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Saturday 21 October 2017
Features

Finding his origin

Field producer Caroline Ravello and producer Lisa Martinson doing reconnaissance at De Gannes Baptist Church in Fyzabad where director Noel Clarke’s grandmother worshipped.

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom –Aristotle, ancient Greek Philosopher and scientist.

UK-BORN actor, Noel Clarke, 41, grew up in West London with only his Trinidadian mother, Gemma. Although both of Clarke’s parents were Trinidadian, he knew little of his family and always wanted to know his roots and to be able to share that with his children.

Clarke, through BBC and it’s Who Do You Think You Are programme, sort to trace his lineage, to give him some placement in the world. But what does this have to do with TT, you might wonder.

Well, not only does his quest to learn about himself take him to TT but two “Trinis”, writer Judy Raymond and media, communication and public health specialist Caroline Ravello centrally helped in giving the UK-based actor, writer, producer and director a sense of where he came from.

The programme which reveals a connection to the country’s first prime minister Dr Eric Williams, will be shown on BBC One tomorrow.

Raymond and Ravello got involved with the show after Raymond first worked as field producer on the Liz Bonnin [a science, wildlife and natural history presenter, who has worked on television in both Ireland and the United Kingdom] documentary in 2016.

After having done that one, Wall to Wall productions, a productions company that is sometimes outsourced to do some of the shows, contacted Raymond in April to do field work for Clarke’s story. Because so much of his story was centred in south, Fyzabad to be exact, Raymond requested help and work of Ravello.

Ravello said when asked about the experience: “Judy Raymond called me and asked me if I was available to work on this one. She had worked on the last one and gave me an idea of what she wanted...The BBC gave us a lead and then you go into the field. That could be going into the community, into records, into the National Archives, people who would have lived around, finding relatives, just a number of things.” Although this was something new to the communication professional with over 30 years in the business, having done television production before as well, Ravello was able to weld together the pieces of Clarke’s past.

Ravello’s search took her to communities in Erin, Fyzabad, Buenos Ayres, Carapichaima and National Archives among others. But there weren’t all successful days for her, she recalled going to Central [Trinidad] and then to the National Archives and after having searched “everything.”

“My back was hurting me and Ella, who is one of the researchers, I wrote her and I was ‘Ella I feel so badly, you’re going to have to pay me for a day that is a total bust.’ I totally bust. Nothing. It was kind of like a defeated feeling and you get up and you go again because you’re searching for something and you’re hoping that it is there.”

Ravello’s search began by contacting Dr Brinsley Samaroo because “he had some connection with Carapichaima.” Then he placed her in contact with Dr Pooran Bridgemohan [The Associate Professor in Charge of the University of Trinidad and Tobago’s Waterloo campus]. “I went into the community and just started talking and the community gives you leads. BBC already had some information and you trace it.”

For Ravello, helping Clarke find his origin, his point of self was, “Amazing. His responses. When you see the production, sometimes you laugh with him and sometimes you feel like crying with him. There were many surprises that he had. He knew his mother’s side of the family but never really knew his father’s side of the family, which is what the focus in Fyzabad was..You get his real reaction and the first time he meets this relative is the first time he truly meets them.”

Asked if this was something that could be done in TT, Ravello said, “I think it would be fascinating because looking at these, if you look back at some of the episodes, you’d see people who discovered their Ghanaian heritage. Wow moments. Liz Bonnin discovered her Indian heritage as in India and those are amazing moments for us. I think history is extremely important to who we are. We like to talk a lot in this country about Mother Trini and Mother India, apart from that rhetoric, it gives someone a sense self and balance in the world, to be connected to the world as the series does.”

For Raymond, the level of research put into getting the 57-minute documentary done, always impressed her. She is equally amazed, she by how little the subjects know of their family background.

“One thing that’s always amazes me, they always know so surprisingly little about their family background. Yet the researchers are able to find out an amazing amount of detail and come up with birth certificates and ship records and people who are indentured immigrants and that sort of thing to present to them and surprise them.”

Raymond said the episodes are almost carefully planned and almost scripted, “so that they know exactly what information they want to reveal to the person in which interview and they know what will come as a surprise to them. There is a kind of narrative arc that they plan.”

“It seems spontaneous because the subject is kept in the dark about these things but the director is very much in charge and knows who is going say what and give them which piece of information.”

Asked if TT should look at documentaries like these tracing local people and their genealogy, Raymond said the only problem with that is there is a possibility it might get ‘’same-ish’’ because a large portion of the population is of African descent and know that they are and a large percentage is of Indian descent and they know they are and then we aren’t that good at record keeping.

She said a lot of people in TT were a lot more mixed up than we realise but because archives are not well-kept it would be harder for others to find the information.

Because of that lack of records, Clarke did not even know some of his siblings existed, she said.

“Family history is popular in the US and the UK at the moment and there are websites like ancestry.com but because records here are not necessarily well-kept people assume that it is impossible to find out...Once you know where to look and you start digging it is possible to find out,” Raymond said.

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