Maurice Bishop and Derek Walcott are currently in my head as well as the larger question: What really are we, being dwellers in this beautiful but frustrating Caribbean drawn from imported ancestors?
I have been moved by Bruce Paddington’s film on the Grenada Revolution and Ida Does’ film on Derek Walcott, both shown at the now concluded trinidad+tobago film festival. Paddington’s film is titled Forward Ever and Does, a Dutch Caribbean independent documentary maker, called hers Poetry is an Island.
Whatever the technical infelicities of these two works observed by those qualified to make such observations, they make a significant mark because they break into the relentless metropolitan diet and represent oases in the desert of work concerning Caribbean history. The oases are made greener because some of the persons who made that history are alive.
Their presence in these documentaries stimulates understanding, factual accuracy and discussion and interpretation of the relevant events.
We obtain these invaluable perspectives, not only from the participation in the documentaries of persons who were part of making the history, but also because, at the conclusion of each of the two films, the planners of the film festival organised an immediate discussion and question and answer session.
These two films join the work of directors Alex deVerteuil and Elizabeth Topp (sister of Minister Stephen Cadiz) in making 70:Rembering A Revolution, a vital, visual record of the events of 1970 in Trinidad and Tobago.
I regularly raise in these columns the issue of what value we put on that brilliant part of our culture represented by the performing arts and I join those who see as urgent the need for a funding policy for the arts. The documentaries to which I have referred raise the equally important questions. What price do we put on our history and not confining ourselves to having others write it for us? What education materials do we make available for succeeding generations, who have no first hand knowledge of seminal events that have shaped or have the capacity to shape us or make us think again about how we are doing things?
Worldwide, life in the arts is a ketch arse business and some enlightened policymakers seek to support (not to spoon-feed or bribe) artistic endeavour with public funds dispensed according to published criteria. Corporate and individual donors, who recognise the role of the arts in building a civilisation, join in such support.
One must bear in mind that in small economies makers of art are all competing for disbursements from the same sources of sponsorship funds. That is why direction of some of the riches of an energy-based economy, such as ours, into the arts is a rare opportunity for progressive governance and economic diversification.
Meanwhile fundamentally important artistic endeavour struggles to stay alive. Ida Does and her team raised funds through social media solicitation. The words of their pitch for post-production funds to bring what they filmed in St Lucia to fruition crystallises what all our makers of art in its several forms go through.
“We have already gotten this far with the help of generous donations from individuals, grants and awards. But also: major extensions on our personal credit cards!
“Funding independent films has been described as an uphill climb…it sure is! Still we are committed to this way of working, looking for our own voice, signature and untold stories... With all the footage in our hands, it’s post-production time, meaning weeks and weeks in the editing room but still be able to pay all our incoming bills and hire more experts to assist us. If we go beyond our fundraising goal, the additional funds will be used to purchase time at theatres and submit to Film Festivals.”
Dalton Narine can also testify to the personal deprivations suffered in order to give us his documentary on Peter Minshall’s work Masman.
Dedicated filmmaker and Gayelle TV pioneer Christopher Laird has no doubt made the same uphill climb.
When these documentaries are made, they save for the enlightenment of future generations the activity and philosophy of the central figures, such as Walcott, Daaga and Minshall, and the incompletely documented work of Beryl McBurnie, Clive Bradley, Pat Bishop, the guardians of Ramleela, Carlisle Chang and so many others in the outstanding fields of indigenous activity.
They also record, to take two or three examples, the role of the support teams, the Chow Lin Ons in Minshall mas, the brutal sacrifices of Jacqueline Creft and Ann Peters in Grenada.
In speaking tenderly of his mother, Walcott refers to the “blessed lucidities” which would break through the clouds of her aging process. With much respect I borrow the phrase to give thanks.
While the greedy politicians are incoherently squandering what we have and the drug trade is mashing up the place, we are truly blessed to have the lucidities of our artistic output.