This project is very personal for me. I have been very emotionally attached to it. I saw myself in every kid very often. I was a very unhappy child and I grew up missing my parents and blaming myself for all the bad things that we were facing. The world wasn’t a good place for me. So now, it was very restorative and comforting to be able to help give them what I was missing as a kid. Actually, I felt it was my responsibility.
Miquel Galofré is a multiple-award-winning filmmaker born in Barcelona and based in Trinidad and Tobago. He is a director, cinematographer and editor of films, documentaries, commercials and television. His “Jamaican trilogy” of documentaries are all past selections of the ttff, where they have won several prizes. For the last three years he has been taking photographs around T&T, under the banner T&T Rocks!. He is currently at work on his first narrative feature film.
His latest film, ttff/14 selection (and world premiere) Art Connect vividly illustrates how creative intervention changed the lives of a group of young people in Laventille, a disenfranchised and volatile community in T&T. The film documents the profound impact that painting, poetry, music and dance had on the children, who were given digital cameras to record their experiences. By allowing the viewer intimate access to their world, they reveal their hopes and fears, and we witness their lives transform.
Last year, our blogger Aurora Herrera covered Galofré and Amanda Sans’ ttff/13 selection Songs of Redemption. Once again she was able to touch on some very deep emotions in this interview with Galofré.
Why did you decide to do this film?
To give a voice to the youths, and to listen to them. Nothing is more important than kids, they are the future and they don’t have it easy. I feel that we, the adults, don’t listen to them enough. They just get commands about what to do or what not to do, what to learn and what not to learn.
I had the chance to film a group of students from Success Laventille School thanks to Wendell Mc Shine. He was doing this beautiful project painting a big wall mural with them. I started to film deep interviews with the kids and when a pretty 12-year-old girl with big eyes told me “I don’t have anything to be happy about,” I felt we had to do something else. Wendell finished and left but I kept working with the students and filming it all and we gave cameras to them to film their own lives. They also wrote a song and choreographed a dance. The idea was to give them tools to help to express themselves, to try to awake a passion in them and document it all. Everything started thanks to Wendell that’s why the film has the name of his project, Art Connect.
Was it a coincidence or was a deliberate move on your part that after filming a story about prisoners in Songs of Redemption, you film a story about children, who also come from a similar high-risk area?
It was a pretty intense year. I was filming both projects at the same time.
In GP, the maximum security Jamaican prison, we were doing deep interviews with the inmates and all of them had big issues from their childhood.
It came out that every “criminal” was a victim when they were kids. Then filming the teenagers of Laventille was interesting…all were very connected. So yes, it made a lot of sense after Songs Of Redemption to do something like Art Connect. I would say it was necessary.
There is so much pain in the lives of these children, yet they are bright, eloquent, funny and willing to be open to the world. How does that make you feel?
This project is very personal for me. I have been very emotionally attached to it. I saw myself in every kid very often. I was a very unhappy child and I grew up missing my parents and blaming myself for all the bad things that we were facing. The world wasn’t a good place for me. So now, it was very restorative and comforting to be able to help them giving them what I was missing as a kid. Actually, I felt it was my responsibility as an adult.
What did you learn most from the experience?
That it is easy to talk to kids. They are smart and they can understand everything if we talk to them. And we should pay attention and ask them what they like about their lives and what not. They need to be listened to. Life is hard and we will all have problems. But by just talking, explaining and listening, handling these problems can become much easier.
A lot of the damage often comes from growing up without understanding why your dad or your mum is not around. It can make you feel very miserable at a stage of your life when you don’t even know who you are. But if your dad or mum comes and talks to you, then of course you can understand and you can be happy in a broken-up family. A big problem is that many adults feel uncomfortable talking about important things to kids. The silence can be so damaging. It is worth it to go to an uncomfortable zone. After talking, everybody will feel much more comfortable.
What were your most tragic and your most uplifting moments during the filming process?
Well, it was very hard to finish the film after Wendell finished with his project. To find money in Trinidad for a film or a documentary is very hard, almost impossible. Even for a nice project like this one about helping kids was very difficult. We had to wait a year. It was finally possible thanks to Charlotte Elias who became the producer of the film.
The most uplifting moments were always talking to the students. We always got hope, dreams and positivity from their words. They were so open, so real and so honest. They gave us everything and they never asked for anything. The mentors were absolutely amazing too. The connection that Freetown Collective got with them in just few minutes was shocking. And the teacher, Miss McDowell, she has the biggest heart, smile and the most patience in the world. A film crew can be so very demanding and tiring and she was always helpful.
Tell me about the people you worked with to film Art Connect.
The film has three parts. Three workshops. 1. Painting with Wendell Mc Shine, 2. Spoken word with Freetown Collective. 3. Dance with the Chameleon Company. Wendell loved the idea of being documented on film. We connected very well and I was filming every day with the help of the some interns of Abovegroup (an advertising company where I was working). We couldn’t even afford a soundman. So everything was DIY. We were only two or three people but it worked well. It was possible because CGA (Coconut Growers Association) sponsored the workshop and they brought Wendell Mc Shine. He is a Trinidadian but he was living in Mexico by then.
After Wendell finished and left, to keep doing workshops and filming meant that we needed money. I had plenty of ideas but not any sponsors. It was hard. Knocking on doors and getting “no” was frustrating. Finally Charlotte Elias got involved as a producer but it wasn’t easy for her either. It’s sad how big companies who have millions said no to Art Connect. But with a lot of effort, Charlotte made it possible.
So for workshops two and three we had a budget thanks to our sponsors. Then we were able to work with better conditions with a soundman, a second camera and producers. So after a long break, we continued with the kids and we had a new crew of people working on the film.
Have you kept in touch with the children since? If so, are they still utilising art to change their lives?
Oh yes, I’m in touch with them. I love them! It makes me very happy to see how they are doing and I help when I have a chance. Some of them are involved in arts, yes. Dance, acting, music, writing…there is talent there, trust me. One girl wants to do a film and I will help her…if she allows me.
Have the children seen the film? If so, what was their reaction to it?
Yes! We did a test screening just for them to make sure they are cool what is in the movie. It was so intense! We were like 15 people in a room; the kids, some parents, the producers and [ttff Editorial Director] Jonathan Ali. Man, we were all crying like mad. It was so moving and beautiful!
They are very strong. In the interviews we talked about deep stuff and I never saw one of them crying but the day they saw themselves inside the film, they broke down. Not in a bad way…nothing bad about crying, it can be healthy, you know. One of the girls was so shy that all through the screening, she had a hand over her face. It was a really intense screening.
I was expecting plenty complaints but they were one hundred per cent happy with the film. Can you imagine how excited they are now about the world premiere and that we are having it at Movietowne? I’m very excited too.
As someone who is not originally from Trinidad can you compare any of these stories to stories from Spain or any other places that you have filmed? Is there a sense of global, human connection there?
Absolutely, yes! We are all people. We all need love, we all need to understand, we all have fears, we all have a nice heart inside, and we all have passions and need to feed big dreams!
What’s next for you?
I’m now in the editing process of a next Jamaican documentary called Tell the Children the Truth. It’s about parenting, a big issue in the Caribbean and a big mess that needs to improve. So many teenagers getting pregnant, sexual abuse, baby mothers and baby fathers, lack of parents, no safe sex…it’s a big, big problem and to get involved in this project is very nice. The idea is to screen it in all the schools trying to make the kids aware of what it means to become a parent. We want to do it at a time when they still can be careful and think twice.
I’m also starting to work on my first feature narrative film, which is exciting!
Art Connect will be showing at the ttff/14 on the following dates. Miquel Galofré will be present at three of the screenings to engage in a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Thu 18 Sept, 6.15pm, MovieTowne POS, Q+A
Fri 19 Sept, 11.00am, UWI, Q+A
Wed 24 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Sat 27 Sept, 5.30pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Tue 30 Sept, 10.30am, MovieTowne POS, Q+A
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