You’ve seen him jump from channel to channel with his TV show Crime Watch. You’ve seen him take tips from the public and help solve crimes. You’ve seen him cry and rant. But who is Ian Alleyne?
That is one of the things you can discover with the theatrical premiere of the 47-minute documentary on Alleyne, Party Done, by filmmaker Ian Harnarine.
“The story is focusing on how he makes the controversial show Crime Watch. It’s a portrait of him as well. Hopefully, we understand why he does the things he does and hopefully, we see him in a different light.”
Born in Toronto, Harnarine is the child of two Trinidadian parents who still has close ties to his family in TT.
He explained that in May 2008, his grandfather was murdered in Tabaquite. He and his family came to TT for the funeral and felt as if the police did not care and the community was not willing to help the police.
“Up to this day, the crime is still unsolved so my family never got any justice. That really put what was happening in Trinidad with respect to crime on my mind. I kept following up with what was happening.”
Harnarine started to hear about Alleyne and his TV show around 2010.
“He was doing things a lot of people wished they could do themselves or they were glad someone was doing. He’s naming names, calling people out, trying to make a difference. That’s initially what I found to be really interesting.”
He started to watch clips of Crime Watch on YouTube and Facebook in 2014 and then Alleyne started going live. He said it connected the diaspora with what was happening back in TT and he watched it every weekday.
He described the show as multi-faceted and said there was no questioning Alleyne’s desire to make things in TT better.
“For better or worse, a large part of the country still really trusts him as opposed to the authorities. He gives out his phone numbers on air and you can call and he will answer. I think that’s really interesting. He walks his talk.”
He said people either love or hate Alleyne which piqued his interest as a filmmaker, so he started planning the film in 2015 but could not get in touch with Alleyne.
Finally, in 2019, he booked a flight to TT, went straight to the Crime Watch studio and spoke to Alleyne about the documentary after the show. Alleyne agreed to do it so Harnarine’s cinematographer flew to TT the next day and they started filming for several months until January 2020.
Although Party Done world premiered at the 2021 Third Horizon Film Festival in Miami and was screened at the TT Film Festival, Harnarine is very excited about the film’s first theatrical release.
“The film festivals are wonderful because you get a lot of excitement around it but at the end of the day you’re only screening it for a couple of days at a certain time or people will miss it.
“Whereas this is an opportunity to make it far more accessible to a larger audience and get more people to actually see it. It’s really a dream come true for the project.”
He hopes people will put aside their preconceived notions of Alleyne, look at him differently, and take him and Crime Watch more seriously.
“I think he would admit himself that he’s a showman. He’s purposeful. One thing I took away from him is how aware he is of what he’s doing all the time. On the show, he’s the person in charge of everything. He’s making every single choice.
“To be honest I’ve never seen a programme like that. It’s incredible. He’s so aware of the camera and the power he has. As such I don’t think people give him credit for how smart he is and how much he understands what he’s doing.”
As a young man, Harnarine initially went into the field of science. He has a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Astronomy from York University and a Master of Science in Physics specialising in high energy nuclear physics from the University of Illinois which he earned in 2005.
“While I was there I really started to question why there were no stories of people that look like me and my family or showed our culture, and why I never grew up on stories like that. It came to a point of frustration where I said I’m going to try to tell stories now.”
He applied to the New York University Tisch School of the Arts to study Film Production and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in 2011.
“The change sounds big but it felt very organic at the time. Plus I didn’t have any responsibilities so I decided to take a chance on myself. The research I was doing was really fascinating but the day-to-day of it was a lot of sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day doing data analysis, running models and simulations. I couldn’t see myself doing that for the rest of my life.”
One of his professors at NYU was acclaimed American director Spike Lee. Harnarine said Lee taught him he had to work very hard, and how to focus on the story and character of a film.
Lee was also very supportive of his work and executive produced his thesis film, Doubles with Slight Pepper, which was filmed in Trinidad.
Doubles With Slight Pepper world premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the award for the best short film. It also won the best live-action short drama at the 2012 Genie Awards (The Canadian Academy Awards), was profiled in the NY Times and licensed in Japan.
In addition, Harnarine co-wrote a film script with Spike Lee called Time Traveller which has yet to be made into a film, and he does a lot of work for Sesame Street. There, he did what amounted to a music video about autism which was nominated for an Emmy Award.
“One of the great things about working with Sesame Street is that they really do care about diversity, and about supporting and showing other people on screen.”
In 2018, he made another short film about a Trinidadian woman in New York called Caroni which also premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. And he recently finished production on the feature film version of Doubles With Slight Pepper which was filmed in Toronto.
Harnarine told Sunday Newsday he grew up around a lot of Trinidadian families in Toronto, which also has a huge West Indian population. He visited his family every weekend, eating chicken pelau, roti and other Trini dishes, and hearing stories about TT, so he grew up with the Trinidadian culture.
“The reason why I’m drawn to making these films is that they are the stories of my family. Every single film that I’ve made was a story that was told to me or something I’ve experienced myself.”
He stressed that it is important that the wider community supports the film so other filmmakers could have similar opportunities in the future.
“There is just really great, high-quality work being made in TT by local filmmakers telling local stories. I think everyone agrees we need more of those.”
Party Done will be shown with The Forgotten Boys, a documentary that follows Debbie Jacob, an English teacher and journalist who transforms the lives of three prison inmates, at MovieTowne, Port of Spain and San Fernando from March 17 to 30.