Judy Alcantara began her television career in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1980’s co-hosting the classic daily talk show Commnity Dateline and also with the series Fit for Life, blazing a trail for women with passion, drive and vision for the media world. This formidable journalist has won many awards for excellence in her field. With admirable stamina she has become an established presenter, interviewer, scritpwriter and producer. She curretntly runs her own production company, Media Methods Limited.
For Alcantara, her ttff/13 film A Child of Two Worlds began as a simple conversation with a gym buddy who met the protagonist, Annie Lalande of Hawksbury, Ontario on a home swapping website. Lalande was searcing for a place to stay in Trinidad because she was coming to find her biological father with no more than his first name, age range and the knowledge that he had been to Ontario, working in construction in 1974.
We recently connected with Alcantara and she spoke “from the heart” about this emotional story of discovery of one’s origins and how that knowledge translates across boundaries when exploring questions of family, belonging and identity.
Why did you decide to tell Annie’s story?
It was Saturday morning in the gym in April of last year and [my friend] Lorraine Rostant who was also training at the time said, “I have an amazing story to share. I have been on line on Home Exchange with a Canadian who is coming to Trinidad to search for her biological father. All she has is a first name. I think it would make a beautiful documentary.”
I have tremendous respect for Lorraine as a media professional and I knew I could trust her instincts. I remember I was immediately intrigued. The idea of a personal journey like that touched me immediately and before long I heard myself saying, “Lorraine, I want to do it!”
I think she was probably as surprised as I was. It was instant. Somehow I knew that I had to do it. Without sponsorship or any idea of where this would lead I started on this amazing journey.
Sometimes filmmakers remain unattached to their subject. Did the story touch you on a personal level?
There are not many experiences that I have had that have touched me so deeply on a personal level. Meeting Annie Lalande and having the opportunity to share her life story has been something that I could never replace. There are few people who I have met and worked with that have affected me as she has.
The search to find a father is a powerful thing. It touches the deepest part of the human spirit. Annie decided against all odds to come here and to follow whatever leads she could find. Honestly she did not expect to find any answers, but she wanted to be here, to feel the atmosphere and experience the culture of her biological father’s country.
I was given the unique opportunity to talk to her as we followed her, to sense her excitement and share in her search. When I decided to document her journey I had no idea that she would have been not only a brilliant artist but a deep and strong woman, secure and confident, open and genuine.
The camera fell in love with her.
I always believe that the third eye of the camera sees the true self, uncovering all the facades, the masks that we use to hide our true feelings. Annie’s pure spirit shone through. She hid nothing.
It was a powerful experience to see her laugh and share, to watch her as she interacted with everyone, never knowing who she would meet and where that search would take her. She was never truly disappointed because she lived the experience of the search fully, without expecting anything.
She lived the journey rather that looking for the destination.
She showed me the joy of living in the moment and as she fell in love with Trinidad and Tobago I fell in love with it all over again.
When you began shooting, did you honestly think that you would find her father, Knolly?
I never really thought too much about it. We didn’t have the time. We got caught up in the momentum of production, shooting on the fly, following the leads as they came, all the excitement that comes with pulling crews together, planning on the spur of the moment.
We knew it would be great if we could find him but we just had to keep on looking. The fact that Annie herself never expressed either expectation or disappointment set the tone and we followed her lead and enjoyed the journey. Deep in my heart though I knew that I would want her to find him, to put that missing piece of the puzzle in place.
Are questions of identity something which you have faced in your own life?
On a personal note I have not faced questions of identity in the same sense that Annie has. I grew up with both my biological parents. For me, my own challenge has always been to continue growing…learning…seeking to develop holistically in body, mind and spirit.
It is important to note though that Annie grew up with a warm and loving family, her Canadian mother, her siblings and her father who loved her unconditionally. There was no lack of affection, no feeling of not belonging. This was her family. As she grew older though the search for her biological father was really a search to define herself, a need to discover that other part of herself, to know the roots from which she came.
Why do you think local audiences will appreciate this movie?
I think any audience will appreciate it because family and love are basic to all of us. Everyone needs to feel that sense of belonging.
More specifically though, local audiences will appreciate it for a number of reasons:
Annie Lalande is coming to our country for the first time, coming to what she sees in part as her country. She is completely captivated by Trinidad and Tobago.
Her eyes do not see the problems, the day-to-day frustrations that we all encounter. She sees a country with warm air, beautiful beaches, loving and friendly people, a rich and diverse culture and incredible music. As an artist she loves our outdoor art and our inborn sense of rhythm.
As she opens our eyes to what we have, what we so often do not appreciate, we see our country with new eyes. We see how lucky we are to be living here and how much we have to be thankful for.
What was your greatest moment on the project?
I loved every moment. It was wonderful though to see it all coming together in the edit. Hindsight is always 20/20 and yes, I wish we could have had more time, more cameras. However, at the end of the day when it was through I was overcome with joy, not because of the documentary but because lives had been touched by the journey and a family had found each other.
How has journalism impacted the way you shoot films?
I think what helped me most with this particular experience was the fact that I have been involved in interviewing, in asking questions and in listening. With Annie because she was so natural on camera and because she permitted me to intrude on her private space and was comfortable with it, I tried to capture the immediacy by asking her moment to moment questions, always in the present: “What are you feeling at this moment? Tell me what is going on inside you right now.”
This helped her too as it allowed her to give vent to her feelings and of course it gave us a lot to work with when we started to choose her soundbites. The experience of talking to people on camera helped me tremendously. I think my script-writing background has been helpful as well. It enables you to see things clearly, to be aware of words and their impact and this is important especially when you transition from shooting into the written word.
Everything you do and have done in journalism helps. Your awareness of cameras and where they need to be placed, your understanding of how to create a feeling of ease and comfort on set. It is all a learning experience, a work in progress.
Where would you like to see this film go in terms of the international circuit?
I want it to be seen everywhere, in as many film festivals as possible. I am happy that it is premiering here at the trinidad+tobago film festival. I feel blessed and honoured to have been chosen among so many brilliant directors from across the Caribbean and the diaspora. There is so much talent emerging from across the region and the film festival is opening doors of opportunity for exposure and for that I am truly grateful.
After this it goes outside, in particular where there are Caribbean people. I also want to have it subtitled and shown in Quebec where Annie was born. They should be proud of her and her achievement and of course she is an amazing Canadian artist. She will be here for the screening on Sunday September 29th at Movietowne.
A Child of Two Worlds will have its world premiere the trindad+tobago fim festival.
Wed 25 Sept, 3.30pm, MovieTowne POS, Q&A
Sun 29 Sept, 1.00pm, MovieTowne POS, Q&A
Read a news article on the Annie Lalande story here.