Making their mark In The Film Industry
As part of Side by Side, its programme of events in commemoration of 50 years as an independent nation, the trinidad+tobago film festival, supported by the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Independence, is hosting an exhibition which looks at T&T in film from 1927 to 1999. The exhibition includes a tribute to local pioneers of film both at home and aboard. This article sets out the achievements of some of these pioneers.
During the first half of the 20th century, several local actors and musicians appeared in major feature films and network television programmes in the United States and England. Roles were scarce not because of their lack of talent but because of their race, as there were very few significant roles for non-white actors at the time.
Determined to make their mark as well as improve the conditions for black workers in the film industry, these individuals were all multi-talented people: professionals, playwrights, social and political activists and musicians, as well as film actors.
"Sir" Lancelot Pinard
Lancelot Pinard brought calypso to the movies. He was one of the first persons from Trinidad to have a significant career as an actor and performer in Hollywood.
Pinard worked as a pharmacist in Port of Spain before going to New York. There he joined Gerald Clark's Trinidad Serenaders, recorded two numbers on the Varsity record label and added the "Sir" to his name.
He first appeared on film as a backup singer in Two Yanks in Trinidad (1942). Despite the fact that he had never been trained or planned to be either a calypso singer or an actor, he would appear on screen in a dozen films and did voice-over and soundtrack work on a few more.
After Happy Go Lucky (1942), Pinard played a calypso singer in I Walked With a Zombie (1943), singing the classic, "Shame and Scandal in the Family". The Ghost Ship (1943) and Curse of the Cat People (1944) followed.
He then made his most well-known appearance, in the celebrated To Have and Have Not (1944), with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
In 1945 Pinard toured the Caribbean and visited Trinidad. His next film was Linda Be Good (1947). He appeared as himself and sang "Old Woman with a Rolling Pin" and "Young Girls of Today". In Brute Force (1947), he appears throughout the film, moving the story along with his songs.
After Romance on the High Seas (1948), Doris Day's first feature film, he moved to Europe for several years. He returned to the screen in The Unknown Terror (1957), singing a calypso warning lost explorers of danger. His last film role was a small non-singing part in The Buccaneer (1958).
actor, director, producer, distributor
Edric Connor started singing professionally in 1936, and the following year took part in one of the first films made in Trinidad, Callaloo (1937). He left Trinidad in 1944 for England, and soon appeared on the BBC radio programme Calling the West Indies.
Connor then began appearing in television. He made over 300 appearances and assisted other Caribbean artistes newly arrived in England with television appearances. In the 1960s he appeared in the popular television series The Avengers and Danger Man.
The silver screen also beckoned. His debut was in Cry, the Beloved Country (1952), with Sidney Poitier. The experience of filming in apartheid South Africa made a great impression on him and he returned to Africa several times afterward to work on features filmed on location there.
He next appeared in Moby-Dick (1956), and Fire Down Below (1957), filmed on location in T&T. Other films Connor starred in were Seven Thunders (1957), The Vikings (1958), Virgin Island (1960), King of Kings (1961) and Four for Texas (1963). His final two film performances were in 1968: Only When I Larf and Nobody Runs Forever.
Connor studied film and undertook professional training at the BBC. He formed Edric Connor Films and then completed two shorts: Caribbean Honeymoon (1960) and Carnival Fantastique (1960), making him the first black filmmaker in Britain. Honeymoon showcased the beauty of the Caribbean while Fantastique, filmed during the 1959 Carnival in Trinidad, played a significant role in introducing the carnival arts to the UK.
musician and actor
Born in Port of Spain in 1920, Hazel Scott was considered a child prodigy on the piano. After her family moved to New York, she performed her first solo concert at the age of six.
She performed as herself in several films, and was famous for her contract for The Heat's On (1943) which stipulated that she was not to play any demeaning roles. Her other films were Something to Shout About (1943), I Dood It (1943), Broadway Rhythm (1944), Rhapsody in Blue (1945) and The Night Affair (1958).
In 1950, she became the first black woman to have her own TV show, and fought for the recognition of other black actors. In 1973 she secured a recurring role on the ABC daytime soap opera One Life To Live.
Errol John was an artist and a talented track and field athlete. For a short time he worked as a lawyer's clerk; however, he soon followed his dream to act, joining the Whitehall Players theatre group.
After World War II, he travelled to England and found work in the theatre. He made numerous small appearances in television and film. In 1955, he landed the star role in the BBC's A Man from the Sun (1956), which was followed by larger roles in No Hiding Place (1961) and Rainbow City (1967).
Today, John is equally known for his success as a writer. His seminal play, Moon on A Rainbow Shawl, won the Observer Play of the Year award in 1957 and was recently staged at the National Theatre in London. John developed a full-length screenplay of Moon, but it was never produced. The BBC produced and broadcast two of his plays: The Dawn (1963) and The Exiles (1968).
He also worked in Hollywood, but despite featuring in films with Audrey Hepburn (The Nun's Story, 1959), Frank Sinatra and Harry Belafonte (Assault on a Queen, 1966) and Sidney Poitier's Buck and the Preacher (1971), he was confined to small parts there and didn't stay on.
John died on 10 July, 1988 in Camden, North London and was posthumously awarded the Chaconia Medal (Silver) that year.
Side by Side: The Exhibition takes place from 16 August to 02 October at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA), Port of Spain from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Admission is free. Visit www.ttfilmfestival.com/side-by-side/ for more information.
The trinidad+tobago film festival is held annually in September and is presented by Flow, given leading sponsorship by RBC Royal Bank and bpTT, and supported by the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, the National Gas Company, the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism and Copa Airlines.