Apologies for the lack of photos with this post, but I’ve been having good old technical difficulties today. Will add the photos as soon as possible.
I’ll be the first to admit it: last year’s partnership between the trinidad+tobago film festival and the University of the West Indies wasn’t exactly a smashing success. Cobbled together at the last minute, the UWI programme for the ttff/08 left much to be desired. Determined not to have a repeat of last year, this year we meticulously planned two days and nights of screenings at UWI, and I am thrilled to report that yesterday, the first day of the programme, was a huge success.
Screenings started on campus from 11am at the Institute of Critical Thinking with a double bill, the student short The Contemporary Sorcerer, directed by Roger Alexis, followed by Carmen and Geoffrey, the wonderfully affectionate documentary portrait of Trinidad-born dancer-actor-painter Geoffrey Holder, and his wife, doyenne of the New York dance world, Carmen de Lavallade, directed by Nick Doob and Linda Atkinson. The screening of Carmen and Geoffrey was a joy to behold, with some of the more than fifty audience members–many of them contemporaries of Geoffrey Holder–getting into the spirit of the film and cheering, or making comments whenever Holder (almost invariably it was Holder) said something witty or striking, about his colonial childhood, experiencing racism in the US, or how to keep a marriage working (“Men, don’t change your wives. My wife is Carmen de Lavallade, not Mrs Holder. Mrs Holder is my mother.”).
The 1pm screenings continued the theme of biographical portraits of creative personalities, with screenings of a film by former UWI principal Bhoe Tewarie about VS Naipaul, Tribute to a Native Son, and Adam Low‘s Cinema of Satyajit Ray, about the late, great Indian filmmaker. Both directors were in attendance and introduced their films, Low noting that he shot his not long after Ray had had a heart attack (this was in 1988). This resulted in Low, under Ray’s doctors’ orders, only being able to film his subject for an hour a day for four days. He also noted that since the shoot was a relatively uncomplicated one, he didn’t bring a film crew with him from England to Calcutta, but worked instead with Ray’s own crew on the documentary.
After the post-screening Q&A; session, Low then introduced Satyajit Ray’s first feature film, Pather Panchali, with some help from His Excellency Shri Malay Mishra, the Indian High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago. I’d heard that His Excellency was something of a film buff, but nothing could have prepared me for the detailed, even scholarly, introduction he gave to the film. But what surprised me–and much in the audience, including the Film Programme’s coordinator/ttff Founder Bruce Paddington–even more was his unexpected announcement that the High Commission had decided to endow a professorship in Indian cinema at the Film Programme at UWI, to start before the end of 2009.
As for the film, well, what more can be said about Pather Panchali? One of the masterworks in world cinema (along with Aparajito and Apu Sansar, the two films that complete the Apu Trilogy), and one of the three or four greatest first films, Pather Panchali continues to delight the more I see it. It is such an amazingly assured debut, with its brilliant bringing together of luminous cinematography, near-perfect performances and the astoundingly effective use of motifs and music. Ray went on make many more films, some of them better, technically speaking, than Pather Panchali, but for me nothing he did in his later career could surpass the achievement of the Apu films–all human life is there.
The daytime screenings over, the evening screenings then took place at the Film Programme’s spacious, soon-to-be new new location at Carmody Street, just off the UWI main campus. The films Suck Meh Soucouyant, Suck Meh, by Oyetayo Ojoade, and Yao Ramesar’s Sistagod II were shown. Apart from the screenings, the occasion was an opportunity for the Film Programme to honour the achievements of its students–a number of whom have film in the Festival–as well as honour the graduating class, the Programme’s first. It was a fittingly celebratory end to a great day of celebrating film.