As a member of the swiftly growing sub-genre of entertainment appreciators, described on social media as “local culture hipsters”, the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (ttff) is an exciting time of year for me. The annual commitment is usually to see as many films as possible made in, on or by Trinidad and Tobago. And, should the synopsis or ‘buzz’ be strong enough, take a ‘small maco’ on a few regional and diaspora films to keep a friendly eye on the pace of development of our Caribbean neighbours.
This year’s festival also showed the customary trend of a precarious knife’s edge of quality – films with exciting potential screened alongside a few “non-starters”. Despite some opinions against the inclusion of the latter, we should continue to support all efforts regardless of our expectations. The very important mantra of “seeing ourselves” on the big screen, remains a powerful medium by which our people can confront, assess, fix our flaws and inspire ourselves to strive on.
The Diaspora and Region shines
Brown Girl Begins – described as an “Afrofuturist feature film” is based on a prequel to Jamaican-Canadian Nalo Hopkinson’s novel ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’. This ambitious cyberpunk influenced film is set on an industrial island across a toxic sea off the city of a post-apocalyptic Toronto. The setting is convincingly bleak but only passably immersive in production design as it follows the lives of a rag-tag assortment of survivors in ‘the Burn’ as they survive off bartering and scrounging for food and clean water.
Ti-Jeanne, a young reluctant priestess must resurrect ancient Caribbean spirits to save her people and survive the possession ritual that killed her mother. In this film, Caribbean spirits is a euphemism for something akin to Obeah and features both malevolent and well-meaning supernatural personalities such as Papa Legba and Mama Ashe from whom Ti-Jeanne initially flees. Looming over this story is the threat of the narcotic ‘Buff’ administered to enslave the remaining island survivors by an off-screen villain, Rudi and his whip-wielding henchwoman, Crack who has a penchant for reveling in her torture of the innocent.
Brown Girl Begins is a female-empowering, dystopian fantasy, ably carried by lead actress Mouna Traoré and powered by the deeper theme of pan-Caribbean resistance and resilience. The film draws from many regional nuances of language, culture and lore to weave together a story of a young girl claiming her power on her own terms, by embracing the foundation of her traditions while carving a new path in defense of her people and her island.
From the region and the Caribbean abroad stories through film cast a wide net, drawing from the realm of stories from the imagination and rooted in the sobering documentation of life. The JAFTA Propella films, an exhibition of new a series of new shorts from Jamaica offered a view into the storytelling power of our northern neighbours and showcased the skills of its emerging directors, endorsed by the Jamaica Film and TV Association.
Among the films, the strong contenders were Flight by directors Kia Moses and Adrian McDonald and Going Down by director Mezan Akoya. Flight was a beautifully filmed, feel-good father and son story of surviving shared heartbreak, overcoming isolation and reconnecting across the space between through embracing the larger-than-life dream of becoming a Jamaican astronaut. In Going Down, a married couple is trapped in an elevator, with their respective lovers, and through a restrained, but nevertheless tense confrontation, they are forced to examine themselves and their relationship. Despite moments of humour and titillating scandal, the undercurrents of bitterness and pain gave a sobering but still entertaining look at the debilitating decline of a withering marriage.
A memorable if harrowing narrative short was Kinto from Jamaican Director and UWI BA in Film programme alumni Joshua Paul. Kinto is about a young homeless Jamaican boy who survives a brutal life with the little money he makes cleaning car windscreens on the roadsides of Kingston. Beaten, bruised and broken, he witnesses a car crash and is faced with a choice that may destroy his humanity and change his life forever
Kinto is an uncompromising film that, once it establishes the painfully brutal circumstances of its young lead, played by Sekai Smart-Macaulay, proceeds to twist the viewer into a series of moral conundrums over the choices he makes for his own survival. At its climax, one is almost drawn and quartered between two forces of empathy, which scrape against each other we watch Kinto morph from struggling victim of his hardships to its ruthless survivor. At the end of the film, we are left never knowing the story of how he came to be abandoned on the streets nor where he goes once the film has ended. All that remains is the lingering queasiness of our brief, uncomfortable view into his rough and unfortunate life.
“Home is where the HEROs are” featuring reviews on Nang by Nang, Carnival Messiah: The Film and Documentary and HERO: Inspired by the Extraordinary Life and Times of Mr. Ulric Cross.
EXCERPT: T&T films truly shine when the lens is pointed at people who have led extraordinary lives and done remarkable things…
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