Friday, July 24, 2009

Article in Caribbean Camera

(Canada Chronicles continued ...)

During the recent film festival I was interviewed by Jean Hodgkinson of The Caribbean Camera (a newspaper published weekly on Thursdays in Toronto and Fridays in Montreal).

Director’s Cut

We are not shadows. We exist.
- Euzhan Palcy -

Mme Palcy was fêted at this year’s fourth annual Caribbean Tales Film Festival. The theme, “Caribbean Film—A Tool for Education and Social Change,” was evident. On the page opposite, my compatriot Colin Rickards will help you get to know la Reine Cinéaste. Mingling freely she chatted enthusiastically with one and all granting interviews, it seemed from a distance, practically upon request. Never one to snub opportunity, I happily submitted to necessity. During our Saturday evening interview, not reviewed [ni traduit!] as of this writing, Mme Palcy employed a word I hadn’t yet heard her utter, not during the Q&A nor during her speech to accept the Award of Honour. That word was “revolution.”

It is perhaps no small coincidence this article is being written July 14. La Fête Nationale commemorates July 14, 1790, “which didn’t give France its soul,” said Henri Martin in 1880, as head of the Senate committee responsible for consecrating the holiday, “...but the Revolution made France conscious of herself.” The English-speaking world insists it be called Bastille Day, using the storming of the infamous Paris prison exactly a year earlier as its reference point, but it nevertheless remains inexorably linked to the profound social changes delivered by la Révolution. Mme Palcy was of course speaking of films, artistically, but it mattered little.

What was revolutionary intoned this Martinique-born Nefertiti, the “first black female director to be produced by a major Hollywood studio,” was that in her films an upstanding Sidney Poitier character did not have to pass his gun to an equally upstanding Michael Caine character in order to kill off a perfectly villainous white character. Many others at this year’s CTFF reinforced the argument that West Indians are, indeed have always been, participatory agents in history and not merely idle spectators. The explosion of filmmaking in the region simply means Le septième art is recognized as the best tool for people to tell their own stories and hence educate the world about the storytellers.

Christopher Laird, founder and CEO of Trinidad television’s Gayelle the Channel, presented a 44-minute package of the station’s live coverage of the Drummit 2 Summit protest. Held during April’s Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, it was organized by The Rights Action Group and Fishermen and Friends of the Sea. Although in April yours truly reported the Drummit 2 Summit protest attracted fewer media and police than the Independence Square protest, this opinion was formed within the Summit’s security perimeter as Gayelle’s cameras were recording well beyond it. “We were getting calls from other outlets to carry the live feed,” this year’s recipient of the CTFF Lifetime Achievement Award recalled.

“Gayelle is meant to be a touchstone, there as you channel surf,” Laird told me. Since its founding in 2004, Gayelle’s purpose has been to provide space for “street voices, a place where people can jump in and show what we can do. Sports and Carnival have been the only two outlets for 50 years.” But, he notes, the technological revolution of the past five years has made media production far more accessible to people. While demanding Gayelle “remain as nimble as possible,” this shift facilitates and encourages the kind of creative expression bottled up for too long in the Caribbean due to lack of technological resources. The spirit is both willing and able.

Elspeth Duncan said Gayelle provided a “large canvas” with which to hone her skills. Before shooting even began on her first film, the cameraman called in absent with a family emergency. “I had to shoot on my own. And then I realized I can do it myself,” she reminisced. Her film “Invisible,” an HIV/AIDS-awareness film, has aired on several Trinidad networks. It’s the story of discrimination faced by Veronica and her 4-year-old daughter, both of whom are HIV-positive, and her 8-year-old son, who isn’t. You don’t see faces, only hands and arms, children’s crayon drawings, faces behind curtains. Duncan didn’t want to digitally frost out faces, to avoid “perpetuating the idea that HIV must hide.” And Veronica the Invisible narrates her own family’s story.

So it went. A documentary on Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder; music videos and full-length features; documentaries like “Gathering the Scattered Cousins,” in which Nigerian-born Akin Omotoso travels to his mother’s native Barbados for the first time, after her death. And as Elspeth Duncan noted, “The intimacy of the festival is good for connecting with people.” The films helped out in this regard, too.

14 juillet ’09

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