Sunday 14th October, 2007

 

Bim producer sees film come to life

 
 
 
 
 
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By Lisa Allen Agostini

When the credits rolled on Bim at the T&T Film Festival, MovieTowne, on September 20, the audience went wild. It was the first time the 1974 Sharc Productions feature film was shown in a local cinema in a generation; its co-producer and conceptualiser Suzanne Nunez Robertson was shocked by the enthusiastic reception.

Robertson, whose late husband, Hugh, produced and directed what was T&T’s first indigenous feature, had long shut away Bim and the memory of Sharc. The idea for a Bim DVD, floated by some audience members at the screening, had been one Robertson had discarded.

“For what? I’m not going to spend money to do a DVD and people aren’t interested in it,” recalled Robertson, who now splits her time between Manchester, England, and Santa Monica, California.

She’s however, reconsidered, somewhat. The trip home for the screening was a rare return to the place where she met Hugh, a celebrated US-born filmmaker who came to Trinidad in the early 1970s to direct a Derek Walcott play for an American TV network. She was an actress with Walcott’s Trinidad Theatre Workshop and the couple married about a year after they met. They moved to New York where Hugh ran an editing suite and post-production sound studio, but came back to Trinidad in a few short years.

“When he looked at the talent of the actors and looked at the material, he realised that this place had a lot of potential. You had the stories, the dramatists, all you needed was to get the technical aspect of making films,” she said.

“Solid fact: in the 1973 Budget, oil prices went up. My father said, ‘Look the government has published that one of the things they want to develop is the film industry.’ All the things you’re hearing now (about developing the film industry) they said then.”

Sharc was an acronym after the family: Suzanne, Hugh, Antonio (their 0son) Robertson Co.

They hit the ground running. The resulting film was a dramatic piece based on the lives of master criminal Boysie Singh and politician Bhadase Sagan Maraj, with a good deal of fiction thrown in for effect. It was completed in four weeks and was shot all islandwide. Andre Tanker’s music finished off the film and by 1974, it was ready for screening.

But the Board of Censors had other ideas. The board shut down the film’s production on various grounds, including fear that its plot would incite racial hatred.

The High Court rejected this view and ruled that the film could be aired uncut. It was a pyrrhic victory, and though it was screened nationwide, the audiences found its content hard to take. It never made money and practically vanished for the next 33 years.

Sharc made another film, The Haunting of Avril, but it was never finished because their funds dried up. They had been making documentaries and commercials to survive in T&T, but ultimately went back into feature filmmaking.

The company went bust and Hugh moved back to New York where he died of prostate cancer shortly after.

“I’m still in the business. I don’t know why people think I dropped out.”

An Emmy-nominated researcher and writer, she sought other projects and today is working on her own scripts with a writing partner. One of them is a female buddy movie along the lines of Thelma and Louise; another is about a man returning to the US during the Civil Rights struggle. She’s written TV sitcoms that have been considered by major studios, but never made — yet.

Robertson has also remarried to an Englishman who is a business lecturer.

Her analysis of the way T&T rejected her efforts 30-odd years ago is very unsentimental and she puts it into the wider context.

In a country where a government will pump billions into mega-projects — steel mills that go nowhere, stadia that remain under-utilised, and airports that crumble before your very eyes — Robertson couldn’t raise the money needed to finish their second film.

“Maybe it’s the Carnival thing. We create the most amazing thing and it doesn’t matter because next year, we will do it again,” she said.

©2003-2004 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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