art in all its forms

art in all its forms


‘I fell in love with Trinidad’

ONE DAY, it all clicked. Miquel Galofré was at his grandmother’s house at Sabadell, a small city 30-minutes from Barcelona, Spain. He was listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Still Life”. He was 12-years old.

“I was a neglected child, my parents were too young and they had problems,” he says. “I had to handle a lot when I wasn’t ready for it. So the world was not a nice place for me at that time. I cried a lot in my bed.”

“But things got better when, as a teenager I discovered music and films. The click was a Rolling Stones cassette when I was 12. And now I use all the feelings I have experienced in my life, in film,” the film director and editor says.

Galofré’s description of his own childhood evokes scenes from his most recent film, “Art Connect”. That film, which features children coming to terms with their problems through music, dance and painting, was awarded Best Trinidad and Tobago Feature Film at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF) in September. It also took home the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary Film.

“With ‘Art Connect’ I basically wanted to do two things,” Galofré says. “I wanted to help a group of teenagers from Laventille to be happier. And I wanted to show in a film that this kind of program does work and they should be done in every school.”

Like the titles of his other films (“Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?”, “Hit Me With Music”, and “Songs of Redemption”) suggest, Galofré is a filmmaker interested in music and the uplifting potential of film. Whether set in a Jamaican prison or the Success Laventille Secondary School, he tells deftly-edited, immaculately-paced stories that weave several elements but ultimately  – no matter how dark the subject-matter – end up blossoming into lyrical outpourings of love.

“A film should hit you and give you energy!” the director says. “You should come out the cinema feeling able to do anything, with a smile in your face and in a rush to make your dreams come true. Like a good song, it should make you stand up and move, with a big smile.”


Miquel Galofré was born on June 1, 1970.

“I was conceived in Ibiza, the small, beautiful Spanish island known for crazy parties and drugs,” he says. “And I was born nine months later in Barcelona, Spain.” He is reluctant to talk in detail about his parents, but says, “I didn’t grow up with them and I was a very sad child, feeling guilty for all the dramas, fights, abuse and alcoholism that were around me.”

Galofré, 44, traces his passion for art, generally, to that moment when he was 12 at his grandmother's house listening to "Still Life".

"When the riff of the guitar of the first song ("Under My Thumb") started, my life changed for ever," he says. "That energy woke up everything in me! I got goosebumps, tears welled in my eyes. I had a burning need to jump and a strong wish to live!" He also recalls the impact of a favorite toy.

“My grandpa had some Super-8 cameras and that was my favourite toy ever,” he says. “Unlike other kids, I didn’t enjoy cartoons, fantasy, or kid’s games but I always loved to look at the world through the lens. To this day, I think I use cameras as a tool to find beauty in the world. And I started very young. At 12, I started editing with Betamax videotapes and I never stopped.”

By the time he was eighteen, he was seeking work and found the job that cemented his passion.
“I saw an ad on TV,” Galofré says. “They were asking for home videos for a contest. I sent more than 100 and they called me, not to participate in the contest, but to work with them in the TV company. Working on TV I learned a lot. I was there more than 20 years doing all kinds of stuff.” One of his tasks was to film and edit the castings/auditions of people trying to get into the Spanish versions of American Idol or Big Brother.

“The videos were very successful and people always told me that I made them get emotional and cry,” Galofré recalls. Eventually, he decided to study film. But the experience in television was teaching him things faster.

“There is no better school than that,” he says. Television took him all over the world. By his count, he’s been to 26 countries. Then, in 2010, he came to Trinidad.


"I would say I came to Trinidad following my dream of making films and also trying to know who I am," Galofré says. His first time in Trinidad was to attend screenings of one of his films, "Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?", at the TTFF. The film had screened previously at studiofilmclub (run by painters Peter Doig and Che Lovelace) and was well-received.

"I came for a week and I fell in love with Trinidad," Galofré says. "Trinidad has something that makes me feel at home, it's such a unique place. It took a while to understand it and it has not been always easy at all."

The filmmaker continues, "I meet a cool guy called Alex Smailes, a photographer who is today my friend, who asked me if I wanted to make a documentary in Trinidad with him. I said yes. And after 6 months I was living here ready to film." Though a trailer was produced for "Mike Men of Trinidad" (you can find it on YouTube), the film has to date not been completed due to a lack of funding. But Galofré remains undaunted.

"I feel I still have some important stuff to film here," he says. "I have my company here, called Trinidad and Tobago Rocks! (which has a Facebook page, search for "TandTrocks").

Despite the ups and downs, the affair has lasted unusually long by Galofré's standards.

"I have traveled a lot, filming in more than 26 countries but I've never stayed for more than 2 months abroad, I always came back home to edit," he says. "But the same feeling I had when the plane landed in Barcelona I have it every time the plane land in Piarco.  Home." But he adds, "Then the immigration officers usually remind me that I'm not home!"

Galofré says he has two film projects due next: one a documentary and the other a narrative feature film, both in Trinidad. The documentary is based in the book “Wishing for Wings” by Debbie Jacob.

"What she does is amazing," he says of the book. "Instead of complaining about how bad crime is, she seeks to understanding why a kid becomes a criminal. I want to do the film about this to reach more people, people who don’t read books. Films are the new books. A country needs good books, good music, good art and good films. They write the history." Of the local film industry, Galofré says more needs to be done.

"It’s so young but the potential is huge," he says. "It has to happen. Trinidad is such a unique place: the mix, the contrast, the culture, social, political, cultural. There is so much stuff. Something has to be done and it’s urgent. The success of the TTFF shows there is space for other kinds of movies in Trinidad. To be honest, if nothing changes, I’m about to give up with filming here." To film students, or anyone thinking of becoming a filmmaker, Galofré does not mince words.

"The reality is that it’s very difficult to work in film," he says. "Make sure it’s your passion. Make sure you love it bad, bad, bad. You will have to put in a lot of effort. And ultimately, what is needed to become a filmmaker is not taught in any school in the world. Only life and a lot of work can give you the skills. You have to learn who you are, what you have to say, how to build a story, how to handle a crew, how keep people’s interest, how to touch them. But all is possible."


Miquel Galofré’s favorite films

“The Bicycle Thief” (1948, Vittorio De Sica), “8½” (1963, Federico Fellini), “Taxi Driver” (1976, Martin Scorsese), “Buffalo ‘66” (1998, Vincent Gallo), “Old Boy” (2003, Park Chan-wook), “Pulp Fiction” (1994, Quentin Tarantino), “In the Mood for Love” (2000, Kar Wai Wong), “Funny Games” (1997, Michael Haneke), “Head-On” (2004, Fatih Akin), “3-Iron” (2004, Kim Ki-duk), “Uzak” (2002, Nuri Bilge Ceylan), “Short Cuts” (1993, Robert Altman), “Tarnation” (2003, Jonathan Caouette), “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001, John Cameron Mitchell), “Night on Earth” (1991, Jim Jarmusch), “Me and You and Everyone We Know” (2005, Amanda July), “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982, Steven Spielberg), “The Shining” (1980, Stanley Kubrick).


-from Newsday, October 20, 2014.


The mirror has two faces

THE MIRROR has an ornate, gold frame. It stands onstage, as if floating, suspended solely by the movements of the dancer. He props it up, lifts it, hides behind it, and at one point is almost guillotined by it. The audience is made privy to a series of private moments: we all gaze at a person in front of a mirror, obsessed with self or with something refracted in its hard surface. He dabs white powder all over his face continually and, seeking perfection, tests his image anew in the face of his true, glass lover.

This is Dave Williams’ incredible, monstrous work of choreography, entitled ‘Older’, which was shown at the Coco Dance Festival on October 4 and October 5 at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s. We may argue that the piece is about the relationship between self and self-image over time; a rendering of Narcissus. Or it may be about relationships with others, how they always reflect something about ourselves. Perhaps as we get older we get wiser. Or equally we stay the same, make the same mistakes, play the same tricks of self-delusion and, well, it all just gets old.

The greatness of this piece is how it achieves what the best choreography does. It uses simple tools to create complex, dynamic effects. For instance, throughout the performance the audience is at times able to glimpse into the mirror and see what is being reflected. We see the dancer, in garish black spectacles that look like aviation goggles. Sometimes, in the dark of Queen’s Hall, we see only blackness: the type of deep blackness only a mirror can provide. But then, when the mirror moves, there is blinding light. Williams plays with its reflection, throwing it like a scrutinising beam all over the audience and elsewhere.

The effect is thrilling. We think of the powder on teenagers’ chests; Mr Sandman; Carnival sailors shouting: yuh can’t play mas if yuh fraid powder. We understand the vocabulary of this piece and we are compelled to follow to the bitter end when Jhené Aiko’s pop single ‘The Worst’ fades and we then hear a poem speaking of the nature of aging, how it turns bodies that once seduced into transparencies. We understand, at this point, the absurdity of all of Narcissus’ machinations with his mirror, coming as they do in the face of the inevitable fade-out of death. The dancer ends his piece with the mirror on the floor, prostrate after being licked. He walks back into the darkness.

Williams has, over the years, cemented his position as a necromancer. His best pieces – like “Waiting” and “Roasted Swan” – derive their power, in part, from their physical challenge. Here, the challenge was how to sustain the relationship between the body and the mirror in an interesting and intelligent way.

Williams makes it look so effortless. He’s not only older, he is certainly wiser. We are left wanting more and, notwithstanding its achievement, I wonder if this piece is complete. But finished or not, its images stay in our minds.

In an interview with Newsday Williams said he was inspired by fragments of questions surrounding the process of aging, mindful that the careers of most dancers in times past were limited by age.

“It’s a short life span,” Williams says. “Ballet dancers are lucky if they make it to 35.”

The dancer continues, “I wanted to do something that I was interested in.

“Because I have been dancing for 29 years and aging, I’ve noted how the body raises pretty immediate questions and situations. Aging was something that I was interested in. Nobody tells you what to expect. When I was child, 50 was an old person. The idea of aging gracefully, what does that mean in the current era?” He states ‘Older’ is an excerpt from a longer piece which will be shown on November 17 and November 18 at another show at Queen’s Hall, put on by the Noble Douglas Dance Company.

Other highlights at the Coco festival included Sonja Dumas’ ‘Walk the Talk’, an intelligent and beautifully structured take on stereotypes and how people – particularly women – are judged by how they walk. A similar feminist cord was found in ‘Farm Girls’, Sharifa Hodge’s piece which sees the limiting tropes applied to women in calypso and soca re-appropriated by the women onstage in a way that overcomes. ‘Hidden Curriculum’ by Deliece Knights had a similar intent, though wider scope, with intervals that voice specific thematic concerns about gender, power and discrimination in society. These threads were also woven into Akazuru’s ‘The Elemental \I. Hail for Stones’, which saw a procession and protest outside of Queen’s Hall, with rope being tied to the building’s pillars. ‘NeoIndigenA’ was a raw and audacious piece which was incredibly effective, provoking thought about the indigenous populations and their fate. ‘Beyond Words’ was a promising video. All of it was part of a programme which featured many other gems which shined in the dark.


- from Newsday October 13, 2014


Only connect

Art Connect

SINCE, as one student featured in the documentary Art Connect states, art is a picture of life, this film stands on its own as a sublime work.

Ostensibly about a social intervention programme for a group of students in Laventille, the work turns out to be an acute observation of contemporary social conditions in Trinidad and Tobago. It's insights are sometimes subtle and understated: telling of absent parents, emotional violence, the impact of drugs and crime on communities, mental and emotional turmoil, communal prejudices. But also, refreshingly, it sings of the redemptive possibilities of love, trust and beauty. Though there is tension and danger, all hope is not lost.

We follow the group of students of the Success Laventille School as they participate in a series of projects and challenges marshaled by artists in different mediums. But we also hear them tell their own stories about their lives, through a series of unforgettable interviews conducted by the filmmakers (including Janine Fung). And, most memorably, we are gifted with footage filmed by the students themselves using point-of-view cameras. We learn of their conditions, hear of their family problems, see where they live and what they eat, what chores they do, whom they interact with and account to.

"What's one of the happiest days of your life?" a student is asked.

"I don't have one," the child answers.

"What about a happy moment?"

"One of the happy moments was when I found out I got into this programme but I don't really have happy moments," states the girl. At another stage the girl says, "I actually feel nervous when I hear... gunshots because I don't know if my brother picked up one or my dad."

Another student states, "I feel that I cannot talk and I don't know why."

Sadly, these students could be in any school anywhere in the country. They articulate universal anxieties, as well as peculiar problems which communities are today dealing with. The film, which premiered in the first week of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, gives voice to open secrets, and in this way, does a kind of justice, asserting dignity and grace. It has deservedly attracted sold-out screenings. Trinidadians have been yearning to see themselves.

This is an assured documentary whose craft is concealed but whose achievement cannot be overstated. Here are several different narratives which unfold through the use of the point of view footage; the interviews; pop music; supplemental footage and the mediums of song, dance and painting. That all these elements fuse effortlessly is to the credit of director and editor Miquel Galofré, who has steadily cemented his status as an exciting and talented chronicler of this region through a series of bravura films.

Galofré is a multiple-award-winning filmmaker born in Barcelona and based in Trinidad and Tobago. His “Jamaican trilogy” of documentaries - including Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast? and Hit Me With Music - won several prizes. His eye for pacing, his exquisite judgment on the use of music as well as the restraint of his cinematographer (Fung) means this does not feel like a gimmick, nor does it come across as a sterile social experiment. Instead, it feels real.

On the music, I found that the film provided an interesting glimpse of how popular music - foreign and local - functions in our lives. Through music, and art generally, we do ultimately come together no matter how unique our circumstances. As EM Forster once extolled, "only connect".


Miquel Galofré's website.

Find or make your space

Alice Yard

TRY to summarise all of the different events that have taken place at Alice Yard over the last eight years and you are bound to run into trouble.

The space is small, you might not notice it from Roberts Street, Woodbrook. Just a stone’s throw away from the swings and see-saws of the Augustus Williams Park, it could be any other house on the street were it not for that small green sign on its black wall. But in a sense that’s fitting: this is a place where people come to play. It’s home.

But make no mistake about the scale of its importance. Alice Yard is an arts space - call it contemporary if you must - administered and curated by architect Sean Leonard, artist Christopher Cozier, and writer and editor Nicholas Laughlin.

I can recall many events there: start with dancer Dave Williams’ performance of Waiting, a show he put on over several nights in which he danced on moko stilts in a small white room with a glass door. Or maybe Adam Williams drawings hanging on a curtain rack, or Jaime Lee Loy and Nikolai Noel becoming living installations: sitting in the exhibition space drawing the audience. One night, Akuzuru ripped open a vein (not literally, thank goodness) and marched from the Yard to the park outside, wearing a white costume, reminiscent of a mutant Miss Havisham or maybe Bronte’s Madbertha, breaking things, haunting the streets of Port-of-Spain.

The Yard, which last week marked its eighth anniversary, has a regional outlook, emphasizing the need to reverse and question the colonial and historical boundaries that have kept small islands that dot the sea apart. Since 2008, there have been artists and writers in residence. Bahamian Heino Schmid has shown incredible collage/video work. There was an amazing exhibition of photography called Shot in Kingston. Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson read with Valzhyna Mort.

The space has also hosted bands. Start with 12 the Band and consider the list on Alice Yard’s website ( 3Canal; Cabezon; Gyazette; jointpop; Orange Sky and you scratch the surface.

Earlier this year, Alice Yard hosted an experimental reading or poetry and prose as part of an ongoing collaboration called Douen Islands, of which I am a part. After that event, Laughlin noted how the space has had a “can do” approach. “Find or make your space” he said.

“Alice Yard has hosted roughly three hundred public events,” Laughlin said. “We’ve hosted nearly three dozen artists, curators, and other creative practitioners. Our guests have included world-famous names who would make a splash in any metropolitan city, but often we’ve been most motivated and inspired by new, young artists, musicians, and writers near the start of their careers, who challenge us to respond to their energy and ideas.”

Laughlin continued, “This has all happened in a simple backyard in Woodbrook which we and our collaborators have re-imagined over and over again — the space continues to surprise us. And it has all happened with no paid staff and very minimal funding, raised from our modest resources and efforts.”

“Instead we’ve imagined the biggest things we can make happen with what we do have. It’s a modus operandi of improvisation, and an attitude of possibility,” Laughlin, who is also editor of the Caribbean Review of Books, said. This is a key thing to observe.

If art is an inevitable part of the human condition; if it functions to give pleasure, or to enact catharsis or is, as David Forster Wallace stated, “an exchange between consciousnesses, a way for human beings to talk to each other”, then its value is not mercenary or static. It is invaluable in a true sense. Any forum that allows that kind of dialogue to grow must, like Alice Yard, be free.

While we may desire more institutionalised forms of this dialogue: while we wish more of state or other organs, that is not the end of the matter. Alice Yard demonstrates the power of simply saying yes to art, and acting, with true volition and free will. It is as boundless as the imagination.

Imagine if we said yes like this more often, if we built spaces upon spaces for the mind, heart and society as a whole to exist, to flourish. Imagine, then act.


From Sunday Newsday, September 21, 2014.
Alice Yard website


In search of Dylan Thomas

"It seems every single thing in Laugharne is connected to Dylan Thomas. Or if it is not, it fast becomes so. The entire town is a memorial to him; a living and breathing tomb. It is a monument comprising: pubs, book-shops, a clock-tower, ruins of a gothic castle, and St John’s Hill. And all of this can be found in Thomas’ poetry.  
"But how much of a poet’s life and circumstance do we need to know? Do we need the back-story in order to enjoy each poem? Is it not better the less we know? Must we see the writing-shed, learn of the love affairs in New York, visit the favourite drinking haunts, the neighbours, the aunties? Of poetry Thomas once said:
"All that matters about poetry is the enjoyment of it, however tragic it may be. All that matters is the eternal movement behind it, the vast undercurrent of human grief, folly, pretension, exaltation or ignorance, however unlofty the intention of the poem...."

READ my Zocalo Poets website post on the Dylan Thomas centenary, and a trip to his home-town, Laugharne, here.   


Papa Bois, poet

Life is like the sea
—Sylvester Devenish

ACCORDING to one historian he was, “the most outstanding poet Trinidad has ever produced”.  The same writer—Anthony de Verteuil—tells us he was also, “a prominent figure in Trinidadian society as Surveyor General; in scientific circles; and also in encouraging a spirit of patriotism among all Trinidadians whatever their original nationality”. In a 392-page book about him, de Verteuil states, “he was one of the best known characters among French creoles in Trinidad.” Long before the controversy over judges and MPs pensions, he was at the centre of one of the island's first scandals over retirement pay. When he died in 1903, the Schoolmaster magazine, wrote, “As a Poet his name will be immortalised in literary circles”. A contemporary, Léon de Gannes, stated, “He sees all, knows all, is everywhere.” But today he is forgotten.

Peter James Sylvester Devenish, who came from an Irish family, was actually born at Nantes on March 9, 1819. He lived in Trinidad for five years before being sent back to France to study. He read a wide range of subjects at the College des Oratoriens of Vendôme where, according to lore, he was presented to Ferdinand, the old King of Naples, after a fencing match. While in Paris, Devenish apparently made the acquaintance of the authors Jules Janin and Honoré de Balzac.

Devenish reluctantly returned to Trinidad at the age of 22. He longed for Paris life. But things changed when he fell in love with and married Laura D’Abadie here on June 16, 1842. He was educated, cultured and became popular.

“The general impression in Trinidad was that Sylvester Devenish knew everything about anything,” de Verteuil states in his 2007 book, entitled, Sylvester Devenish: Trinidad’s Poet. We learn how Devenish once delivered a talk to the Scientific Society entitled, ‘A Few Notes on Alligator Shooting in Trinidad’. He recommended grilled babiche with lime and pepper sauce.

In 1850, though not an engineer, Devenish was appointed Inspector of Roads. In 1857, he was made director of the Irois Forest Convict Settlement; in 1860 Superintendent of the government saw-mill in Port-of-Spain; in 1861 engineer of the Port-of-Spain Wharf Improvement in which capacity he constructed the new sea-walls. In 1874, he was Justice of the Peace for the counties of St David, St Andrew, Nariva, Mayaro. From 1875 everybody gave up: he was made Justice of the Peace for the whole island. When the time came to open the Royal Victoria Institute at the top of Frederick Street on September 17, 1892, it was Devenish who would cut the ribbon, not the governor of the colony.

Rosary Church, Port of Spain, designed by Devenish

De Verteuil states Devenish played, “a significant if very small part in enlarging the boundaries of 19th century botany.” He collected 126 specimens of wood. In 1867, he was appointed director of the Botanical Gardens at St Anns. Over 43 years, Devenish surveyed properties all over the land. “I have all the maps of the island in my head,” he once reportedly said. De Verteuil tells us, “he was known to the Spanish-speaking inhabitants as El Duende de la Montana (the Spirit of the Mountains); and to the creoles as Papa Bois (Father of the Woods)”. In 1875, Devenish was appointed Surveyor-General of Trinidad, the highest surveying post in the island. He retained the post until 1878. In the 1870s the New Era carried an account of him: “passing over roaring torrents by swinging himself from bush rope like a monkey; making roads in the Savannah of Caroni; sleeping on a tree in the middle of a lagoon, astride of a branch, on top of a nest of stinging ants. Sun, rain, gales, thunder, lightning - the impossible does not deter him in the least.”

However, questions were raised about the fair allocation of state survey work. Devenish arguably became caught up in politics relating to feuding French and English factions in Trinidad society. This culminated with his suspension on Christmas Day 1878 from the post of Surveyor-General by the new British Governor General. There was outcry. A commission of enquiry was established. The governor who fired Devenish was later called, “one of the most unprincipled governors ever seen in the West Indies”. Devenish’s pension of £150 was deemed too low and raised to £200.

Despite all this, de Verteuil states, “Devenish was above all a poet. ” Many of his poems were sold in the streets on loose pages for a penny. The poems follow a rigid style, which Devenish regarded as classical. Putting aside literary merit, the poems are, as de Verteuil correctly observes, valuable because they are snapshots of society then. You also sense they are meant to be sung. They have a kind of stony grace, and do what Paul Valéry says poetry should do, dance. The poet wrote in a time when a ballad was recited at Belle Air dances as long as five years after.

Devenish died on January 31, 1903. The funeral took place at the Rosary Church, Port-of-Spain. Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, that stunning gothic church had been designed by him. The church stands today, even if we do not remember Papa Bois' name.


From Sunday Newsday, July 13, 2014. 

READ a review of de Verteuil's book on Devenish by Sharon Millar at the Caribbean Review of Books.
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