ttff/09 bfm guest filmmakers Ishmahil Blagrove (holding mic) and Lawrence Coke
Thursday night marked the final StudioFilmClub screenings for the trinidad+tobago film festival/09. The three nights of last week’s programme were programmed by Hilton Als, who chose as his focus artists’ films and issues of identity surrounding womanhood. This week’s programme differed as the ttff and SFC welcomed the visiting bfm—Black Filmmaker—group from the UK. Present at SFC last night were Nadia Denton, bfm’s film festival director; Ishamhil Blagrove, independent documentary filmmaker; and Lawrence Coke, filmmaker. Although UK-based, both filmmakers have roots in the Caribbean.
Before the screenings, Denton gave a little background on the bfm, whose International Film Festival (IFF) is the leading and longest running platform for Black World Cinema in the UK catering to African and Caribbean audiences and those interested in Black arts. In a sort of inspired exchange programme, Trini filmmakers will attend the IFF in London in November.
Three films from bfm filmmakers were screened at SFC. First up was Coke’s Melvin: Portrait of a Player, a short film that tells the tale of that guy we all know–the one who is God’s gift to women . . . or so he thinks. Melvin was completely improvised and made mockumentary black-and-white style. After the screening, Coke answered a couple of questions on the film. People, inevitably, wanted to know if Melvin was based on a specific person. “He’s an amalgamation of a lot of guys,” Coke said, adding that he and his friends really just looked for situations that would make them laugh, his main goal being to document that air of confusion that exists in male/female relationships.
Next to be screened was Blagrove’s documentary, Hasta Siempre, a film that offers a unique perspective of Cuba from the inside by highlighting what life is like for ordinary Cubans. We were treated to revealing interviews with a cross section of people; ultimately, the image of Cuba that emerged is one of its citizens’ pride and their ability to make happy lives in what many perceive as a desperate country. After the screening, Blagrove answered a few questions, the first being how he was able to film in Cuba given their weighty press restrictions. “We applied for journalist visas in August 2005 but were denied,” he said. Instead of giving up, his company enrolled a 19-year old guy in a Havana film school, which, of course, was the perfect cover for making a film. The end result is a powerful message of people not only searching for themselves and defining their identity but of a society where there exists a real concern for one’s neighbour, and one in which worth is not measured by possessions.
Last on the night’s bill was Afro-Saxons, a film by Rachel Wang who, unfortunately, had to cancel her trip to Trinidad at the last minute. Afro-Saxons is a fascinating exploration of the world of Black women’s hairstyling in London. Wang interviewed and followed a colourful cast of characters who banded together to tell a tale that was relatively unknown in our parts, yet oh so familiar.
After the last screening it was business as usual at SFC which, of course, meant drinks and liming and smoking and discussing the films that we’d seen and, best of all, chatting with our guests. All in all, a good night.