HERE YOU all film the hospital scene? How you manage to handle the dogs? What language is that they speaking? Oh gosh, they really kissing?
These were just a few of the questions by attendees at a screening this week of the film Green Days by the River. They were genuinely curious about all the behind-the-scenes details of the movie, and stayed well after the film was over to question those of us who were privileged to be part of local movie history. The screening was part of the week-long We Beat festival in St James, culminating this evening with a parade of steelbands.
The film, based on the book by Michael Anthony, has been making the rounds at film festivals in the Caribbean and internationally. At home, those of us on the cast take the time whenever possible to visit schools and communities to talk about the experience, the making of the film and the importance of using this media to tell our stories.
But what does it take to make a film that stays true to the era and themes addressed by the author? For director Michael Mooleedhar and his team, no doubt one of the biggest challenges would have been to find the locations to recreate Trinidad of the 1950s, still under colonial rule and very simple in terms of physical development.
Fortunately, much of the book is set in the rural environment of Mayaro, so it provided an opportunity for the filmmakers to discover forested environments and transform them into the world that Michael Anthony explored so well in the book.
The Lammy house was a case in point. Set deep in the forest, an entire operation had to be put into place to make the house and the surrounding yard suitable for filming. On occasion, neighbours were kind enough to let us set up makeshift dressing rooms in their yards. It sounds idyllic, but suffice it to say that we preferred filming during the day because at night the battle against bush mosquitoes was not for the faint-hearted.
Anand Lawkaran, who played Mr Gidharee, is usually asked how he was able to handle the dogs. It was necessary for him to build a relationship with the animals, understand their triggers and learn the specific body language to avoid them attacking.
Che Rodriguez, Pa Lammy in the film, marvels at the make-up and other techniques used to age him as his illness got worse.
For Joan, played by Vanessa Bartholemew, her natural hairstyles truly helped to convey the innocence of her character. From huge rolled bangs to neat plaits or free-flowing style, Joan’s hair helped establish her character and set her apart from the other female lead, Nadia Kandhai, who played the more sultry Rosalie.
For all of us, particular attention was paid to the costumes. We had many careful, painstaking fittings to ensure that each outfit was suitable not just for the character and the time, but for the scene as well. Additionally, all of the costume choices were meticulously documented in the event that if we had to go back to a scene, the continuity would be preserved.
“A A petit garçon, ca ou ça fait?” In terms of the dialogue, we included some words and phrases in patois, to reflect the fact that patois would have been widely spoken especially in the country. The presence of the patois impacted even the way we delivered our lines, the kind of accent and rhythm in our speech.
The audience at the amphitheatre was also fascinated to learn that Michael Anthony himself made a cameo in the film walking in the countryside. One woman made a small speech thanking us for bringing the book she had read to life; still others called for more local books to be turned into films, to tell the story of our nation.
Of course, instinctively, they are right. Our society continues to experience almost seismic changes due to social, political and economic forces beyond our control. Against ever-shifting realities, our collective story must be told to anchor us to our history, deepen our sense of nationhood and prepare us for the future.
“House for Mr Biswas next,” someone called out. Now, that is an excellent idea for a film, but I wonder which director would be brave enough to take on the Tulsies, Mr Biswas and VS Naipaul, all at the same time? Ai bonjay, I do not know who, but that is a story for another time.
Dara E Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN