THE CHALLENGES of making a competent film locally cannot be underestimated. Film-makers may have problems with technical issues, with funding and with accessing markets, even their own. Additionally, in a country where cinema is tied to notions of watching other societies on screen (our idea of “film” is tied to the US and European fare which is sold to us), seeing ourselves depicted on-screen, and inevitably simplified, for the purpose of “entertainment” can trigger complex reactions.
But these are all challenges which a group of three film-makers have embraced with some boldness.
The tag-line for Dark Tales from Paradise, which screened this month at the Harvard Club St James at a TT Entertainment Company/ TT Film Company event, is “3 Dark Tales, 2 Beautiful Islands, 1 Kind of Film”. It is a provocative series of short films, assembled together in one feature “grind-house” style.
In Ryan C Khan’s ‘Midnight Affair’, an American scholar visits Trinidad during Carnival, loses his girlfriend and ends up deeply enmeshed in supernatural affairs. The film features Keshav Singh, a sensitive actor who is good in the role, which could have easily gone haywire. Khan, who has a background in commercials, does a good job in some of the surreal supernatural sequences.
The caustically titled ‘Sweet TnT’, by Andre Johnson, effectively and movingly depicts one man’s gradual fall into crime as he battles foreign stereotypes of this country. It is the work of film-makers with a talent for the medium of film. For instance, the film makes vivid use of a painting during one scene, and statues and graves at a cemetery in another. The work, which suffers from some technical defects, is compelling as it builds to its climax. (The actress Natalie Mackay is good in a role that demands a certain ruthlessness.)
‘Radica’, by Francis Escayg and Timmy Mora, is about a remote fishing village in the throes of mass hysteria after the murder of a local. The film has a promising start with some excellent black humour: at Radica’s funeral, as people mourn and weep, her family opt to insert cutlasses into her coffin, and call on her to enact vengeance. The tenderness of the community’s mourning contrasts sharply with her family’s edicts. However the film slows down a little too much thereafter, but manages to make some very profound observations about how crime affects a community and, by extension, a nation.
“I wanted to highlight the small man and to show how one simple betrayal could have a domino effect: what could cause somebody to trip,” Escayg said this month.
Of his film, ‘Sweet TnT’ Johnson remarked, “If we had made a comedy they would not take us seriously.”
“We are attempting here to raise the bar. You need to see the perception of the tourist and still you get a story with a twist in the end,” he said.
Though his film’s main protagonist is American, Khan said the aim, ultimately, of his film was to cater to the Trinidad and Tobago audience.
“It comes from wanting to impress people locally,” he said of his motivation as a film-maker. In terms of marketing, he told the audience on Sunday, “the job is on you. You have to demand. You demand, we will supply.”
Johnson remarked, “we want local, we want to see ourselves.”
“We have not started to tell the Trinidad and Tobago story yet. We will be telling for a long time to come,” he said.