22–28 Sept 2021
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Films in Focus: The Resort and Sand Dollars

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

The short fiction film The Resort, directed by Shadae Lamar Smith, and the fiction feature Sand Dollars, directed by Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán and winner of the Best Fiction Feature prize at the ttff/15, screened at the Festival last Thursday 24 September. Our blogger, Aurora Herrera, attended the screening, where Smith and Guzmán were present.

The Resort comprises a series of three vignettes that follow a young Tobagonian man as he sells love for a living. The film, directed by Shadae Lamar Smith, had its international premiere at the ttff/15.

Smith was born in Miami to Jamaican parents. He has a BA in Theatre from Fordham University in New York City, and is completing an MFA in Film Production from UCLA. The Resort is Lamar’s final project for his programme at UCLA. He explained that he had heard about sex tourism in his parents’ native country of Jamaica, and in Trinidad and Tobago.

“It’s a topic that I’m definitely interested in because when people talk about sex tourism it’s really focused on women and I think that it’s a big issue for men too,” he said. “When I first came here to Trinidad and Tobago, I heard about how it was affecting not only these men but the families associated with these men, especially with regards to STDs being on the rise.”

When asked why he didn’t probe deeply into the emotions of the male protagonist, Smith responded by saying that given that it was a 15-minute film, he felt that he did not have the time to give the issue its proper status.

“I thought it was an extremely complex issue and I think that was not something that could have been presented in 15 minutes of film,” he said. “So I said, let me take more of a clinical approach and have people draw their own conclusions based on that. I’m showing pretty much glimpses into this life instead of trying to give you this deep nuanced approach in 15 minutes.”

The film, which was shot on 16mm film, was dappled with wonderful bursts of colour, giving it a raw and vibrant ambience. The wide shots of the landscapes in and around Arnos Vale and Pigeon Point in Tobago were visually enticing.

“I didn’t look at directors first,” Smith said, of his influences. “I looked more to Caribbean art and the way the more colourful pieces and landscape pieces were presented and that’s how I designed my look. Then from there I looked at directors. I looked at the director of The Harder the Come [Perry Henzell], they shot on 16mm and I wanted to shoot on 16mm as well. I like the way that colour is represented in the 16mm format.”

The film, which was shot in conjunction with the Tobago House of Assembly, obliged their request that the cast be at least 75% from the isles of Trinidad and Tobago. The local cast featured Shea Best, Aleem Marcus Valentine and Cassandra Bonaparte and Stephen Hadeed Jr.

“This was amazing because I wasn’t going to fly people over here form the US to shoot a film,” Smith said. “It was too much money and it loses some kind of authenticity.”

*****

Sand Dollars has gravitas. Inspired by the novel of the same name by Jean Noel Pancrazi, the film explores the relationship between Noelí (Yanet Mojíca), a young, impoverished Dominican woman and Anne (Geraldine Chaplin), a much older and richer French woman. Their interaction unfolds against the backdrop of Las Terrenas, a gorgeous, verdant tourist haven in the Dominican Republic. After three years, Anne is unconditionally in love with Noelí, even though she is aware that Noelí is using her for financial support. Cárdenas and Guzmán are sensitive in their portrayal of the complicated exchanges between the native and the visitor, allowing the audience to experience the deeper layers of these relationships without the garish use of words like prostitution and solicitation.

The film—which has been submitted by the Dominican Republic to the Academy Awards for best foreign language film—is beautiful. I was captivated from the very first frame, where we see the bachata musician Ramon Cordero plaintively singing the song “I Live in Grief”. This underscored my expectations of the emotional resonance of the film and for sure, Cárdenas’s and Guzmán’s work is remarkable. While one would assume that a serious relationship between these two women would be delusional given the contrasts between them, the co-directors’ brilliantly sew gentle hope into the story, suggesting that it is possible the Noelí has feelings for Anne as well.

Here is an excerpt of the Q&A session with Guzmán.

How did the idea [for the film] come about? Did you first read the book and decide that you wanted to make a film, or did an idea come to you before you read the book?

It was two things. The genesis of the film was first the place. We usually think about where we want to shoot before we think of the story or the characters. My husband who directs with me, Israel Cárdenas, is from northern Mexico and I’m from the Dominican Republic so we have to choose where we want to shoot our next project. We shot Jean Gentil (Best Fiction Feature, ttff/11) in the northern part of the DR. I’ve seen it develop from a fishing town and now it’s one of the most touristic places in the DR. French, Italians, Germans, Haitians all mix there. We were sure when we found the book we would read it with double interest. It took some time for us to discover our own feelings about the book. I sort of related to the foreigners’ point of view more than to the locals’ and I asked [myself] if I was like a foreigner in my own country. This made me very curious to direct this film.

The second thing was the music. Bachata music is the soul, the roots of Dominican music. It’s like an interpretation of bolero that Dominicans from the countryside play. In Spanish we say the word despecho, which means “a torn heart” and it refers to men who have been treated badly by women and they want to complain but it is something that can be danced and I thought that that is very much like the Dominican people where something terrible can be happening but they have a smile on their face.

The main characters in the book are men but in the film they are women.

That took a while to happen. We did write the first, second and third [drafts of the script] based on the novel and when we heard that Geraldine Chaplin liked Jean Gentil, we suggested that she would do a secondary role [in Sand Dollars]. Then we thought, “Why keep looking for an older male actor when [we] have an older French woman?” So we said, “Let’s change the script and see what happens.” We did it and we were empowered with the script and felt that now it’s now our story.

[Geraldine] Chaplin visually looks like death; she is so stark. You almost have a visceral reaction when you see them together.

This was something that we had in mind from the beginning. We talked about the dying animal. She looks sick and her days are counted and the girl is sort of the contrary. She is alive, she is beautiful, and she is shining.

I felt sadness watching this film. You can see that Chaplin is torn about the girl. What were you hoping audiences would feel from watching this film?

Every audience sees the film in a different way depending on the baggage that they carry, so depending on what you’ve lived you will see it one way. So there is no one specific message.

How does the film impact you?

It is hard to say how it impacts me because I have made it, I heave crafted every piece of it, Israel and I. Time will tell. I need more distance.

You can see The Resort and Sand Dollars again on Tue 29 September, 6.00pm, at MovieTowne POS.

Film in Focus: Second Coming

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

The fiction feature Second Coming, written and directed by Debbie Tucker Green, screened in the Festival’s Panorama section last Wednesday 23 September. Our blogger, Aurora Herrera, attended the screening, where the director was present.

Second Coming has a sensitive, nuanced style of filmmaking. It also expresses the vocabulary of the domestic life of a family more through what is not said than what is.

The story follows Jackie, her husband Mark, and their eleven-year-old son, JJ, who live in south London. To JJ, the routine life of the household provides a safe space for him to enjoy being a kid with no responsibilities. However, Jackie seems off kilter from the very beginning. She is pregnant and she seems to have no idea how it happened. As the story gradually reveals, she and Mark have not been intimate in quite some time.

As each day passes, Jackie recedes further into herself. Tucker Green creates a sense of claustrophobia with tight camera angles. This stifling feeling pervades the household and more and more cracks appear along the fault lines of the family.

The film remains ambiguous as to Jackie’s true state of mind. She does not acknowledge any extra-marital relations but her unwillingness to tell her husband does raise the level of suspicion. Eventually it is revealed that the couple has suffered four previous miscarriages. The audience comes to understand Jackie’s fears about the pregnancy and also about telling her husband.

Scenes of domestic life are juxtaposed with seemingly mystical events. Jackie begins to have what she calls “visions” that begin with a light rain drip-dripping in her bathroom. Tucker Green once again keeps the camera tight, not panning to the roof for the audience to investigate whether the cause might an unfortunate plumbing issue. As her pregnancy progresses, Jackie begins to suffer from nosebleeds and that light drip-dripping rain becomes a windy tempest. Suffice it to say Mark and JJ do not wake up to a flooded house.

The audience is left to question whether these phenomena are really symptoms of an immaculate conception, omens of the second coming or if Jackie is suffering from any cognitive dysfunction caused by a tumor or some other malady. Truly, the success of this film is in Tucker Green keeping allegory at arms length.

“With the nosebleeds and the rain, I told the special effects guys that I wanted to bend naturalism,” Tucker Green said during the Q&A session. “It was just messing with reality instead of taking her out completely from that place. It’s not real, the house isn’t flooding, but we don’t know if it’s in her head and if she is seeing things.”

Despite the colourful interjection of Jackie’s Jamaican family and the spice of their patois, all of the main characters fall into a state of despair, a feeling which Tucker Green conjures with ellipses in conversation, the blandness of not only their domestic space but also of their interpersonal relationships. The muteness of fear defines the experience of the film. Surfeits in conversation would have broken the delicate silence of sadness that grips the audience.

Jackie eventually has the baby, a girl, and we see the family together one year later celebrating her first birthday. In the last moments of the film, something happens that could only be described as a miracle.

When one audience member asked Tucker Green about the psychology of the main female character and what really happened, the director maintained that she prefers to keep the story ambiguous and let the audience work through it for themselves.

“I’ll leave it as ambiguous,” she said. “I’ve got my view but everyone has their view. Nadine [Marshall, who played Jackie] and I know the truth because she can’t play a character and [not] know what was going on but I thought it was definitive.”

Apart from Marshall, the cast features Kai Francis-Lewis (JJ) and Idris Elba (Mark). I felt that the cast was stellar in their respective roles. Tucker Green commented on the casting process.

“We sent Idris the script and he said he liked it but his schedule is nuts,” she said. “The film was already green-lit without him but it worked out. I also sat down with Nadine to talk to her about it. Nadine is a great actress and this film is so much behind the eyes. As for Kai, he was the first child who came through the door but we didn’t cast him [then]. We saw loads [of other boys] and then we decided he was it.”

One of the audience members commented on the cinematography.

“I liked the car scene with the use of the mirrors,” she said. “It was beautiful.”

“The car was interesting,” said Green. “We did quite a few scenes in cars so we did a lot of hunting around for interesting angles.”

The director was also asked about her experience working with the birds that appear in the film.

“Birds and babies you can’t direct but the birds were alright,” she said. “We had to have birds that weren’t so small that the kids would hurt them and birds that weren’t so big they would hurt the kids. The kids had to rehearse with the birds a few weeks ahead. So the blackbird, we had two, the kids called one “evil bird” because it kept pecking them. You can’t see it but they are cuffed and on very long lines so they won’t fly away. It’s fairly straightforward and you have to be very quiet. In postproduction, you have to paint out the pieces of brass that might have shown.”

You can see Second Coming again on Monday 28 September, 9.00pm, MovieTowne POS.

And the ttff/15 Winners are…

Sand Dollars, the tender story of an elderly French woman in a relationship with a much younger woman from the Dominican Republic, won the Best Fiction Feature prize last evening at the awards ceremony for the 2015 trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff/15).

Directed by Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán, the film beat three other films in the official competition to nab the coveted prize.

The Best Documentary Feature went to Aleksandra Maciuszek’s Casa Blanca, the moving tale of an elderly woman and her middle-aged son who has Down syndrome, as they navigate daily life in Havana.

Casa Blanca also received a special mention for artistic merit by the Amnesty International Human Rights Prize jury.

In the Trinidad and Tobago film categories, Sean Hodgkinson’s Trafficked, about three friends on holiday who become drug mules, walked away with the Best Fiction Feature prize, while Kim Johnson’s Re-percussions: An African Odyssey, about attempts to propagate T&T’s national instrument in Nigeria, won Best Documentary Feature.

The prize for best project at the first ever Caribbean Film Mart went to Kidnapping Inc of Haiti, by Gaethan Chancy, Bruno Mourral and Gilbert Mirambeau, Jr.

Here is a full list of the awards:

Best Film Awards – sponsored by the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited
Best Fiction Feature: Sand Dollars, Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán, Dominican Republic/Mexico/Argentina
Best Documentary Feature: Casa Blanca, Aleksandra Maciuszek, Cuba/Mexico/Poland
Best Short Film, Narrative: Mommy Water, Julien Silloray, Guadeloupe
Best Short Film, Documentary: Papa Machete, Jonathan David Kane, Haiti/USA/Barbados

Best Trinidad and Tobago Film Awards – sponsored by the Film Company of Trinidad and Tobago (FilmTT)
Best Trinidad and Tobago Fiction Feature: Trafficked, Sean Hodgkinson
Best Trinidad and Tobago Documentary Feature: Re-percussions: An African Odyssey, Kim Johnson
Best Trinidad and Tobago Short Film, Fiction: Fade to Black, Christopher Guinness
Best Trinidad and Tobago Short Film, Documentary: Riding Bull Cart, Rhonda Chan Soo

People’s Choice Awards – Sponsored by Flow
People’s Choice Award, Best Narrative Feature: Sally’s Way, Joanne Johnson, T&T
People’s Choice Award, Best Documentary Feature: Vanishing Sail, Alexis Andrews, Antigua
People’s Choice Award, Best Short Film: City on the Hill, Patricia Mohammed and Michael Mooleedhar, T&T

Amnesty International Human Rights Prize: My Father’s Land, Miquel Galofré and Tyler Johnston, Bahamas/Haiti/Trinidad and Tobago

Amnesty International Human Rights Prize, Special Mention for Artistic Merit: Casa Blanca, Aleksandra Maciuszek, Cuba/Mexico/Poland

RBC: Focus Filmmakers’ Immersion Pitch Prize: Kojo McPherson, Guyana

Caribbean Film Mart Best Project Award: Kidnapping Inc, Gaethan Chancy, Bruno Mourral, Gilbert Mirambeau, Jr

Best Emerging Trinidad and Tobago Filmmaker (prize sponsored by bpTT): Michael Rochford

BPTT Youth Jury Prize for Best Film: Girlhood, Céline Sciamma, France

BPTT Youth Jury Prize Honourable Mention: Güeros, Alonzo Ruizpalacios, Mexico

BPTT Youth Jury Prize, Special Mention for Cinematography: The Greatest House in the World, Ana V. Bojórquez and Lucía Carreras, Guatemala/Mexico

Image: A still from Sand Dollars

Launch of the Caribbean Film Mart, Database

The ttff launched the Caribbean Film Mart (CFM) and Caribbean Film Database last night (September 24), with a reception at HOME in Port of Spain.

Emilie Upczak, ttff’s Creative Director, shared her thoughts on the moment saying, “Today we are birthing the Caribbean Film Industry.”

She acknowledged the ACP Cultures+ Programme, which co-financed the project. The project is also
funded by the European Union (European Development Fund) and implemented by the ACP Group of States.

The Film Mart creates a space for international film industry professionals to meet one-on-one with representatives from fifteen Caribbean film projects in development, as well as to participate in a number of group events and activities, all with the aim of getting the films financed, made and distributed. The thirty industry professionals are drawn from across Europe, Latin America and the USA.

“We had over 100 [applications] and we were really surprised,” Upczak said. “We selected what we think [are] the best of Caribbean voices right now and I feel assured that in the next three to five years that every single project that is in this Film Mart will be made.”

“I would also like to acknowledge the 30 industry professionals who have had the courage and insight to get involved in a new movement,” she added. “We really appreciate you taking this risk and coming down here and we really hope that we are doing you proud.”

The ttff also unveiled the Caribbean Film Database, a website of feature-length independent Caribbean fiction, documentary and experimental feature films from 2000 to the present. The Database—which launched with 537 films—also includes a selected number of Caribbean classics, contain a bibliography of film resources, a Caribbean Women in Film page and links to other film festivals, film commissions and schools in the region. It is also in three languages: English, Spanish and French.

The Caribbean Film Mart and Caribbean Film Database are being implemented in association with the Fundación Global Democracia y Dessarollo from the Dominican Republic, the Association for the Development of Art Cinema and Practice in Guadeloupe, the Foundation of New Latin American Cinema from Cuba, and the Festival Régional et International du Cinéma de Guadeloupe.

Patricia Monpierre of the Association for the Development of Art Cinema and Practice in Guadeloupe said that she was very happy to see the launch of the project.

“I am very happy tonight because all the team of the ttff are working on this with us. We want to continue to enrich the Database year after year. It’s our Database and we want to contribute to it.”

She also accentuated the unifying aspect of the database.

“We make this database online for sharing with everybody because we are one Caribbean—Caribbean English, Caribbean French, Caribbean Spanish, Caribbean Dutch and we have to show to the people of the world that we are one Caribbean.”

Luis Notario of ICAIC from Cuba echoed her sentiments.

“I feel in this moment like we are giving birth to something very important. I feel very strongly about the project, the fruit of much collaboration,” he said.

Notario also highlighted the importance of the CFM.

“These filmmakers get the support from the Film Mart and are also learning, getting insightful comments that will help them for future films,” he said. “I think that we have a challenge which is also an opportunity and it is also a commitment which is to continue this work, [to see] how we can make [the CFM] sustainable.”

Upczak also extended heartfelt thanks and acknowledgement to FLOW, the presenting sponsor of the ttff.

“They started with us when we were only two years old and they have really given us the space to grow and the money to do that and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

She ended by saying, “I would also like to acknowledge the ttff organising committee. We really are a collaborative team and it would be impossible to do what we do without each one of us.”

Film in Focus: Bottom in de Road

The mid-length documentary Bottom in de Road, directed by Oyetayo Ojoade and Sharon Syriac, had its world premiere on Tuesday at the ttff/15. Our blogger, Aurora Herrera, attended the screening.

Thought provoking, crass, insightful, and controversial.

Those are all words used to describe Bottom in de Road, a film by Oyetayo Ojoade and his wife Sharon Syriac. The work explores “bottom power”, offering analysis of the female bottom as seen through the gaze of the Caribbean man. The role of the bottom in expressing freedom and as a source of religious controversy are also considered.

The world premiere of this documentary elicited a varying scope of reactions from the viewers.

“Overall it was a bit crass but I didn’t expect so much balance,” one male audience member said. “I expected to be more offended because this society is already a patriarchal, sexist society and you see so much perspective about a woman’s behind everywhere. The Black Venus [Sarah Baartman], and the history that came from her perspective I thought gave more balance. It made the film smarter.”

“It was excellent, I liked how they mixed the humour and it was at the same time serious,” one female audience member said. “Even with the humour there were elements of the serious and a lot of the intellectuals brought out their serious opinion.”

When asked if she found the film offensive in any way, she said that you have to move beyond being offended.

“It’s Bottom in the Road, it has to be misogynistic,” she said. “The director said that it is from the male perspective. That is our culture.”

Ojoade explained his inspiration for the film to the audience saying, “I have got a cross-cultural background; a Trinidadian mother and a Nigerian father. I spent half my life in Nigeria where you see the woman dressed a certain way. They dress in lose clothing that covers their backside. So occasionally you will see the young university student wearing tight fitting jeans and depending on where she goes, she will get harassed. But moving to Trinidad in my adult life, I saw women and young women and girls dressing in revealing clothes exposing the bottom. It was a culture shock for me and that is why I had to do this.”

Oyetayo Ojoade has a BA in Film from the University of the West Indies and is the director of the short documentary films Who Let the Dogs Out? (ttff/08), Shouters and the Control Freak Empire (ttff/10), and co-director of The Madonna Murti (ttff/11), as well as the short fiction film Suck Meh Soucouyant, Suck Meh (ttff/09).

His wife, Sharon Syriac, who co-directed the film, is a lecturer in Communications at the University of Trinidad and Tobago and a Postgraduate student of Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies. She is also the co-director of The Madonna Murti.

“Because of the sensitivity of the topic and the controversy that it would generate, yes it was a deliberate technique in order to draw the audience in to plug in some very serious issues which we feel should be considered,” Syriac said.

Along with the man on the street, the film featured interviews with Iwer George, Denyse Plummer, Destra Garcia, gender studies expert Gabrielle Hosein, scholar at the University of the West Indies Gordon Rohlehr, and sexologist Dr Giriraj Ramnanan.

One audience member in particular did not appreciate the lengthy discussion and categorisation of female bottoms by a regular man on the street, who was referred to as “the prose version of Iwer George”, by another audience member.

“It was like categorising animals almost,” the said about the cataloguing of female glutei maximi.

The film makes a very weak attempt at balancing the examination of the female derriere with that of male behinds, allotting about six per cent of screen time to the topic.

One audience member commented, “The bit about men not having significant behinds, I wanted to ask, are we in the dark ages? That was unnecessary.”

Another audience member said,” I think this film is fantastic and should go international!”

I think it would be rather interesting to ask if the women featured were these men’s daughters, sisters, girlfriends or wives, if they would still feel this much gusto for the film.

The film is definitely thought-provoking. There are many healthy discourses that can come out of it. For example, there is the question of whether the showing off of the bottom is an act of true freedom and independence or rather the fulfilling of a biological act; where the female attempts to be desirous to the male for him to choose to mate with her, which when stripped down, is basically submission to the male choice and need.

Moreover, this dialogue can also be looked at in the paradigm of colonisation and its social and psychological impact.

As gender studies expert Gabrielle Hosein says in the film, “We have to understand the the obsession, the praise and the adoration of the female bottom in Caribbean culture is not only because female bodies in and of themselves—regardless of their shape and size—are beautiful, but it is because of a long colonial emphasis on the bottoms of African women.”

The film also engenders questions such as: Are women even aware of these concepts as they don their revealing costumes? Do they consider the theories and archetypes associated with a postcolonial society and still make that decision consciously as a means of expressing their freedom, or are they merely following trends and have no idea what their displays truly mean to themselves and others?

One female audience member asked if men realise whether there is a fine line between dressing up for Carnival and looking cute and sexy as opposed to being vulgar. Of course vulgarity is a matter of perspective but the question can also be added to the discourse.

Syriac said, “It took us three years to make this film. He [Ojoade] did all the filming and he followed all of those female bottoms. A lot of the times on the street when he followed women, they didn’t know that their bottoms were being taped, so that it one reason why we didn’t have the women respond because he had to do it undercover. I was not there.”

While I understand that social media has normalised the presence of cameras at every fete, club night and lime, most times, the photographer will ask if a photo or video can be taken. This seems like common courtesy even if filming on the streets. It seemed sort of creepy for Ojoade to do all of this in secret, from the back.

Also, there was a scene with Saucy Pow which was backed by the song Boom Bye Bye, a song by Buju Banton whish is widely regarded as anti-gay. I felt that it was quite offensive.

You can see Bottom in the Road on the following dates:

Sat 26 Sept, 3.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Sat 26 Sept, 5.00pm, UWI Q&A
Tue 29 Sept, 5.30pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Sun 27 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS Q&A

Additional screenings at ttff/15

Due to public demand, a number of screenings of certain films have been added to the ttff/15 schedule. They are as follows.

Friday 25 September
The Harder They Come – Port of Spain Ballroom, Hyatt Regency Trinidad, 8.00pm
Trafficked – Movietowne POS, 11.45pm

Saturday 26 September
Amy – MovieTowne POS, 11.15pm

Sunday 27 September
Bim + Show Me Your Motion: Caribbean Film Festivals – MovieTowne POS, 10.30am

Screenings at MovieTowne cost $30 and tickets are now available at the box office. The screening at the Hyatt is free of charge.

Still: An image from The Harder They Come

Films in focus: Just a Drop, Down and Out, City on the Hill

A group of short T&T documentariesJust a Drop, Down and Out and City on the Hillscreened at the ttff/15 yesterday. Our blogger, Aurora Herrera, attended the sold-out screenings.

Just a Drop is a short film directed by Shea Best, Dominic Koo and Stephen Hadeed Jr.

Both Shea Best and Dominic Koo are graduates of the Film Programme at the University of the West Indies.Best is the director of the short drama The Cast (ttff/14)and Koo directed the short fiction film Botched Up (ttff/12). Stephen Hadeed Jr. is a Trinidad and Tobago actor. His credits include Festival of Lights (ttff/11) and Pendulum (ttff/15).

The six-minute film is about a drop of water that embarks on a journey to save a dying flower during the dry season.

Hadeed Jr. was inspired to make the film after going through the mundane act of washing his hands at a standpipe on the property were piece was filmed.

“The standpipe is at the top of a very big driveway and it curves around and goes all the way down to a drain,” he said. “I just started following the water, just walking down the driveway and I just wanted to see that journey a little more up close.”

The film is a visual treat. As Best said to the audience, Koo is a master behind the camera. I felt as if I was watching a real-time evolving painting as the water canvassed the concrete and dirt, making its way through ruts and crevices simultaneously collecting and discarding contents collected in its flow.

The music is also quite enjoyable and definitely emotive, connecting you to the journey of the water, always downhill, to the flower.

“Basically I wanted Lord of the Rings with water and after some work, I think that’s what we got,” Hadeed Jr. said.

The trio said that the film was shot over four, eight-hour days and also joked about the challenges of working with water, saying that it would not reset when directed to do so.

You can catch another screening of Just a Drop on the following dates:

Wed 23 Sept, 6.00pm, NALIS, POS Q&A
Sat 26 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS Q&A
Sat 26 Sept, 5.00pm, UWI Q&A

*****

Down and Out had its world premiere at the ttff/15 last evening. The film takes a look at the struggles that homeless people face in society and how the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons (CSDP) works toward alleviating these problems.

The film was done by three final-year students of the Film Programme at the University of the West Indies: Shanice Martin, Michaela Spencer and David Villafana.

Martin, who has always been curious about the stories of displaced persons, decided to interview the homeless people who went to the CSDP.

The main challenge the team had was security.

“Mr. Belgraves, the man you saw in the film, kept telling us that when we’re going out there we should bring somebody with us because it could get dangerous,” Spencer said. “He used to always come with us. We also just had other normal challenges like trying to get expensive equipment to that part of town.”

When one audience member asked about violence, Villafana explained that there are violence issues with the residents.

“There is 24-hour security at CSDP but if there is [violent] behaviour like that they are escorted out of the building and they go to Tamarind Park which is not to far from CSDP,” he said. “Even when they are there, they are not fully safe because some of them have money, they get robbed when they are sleeping or attacked.”

Another audience member commended the team on their effort saying that homeless people are treated “like trash” and we have “trained ourselves not to see them.”

The documentary featured on-camera interview with residents who were HIV-positive, drug addicts and deportees, who all got a chance to tell parts of their story.

The team was also challenged to go back into the project and re-edit and make the documentary longer. As it was a school project, the co-directors were dealing with many restraints in terms of time.

Villafana commented that it is an unfinished project and that they have a lot more material to work with.

You can see another screening of Down and Out on the following dates:

Wed 23 Sept, 6.00pm, NALIS, POS Q&A
Sat 26 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS Q&A
Sat 26 Sept, 5.00pm, UWI Q&A

****

City on the Hill is a look at the history of the communities erected on the hillside slopes of Laventille. The film examines the evolution of the chequered relationship between the landscape and its inhabitants, as well as selected aspects of Laventille’s architecture.

The film is part of a larger project. It was commissioned by Leveraging Built and Cultural Heritage of East Port of Spain, led by Dr. Asad Mohammed. Patricia Mohammed and Michael Mooleedhar, who previously teamed up for the short Coolie Pink and Green (ttff/09), directed the film.

Patricia Mohammed is a Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies and Head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies. Michael Mooleedhar is a graduate of the Film Programme at the University of the West Indies. Both have worked on a number of other films.

I do think that the project to map the cultural and architectural heritage of Eastern Port of Spain is brilliant, timely and also a much-needed filler for the gaps of our collective history. Mr. Mohammed’s project is visionary and will give much to the present and future generations of Trinidad and Tobago.

As one audience member said, “I didn’t grow up here but I felt very proud to be Trinidadian watching that. I felt like you gave me a piece of Trinidad that I would not have found in a textbook or online.”

Another audience member, a London-based teacher, said that the film would be a great tool to utilise in schools both here and abroad, as a window into the culture and heritage of East Port-of-Spain.

The narrative is opulent, featuring the words of Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, novelist Earl Lovelace’s poems specifically written for Laventille, as well as poet Wayne Brown. The cinematography was captivating, showing areas of Laventille that I have never seen on screen. The religious theme was very informative as were the drumming and dancing themes. I think that anything that shows us our country is a great step forward.

There is just one thing that I can’t seem to reconcile about this film though. Ever since seeing the film yesterday afternoon, I’ve been having as issue with its presentation. I’ve spoken about it with colleagues and also just meditated on it in my mind.

The reason that the film was commissioned is substantial and important. However, the film absolutely failed to mention the horrendous crime that takes place in the area.

While I realise that this film is a commissioned project and not an investigative documentary and that the team intentionally left out this part of reality in order to cast a more positive light on the area, I think it would have strengthened the film to at least acknowledge the vulnerability of the area.

After all, when I asked Mooleedhar why some of the camera shots were so shaky, he said that they had to shoot with handheld equipment due to the security risks.

Since this is a documentary film, I would have liked to see the team be true to the experience. I would go so far as to say that it is even a bit unethical to sort of advertise Laventille as such a friendly place when your own team has consciously planned to shoot with equipment that facilitates a speedy evacuation of that same area, should the violence they are wary of, actually unfold.

You can see City on the Hill again on the following dates:

Wed 23 Sept, 6.00pm, NALIS, POS Q&A
Sat 26 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS Q&A

Image: a still from City on the Hill

Film in Focus: My Father’s Land

The documentary My Father’s Land, directed by Miquel Galofré and Tyler Johnston, had its world premiere yesterday at the ttff/15. Our blogger, Aurora Herrera, attended the screening.

My Father’s Land tells the story of Papa Jah, a Haitian gardener, who has spent the last forty years in the Bahamas, living in a marginalised community named the Mud. When news arrives that his 103-year-old father has taken ill back in Haiti, Papa Jah fears he may not see him before he passes. Papa Jah travels back to Haiti, to his family’s small village on the island La Tortue, to reunite with his father, hopefully before it is too late.

Miquel Galofré is from Barcelona, Spain, and lives in Trinidad. His previous, award-winning documentaries are Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast? (ttff/09), Hit Me with Music (ttff/11), Songs of Redemption (co-directed by Amanda Sans, ttff/13), and Art Connect (ttff/14). Tyler Johnston is a Bahamian-American filmmaker and artist living in Trinidad and Tobago. He is the director of the short documentary Five Bones (ttff/12).

Galofré is an organic filmmaker. He has this way of just letting the camera rest on the subject and guided by his energy, his personal magic, they lose their masks, open up and in turn show their true selves. I saw this signature method of working in My Father’s Land.

Johnston, who grew up partly in Abaco in the Bahamas, an intersecting community of Haitians and Bahamians, told the audience that Papa Jah is a long time friend of his.

“I’ve always enjoyed his company,” he said. “He is such a unique character and I’ve always wanted to do a piece on him. Growing up partly in Abaco, my family, like many, had Haitian workers that would help with our small business. The playmates I had were Haitian.”

Galofré recalled how Johnston called him up and told him that he wanted to do a short film on Papa Jah.

“I said yes but why a short film? Let’s do it long,” he said.

My Father’s Land was filmed over 20 days with a lot of travelling in-between. Galofré and Johnston set out on an adventure with its fair share of challenges.

“There were so many times in the film when we said it’s not going to happen,” Johnston said.

“It was very dangerous but we had to do it and we made it,” Galofré added.

At one point, the team is filming on motorcycles while whizzing through the Haitian countryside.

“I literally thought I was going to die, it’s not a joke,” Galofré said. “But I said, let’s film it.”

The audience also congratulated Galofré and Johnston for humanising the issue of migration, in particular the plight of Haitians and Haitian-Bahamians in the Bahamas.

“Our world is seeing the worst humanitarian migration crisis [ever] and one of the biggest challenges is getting those in government to empathise,” one audience member said. She congratulated the filmmakers on having successfully humanised this migration experience.

When asked if what they were planning to do with the film given its political subject matter, Johnston responded that the pair did not intend to promote the film in that way.

“We actually tried not to make it a political film,” he said. “We tried to make it a character piece. Yes it does portray issues of immigration but there is also Papa Jah’s personal story. I want the film to be balanced and not pro or against anything. I want to let the audience make up their minds about it.”

After the film was made, Papa Jah went back to the Bahamas to live and work. He now has his legal status; the co-directors helped to get his his paperwork done.

You can see My Father’s Land on the following dates:

Thu 24 Sept, 3.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Thu 24 Sept, 3.00pm, UWI Q&A
Fri 25 Sept, 1.30pm, MovieTowne POS Q&A
Mon 28 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago

Film in Focus: Sally’s Way

The children’s film Sally’s Way, directed by T&T filmmaker Joanne Johnson, had its local premiere yesterday at the ttff/15. Our blogger, Aurora Herrera, attended the screening.

Earlier this year I saw a TEDx talk by a researcher named Brené Brown. It focused on vulnerability, connection and wholeheartedness. In her talk, Brown comments that connection is why we are here. It’s how we’re wired.

As I digested Joanne Johnson’s film Sally’s Way, this is what kept coming up in my mind.

Johnson’s film features twelve-year-old Sally, who is happy in her childhood activities, hanging out at the block standpipe and getting on with her fellow community members. That is, until her grandmother falls ill and she has to live with the Dindial family that her grandmother worked for as a maid. Sally grapples with the emotions of leaving her only living family member, fielding gossip and bullies at school and an unwelcoming set of peers in the Dindial’s home. All of this is compounded by the worry that she will be relegated to living in an orphanage.

Johnson, who began writing and producing for television in the early 1990s, adapted Sally’s Way from her own children’s book of the same title, written in 2002. At the screening she informed the audience that some children in Sea Lots inspired the book.

Several members of the audience admitted that they were crying during and after the film, and that they were very moved by the content.

“There are so many important and key emotional [moments] in it and it’s so rich that way; it speaks to us all as humans,” one audience member said to Johnson. “The intimacy of relationships is what speaks to us all and you really portrayed that and it was incredible. Thank you so much.”

Johnson also said that at the film’s world premiere at the Seattle Children’s Film Festival a jury of children, ages nine to fifteen, awarded the film a prize.

“There is something universal about the kids responding to Sally, the Sally journey, the Sally story,” she said. “It’s the emotional content as well.”

Another audience member expressed the desire for the film to be shown everywhere.

“I have to say in the aftermath of the election, this movie is so important to talk about who Trinidad really is,” she said. “It is so important to see how we are all the same. I think you should be showing this movie everywhere.”

The actress who plays Sally, Alyssa Highly, also expressed how the role changed her for the better.

“Being Sally has changed me in many ways because I look at life with a different perspective now,” she said. “I see things more clearly, like sometimes I pretend I’m her. When I’m by myself and I have to make a tough decision.”

Johnson also spoke about how the film came about, describing how she forged the partnerships that made the film come to life.

“The Trinidad and Tobago Film Company had a lot of incentives at the time and we applied for a production assistance grant and then just on intuition I drove down Anna Street and I saw BCO [Brown Cotton Outreach, a theatre company], and I remembered the powerhouse that is [Sally’s Way producer] Louris Lee-Sing and I knocked on her door and I said, “Sally’s Way film anyone? And luckily she said, “Yes please!”

“Then [producer] Tracy Farrah was another powerhouse I worked with in sports and then I made a call and she said she would meet with me. Also, thanks to Angostura—I’m sure you all had a chuckle at our product placement, and it is a bit risky to combine advertising with children’s content, but we needed support and it was the only way to do it.”

Fellow ttff/15 filmmakers Juliette McCawley and Sandra Vivas were in the audience and congratulated Johnson on the film.

“I know what you’re doing is so hard and it’s great how well it is doing away, said McCawley. “When I was a little girl, I really wanted to act so I think it is wonderful that you gave these little girls the opportunity. There is a future for you guys. It is a drop that is going to cause a ripple in many, many ways.”

Vivas who admitted that she was “crying almost from like the beginning,” asked about the casting process.

Johnson admitted that it was daunting to “raise money and then bank on kids.”

“They always tell you don’t work with kids and animals in film because it is unreliable,” she said. “So we decided that we would spend a lot of time auditioning and training kids. We were looking for families that wanted it. So it wasn’t just about the child. We auditioned entire families.”

Highly’s grandparents were also in the audience supporting her. Her grandfather expressed how proud he was and also admitted that he was moved to tears by the film.

Johnson pointed out that Highly and her family really proved their stamina as “They live in Talparo and we were shooting in Patna and on a good day that is a two-hour run. This little girl has the discipline and the commitment that you don’t often see in adults.”

The screening ended on a really happy note with a government youth development officer for Port of Spain and Woodbrook commending the film and saying that her ministry would be happy to assist in distributing the film through grant funding.

“We shall start growing seeds and working together,” she said.

You can see Sally’s Way at the ttff/15 on the following dates:

Wed 23 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS Q&A
Thu 24 Sept, 7.15pm, UWI Q&A
Sat 26 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Mon 28 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS
Tue 29 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne Tobago Q&A
Tue 29 Sept, 10.00am, Southern Academy for the Performing Arts Q&A

Films in focus: Paradise Lost and Re-percussions

The T&T documentaries Paradise Lost, directed by Christopher Laird and Re-Percussions: An African Odyssey, directed by Kim Johnson, had their respective world premieres at the ttff/15 on Friday. Our blogger, Aurora Herrera, attended both screenings.

Amazing. Enrapturing. Alluring. The embodiment of art.

Peter Minshall is truly a rarity in the polychromatic scope of existence.

I was mentally competing with myself for this year’s Festival to see how many films I could see without being moved to tears. If you’ve read my blogs over the past two years you would know that I am inevitably affected by the magic of film. Thus far, I have seen seven films. This eighth film, Christopher Laird’s Paradise Lost, which explores the genesis of Peter Minshall’s first masquerade band for the 1976 Trinidad and Tobago carnival, was my undoing.

It was my undoing in such a marvellous and wonderful way!

Peter Minshall has such an overpowering love for art that it moved past the film screen and touched every fibre of my being.

Christopher Laird, who has more than three decades of visual storytelling to his name, having produced over 300 documentaries, dramas and other video productions with the pioneering Banyan Limited, has achieved what he set out to do.

“Ray Funk persuaded George Tang to show his footage [of the band Paradise Lost] at the National Library last year, and it reminded me immediately of the effect it had on me when I saw the band in ’76,” he said at the screening. “It was jaw-dropping. We had never seen anything like it before. We saw the future of Carnival. It meant something about life and death and art.

“I said that we really need a documentary about these things so the newer generations can see what mas is really like in the quarter century that Minshall worked in the genre.”

The footage had the same effect on me. Even now as I write this, I have tears in my eyes and I feel like I have experienced something of true value and I have had a chance to share in a very important historical moment of Trinidad and Tobago. From my generation to yours, from me to you, thank you Mr. Laird.

In the work, Laird films Minshall viewing and reacting to the remastered version of the only known film footage of the band on stage.

“I really thought that we would shoot it, people would talk about the story, they would show the footage and it would be a good document but Minshall’s presentation and story telling is what brought it into another realm,” Laird said. “It becomes a story, it becomes a drama, something very touching.”

Laird effusively commended Tang for his coverage of the band.

“It is very easy to just look at George’s stuff and just say ok, fine,” he said. “George was also working for TTT the time. He would have to film with one camera on each shoulder. We are all lucky that he was able to use a super 8 camera, which was loaded with cartridges so he didn’t have to stop every few minutes to load another reel. I don’t know of any other moving colour footage of the time. TTT was black and white but changed to colour that year. It’s all shot expertly, from one side, carefully and steady, [with] a minimal number of jump cuts. He captured everything in a most masterful way and we cannot underestimate the contribution that George has made.”

Peter Minshall was at the screening and responded to a question from the audience member, about what was so groundbreaking about the band.

“[W]hat’s different about Paradise? I didn’t choose to come back. The thing held me by the foot and pulled me in. I had to make mas as art and you know it, enough people heard it and said ‘Mas as art? I in dat!’”

***

Re-Percussions: An African Odyssey is the return of the Trinidad and Tobago steelpan to its African roots. Kim Johnson and Jean Michel Gibert, the team behind last year’s opening night film, Pan! Our Music Odyssey, have gone deeper into the history of pan and found connections with our African past and present.

As Nigerian panman Bowie Sonnie Bowei attempts to nurture a steelband movement in Africa, he has to confront the challenge of propagating a creation of the descendents of enslaved people in a complex society, with its own percussive traditions.

I think it is a huge compliment to the people of Trinidad and Tobago that Chief Bowei wants to make pan a part of the culture in his country.

Johnson gave insight into his inspiration for making the film.

“Last year some of the people who criticised [Pan! Our Music Odyssey] didn’t like the fictional component and they wanted some idea of the history of pan,” he said. “When Jean-Michel and I originally came up with the idea of the first film, we called it Pan Global. Part of the idea was the global spread of pan and we thought maybe we would just do that as part two.”

The film actually had a rough start as Johnson’s Trinidadian camera crew had to turn around in London and fly home due to a mandate issued by the Trinidadian government that anyone coming from Nigeria would be quarantined as a security measure against the Ebola outbreak.

“I found the camera crew from hell and it was very, very difficult,” he said. “So you just have images and it’s like pieces of a puzzle but you don’t know what the puzzle is and what to make with those pieces. We planned to use the chief in our story because he was coming to Trinidad anyway and then I went to Lagos and I was there with him. Otherwise, this story is sort of like, you go and see what you get and you get these pieces and see how can I turn this into a story.”

Chief Bowei also finds it difficult to make pan a substantial part of the Nigerian musical culture. He believes that pan is his destiny and is relentless in learning all he can from the Trinidadian panmen and passing on that knowledge to the young people he teaches. Some of these young people start off never having seen a steel drum before and have to acquaint themselves with every aspect of it. He also comes up against challenges with getting new equipment and the tuning of the new pans. However, he perseveres and finds a way to manufacture pans and recruit interested young people.

One of the audience members from Nigeria encouraged Johnson and Gibert to continue their documentation of the growth of pan in his country.

“There is room for follow up,” he said. “We will want to know how far Chief Bowei has reached with pan in a few years.”

I totally agree. This team should not stop investigating how far this country’s national instrument has impacted people around the world.

You can catch another screening of Paradise Lost on the following date:
24 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS Q&A

You can see Re-percussions: an African Odyssey on the following dates:

Sun 20 Sept, 6.00pm, Couva Joylanders Panyard Q&A
Thu 24 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS Q&A
Fri 25 Sept, 5.30pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Tue 29 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago

Still: An image from Paradise Lost

Films in Focus: The Resort and Sand Dollars

Film in Focus: Second Coming

And the ttff/15 Winners are…

Launch of the Caribbean Film Mart, Database

Film in Focus: Bottom in de Road

Additional screenings at ttff/15

Films in focus: Just a Drop, Down and Out, City on the Hill

Film in Focus: My Father’s Land

Film in Focus: Sally’s Way

Films in focus: Paradise Lost and Re-percussions

View the #filmmakerfriday Playlist on Youtube

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