Prize:
Passage, directed by Kareem Mortimer
Previous Scenes, directed by Aleksandra Maciuszek

Jury Prize: Best Caribbean Film by an International Director (US$1000, sponsored by the National Lotteries Control Board)
Winner: Three Kids, directed by Jonas D’Adesky

The Jury awarded two special mentions in this category:
Tula: The Revolt, directed by Jeroen Linders; and The Stuart Hall Project, directed by John Akomfrah.

Jury Prize: Best Documentary Feature (US$4000, sponsored by the National Gas Company). Joint first prize:
Fatal Assistance, directed by Raoul Peck
Songs of Redemption, directed by Miquel Galofré and Amanda Sans

Jury Prize: Best Narrative Feature (US$4000, sponsored by the National Gas Company)
Winner: Melaza, directed by Carlos Lechuga

The jury awarded a special mention in this category:
God Loves the Fighter, directed by Damian Marcano

Caption: Damian Marcano, director of God Loves the Fighter, accepts one of his three ttff/13 awards

film in focus: songs of redemption

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I keep thinking that I have to have a serious conversation with the ttff Editorial Director, Jonathan Ali, because my Festival blogging schedule seems to constitute films that—I will admit—make me cry. My subsequent thought is that these films are absolutely brilliant, and the evidence of their moving, transformative power can be seen in the many teary-eyed members of the exiting audience at the end.

One of the most intense movies on my schedule was Songs of Redemption, an absolutely brilliant film by Spanish directors Miquel Galofré and Amanda Sans. It explores an incredible experimental programme at the General Penitentiary in Kinston, Jamaica. The film features inmates found guilty of crimes such as robbery, possession of arms and murder. Through the open-minded vision of the prison’s former superintendent, they embarked upon a rehabilitation plan that included the opportunity for prisoners to write and record reggae music.

The film’s story is told through the revelations of these inmates about their lives—the reason they are behind bars, their coming to terms with incarceration and how it has affected their existence. Songs of Redemption mesmerises and challenges the audience with the emotionally eviscerating stories of these inmates. It forces the audience to ask challenging questions: Is it logical to feel sympathy for a murderer? How is it that I am moved by the remorse of these prisoners? And perhaps the most complex question: Can a past transgressor—who presently speaks about love and caring for the community—still be recognised as a good person, a person worthy of forgiveness?

After a hearty round of applause from the audience, an emotional Galofré, who is based in Trinidad and whose previous films Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast? and Hit Me with Music were ttff selections, thanked the audience.

“Thank you for your very good feedback. Every time I see [the film], it touches me bad because it is intense and it is not fiction, it’s real, these people are in prison now and it happens everywhere so I get kind of emotional.”

The moderator, BC Pires, commended Galofré for a very moving and powerful film, even heralding it as the “best film of the festival”. He then asked Galofré why he and Sans chose to do this film.

“Six years ago when we went to Jamaica, when we did Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?, we [tried] to do this film but to go inside the prison with a camera is very difficult and when we reached there we didn’t get a permit,” he explained. “What happened was it was the Olympic games in China and we were in Jamaica and Usain Bolt was winning all of the gold medals so we filmed Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?. We were waiting for a permit for this one but it wasn’t easy and after six years we got a permit for five days. Of course in five days it was impossible but we asked for one more week and then one more week and we were there for six weeks.”

Galofré also talked about how difficult it was to get honest material.

“It was difficult, we were only allowed to be there from ten in the morning until three [in the afternoon] and people at three o’clock are locked up with no toilets until 9am. That is 18 hours. That is hard—and we could not be there at that time. When they open the doors at 9am in the morning is when all the fights happen because they are in a bad mood but we never got that. We only got access to the ‘nice part’ of the prison. There were other cells I saw where there are three men sleeping on the floor.”

One audience member inquired as to whether the film has been shown in the prison. Galofré responded saying that the world premiere was inside the prison and that the inmates were very happy.

“The screening was amazing. We could not hear the film, they were so excited. In Jamaica we did 12 screenings and in one of the screenings they came out and did a performance and the Prime Minister was there.”

“Every Jamaican is a movie star,” added Galofré. “You [give them] a mic, they sing, they talk and they are amazing. That’s why I love them.”

At this point Galofré commended his co-director Amanda Sans.

“Amanda did an amazing job and I think that because these guys were in jail and she was a woman, it helped to get the guys open up and to talk about anything they want.”

Another audience member asked how many inmates took part in the programme.

“At first joining this type of programme for them is like joining Babylon,” he explained, “but that is changing. It started with a group of 10; now it’s more than 200.”

The film is dedicated to human rights activist Carla Gullota, who runs the programme.

“Carla does this job and she was amazing. To bring this programme was very difficult. People thought, ‘They are inmates, they should be living like rats.’ She is in charge of it now and few people can do what she does.”

Galofré was also asked about negative feedback from the families of victims of the prisoners.

“I was worried about the victims’ reaction but it was good and I was surprised,” he said. “At one of the screenings in Kingston, Pity More, the one who killed his ex-wife, the mother of the ex-wife went to the screening. He is allowed to see the children. It’s amazing how people can forgive sometimes.”

Proceeds from the soundtrack for Songs of Redemption will go to the victims’ families.

filmmaker in focus: mary wells

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Mary Wells is an award-winning independent film writer, director and producer based in Jamaica. Her experience includes over 20 years in television and film production. She studied Television Production and Theatre Arts in the USA, and has a BA from George Washington University.

Her work has consisted mainly of small documentaries and dramas for young adults and children. In 1999, her short documentary Now Jimmy! was awarded Outstanding Documentary from the Caribbean in the Sheryl Lee Ralph Film & Music Festival. In 2007, her first feature screenplay for a film, Landscape in Pastels, placed second in the Hartley Merrill International Screenwriting Prize competition.

Her ttff/13 film, Kingston Paradise, is her debut feature narrative film. It is also the first feature film to be written and directed by a woman in Jamaica. Like Ms Wells, the film is candid, and looks at the real story of urban Jamaican life.

What was your inspiration for making Kingston Paradise?

I wanted to make a flick. Something highly artistic and centred around a small crime drama, but different. I wanted to tell a small, seemingly everyday story from an urban neighbourhood. I wanted to attempt a Caribbean film that had a little bit of a commercial cover, that could definitely appeal to a mass Caribbean audience but at the same time it was artsy and off beat. I wanted to create a classic American-style three-act-structured film that was also a nuanced kind of storytelling that would begin to portray something a little bit different coming out of Jamaica. For many years, my bread-and-butter video production projects allowed me to work in communities in Kingston with many young people from all walks of life who had the most amazing personal stories and talent. That helped to inspire Kingston Paradise.

You are the first woman in Jamaica to write and direct a film. What does that mean to you?

Maybe I could be the first woman to do a feature narrative film out of Jamaica. Many other women have directed short films and if [it is that I am the first Jamaican woman to make a feature], I wear the hat with pride.

Did you experience any prejudice from your male counterparts?

Yes there are inequalities and prejudices, no question about that. Of course, on a film set in the Caribbean, a woman director faces sexism. [Talking about] that would take a separate and special interview. But regardless, as mentioned in another interview, this is changing now that there are a lot of very powerful women in the industry in the Caribbean. Women run tings. Most of all, women have very distinctive voices and bring great humanity to the medium.

Do you think a feminine perspective influenced the film?

Most definitely. I managed to tell a hardcore story with very little violence and have some tough guys dreaming for a better life through a painting, which represents the quintessential Caribbean view, a soft beach scene, a kind of nirvana. The guys who’ve seen it love it it and got it. Women are more arbiters for peace to solve the human condition. Although, I won’t lie, whether you are a man or a woman, who doesn’t like to watch a wicked film that has a fight, a shoot-out and a chase?

How do you feel about the fact that this is the Caribbean premiere of your film?

Wonderful. I look forward to it and to the feedback and comments from the Caribbean. My principal audience is Caribbean people. So, I’m very excited and honoured to have the premier in Trinidad at ttff.

I also want to thank all the incredible talent of the Crew and Cast involved, The incredible support from the people and entities who helped me shoot the film, (The CHASE Fund Jamaica, The Creative Production Training Centre Ltd. (The CPTC) and a Dutch entity, Caribbean Creativity). And the incredible support and guidance from CaribbeanTales and Frances-Anne Solomon. From the projects inception CaribbeanTales gave incredible support and guidance and all the support for its Post-Production with seeking and committing pertinent personnel or Post crew and giving assistance of all kinds. It would not have been possible without all of this support.

How did you source the actors?

As you know, Jamaica has an old theatre community and I first sent out a casting call for auditions to their association and to the Jamaica school of drama and to people who I’ve worked with. Although, the two lead actors, the characters Rocksy (Chris Daley) and Rosie (Camille Small) I handpicked. Chris Daley I invited to one of the casting calls and Camille Small I had worked with before and was just blown away by her natural talent in front of the camera and knew, even though I auditioned different women, she was it.

Can you talk about the central motif of the painting?

The extreme contrasts of life on the streets of Kingston, alongside a beautiful watercolour painting placed in the room of the main characters where much of the story hangs, is a visual metaphor [for a] pastoral, other world, a simple Caribbean view that’s the juxtaposition of a harsh urban story. The painting is by my mother, a well-known Jamaican painter from another generation who has greatly influenced me.

How do you think audiences will perceive the relationship between Rocksy and Rosie? Do you think they will find a connection to their own Caribbean lives?

Rocksy and Rosie will be perceived as rough, but unfortunately very contemporary. Modern friendships and relationships are not so romantic any more. Some are very selfish. Many are not as aggressive and I’ve gone overboard a bit of course [in portraying the relationship]. It is not a visually sensitive friendship, they are using each other and there’s much abuse but circumstance has them tied. I think we can all relate and connect to this kind of desperation in different degrees. So yes, I believe many will connect with it in the Caribbean.

You utilised Rosie’s story to touch on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Is this of particular importance to you or has it become such a part of Jamaica’s narrative that you had to include it?

I’d say the second half. It’s become such a part of Jamaica’s narrative that I had to include it. It all started when I once spent some time in Southern Africa and was amazed at the pandemic there! The Caribbean is certainly en route, but in 2013, we’ve become sleepy about the issue. When you read about our stats, it’s alarming yet there’s no real national alarm.

What is the message of the movie?

This movie is a richly layered story; it’s a powerful journey about the chaotic violent lives of disenfranchised youth that explores their broken dreams and aspirations. Kingston Paradise is a small, powerful film showing the ongoing struggles and humiliation of a people, and the only alternative is to rise above.

Now that that the film is over, do you feel vindicated?

Yes! But it’s not over. Another journey is about to take place—that is, the promotion, sales and distribution journey. I am still raising funds for this! But it is all good, it’s exciting!

Mary Wells will be a guest of the ttff/13 and will attend the September 28 screening of Kingston Paradise. The film’s current schedule of screenings is as follows:

Fri 27 Sept, 5.30pm, MovieTowne Tobago

Sat 28 Sept, 8.00pm, Little Carib Theatre, Q&A

Mon 30 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago

films in focus: abo so and red, white and black: a sports odyssey

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Abo So, directed by Juan Francisco Pardo of Aruba, is a musical story about young love. Tatiana is a progressive young woman who moves to her aunt’s house with her family. In this new neighbourhood, she meets Santiago, a young man of Latin descent whom she clashes with. However, when they reveal certain truths about themselves to each other they fall in love, and Santiago promises Tatiana that for him, forever it will be abo so, only you.

The film examines identity and how the different ethnicities in Aruba interact and handle prejudice. Tatiana’s family does not want her to see Santiago because he is Latin, and her brother offers Santiago’s mother money on the condition that he does not see Tatiana anymore. He complies, sacrificing his love for the benefit of his family, but he does not tell Tatiana the truth immediately. This causes intense pain for the both of them, pain which they translate to the audience through plaintive song.

This modern-day love story features the unforgettable music of the celebrated Padu del Caribe, Aruba’s most eminent musician. So for any romantic who loves musicals (like myself!), the atmosphere of the film will feel quite magical. It was very refreshing to see a musical love story in this year’s Festival, as our modern mentalities tend to be filled with cynicism about things such as love.

During the Q&A with ttff editorial director Jonathan Ali, Pardo revealed that he really wanted to pay tribute to Padu del Caribe with the film.

“I think that the most important thing here was to do something with the music of Padu del Caribe. He is really beloved in Aruba and I always wanted to do a musical.”

He also spoke about wanting to show Arubans how important film can be to their culture. One of his intentions was make the people of Aruba appreciate their culture more and get deeper into their folklore and history.

“It is very difficult to make a film in Aruba because we don’t have anything like a film [commission] there and they don’t believe in film,” he said. “That is why it was important for me to make this, to let them see this that you can tell something with images from the culture.”

Ali asked Pardo about the actual filming process.

“We have preparation of one year and all the actors did it for free,” he said. “We did it like a workshop. First they had to do an audition, and the ones who make it go to do a workshop, and then we do casting and those two [leads] were cast, and then we went to a recording studio, and we have the preparation of one month and then we shot the entire film in 10 days due to budget constraints.”

He added, “We tried to make the most of the time as people had to take the 10 days off work. With a little money and a lot of passion we tried to make this film.”

Ali commended Pardo on his effort saying, “You’ve made a very beautiful production. It was well done with the limited resources you had.”

The film, which features the work of cinematographer Miquel Galofré, who also has a film (Songs of Redemption) in the Festival this year, was completed two hours before the scheduled premiere in Aruba back in July. It screened to a sold out theatre.

The audience was also curious to find out how the film’s musical magician, Padu del Caribe, reacted to it.

“On the night of the premiere we had two rooms sold out and Padu [who is 93] was there, and he was so quiet that we thought he was sleeping but at the end of the last song Padu screamed out “Yeah!” really hard in the cinema, and it was so intense because it was so quiet, and everyone started clapping.”

Pardo is very endearing and so is his movie. This is a great step for film in Aruba.

••••••••

Red White and Black: A Sports Odyssey is the only film about sport in this year’s Festival. Since 1948 T&T has won 18 Olympic medals, and this film documents and celebrates this remarkable achievement. From the eclectic soundtrack to the pace of the film to those really emotional moments that allow you to connect with those on screen—the film was extremely well done and kept audiences engaged for a full 87 minutes.

Directed by Robert Dumas, a New York-based T&T filmmaker, the film begins with the story of our first Olympic medal, won by weightlifter Rodney Wilkes in 1948. It continues to trace our history right up to London 2012, our country’s greatest Olympics showing ever, with 31 athletes competing in six different sports. The film is narrated by four-time Olympic medallist Ato Boldon, and features interviews with several of our athletes, including Hasely Crawford, Richard Thompson, George Bovell and Kelly-Ann Baptiste.

The film is very well structured (full disclosure: I had the privilege of working on it). Dumas is a formidable story teller, producing the script with writer Peta Bain. As the title suggests, the film is a true journey. And the audience was able to embark on that odyssey with the athletes, who describe their origins, struggles and the eventual vindication they found on the podium wearing their country’s colours of red, white and black.

Most discovered their talent playing in the schoolyard, taking a friend up on a dare or—in the case of Rodney Wilkes—cutting grass in the fields and lifting and carrying the loads above his head.

It is hard not get inspired after hearing these champions speak. As Dumas said in the Q&A period, he felt like he could do anything after making the film. After watching this film, I for one am walking a bit taller, feeling very proud to be part of the red, white and black. This is a must see at the film festival.

You can catch Red, White and Black: A Sports Odyssey again on 01 October, 1:00 P.M. at MovieTowne, POS.

Caption: Robert Dumas (left) at the Q&A session for Red, White and Black, with Bruce Paddington, ttff founder and director

Film in Focus: Poetry Is an Island: Derek Walcott

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Poetry Is an Island: Derek Walcott enjoyed its world premiere at the ttff/13. A packed audience turned out to witness this documentary on St Lucian Nobel laureate for literature, Derek Walcott. Walcott himself and his family were in attendance.

Filmmaker Ida Does, who is no stranger to the ttff, directed the film. Hailing from Suriname, she now lives and works in both the Netherlands and Aruba. Her previous ttff films are Trefossa: I Am not I (ttff/09) and Peace: Memories of Anton de Kom (ttff/12), which won the Jury Prize for Best Short Film.

Walcott as a subject makes Poetry Is an Island beautiful. He is mysterious yet warm, distant yet passionate, and above all, in love with his country and the people in his life. These same people seem to love him fiercely as his artistic soul has changed them in one way or another.

“You just discover yourself when you meet Derek,” fellow artist Arthur Jacobs, one of the films interviewees, says. “It is really an honour to work with him.”

St Lucian actress Natalie La Porte, who has also worked with Walcott many times, recalled a time he invited her to sit and just look at the sunset. He pointed out the different colours and the way they mixed like the work of a master painter. “He has an amazing ability to see and feel beauty we all just look past,” she says.

Walcott’s former personal assistant, Michelle Serieux, commented on her own incredulity as Walcott stopped to admire the way the sunlight was falling on a valley. She recalls him asking, “Why would you ever want to leave here?”

Walcott himself admits his great love for St Lucia in the film. “I often have an immense longing for St Lucia, the light and the sea, and I if do stay away from it for too long I don’t go crazy but I get disoriented.”

The film also takes an intimate look at Walcott’s family particularly, his mother, Alix, and his twin brother Roderick. In one of the most poignant scenes, Walcott tearfully recites lines he wrote about his mother’s convalescence.

Walcott’s work, which according to Serieux “legitimises Caribbean and creole culture”, has changed how the outside world views St Lucian art and culture, but unfortunately has not done the same for those inside St Lucia. The country still lacks a proper theatre or any real space for artists to create and display their work.

“Artists tend to want to share in the joy and privilege of creation and that is what I had in mind for the St Lucian story about the arts,” Walcott says. “Most governments don’t get involved with the arts. But why can there be a nice looking theatre in at Barbados, but there is nothing in St Lucia?”

And during the question-and-answer session, director Ida Does reiterated the on-screen text in the last shot of the film, from St Lucia’s other Nobel laureate, Sir Arthur Lewis: “A country without the arts is a cultural desert.”

Does was asked what inspired her to make the film.

“[My inspiration] started years ago when I met Derek in Amsterdam,” she said. “He was reading poetry there and I had read his Nobel lecture and I was very impressed, in particular by the [part] in the lecture about Caribbean culture. So I approached him and I asked him if he would be ok with me making a documentary on him.

“He didn’t say yes but he didn’t say no, so I took that as a yes. My main interest was showing the Caribbean connection, making a Caribbean film, a Caribbean story, so I wanted to catch a bit of his poetic atmosphere and interview people who have worked closely with him and also his friends. I wanted to get closer to him.

“It took years to get everything together but I am happy with the film.”

When asked about his thoughts on the film, Walcott described it as “very beautiful”.
He went on: “I was very struck by the use of the Nobel lecture as well as the imagery which confirmed the lecture. [Ida] did a very beautiful and gentle job.”

One of Walcott’s most endearing responses came when an audience member asked, “When did you realise you were a writer and that you began to love literature?”

“My mother continually spoke about our father,” he said, “and I found my father’s work and my mother would recite his work and I knew as a child that I wanted to continue in what he was doing, what he did. So I started to write and continued to write at that level into my eighties. I write like an 80-year-old child.”

One St Lucian member of the audience extended her thanks to the director. “The film is absolutely beautiful,” she said. “Thank you on behalf of every St Lucian…for giving the world the opportunity to see the St Lucia that Derek does, like this, because it does not exist anywhere else.”

Another audience member, a Trinidadian, had a complaint. “I feel like so much time spent [in] St Lucia and not Trinidad,” she said. “So many of us [here] love and work with Derek and I feel a little sad that we are not mentioned as an influence.”

This all prompted Prof Funso Aiyejina of UWI, himself a poet, to interject. “While the St Lucians and the Trinidadians are fighting,” he said to Does, “I want to say thank you from the nation of poetry. It is beautiful, what you have done. It is a fantastic film about a great Caribbean icon and it brought Mr Walcott to life and his words to life in a way that I have never enjoyed before.”

Finally, filmmaker Mariel Brown gracefully addressed Walcott, speaking about his impact on her father, the writer Wayne Brown. “You gave my father a sense of being a Caribbean man,” she said, “and a man of the world.”

— Aurora Herrera

Poetry Is an Island: Derek Walcott screens again on Monday 30 September at, 5.30pm, the Little Carib Theatre.

film in focus: ten days of muharram

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

The Trinidad and Tobago premiere of Ten Days of Muharram: The Cedros Hosay at ttff/13 was met with much appreciation from the audience at the screening at MovieTowne last Saturday afternoon. The film focuses on the history of the Cedros Hosay, exploring the meaning of the various rituals performed during the month of Muharram. Ernest Che Rodriguez, a seasoned T&T actor and producer, directed the film; he previously directed the ttff/11 selection Call the Shots.

As a Trinidadian who has been to and enjoyed the Cedros Hosay a lot, I admit that I did not genuinely understand that its history was so rich, so tragic, so moving and so exuberant. This film helped me understand the Hosay profoundly.

Hosay is a Shia Muslim ritual venerating the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad, who died in Karbala on the banks of the Euphrates while trying to defend Islam. The word Hosay is a Trinidadian word born on the plantations with the indentured labourers. The term Ya Hosein was eventually transmuted to Hosay.

The commemoration is observed annually over a 10-day period in the first month of the Islamic calendar, the month of Muharram. According to Islamic teaching, Muhammad is the last of the prophets. His death marked a great schism in the Muslim world, as he had not decided upon a successor. Shia Muslims subscribed to the belief that leadership should stay within the prophet’s own family or pass to whomever the prophet appointed. However, according to Sunni beliefs, choosing someone with good qualities and who was capable was preferred a to divine or hereditary choice.

Even though the prophet’s death was a source of discord and disunion, the Cedros Hosay is quite the opposite. The most incredible thing about the commemoration is its inclusivity. It effaces barriers of ethnicity, gender and even religion. As one of the community members in the film says, “Everybody grow together and there is no discrimination with Hosay. Chinese, black, white…everybody mix together and come together to celebrate the Hosay.”

The delightfully shocking detail is that the members of the community who are responsible for organising and carrying out the 10-day ritual are, for the most part, not Muslim.

During the 10 days of Muharram, the men of the different Hosay camps – Bois Bourgh, Bonasse, Cedros, de Hole, Fullerton and Ste. Marie – build tadjahs or tombs for the funerary procession in their imambaras or religious houses. These tadjahs represent the funerary monument erected at Karbala. As these observers cannot travel to Karbala to pay homage there to Imam Hussein, they build their own and honour him.

The community also fasts during this time in solidarity with the men building the tadjahs and also to honour Imam Hussein, who was denied nourishment on the battlefield at Karbala. They refrain from eating meat, wearing leather belts, imbibing alcohol and “fresh and fresh” – bedroom duties.

Daily prayers and nightly rituals mark the 10 days ending in the drowning of the tadjahs. This particular aspect is very sacred and culturally exquisite as the drowning of gods, according to Imam Saifuddin Tejani, is a Hindu ritual. It is also symbolic of the water that Imam Hussein needed but was denied on the battlefield. In death, he becomes suffused with new water-giving life.

Rodriguez himself was quite moved by the experience.

“At the end of the night I used to go outside and cry,” he related during the question-and-answer period.

“I learned that I didn’t know everything. I learned that the more I learned is the less I know. I learned I also realised that we live in a wonderful country and there are wonderful people around. We have to open up and allow them to enter our lives.”

Rodriguez also thanked the people of Cedros, who were very kind to him during his stay.

The audience seemed quite moved as well. One member commented, “I think this film came at a time when we have a lot of separatism in the society, whether it be ethnic or religious, and the film showed us who we are as a people. We have come out of so many different backgrounds that we cannot really separate ourselves so I think this film did a marvelous job of reminding us as Trinidadians who we are.”

Ten Days of Muharram screens again at ttff/13 on Thursday 26 September at 3.30pm, MovieTowne.

film in focus: god loves the fighter

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Wow. What a night. One of the hashtags of ttff13 is #hotter and I don’t think I truly appreciated that until the question-and-answer session of the much-anticipated world premiere of the movie God Loves the Fighter.

God Loves the Fighter is a film by Damian Marcano, a Trinidadian who grew up in Morvant. He moved to America at age 12 and tried out a few different fields before entering film. He began his filmmaking career with the short The Little Boy and the Ball (ttff/11). God Loves the Fighter is his first feature. Marcano now lives in and works out of Los Angeles.

The film, which was described by the trinidad+tobago film festival’s editorial director, Jonathan Ali, at the start of the Q&A session as a “game changer”, provoked a host of different reactions from the audience.

The film centres on the character of Charlie, played by Muhammad Muwakil, who grew up in the streets of Port of Spain. Like many other young men in his situation—father gone, mother dead—Charlie is poor and even though his ethics are important to him, he also needs to eat. Unenthusiastically, he approaches a childhood friend named Stone (played by Abdi Waithe) for a job. Stone, who is now “big in de dance”, offers him a job to run drugs with a taxi driver named Moses.

This “opportunity” leads Charlie to meet the drug lord and brothel owner, Putao (Darren Cheewah), as well as one of his streetwalkers, Dinah (Jaime Lee Phillips), who has her own troubles trying to help a child escape the brothel. King Curtis (Lou Lyons), a vagrant on the streets of Port of Spain, poetically narrates the entire story, announcing the truth about the county we live in, the truth that the media dare not tell.

God loves the Fighter is beautifully shot and one quickly feels intimately involved in the lives of the characters. This is actually quite a feat considering that these protagonists have lives that the majority of our country cannot truly conceive of. Granted, many people may feel slightly offended by that notion and also feel that know the reality of the situation, but simply ask yourself this: Have I ever put cocaine into a child’s mouth to calm her down in order to rescue said child from a pedophile in the brothel that I work at?

Marcano does an excellent job of humanising the gangsters and whores, letting the audience see that everyone has a story, that these peoples’ lives are not just words on a page that you read in the newspapers, and that not everyone has had the same privileges and ability to choose their path according to ethical paradigms.

During the Q&A session, an audience member asked Marcano if he considered race politics when filming the movie (the majority of the characters are black or of colour; Dinah, pointedly, is white). Marcano responded that he did not. Muwakil shared that he also had a similar concern in the beginning but was assuaged when Marcano simply asked him if this particular situation could happen. The answer was yes.

So let’s break it down: Dinah is white and the child in the brothel is also white. The pedophile is an Indian man. Charlie is mixed. Putao is a Chindian (Chinese and Indian) and all of the other gangsters are black. The only ones who make it out alive are Dinah and the little girl.

The same audience member followed up with the question, “Why do the white people get saved?” It is indeed a very relevant question, for many reasons. From a race politics perspective, could it be that these archetypes are so ingrained in most of us, including Marcano, that his film followed what his subconscious already knew to be an indelible truth in our society? Or perhaps, after living outside of T&T for so long, he naturally assumes that these life situations can happen to anyone of any colour? Is his psyche trapped or liberated?

Either way, this question revealed how much we still struggle as a country with race and how much it bubbles under the surface of our daily interactions. Considering the melting pot we live in, each situation encountered connects us to complex cross-cultural interpretations of status and an inherent, absolutely exhausting metaphor that we carry on our backs every single day.

Another audience member attempted to compliment him on his ability to get Trinidadians to bare their skin on television and that perhaps it is due to the fact that he is an “international” filmmaker.

Marcano did not take kindly to this, insisting that he is not foreign and that that particular audience member, who was white, would never truly understand the story. This caused more uproar from the audience.

His point was echoed by a gentleman who said, “Only about five per cent of Trinidad will really understand this life. I come from the same area.”

As one audience member put it, “We live in a postmodern society, there are many truths.” Marcano’s film is a first for our country and deserves credit. If nothing else, it has done what all pieces of art do in order to gain their public validation: it has provoked. That in itself is a triumph and at this point in our society, the same conversations that had that Q&A on fire are the same conversations we need to continue to have in our homes, as well as on the streets of our country.

If you missed God Loves the Fighter at the world premiere, don’t worry—there are a few more screenings that you can attend:

Tue 24 Sept, 5.30pm, UWI, Q&A
 with director
Thur 26 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago

Sun 29 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago

Tue 01 Oct, 6.00pm, MovieTowne PoS

Film in Focus: Portrait of Jason

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A Portrait of Jason screened last night as StudioFilmClub’s offering for the ttff/13. The film played to a full house, and audience members lounged on garden chairs, sat on benches, found crates or simply sat on the ground locked on to the black-and-white masterpiece of the late American documentary filmmaker Shirley Clarke.

Made in 1966, Portrait of Jason is Clarke’s most celebrated work. The film came out of a 12-hour interview Clarke conducted in her penthouse New York apartment with Aaron Payne—or rather Jason Holiday—a gay, African-American hustler and aspiring cabaret artist. Holiday recounts the story of his life, filling up the screen for an hour and forty-five minutes, revealing the best and the worst of himself with a theatrical flair that becomes more and more ironic with each intimate detail that he offers.

At this point he is 33 and he describes his life as he waits for his dream to become a nightclub performer to come true. Without reticence he speaks about his experiences attending orgies and all that he did as a hustler, his lifestyle of doing “anything to keep from punching the nine to five,” which eventually lead him down a path to addiction and eventually jail. Holiday also spent time in a mental ward, a fact that becomes exquisitely relevant when one watches him perform for the camera. He also talks about the confrontations with his family growing up, which had infiltrated his consciousness and defined his actions.

“I am scared of responsibility and I am scared of myself because I’m a pretty frightening cat,” he says at one point. “Like I don’t mean any harm, but the harm is done.”

Clarke made this film at a time when she was rediscovering her roots as a dancer and began experimenting with the concepts of performance and live video. Holiday is absolutely dazzling in his performance and Clarke presents it beautifully. The fact that it is shot in black and white lends another layer of texture to the arc of the narrative.

With Portrait of Jason, Clarke experimented with cinéma vérité techniques and subtly reached out to the man hidden underneath all of the theatrics so that the eye of the camera was able to see through his exaggerated airs. What is true and what is made up is entirely up to each member of the audience to decide and, to be quite honest, also up to how much of the film they are willing to admit they can relate to.

The film provoked quite polar reactions. Here is what a few of the audience members had to say.

“He believed that by living his dream, changing his name and going to New York, that as a black man he would be a better person. It’s sad but it’s also very beautiful because one must live one’s dream. It doesn’t really matter how it turns out.”

“I felt like the character was supposed to be loved or admired but he came across as narcissistic and a drunkard and more as an opportunist that a hustler per se. I didn’t really enjoy his character but he was animated and interesting.”

“The things that he had to say, the racial undertones and overtones…it’s brutal, but that’s life. And the way that he masked everything, all of the pointed moments in his life, everything was with a chuckle and a laugh. It was a cast of a thousand characters. It was mythical in a way.”

Founded by artists Peter Doig and Che Lovelace, Studiofilmclub (SFC) began screening independent and art-house films in Building 7 of the Fernandes Compound, Eastern Main Road in Laventille in 2003.

In 2006, SFC began hosting screenings and guests as part of the ttff. Guests of the SFC included British-Caribbean artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien (ttff/08), and Hilton Als, theatre critic for the New Yorker (ttff/09).

An exhibition featuring some of the iconic posters Peter Doig has created for the regular screenings at SFC was hosted at the ttff/11. In 2012, the work of British-Caribbean filmmaker Steve McQueen took centre stage.

Films in Focus: Answering the Call and No Bois Man no Fraid

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Clifford Seedansingh’s Answering the Call: A tribute to Clive Pantin is a documentary love letter to a man from some of those he influenced most.

The 1975 graduating class of Fatima College produced the film to celebrate their principal’s contribution to their lives, as well as to our country as a teacher, sportsman, politician and philanthropist.

Throughout the film’s first screening at the ttff/13 on September 19, it was entirely impressed upon the audience that Clive Pantin was, and is, a man with a warm, giving heart and a kind disposition which infused the environment around him and touched many, many people.

“What an excellent man,” said Conrad Aleong, well-known businessman and a Fatima old boy. “Clive Pantin was just one of those people that you felt comfortable with. He was not just a teacher and a mentor but someone you could talk to.”

He left an indelible mark on his students as well as fellow teachers.

Fatima’s first female teacher, Jeanette Elias, spoke about how he was a role model for her. “ He was the ideal teacher and I think through observing him was how I modeled myself as a teacher.”

Maurice Brash, a Fatima student turned teacher, also reflected fondly on Pantin’s passion for teaching. “I remember him doing a Garcia Lorca poem for us. His Spanish accent—like his French accent—was a disaster, but the passion he put into it made you want to learn.”

Clive Pantin also played a major role in establishing the roots of film and video production in Trinidad and Tobago through his progressive encouragement of the film department in Fatima.

The film also profiled his short career as a politician, which, it was unanimously decided by those who loved him most, was not a field for one of his warm, loving and honest character.

Brash commented on his job as minister of education under the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government.

“He was one of the better ministers of education. He understood the business and he was a man who had run a school and he knew the problems that teachers had and the problems that students had.”

Pantin came out of politics with his character intact and founded an organisation that really spoke to his true calling: the Foundation for the Enhancement and the Enrichment of Life (FEEL). His vision was to serve the underprivileged class of Trinidad and Tobago.

“Clive saw where there was a vacuum to be filled and branched out with an idea that soon caught fire with business community,” said Steve Bideshi, former chairman of FEEL. “We were able to distribute four million worth of goods and services.”

Pantin imbued everyone in Fatima with his dynamism. Judging from the outpouring of love and respect in the film and from the audience at the screening, his reach has rippled out into the fabric of Trinidad and Tobago and will remain there for a long time to come.

In the short question and answer period afterward, director Clifford Seedansingh was accompanied by Bruce Paddington to answer any inquiries from the audience.

*****

Christopher Laird’s film, No Bois Man No Fraid, a documentary journey into the roots of the local martial art of stickfighting, was an instant crowd favourite when it screened at the ttff/13 later that day. Many of the stickfighting masters featured in the film, including the legendary Congo Barra, were in the audience.

Before the film began, the audience was treated to a lavway by boisman Keegan Taylor, accompanied on drums by Benjamin Rondel, both the protagonists in the film. The rhythm for the evening was set and the audience seemed to be ready to see their own culture on screen. So it came as no surprise when shouts of “Bois!” rose from the crowd throughout the film.

Taylor and Rondel’s journey revealed that “fighting stick” is not just about violence, as an outsider may assume. Like any other martial art, it takes discipline and commitment. Moreover, those boismen who go into the gayelle are confronted by the circle of life and death with each step they take. They experience the complete spectrum of existence in a few short minutes.

“That’s what stick gave me, humanity,” Rondel says in the film. “The gayelle is a safe place to control and manage aggression.

The film followed Taylor and Rondel as they learned about bois by training to become stickmen, and culminates with their competing in the national stickfighting championships in 2012 and 2013, where their team placed second both years.

Taylor and Rondel engaged in a short question-and-answer session after the film.

Q: What is Kalinda about to you?

Taylor: The game is about art, tactics, beauty, and strategic rather than bussin’ a man’s head. The gayelle represents the circle of life and therein, there is compressed time and space. Many of the components of life get jumbled and it’s intense. In particular, in the gayelle, one comes into a close communion with him or herself because you are staring death in the face.

Q: How is Kalinda different to the other martial arts that you have done?

Taylor: With things like capoeira and stickfighting, there is more of a tribal element and spiritual connection that is more liberating than other martial arts.

Q: In the film you said that it felt like you were in a movie when you began to train. At what point did it become reality?

Taylor: Competition time. That is when you are no longer in bush training and there is consequence. Consequence in itself is something the gayelle teaches.

Q: What’s next for the Bois Academy?

Rondel: The hope is for our masters to get the recognition they deserve not only on a local level, but also on an international level. We are also developing a resource centre where anyone can go to learn about stick fighting.

Q: How was it to see the film screen for the first time in your home country?

Taylor: The most amazing part was to see the people in the film, the masters in the audience and to see people appreciate them and their work. It felt like we accomplished something great to see these people deserve the merit.

Bill Duke, a ttff/13 guest famous for his roles alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator and Mel Gibson in Bird on a Wire, also commented on the film.

“It was very, very enjoyable and insightful, with how important it is to history and culture and also to young people to understand the importance of these traditions and how they can apply it to themselves.”

When asked if he would fancy himself as a stickman, with good humour he replied, “Hopefully the future.”

If you missed either of these films yesterday, you can catch them again at the ttff/13 on the following dates:

Answering the Call: A Tribute to Clive Pantin
Wed 25 Sept, 1.30pm, MovieTowne POS, Q&A

No Bois Man No Fraid
Fri 20 Sept, 10.00am, UWI, Q&A

Fri 27 Sept, 3.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago

Mon 30 Sept, 3.30pm, MovieTowne POS, Q&A

Mon 30 Sept, 5.30pm, MovieTowne Tobago

Caption: Christopher Laird, left, and Jonathan Ali, ttff editorial director, introduce the screening of No Bois Man No Fraid

film festival kicks off with successful opening night gala

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The trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) held its glitzy opening night gala last night at Queen’s Hall, marking the third year in a row that the Festival held its opening there, as well as the beginning of the 8th edition of the Festival.

The opening night film, Half of a Yellow Sun, directed by playwright-turned-filmmaker Biyi Bandele, is an adaptation of the award-winning novel by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Thandie Newton stars as Olanna and Anika Noni Rose as Kainene, educated and wealthy twin sisters of an influential Nigerian family. The film traces the path of their lives after they go their separate ways in a newly independent Nigeria during the 1960’s. The Biafran war teaches them that life is bigger than romantic indiscretions and the business of money as they get caught up in the violent struggle of the Igbo people. The film had its world premiere last week at the Toronto International Film Festival; this Caribbean premiere marked the second time that it has ever been shown to audiences.

Explaining the choice of the film to open the Festival, Jonathan Ali, editorial director of the ttff, said, “We chose Half of a Yellow Sun because it is an exciting, crowd-pleasing and well-made film from two of our heritage countries (Nigeria and the UK), with an international cast with wide appeal, including Thandie Newton and man-of-the-moment, Chiwetel Ejiofor.”

From the reaction of the full house at Queen’s Hall—incredulous gasps peppered with bouts of raucous laughter—the audience definitely seemed to enjoy the film.

Andrea Calderwood, the producer of Half of a Yellow Sun, attended the opening night as a special guest. She has won the British Academy of Film and Television Aware (BAFTA) for her work on The Last King of Scotland, starring Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy.

“This was a particularly challenging film to make,” she reflected during her introductory remarks. “I’ve made several films in Africa but they tend to be films that come in from the outside. They were stories that were told by filmmakers who were not from Africa and this is the first film that I’ve been involved in that really is a story from the inside.

“[The Biafran War] is a story that changed the history of Nigeria,” she continued. “So this seemed like a great opportunity to make an accessible, exciting, moving film that would tell everyone what happened.“

She also expressed how excited she was to have the film as the ttff/13 opening night selection.

“The possibility of having a Caribbean premiere seemed so far away and I cant quite believe we are standing here tonight. The trinidad+tobago film festival has been really instrumental in and supportive of the process [of making the film] and I am really delighted that you are the second audience in the world to see it.”

Presenting sponsor Flow was also at the gala, represented by Brian Collins, Managing Director of Columbus Communications Trinidad Limited.

Mr. Collins spoke about Flow’s role in the growth of the ttff and expressed his company’s continued support for the Festival.

“In addition to promoting the creation of new content, we actively support and promote the distribution of local content. Since coming on board [with the Festival] in 2010, Columbus Communications has provided distribution of local content, which allows filmmakers to host their work and gain exposure. Columbus will continue to stand by the ttff and we hope that the ttff continues to grow as it has over the years and continues to make an impact locally, regionally and internationally.”

After the screening of the film—which ended with a standing ovation—guests at the gala headed to Flair restaurant for an after-party, which went on well into the wee hours of the morning.

Image: Andrea Calderwood, producer of Half of a Yellow Sun, introduces the film at the ttff/13 gala opening

awards announced for 2013 trinidad+tobago film festival

film in focus: songs of redemption

filmmaker in focus: mary wells

films in focus: abo so and red, white and black: a sports odyssey

Film in Focus: Poetry Is an Island: Derek Walcott

film in focus: ten days of muharram

film in focus: god loves the fighter

Film in Focus: Portrait of Jason

Films in Focus: Answering the Call and No Bois Man no Fraid

film festival kicks off with successful opening night gala

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