IT was a diverse menu of emotions for the audience attending the the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF) Opening Night Gala and viewing the Caribbean premiere of the film, Doubles.
The evening began with a pre-show mix and mingle in the lobby with beverages and some tasty Caribbean hors d'oeuvres, including doubles (of course), with the sounds of pan music sailing in from the band outside. The attendees included several members of the local film industry and broader creative sector as well as a few regional and international visitors.
The formal part of the event began promptly at 7.45 pm with a welcome by emcee Salene Griffith, opening remarks by FILMCO director Dion Boucaud and a very visually creative video presentation by festival signature sponsors, the National Gas Company.
Canada's High Commissioner to TT Arif Keshani said in his remarks TTFF celebrates films from and about the Caribbean and the diaspora, and noted there is a large Caribbean diaspora population in Canada.
He pointed out that Doubles' writer/director Ian Harnarine's 2011 short Doubles With Slight Pepper which the new film, Doubles, is based on, won many accolades including the Best Canadian Short Film at the Toronto International Film Festival and also a Genie Award.
He noted the night's feature film was sponsored by several Canadian organisations and was a cross-cultural collaboration having been filmed in both Trinidad and Canada and featuring a local and Canadian cast. He added that TT and Canada have a robust relationship and Doubles was an opportunity to further cultural collaboration.
Doubles tells the story of a poor and frustrated doubles vendor in Trinidad who travels to Canada to find his estranged father in the hopes of financial gain. But his trip becomes complicated when he learns that he is a father who has a serious illness.
Harnarine, a Canadian filmmaker born to Trinidadian parents, in his remarks and told the audience it was a special night for him and a lot of people.
"It's opening this festival in this country that is in many ways the home and heart of this film as you will see."
He said he has been working on the project for "years and years and years" and the only thing that kept him and his collaborators and team members was knowing that this night would happen.
"We made this movie for you all and for this night."
He thanked his producer Mark Sirju who is a fellow Trini-Canadian and has been on this film journey of Doubles for a number of years. He also thanked his star, local actor Sanjiv Boodhu who plays the Trini doubles vendor Dhani.
"This man is this movie. He carries this movie. He's literally in every single scene. And he trusted me to do things that I asked him to do that I am sure you did not want to do as an actor."
He recalled he asked Boodhu to run into a snowbank that was taller than him and he did it. He said unfortunately they cut the scene from the film, a revelation that inspired much laughter from the audience.
Harnarine also took the opportunity to thank his other star and veteran local actor Errol Sitahal, who plays Dhani's father Ragbir.
"The man is a force in this film and in life in general. This is his best work in a long and storied career."
He also described Sitahal as a "national treasure" and said he was saddened that he could not be at the Caribbean premiere. He said both Sitahal and his wife, Leela, who also appeared in the film, were very helpful with the project including behind the scenes.
Sitahal did, however, send a statement for Harnarine to read and in it he and his wife expressed their regret at not being able to share the Caribbean premiere with them. He said they were able to attend a screening at the Atlantic International Film Festival in Halifax, Canada, on September 17. He reported the team there expressed great excitement at the film.
"We hope that the TT audience will understand our absence and enjoy the film as much as we and the Halifax audience did."
He said that Sitahal added that he loves his Trinidadian audience more than his international audience.
Harnarine also praised Doubles actress Rashaana Cumberbatch, who is Guyanese-Canadian, and the local cast, including Penelope Spencer and Patti-Anne Ali, and the local crew.
"I really want you all to understand how talented these technicians are that are in this country. The artistry that they bring to their work."
He pointed out that many of them are also filmmakers and some have films selected for this year's festival.
"Without these people showing up this movie doesn't get made and doesn't exist."
He expressed thanks to the Canadian government for their sponsorship of the film and for seeing value in a Canadian story that is transnational. He also thanked his relatives who attended the premiere, including his mother.
"I have to thank her for bringing Trinidad when she migrated in the 70s to Canada."
Following his remarks, the 90-minute Doubles was screened, and the audience was treated to a well-acted, touching, heartwarming and very funny family story flavoured with heaping quantities of Trinidadian music, food and other references. When the credits rolled, the applause was loud and lusty.
Soca star Olatunji Yearwood ended the night with an energetic performance of his hits Engine Room, Oh Yay, Wining Good, Ola and also Leh Go by the late Dexter "Blaxx" Stewart. Yearwood had the audience rocking and waving in the seats and before the end, some were dancing in front of the stage.
TTFF 2023 continues until September 27, primarily at MovieTowne and Nalis. It includes a free night of films for Republic Day, September 24; An Evening of Calypso on Film on September 23; Cinema Under the Stars on September 24 and 25 at Fatima College, Port of Spain, and Naparima Bowl, San Fernando, respectively; screenings at schools and UWI courtesy of Republic Bank; and the return of masterclasses for filmmakers.
For more info and showtimes: ttfilmfestival.com.