I DIDN’T hear the first part of the conversation, but I perked up when the man making omelets in Living Waters’ cafeteria said, “The movie I really want to see in MovieTowne is ‘Hero’.”
“I really want to see that too. That’s the one with Bradley Cooper, right?” the customer asked. “No, that’s the movie about the diplomat and judge Ulric Cross,” said the omelet maker. “I want to see that one.” When it comes to the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, that conversation says it all.
We actually have films emerging from the film festival that people look forward to seeing in the cinema alongside international releases. Caribbean films continue to improve technically and creatively, and this year offered everything from the sublime to the shocking.
Hero turned out to be a stunning film about Cross covering a good chunk of Cross’s life from his early childhood in Trinidad to his days in the Royal Air Force where he became the most decorated Caribbean veteran of World War II.
The movie contrasts Cross’s celebrity with the stark reality of post-World War II colonialism where the colonised are marginalised once again. Most of the film is then dedicated to Cross’s work in the pan-African movement. Hero blends snippets of interviews with Cross, feeble and confined to his bed; dramatic re-enactments of Cross’s life and local and foreign historical footage.
Uplifting and informative, the film features Nickolai Salcedo, a superb actor who commands attention. Hero is a cinematic juggling act, which would have been overly ambitious in most filmmaker’s hands, but director France-Anne Solomon pulls it all off with aplomb. This is a movie where the executive producer, Lisa Wickham deserves praise as well for her role in bringing financial and creative resources to this movie.
On the other hand, Eggs Benedict proved to be the most shocking local film I’ve seen. British-born writer/director Anthony Blackburn produced a politically provocative film with shocking, unimaginable twists by confining two people, Algernon, a crass, middle-aged rich, megalomaniac who goes by the appropriate nickname of Algie (think algae) with a young, naïve woman trying to make ends meet by supplementing her income with some prostitution on the side.
Through clever dialogue that advances the story in subtle ways, viewers learn exactly who Algie is. This is a haunting, fearless 30-minute film that leaves viewers with much to ponder. Errol Roberts as Algie masters the art of this disgusting, nefarious character while Karian Forde masters a wide range of emotion in her role.
A sole pan serves as background music, making it clear this is a Trinidadian story. “Eggs Benedict” proves that creativity can shine in a simple room with no more than two characters.
Several filmmakers mastered the fine art of telling a simple story in this year’s Film Festival. Grassmen a short documentary from St. Vincent, told a hopeful story of rehabilitation in the island’s prison where inmates learn how to make traditional grass mats so they will have a skill to re-enter society. Interviews with inmates and prison officers combine for an inspirational and informative short documentary.
But I found the People’s Choice award, “Mangrove” puzzling. It took too much effort to interpret the storyline. No dialogue in the first part of the film made the story feel disconcerting. I was left with the feeling that it is very difficult to bring folklore characters to life.
The Carnival Institute presented two superb documentaries: The “March of the Mokos” and “The Firewalkers of Kali” that reflected an amazing amount of hard work and creativity. These are two world-class documentaries that I am assuming were made on a shoe-string budget. “March of the Mokos” presents a compelling, comprehensive look at Trinidad and Tobago’s moko jumbies starting with a brief history that includes vintage Carnival footage.
The documentary then presents the various moko jumbie schools in Trinidad showing both their cultural and social value. These schools are places where children can participate in culture and get away from negative influences.
The “Firewalkers of Kali” provided a rare, inside look at a Hindu religious practice. The story, filled with interviews and actual footage of the practice of firewalking made a visually compelling film. The Carnival Institute’s films document our culture in an admirable way and provide a cultural legacy to be proud of.
Hopefully, these films can find their way into the cinema during the year accompanying foreign releases so more people can see the great film work coming out of the Caribbean.