Sunday 28th September, 2008

Derren Joseph
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Creating our-story over his-story

I love movies. I especially love local movies. So for film-lovers like me, MovieTowne over the past couple of weeks or so, has been more exciting than usual. The third Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival has been running primarily at MovieTowne, but also across the country. The film industry is one of the seven strategic industries getting special focus as we continue our efforts to diversify away from energy.

The film festival was established in 2006, with headline sponsorship from the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company. This year, the Tourism Development Company became an important sponsor, as the festival establishes itself as a key cultural event. Also among the list of supporters, is Flow, Columbus Communications Trinidad Ltd, which has committed sponsorship over the next three years.

So we have the State working together with the private sector to help “develop innovative people” as well as “enabling competitive business.” Very Vision 2020.

One of my favourite all-time films is actually a local one, Raoul Pantin’s Bim (1974) – too bad they did not show it again this year. The film that I enjoyed the most this year was Wrestling with the Angels: An Exploration of Caribbeanness. It’s by Marsha Pearce, a first-time documentary film maker and Cultural Studies PhD candidate at UWI. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet Marsha through a mutual friend.

Tribal memory

The documentary highlighted television as the dominant media and then sought to explore the impact (of the mainly American content) on Caribbean identity. It used the music video as a case study and questioned not just the impact of the music videos on the audience, but also the audience on the videos. It may sound intense, but trust me it was as entertaining as it was insightful.

There are two things that I enjoyed about this documentary.

Firstly, it validated those of us who see ourselves as not just Trinidad and Tobago nationals, but also as Caribbean people—that regional identity.

Secondly, it recognises film as giving us greater opportunity to tell “our-story” as opposed to just “his-story” to help find our unique “voice.” So we get to do we own ting!

Looking closely at music videos, the directors that Marsha interviewed helped open my eyes. One of the local directors interviewed in the documentary was Eniola Adelekan. He sees dancehall, and passa passa in particular, as a “resurgence of suppressed tribal memory” by the African diaspora. Eniola is adamant that the similarity with East African art forms is hard to ignore.

Scholarship help

Ras Kassa, a Jamaican director goes further to speak of a film’s ability to “archive” aspects of our culture—not just music and dance, but even historical landmarks such as old buildings.

There is more on Marsha’s Web site

Media is evolving. For a number of reasons, film-making is arguably now more accessible than ever for up-and-coming artists. For those wanting to make films, there is support through the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, which has programmes such as Feature Film Programme and the Production Assistance and Script Development programme.

For those wanting to study film-making, there are courses at UWI. Of course, Gate means that the State covers the tuition fees (up to PhD level now), and for some, like student-film maker Marsha Pearce, UWI has bursaries to help students make films. Marsha won the Rhodes Trust Rex Nettleford Cultural Studies Fellowship (an annual award offered to Caribbean nationals seeking support for cultural projects). UWI also offers research grants to help students fund their projects.

There is so much good work being done by our artists that helps to make a positive difference within the wider community. For me, supporting our artists is part of what Vision 2020 is all about.

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