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T&T films big in the dance

Sunday, September 25, 2016
Play the Devil

There are an unprecedented four T&T narrative feature films premiering in the 2016 T&T Film Festival this year. Lisa Allen-Agostini reviews three of them.

Play the Devil
Maria Govan/ T&T, The Bahamas, USA/ 2015/ 90 mins/ Narrative feature
(For audiences 18+)

There’s a lot of heart in the star show of 2016 T&T Film Festival, Play the Devil. The 90-minute feature is a meditatively paced drama about the choices we make when our options are constrained by circumstances and homophobia. The film judges those choices pretty harshly.

“Is this a romance?” asked an audience member at the film’s T&T premiere as the opening film in the annual festival, on September 20 at the Central Bank Auditorium. Romance it’s not.

It’s the cold-hearted manipulation of a complicit youth, Gregory (played by UK actor Petrice Jones), by an older, wealthy businessman, James (designer Gareth Jenkins in his first performance ever). The wildly uneven power dynamics of such relationships show up boldly in this film, and the conflicted Gregory asks in desperation, “I’m 18 and I’m poor and I have nothing; what do you want from me?”

The answer, of course, is obvious. The awkwardly beautiful Petrice Jones makes a sympathetic, credible Gregory—a somewhat effete boy, a good student, quiet and pliable. His character is easily taken in by the wealth and access afforded by James, who isn’t shy about showing off what he could give to a boy like that under the right circumstances.

Playing James, Gareth Jenkins has unexpected charm as the chill and relentless hunter stalking his succulent young prey.

The film’s cinematography (by director of photography James Wall) won’t set the world on fire. Still, it can’t help but be gorgeous because the film is mostly set in Paramin, a verdant hillside community. There are also great shots of crashing surf at Balandra Bay and the pounding stream of Avocat Waterfall—not to mention the title scene in which Paramin’s famous blue devils play themselves.

Penny Spencer, as Gregory’s long-suffering grandmother, gives a solid performance, as does Nickolai Salcedo as his angry brother Fayne. Akil Nicholas, who plays Dev, Gregory’s best friend, is also noteworthy for his easy, naturalistic performance of a would-be gangster.

Play the Devil’s great strength is its unflinching—and unflattering—look at how Caribbean masculinities can be toxic. The film was written and directed by Bahamian filmmaker Maria Govan and produced by T&T’s Abigail Hadeed.

Next screening: Today, 6.15 pm, MovieTowne POS.

Nicholas Attin/T&T/2016/84 mins/ 
Narrative feature
(For audiences 16+)

Tomb is Nick Attin’s third dramatic feature. It shows a definite advancement in his technical and artistic craft over his second, the 2013 guerilla-budget noir action flick Escape from Babylon.

This time Attin has made a groundbreaking incursion into sci-fi. Tomb is almost certainly the first Anglo-Caribbean sci-fi live action/CGI feature. An ambitious film, it succeeds on many levels.

The cast will be familiar to anybody who’s followed Attin’s film career. Tomb stars Kearn Samuel as Commander Nelson Obatala, Gregory Pollonais as Commander Charles Mercer, and Conrad Parris as MILO—all players from the cast of Escape from Babylon.

Obatala mans one of the first two T&T space shuttles in the near-future Caribbean space programme. When Mercer’s ship goes off course, MILO, the AI operating system, causes Obatala to respond to Mercer’s distress signal. This takes them through a wormhole that turns out to be a road to the afterlife.

Tomb comes across as a mash-up of the Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the Robert Zemeckis film of Carl Sagan’s Contact. Like Contact, it is heavily sprinkled with questions about God and space; like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film features an AI gone rogue. There’s also a touch of Chris Nolan’s Interstellar, in the treatment of time and its effects on families of astronauts who play with time and space.

The resulting blend is not earth-shattering, and leads to a slightly bland dénouement. However, what the film lacks in originality it makes up for in chutzpah.

Attin employs CGI to make the interiors and exteriors of the TTSS Scarlet Ibis and TTSS Hummingbird, some wormhole effects and the floating data screens through which the humans interact with MILO. Many of the CGI scenes in Tomb have an unappealing visual emptiness about them that one could probably lay directly at the feet of the budget issue. It would be fascinating to see what Attin could accomplish with a fatter bankroll. One hopes his next feature takes him there.

Attin, as writer, producer and director, pulls off most of Tomb with grace. His actors are solid and the scenes shot with actual sets, landscape and props are strong. One has to applaud Attin for his attempt at realising this story of a T&T astronaut lost in space.

Next screening: September 26, 6 pm, MovieTowne POS.

The Cutlass
Darisha Beresford/T&T/2016/105 mins/ Narrative feature
(For audiences 16+)

Darisha Beresford’s debut feature The Cutlass holds its own as one of the four T&T features in the 2016 T&T Film Festival. Visually stunning and emotionally harrowing, the film (supposedly based on true events) is a kidnap drama set largely in the lush North Coast rainforest.

That rainforest is probably the biggest star of the show, even in the most casual scenes of the protagonist Joanna (played by Lisa Hirschman) trekking through the bush at the mercy of her captor Al (Arnold Goindhan). Every leaf is vividly coloured, dripping wet and luxuriant. The very rivulets through which they slog sparkle like natural treasure.

Against Ian Bloom’s stunning cinematography develops the conflict between the middle-class, white, female victim Joanna, and the indigent, dark-skinned, male villain Al. Audiences will certainly have lots to discuss about the race, gender and class representations in the film.

The class conflict is plainly—sometimes clumsily—laid out for the audience. Al is struggling to be a successful criminal but he’s a bit unhinged and has no finesse. Milquetoast Johanna is a dutiful daughter and girlfriend with no personality to speak of. The roles are sturdily portrayed by Goindhan and Hirschman, respectively, but there are troubling racial undertones to such literally black and white characters.

In The Cutlass there’s an unbridgeable divide between the privileged kids spending a weekend in a beach house and the criminal who preys on them. In life it’s not always so clean a division; lots of “nice” families have an Al lurking in the family tree. He’s not an alien from another planet, though the film’s perspective makes him seem like one. And there’s something creepy about the decision to catalyse the passive Joanna into action through rape—as though a cutlass and a gun weren’t incentive enough to try to escape a crazed kidnapper.

Notwithstanding these points, director Darisha Beresford and writer Tenille Newallo have done an excellent job of taking what was a promising (and awarded) short all the way to a full-length feature.

Next screening: September 26, 6 pm, MovieTowne POS.



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