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One Caribbean dream come true

T&T’s Simone Princess Donelan brings Grenada Olympic victory to the screen
Sunday, August 25, 2013
A scene from the new documentary film, Footprints, courtesy Simone Princess Donelan.

The 2012 London Olympics produced many high points for the Caribbean—the Jamaican track and field team’s domination of the 100m, T&T in the javelin throw—but the most memorable regional victory had to be Grenada’s first Olympic medal thanks to Kirani James’ masterful performance in the 400m.  


That gold—and the effect it had on James’ countrymen—is the subject of a new documentary film, Footprints, by co-producers Simone Princess Donelan and Barry Collymore. Perhaps best known locally for her role in the long-running soap opera Westwood Park, Donelan has long preferred working behind the scenes. Trinidad-born of Grenadian parentage, she had worked with Grenadian producer Collymore on a documentary about the killing of Maurice Bishop. “Barry called me just before the Olympics,” Donelan recalls, “and explained that there was a big possibility that Kirani James would medal, but that the Grenadian crews weren’t really covering it.”  


Donelan, who grew up in Grenada, recognised the potential of the story and went on faith. She put a small crew together and got on a plane to Grenada. “We had no money at the time but it was a collaborative effort; real guerrilla-style filmmaking.  (T&T’s) Iscah Straker agreed to come on board as director of photography and editor.  I have mad respect for her; she’s the hardest-working person on set and very skilled.”


Keron Lemessy, another Trinidadian, did the sound and the producers hired two more camera operators in Grenada. When it was time for the 400m final, the crew was ready, cameras rolling, just in case James placed in the top three. “You have to remember that things were rough in Grenada then. Tillman Thomas was in office,” she points out. (Thomas and his party, the NDC, lost every seat in this year’s general election.) “There was 50 per cent unemployment and crime was high.” James’ win changed the climate. “There was suddenly an outpouring of love. People would hug and kiss you on the streets; there were no incidents. It was such a carnival-like atmosphere. It was magical!”  


So magical, in fact, that when the producers saw what they had captured on camera, the trajectory of the story began to shift from being entirely about Kirani James to exploring Grenadians’ celebration of his win. Donelan maintains that this is part of what makes the film compelling.


“Grenadians took ownership of him. Kirani comes from an area called Gun Battle, in Gouyave, a fishing village on the island’s west coast. The area is poor and a bit run down, but [the people there] are a proud people. Once, when Kirani was running a race against some older boys and beat them, the boys put their own money together to buy him a pair of shoes.” The admiration for Kirani James stems from his own humble attitude and “what a beautiful person he is,” according to Donelan. “The people of Gun Battle knew his trials. His mother worked hard and is a big reason behind his success. There were church services before his race and thanksgiving services when he came back home. Grenadian flags were flying everywhere.”  


Come next month, the Grenadian flag will be flying high at the CaribbeanTales Market Incubator Programme at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “That invitation was what forced us to edit the footage and finish the film,” Donelan admits. “The workshop basically helps producers raise financing and connect with possible distributors.  We get to pitch our film, network and learn about the tools we need to help us with marketing.”


The hope is for Footprints to screen on the film festival circuit, as well as show to schools and general audiences in Grenada. Naturally, Grenadians have a vested interest in seeing the film, but why should everyone else?  


“Because,” says Donelan, “who doesn’t love a story about dreams coming true?”


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