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T&T films in bloom
The annual T&T Film Festival (TTFF) 2015 kicked off last week at the primary locations MovieTowne, Port-of-Spain, Hyatt Regency Hotel, and the Film Building, University of the West Indies. The media was afforded a brief preview of some of the T&T-made films last weekend. JANINE CHARLES-FARRAY reviews four of them.
FADE TO BLACK
(Nominated for best local short film—fiction)
One of the most anticipated films of the festival does not fall within the feature film category, but among the fictional short narratives. Clocking in at only 11 minutes, Fade to Black breaks new ground in indigenous cinematography through the eyes of director of photography Oliver Milne and director/ animator Christopher Guinness.
Synopsis: Off the coast of northern Trinidad, sometime in the near future, Thomas, an elderly man, struggles to hold on to his memories in his last days. Meanwhile his caregiver, Angelo, engages in an online relationship with the nefarious Dark Eyes, which proves to have costly repercussions.
The public would be familiar with Guinness’ work in the emotive and upbeat fictional short films, POTHOUND and Captain TnT, which have been both critically acclaimed and gone viral several times over in the past four years. Fade to Black, shot in Guinness' signature short clip editing style with animation and VFX-styled infusions, is decidedly darker in tone and context.
In every project, Guinness seems to draw heavily from his own life and personal inspiration. Fade to Black is no different. Describing the past year as a "tough time," Guinness was severely impacted by the loss of his father and other personal life changes. Fade to Black, perhaps unintentionally, questions the significance of holding on to the past with a poignant sense of longing for things that are gone and it closely examines the importance of memories.
Fade to Black is not a superficial film. It delves deeply and without hesitation into cerebral and spiritual concepts.
It was an absolute pleasure to see veteran and acclaimed actor Albert Laveau (as the oldest version of lead character, Thomas) in what could be one of his most memorable and signature performances on film.
There was an exciting juxtaposition of the choice of Laveau as the older version of Thomas set within this futuristic and cutting-edge narrative. It felt momentous, almost like the meeting of two forces, traditional stage theatre and the new creative medium, film. Laveau brought a gravitas and legitimacy to a futuristic portrayal of T&T.
It is a science-fiction short film with deep messages about love, loss and longing. Fade to Black solidifies Guinness' signature aesthetic and is perhaps one of the best and most cutting edge film productions from a T&T filmmaker to date.
DOWN AND OUT
Down and Out is a short documentary from students of the BA in film at the University of the West Indies. It was produced by current Year Three students David Villafanna, Michaela Spenser and Shanice Martin.
Synopsis: The film explores what may be one of the overlooked ills of society, the occurrence of homelessness and the efforts currently being made to assist those displaced and on the streets.
The students consulted with the St Vincent De Paul centre as well as the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons.
First-hand accounts of persons currently dealing with homelessness were the main narrative of the film. The message drew the viewer along from horror story to horror story where the interview subjects told of their experiences with street life.
Some of the circumstances leading to homelessness included exposure to drugs and drug abuse, HIV and Aids, robbery of assets, physical violence, deportation back to Trinidad and forced placement in a mental institution.
These heart-wrenching accounts were in some cases difficult to watch and revealed just how easily one could fall into a situation which robs one of the security of a place to call home, its lasting effects and the difficulty of recovering from such a state.
The Centre for Socially Displaced Persons was the setting for the documentary. Manager of the facility Roger Watson discussed the continuous struggle the centre has faced to deliver care and services to those most in need.
(Nominated for best local feature)
Trafficked is a 72-minute feature film written and directed by Sean Hodgkinson, and was co-produced by the late media personality, radio and TV producer/host Marcia Henville and Garth St Clair of the Eye on Dependency radio programme. The film stars Kia Rollock, Gyerlini Clarke, Aaron N Charles with Brett Bengochea, Abdi Waithe, Brendon O’Brien and Thalia Baptiste.
Synopsis: While on vacation, three adventurous friends are seduced by stranger’s wealth and charm. George, Penny and Nadia soon discover they are pawns in a deadly game.
In general, the film looks good, with good use of scenic establishing shots, coupled with attractive cinematography with a warm colour palette, which retained its Caribbean aesthetic while still giving an international feel.
From the opening dinner scene, every frame fully captured the subtle layers of communication and nuanced body language among the characters brilliantly directed by Hodgkinson. Like any typical dinner among friends, the scene began with light-hearted conversation and effusive gratitude to a generous host, with a dash of well-timed comedy from the jovial and effervescent Penny, played by Kia Rollock.
However, there is a darker layer to this seemingly pristine double-date vacation. Among the characters there were many red flag social cues textured in the interaction. This set a parallel tone—warning the audience that beneath the veil of civility the scene is set for a well-paced unravelling of a tragedy.
In the post screening interview, Hodgkinson confirmed that Trafficked is but one of a planned series of stories to be produced from reports collected by the Eye on Dependency of Caribbean nationals who have fallen prey to both drugs and human trafficking. St Clair shared frightening stories of T&T citizens currently incarcerated in the UK and other territories abroad as well as nationals from other Caribbean states imprisoned locally.
CITY ON THE HILL
Watching this documentary will change your perception of Laventille, Belmont and East Port-of-Spain for the better—permanently.
The film, directed by Michael Mooleedhar and Prof Patricia Mohammed, does an excellent job of unearthing a mountain of evidence from which any citizen of T&T can draw only one conclusion: Laventille is the birthplace and deep belly of cultural ingenuity, foundation of creative innovation, the source of rich indigenous resources, religious plurality and the potential incubator for our creative diversification.
Synopsis: City on the Hill is a look at the history of the communities erected on the hillside slopes of Laventille. The film examines the evolution of the chequered relationship between the landscape and its inhabitants, as well as selected aspects of Laventille's architecture.
More than that, the film speaks to the indomitable will of its inhabitants, the strength of perseverance to claim their community as one loved and treasured, in spite of its sometimes over-amplified and publicised negative elements.
Narrated by Wendell Manwarren in a vibrant griot cadence, the documentary uses excerpts from the writings of giants like poet laureate Derek Walcott and prolific writer CLR James, who reflect on the beauty and potential of Laventille.
The soundtrack also includes archival pan live performances from the 1940s and rapso legend Lancelot Layne's Ghetto, a thriving pulsing defiance from a community fed up with the external perspectives forced upon it and the circumstances of its hard existence.
"You think it soft, in the ghetto?" Lane challenges to drumming rythmns beneath scenic images of the winding streets and curving tracks from Piccadilly Street up to the Our Lady of Fatima RC Church at the tallest hill peak.
City on the Hill marries a romantic and poetic tone with the testimonials and stories of the community's diverse inhabitants. The religious complexity of Laventille is highlighted and surprising similarities are drawn between the iconography of the Gonzales community Hindu Mandir and the Orisha rites of the Rada Community. The film showed a similarity of pride in history, legacy and the honouring of ancestors.
City on the Hill is a love story to Laventille and joins a pantheon of documentaries that highlight the brilliance Behind the Bridge—a trend one hopes to see continued as the local film industry preserves and conserves the national legacy through the audio visual medium. City on the Hill makes a convincing case for a fascinating community often dismissed because of the perpetuation of only one side of its story.
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