Trini-gerian Filmmaker Makes His Mark
Oyetayo Raymond Ojoade, Trinidadian-Nigerian documentary film director has produced and directed four documentaries. One won an international award at the prestigious Colombia George Film Festival in 2011 for Best International Short Documentary. Tayo, as he is known by friends and colleagues, is nourished by the duality of his mother's island home (Trinidad) and his father's heartland (Nigeria), a duality that has enriched his intercultural experiences and the thematic focus of his films.
Ojoade, born from the cross-cultural union between a Trinidadian mother and a Nigerian father, developed an early interest in art and painting which culminated in a Bachelor of Technology in Industrial Design (graphics) from the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University of Technology, in Bauchi, Nigeria and a Bachelor of Arts in Film from the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, the latter degree which informed his curiosity about 'moving pictures'.
At UWI, Ojoade won the 2008 Best Documentary award for his student film Who Let the Dogs Out? a film close to his heart because it is a love story between home and homeless dogs. Through healthcare and animal welfare organisations, this film explores the stray dog epidemic by journeying with some of the nation's stray animals from the litter to the lethal injection, mirroring in this, the Ghandian philosophy which links the relationship of a country's treatment of its animals to the moral fabric of that nation.
Ojoade, describes his work as constantly seeking to be a voice for the voiceless. He moved from his engagement with animals in 2008 to produce a rousing, Caribbean vampire animated narrative film, Suck Meh Soucouyant, Suck Meh (2009). However, his interest in documentary filmmaking returned with his fascination with cultural disempowerment in 2010. This fascination led him to co-direct Shouters and the 'Control Freak' Empire with Nigerian criminologist Professor Onwubiko Agozino. This short documentary which re-visits the 1917-1951 Prohibition Ordinance examines how Christianity, when infused with African cultural or religious practices, creates discords of power and class and so, he challenges laws that legislate against a belief system, questioning the effects of such laws for both the members of the faith and the general public. Shouters and the 'Control Freak' Empire questions power and social control through exposing the central conflict between Euro-centric and Afro-centric religions. It places these two elements side by side to give voice to the voiceless by exposing the schisms inherent in the unhappy marriage between the secular and the sacred.
Shouters and the 'Control Freak' Empire has enjoyed local, regional and international audiences and has been highlighted on numerous occasions during the Shouter Baptist holiday. First screened at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival in 2010, it went on to win a prize at the 2011 Colombia Gorge International Film Festival (USA). Later that same year it was screened both at the Portobello Film Festival (London) and the Montreal International Black Film Festival (Canada). This year, 2012, it has been selected by the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company for the Caribbean Film Showcase to take place at Havana, Cuba in August.
Shouters and the 'Control Freak' Empire remains Ojoade's most widely screened film. He attributes this success to his own Trini-gerian heritage, a fact which deeply informed his passion for this piece. Nigerian by birth, Ojoade's interest piqued in Trinidad when he noted how Afro-Christian spirituality sometimes becomes rooted with African cultural practices and the "Shouter" faith attracts his interest precisely because of this. Upon discovering how the Shouter faith was once ostracised when Prohibition laws were implemented, Ojoade's cultural conscience was piqued and he conceived a film which addresses these issues.
Ojoade's latest film The Madonna Murti (2011), a full feature documentary produced and directed co-jointly with Sharon Syriac recipient of a Scriptwriting Award from the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, centres upon the black female statue housed at Siparia Roman Catholic Church venerated by Catholics as the Virgin Mary and worshipped by Hindus as a black Hindu Goddess. To Catholics who follow her in street processions, the statue is known as "La Divina Pastora", the Divine Shepherdess — to Hindus who 'charwe' her by touching her hands and feet, she is hailed as "Sipari Mai" (Mother of Siparia), "Siparee Ke Mai", or "Mother Kali", "Mother Durga", "Mother Lakshmi" and even as "Mother Mary".
Mystery shrouds the origin of this statue and about her, legends and myths abound. Barely three feet tall when fully clothed, the statue draws pilgrims of every creed and race. The social, cultural and religious rites which accompany her devotions and continue to intrigue the world, fascinate Ojoade. Compelled to make the film about this miracle-making statue not only because of his own religious conviction but as a celebration of his multi-ethnic identity and the cultural diversity of Trinbagonians of which he is so proud, Ojoade was driven to artistically tell the story of this black statue. He does so by featuring candid interviews with poojaris, pilgrims, pundits and priests as well as academic experts who have tried to understand her, artists who have tried to capture her illusive image and writers who have tried to tell her story. The Madonna Murti utilises narrative, drama, illustrations and song to tell the tale of a statue who offers health, hope, help and happiness to those who come to her, most in need of it.
Ojoade, who currently works in the Film Programme at the University of the West Indies, first screened The Madonna Murti at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival in 2011 and at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) through the kind collaboration of the University of Trinidad and Tobago's Academy for Arts, Letters and Public Affairs. Ojoade is a firm believer in the power of film to not only record and preserve culture but also to give a community a sense of identity and a sense of itself, and believes in community screenings. As part of that initiative, The Madonna Murti was screened at the Siparia RC Church on June 21. Proceeds from this screening will be donated to the church.