Award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker, Dalton Narine, provides a few great answers to our questions about film and life. Trinidad-born Narine will be here for the festival, and will be present at the screening of Mas Man, his documentary on the work of Peter Minshall
What was the first film you remember seeing?
It had to be a Western, because growing up Behind the Bridge we needed escapism. But I can’t put my finger on the name of the film. Bad guys and good guys, that was it. No popcorn; just the lines, which some of us learned by heart. I always stuck with the good character, though. I almost became a priest, would you believe?
What was the last great film you saw?
The Hurt Locker, a movie about a US demolition team in Iraq. I cried throughout the film, so realistic was the tension of combat, which was akin to my experience in Vietnam. Best of all, it was produced by a woman. And she had the scenes and frontline lingo down pat. Then I saw Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino and he supplied comic relief with a satirical take on WWII.
Which matters more: having the proper budget or having complete creative freedom?
Creative freedom. Once, I almost walked out of a production meeting just so I could have my way. But it wasn’t easy or pretty, the bargaining. Then the production house tried to spite me by sabotaging the work, taking out huge chunks of dialogue and even the score. I got many calls from friends when it was aired. They just couldn’t put the name and the garbage together. It didn’t make sense. Now, I’m particular about who I work with.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about life from filmmaking?
That it’s just like life. All the elements are there. That’s why there’s no shortage of spoofs about filmmaking, the latest being Tropic Thunder. A year ago, I saw a three-hour documentary about Hollywood on PBS. It was produced by Richard Schickel, a venerated documentary filmmaker and Time magazine movie reviewer. Maybe that’s why indies (independent films) are in vogue.
If a Martian came to Earth and asked to be shown a film, what film would you recommend?
Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’ll be all about communication in the next world we colonize (if we don’t blow up our own little ball over who’ve got the biggest nukes by then). It’d be like, ‘Here’s a film we made about trying to reach you, because we knew there was other life in the vastness of the universe.’
What’s the worst piece of filmmaking advice anyone’s ever given you?
Too many takes. They don’t call me One More Dalton for any old reason. When I watch my work, I cringe sometimes, for there’s always at least one shot I wish I could’ve redone. It happened in Mas Man. But I’ve gotten over it already. It’s not life and death, no matter what experts think.
Which filmmaker do you admire most?
Stanley Kubrick. What’s not to like? Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey; A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. They all work for me, particularly Clockwork Orange.
What film have you seen more than any other?
A toss-up among The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West (I’m a Sergio Leone fan, too), Platoon, Apocalypse Now and The Godfather (I and II). It’s all about story, and Francis Ford Coppola, like Oliver Stone, tells a good yarn. Of course, Apocalypse Now was redacted from Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness. But I grew up on art house movies when I moved to the States, and the eerie material along with memorable lines, like ‘I love the smell of napam in the morning,’ work for me, even though napalm was the most potent/lethal weapon (outside of Agent Orange) we’ve used against the enemy in the American War in Vietnam – which is what the so-called deterrent to Communist expansion should be called.
A viable Caribbean film industry: possible, or pie in the sky?
It MUST happen. The seeds are being propagated this very instant. I’m writing a novel, but I might swing it arouund to a screenplay with Trinidad as partial backdrop.
Who is the most memorable person you’ve interviewed for a documentary?
A tie. Peter Minshall and Luis Camnitzer, a Uruguayan professor/artist/art critic, who lives in New York. One knows what he’s doing, the other knows what he’s saying.