22–28 Sept 2021
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Film festival hosts cinematic tribute to Geoffrey Holder

The trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) is pleased to host a screening of the award-winning documentary Carmen and Geoffrey, next Friday, 31 October, at its office at 199 Belmont Circular Road in Belmont.

A tribute to the actor and dancer Geoffrey Holder, who died earlier this month at the age of 84, the screening takes place in association with BelFest, a celebration of the arts in Belmont.

The film begins at 7.00pm, and doors open at 6.30pm. Admission is free and all are invited.

Released in 2005, Carmen and Geoffrey is an affectionate and moving portrait of two towering icons of the arts, Geoffrey Holder and his wife Carmen de Lavallade. From the time they met and wed in 1955 until Holder’s death earlier this month at the age of 84, the two were celebrated dancers, actors, choreographers and much, much more, together and individually.

Geoffrey Holder’s many achievements include memorable performances as Professor Shakespeare X in the film Dr Doolitte and Baron Samedi in the James Bond film Live and Let Die. He also won two Tony awards for direction and costume design of The Wiz, an all-black adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.

Carmen and Geoffrey was filmed over three years in the United States, France and Holder’s native Trinidad and Tobago. It combines archival footage with candid interviews to provide a remarkable glimpse into the lives of an extraordinary couple.

Winner of the prize for best feature-length film at the ttff/09, Carmen and Geoffrey is directed by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob, and is 80 minutes in length.

Film in Focus: Siddharth

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Siddharth is a film about the value of children.

The director, Richie Mehta, is a Canadian filmmaker. His first film was Amal (2007). In 2013, Siddharth, his second feature, premiered at the Venice Film Festival. On the website for the film, in the director’s notes, Mehta writes:

“In 2010, I met a man on the streets of Delhi, who asked me for help in finding a place called Dongri. I asked him what it was, he told me he thought it was where his lost son was (!).

“He went on to tell me his story—that he sent his 12-year-old boy away to work, and never saw him again. He believed his son was kidnapped and trafficked. After the initial shock wore off, I asked him for more details—a photograph, the spelling of his son’s name. He couldn’t answer any of them (being illiterate, and having never taken a picture). Since he was obliged to work every day to support his wife and daughter, all he could do was ask others for help. And he’d been doing this for over a year.

“Knowing that this man didn’t have the ability, nor the means, to even properly inquire about his son is an unfathomable tragedy. He barely understood why this kind of thing happens, much less how.

“This film is my attempt to reconcile my extremely layered relationship with this circumstance. It’s a story made up in equal parts by tragedy and optimism, and I hope what we’ve done here transmits even a fraction of the confusion, sorrow, helplessness, and ultimately, hope that I felt in meeting this man.”

This is exactly what takes place in the film. The audience is taken on a 96-minute journey with Mahendra, Siddharth’s father, experiencing every excruciating day that goes by when looking for his son, who he sent to a trolley factory to earn more income. As in the real-life situation, Mahendra does not find his son. Sadly, this is not a rarity and not exclusive to any particular country. According to statistics, in 2009, it was estimated that 1.2 million children were trafficked worldwide for sexual exploitation, including for prostitution or the production of sexually exploitative images.

According to a report by the National Human Rights Commission of India, only 10% of human trafficking in that country is international—almost 90% is interstate. Nearly 40,000 children are abducted every year, of which 11,000 remain untraced.

One of the things that I find most admirable about Siddharth is that it does not force-feed the story to the audience. It does not exploit your emotions by presenting Siddharth in dangerous and hurtful circumstances. Rather, the story is told through the family’s desperate efforts to find Siddharth; and through the heartache of Mahendra’s financial woes, which he must surmount, day after tiresome day, to buy bus fare and investigate any leads he finds in order to make progress in finding his son. This allows the audience to understand the social and economic situation of Siddharth’s family, as well as the pervasive societal attitudes to child abduction: resigned acceptance and nonchalance.

This incited much ire within me and took me back to a comment made by Ms Jearlean McDowell, a teacher at Success Laventille Secondary School in T&T, who helped facilitate the making of Miquel Galofré’s ttff/14 world-premiere documentary Art Connect: “Children are really our future and they are suffering so much trauma. We need to help them and stop all of the trauma.”

According to a 2013 report, T&T has been put on a human-trafficking watchlist by the US State Department. The report listed T&T as “a destination and transit country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and adults subjected to forced labour.” Our country is a destination, source and transit country for women and children subjected to trafficking, specifically for forced prostitution, and children and men subjected to forced labour.

While I can commend the cinematography of Siddharth, which shows the captivating and bustling street life of Delhi, or the true grittiness of living under the poverty line in India, it would not capture the heart of the film. The heart of the film lies in the closing scene, where Mahendra has no choice but to continue to work and take care of his wife and daughter and hope that his son will return one day. The heart of the film lies in its reality and true-to-life form.

One audience member commented, “This film was very moving and I leave the theatre thinking about all of the children who have been lost and will never be found.” Clearly, I was not the only one who left the theatre broken-hearted.

Film in Focus: Mother of George

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Even though I have seen many African diaspora films, I did not have a specific film vocabulary for Nigerian films because I haven’t been exposed to that cinema. I am very pleased that my initiation into that world comes via Andrew Dosunmu.

Andrew Dosunmu is a Nigerian photographer and filmmaker who came to prominence in the United States after directing music videos for various acclaimed artists. His debut feature, Restless City (ttff/12), premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Mother of George (2013), his most recent film, also premiered at Sundance.

The story unfolds around the wedding of Ayodele, the owner of a Nigerian restaurant in Brooklyn, and his fiancée, Adenike. Their traditional Yoruba wedding culminates in a ceremony where Adenike is named for her yet-to-be-conceived son, George. As someone who has enjoyed freedom over my own body and a choice as to how and when I will have children, I immediately felt oppressed and trapped by this traditional ceremony. I was left wondering, is the sole function of these traditional marriages to reproduce?

As the months pass without pregnancy, the audience can actually feel the mounting pressure from her mother-in-law and Adenike’s inclination to leave off with her Yoruba culture and immerse herself more in her new American life, encouraged by her friend Sade. Unfortunately her attempts to earn money for herself or try American fashion are shut down by Ayodele and Adenike is left to cling to her traditional way of life to please her community. I think that Dosunmu does an amazing job of intertwining the feel of American films and their synonymous promise of dreams and freedom with that of the feel and grain of culture in African films.

After Adenike makes every effort to address the fertility issues in her marriage, she buckles under the massive pressure of a childless 18 months of marriage, Eventually, by the encouragement of her mother-in-law, she decides to sleep with her husband’s brother to try to get pregnant. Her mother-in-law insists, “It is the same blood.”

To me, this is a rather extreme measure. However, even with this thinking, Dosomnu shows the differences between Nigerian traditional culture and more modern Westernised cultural standards. This role of the mother-in-law represents a very interesting theme of tradition and family and how close-knit an immigrant family can be when trying to maintain their sense of home and community. It also poses questions of assimilation and speaks to the realities of problem-solving as an individual versus as a community in a traditional space, especially when modern methods are available and not as oppressive.

Mother of George is such a multifaceted film, shot with both physical and metaphorical textures and layers. The director’s background as a fashion photographer (not to mention Bradford Young’s stunning cinematography) lend colour and artistic flair to this portrait of Nigerian immigrant family life.

These themes of family life, tradition, fertility, a woman’s role, immigrant life, assimilation, sexuality and marriage are all universal themes that define our humanity and anyone who watches this film will be able to connect with and appreciate this window into another culture.

Of Good Report

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Wow.

Holy crap. This film…. First of all, the beginning was so riveting that I didn’t even realise that I was holding my breath for the entire opening sequence. I spent the majority of time with a tense body and with my hands ready to cover my face as I anticipated the scenes.

Of Good Report induced a physical reaction in me. From the middle of the film to an hour after the film ended I felt like I was going to throw up. I suffered an allergic reaction and was wired until about 4am. Moreover, when driving home, I thought that the Afro-Trinidadian man wearing glasses with an oval face who pulled up at the lights next to me was Mr Sithole, come to follow me home and abduct me. Oh, the imagination of a writer. Still though, the film gets to you on a visceral level. It’s kind of like Dexter on steroids.

Of Good Report is a film by Jahmil XT Qubeka, a South African filmmaker. Parker Sithole arrives in a poor rural township to begin a new job as a teacher at the local school. The audience is treated to some intentionally vague flashbacks as they try to piece together this man’s character, a task made extremely difficult by the fact that we do not hear him utter one single sentence during the entire film (a detail which concretises the creepiness of his character).

He appears to be of unimpeachable character yet almost immediately he begins an affair with a student, 16-year-old Nolitha. Soon the true nature of this seemingly mild-mannered man is revealed: Parker is a bloody psychopath. As the film progresses, the flashbacks become more intense in detail and impact and then, in a climatic, gut wrenchingly murderous scene, Parker confronts his antagonist, the ghost of his dead mother, and is left to deal with the consequences to his actions.

The film is shot in black and white, a perfect stratagem for conjuring the hair-raising feel of the piece. The noirish Hitchcockian quality of the film immediately establishes an aesthetic that gives you the feeling of being on the edge of a very sharp knife. The sound design is equally evocative.

Mothusi Magano as Parker Sithole is exquisite. The only vocal expressions that the audience gets from him are jubilant laughter or guttural, excruciating screams. Yet he says so much with his eerily observant eyes and placid face, even as he is sawing the body of his ex-lover to pieces and placing those pieces in plastic bags. No wonder this film was banned before its premiere at the Durban International Film Festival.

I also appreciated the use of literary motifs such as Othello in grounding the story and simultaneously lending it a wonderfully macabre theatrical element.

When I asked audience members about their experience post film, one woman said that she quite enjoyed the film but found it anticlimactic. When I asked if she found that the level of violence was too much, she said no. One man commented that it was brilliant and quite reminiscent of Bates Motel. His friend agreed that it was well done, even though it was quite disturbing—definitely not something that she could watch twice.

Of Good Report it a great film. It is entirely provocative and brings to light issues regarding child molestation, teacher-student relationships, under-aged sex, pregnancy, abortion, family relations and psychological health. More than that, these issues are presented in a haunting manner that you are sure never to forget.

Film in Focus: Manakamana

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Manakamana is a spiritual experience.

True, it is filmed inside a cable car that is transporting its passengers to a temple in the foothills of the Nepalese Himalayas dedicated to Manakamana, the Hindu goddess of good fortune. However, the ethereal experience of the film does not only belong to the passengers but also to us, the audience, the voyeurs.

The work is filmed with a fixed 16mm camera and records eleven, roughly eight-and-half-minute trips to and from the temple. This gives the audience the depth of time to watch, listen, observe and internalise these pilgrims. In this hypnotising act of looking, we become pilgrims ourselves, enthralled in a simultaneous internal and external exploration of landscapes.

Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez are the filmmakers behind this work. Stephanie Spray is a filmmaker, phonographer and anthropologist who has been working at the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory at Harvard University since 2006. Her work exploits different media to explore the confluence of social aesthetics and art in everyday life. Since 1999 she has spent much of her time in Nepal, roaming its mountains; studying its music, religion and language; and making films. Pacho Velez’s work sits at the intersection of ethnography, structuralism and political documentary. Though shot in different countries, using distinct formal strategies, his films share a preoccupation with local responses to broad changes wrought by globalisation. He teaches at Bard College.

The influences of the two filmmakers are reflected in the situation of the work geographically, both on a temporal and otherworldly level. The nuances of culture, gender, nationality, age, and marital status are all revealed to us on this journey.

As a trio of elderly women, a pair of young Canadian tourists, a husband and wife, three young men, two musicians and a small herd of goats each take their trip above the rich and verdant landscape, a character study ensues. Each entity is occupying space that someone else previously did. However, even thought they may be travelling along the same route and may have the same destination, they are all worlds apart.

One of the things that I will carry forever with me of this film is the feeling that not only was I watching these people, but that they were watching me too. The camera lens felt like a two-way portal. That feeling of being connected to another time, space and entity engendered feeling of meditative peace and tranquility. It sparked a complex internal dialogue that could not be translated with words.

Manakamana is probably the furthest thing away from Hollywood that I have seen, at least in a long time. It is breathtaking in the boundaries that it challenges and transcendental in its quiet ambition.

Film festival hosts cinematic tribute to Geoffrey Holder

Film in Focus: Siddharth

Film in Focus: Mother of George

Of Good Report

Film in Focus: Manakamana

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