The Tenth T&T Film Festival (TTFF) opens at Queen’s Hall on Tuesday night with Sweet Micky for President, an exceptional documentary, produced by Pras Michel, the former Fugees rapper, about Haiti’s biggest domestic pop star being elected president ahead of, amongst others, former president Rene Preval and former Fugee, Wyclef Jean. Pras and the film’s director, Ben Patterson, will introduce the film in person and the ticket cost includes pre-screening cocktails and admission to the after-party.
With nearly 150 films and only 14 days, even the most obsessive filmgoer will miss more good films than she sees, but there are several everyone should try to see. (Not all films were available for preview but Amy, the heartbreaking story of Amy Winehouse, in her own words, screening at 8.15 pm at the Studio Film Club this Thursday, can be heartily recommended sight unseen.)
All four films vying for the National Gas Co’s Best Caribbean Fiction Feature Film are excellent. Murder in Pacot, by Haiti’s best-known living director, Raoul Peck, is a probing work of fiction set after the 2010 earthquake. Project of the Century, directed by Carolos Machado Quintela, is a splendid work of fiction built on the squalid foundation of dramatic archival footage of the never-completed nuclear reactor in Cuba.
Sand Dollars, starring Charlie Chaplain’s daughter, Geraldine, captures the uneasy relationship between Third World territories and First World visitors who love them. Venice, a story of three working women trying to work out life in modern Cuba, by Enrique “Kiki” Alvarez, who made last year’s outstanding Giraffes, might be the best fiction film of them all.
The stiffest challenge to these four might come from two films in another contest, that of bpTT’s Best Youth Film (to be awarded by a youth jury mentored by one BC Pires). Margarita, With a Straw is an Indian film addressing universal concerns with integrity, love and humour (and featuring the festival’s best female lead performance, from Kalki Koechlin). The 6.30 pm screening at MovieTowne on September 25, features a Q&A with director Shonali Bose.
Kenyan Jim Chuchu’s Stories of Our Lives dramatises true first person accounts of LGBT folk in a country where to be gay is a crime—and the film was banned. Shot in black-and-white, it would dazzle in colour.
Two other outstanding films, Project of the Century and Güeros, are also B&W—and are both also far more innovative than anything shot with green screen and CGI in Hollywood. Güeros, particularly, excites. Directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios and shot almost entirely in Mexico City, it stretches the medium of film with witty dialogue, even in subtitle translation, and clever, near-fourth-wall-breaking scenes. Hugely polished and just as stylish, it features a contender for best youth actor from the titular blonde (güero) in the film, Sebastian Aguirre.
The best youth performance, though, belongs to Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, in Theeb, a tale of a young Bedouin boy on a camel road trip into disaster during WWI, in which he comes of age in the manner so many of his descendants do nowadays—and the consequences of which are illustrated plainly and harshly in another outstanding film, Timbuktu, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, from Mauritania. The great question of our time—do we rely on reason or religion, on God or man?—is answered with a grace and pathos that would be instant haram to the jihadist.
Though not in competition, Dreadlocks Story may be the best documentary in this year’s festival. It tells the comprehensive and genuinely fascinating story about the close, indeed, intimate connection of Rastafarianism to Hinduism and Jamaicans of East Indian descent. Anyone who claims to have learned nothing from watching the film is either the director, Linda Ainouche, or a liar. The screening at MovieTowne at 1.30 pm this Thursday will include a director Q&A.
Strong films in competition for the NGC Best Caribbean Feature Documentary include Casa Blanca, a slow-but-gripping tale of the isolation of a middle-aged autistic man and his ailing mother in Cuba; Citizens of Nowhere, which details the Dominican Republic’s attitude towards its natives born to Haitian parents; and Vanishing Sail, which may be the best film with yachts in it ever shot in the Caribbean. All may bow, though, to My Father’s Land, the latest film by TTFF star and Trinidad resident, Miquel “Songs of Redemption” Galofré (whose Art Connect, won the T&T documentary prize last year) and Tyler Johnston.
Since you would expect a T&T fiction feature to connect itself to Trinidad, it is difficult to say which film in competition deserves the award the least. Bazodee, which might be described as a soca-rom-com, features one Machel Montano in the male lead in a cast dominated by Bollywood stars; the film’s connection to Trinidad seems to be Jenny Sharma’s house, a Carnival big truck and something every Trini knows is a cuatro that Machel’s character insists is a ukulele.
Pendulum is a film about American GIs suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after the war in Iraq—in Port-of-firetrucking-Spain! (Pendulum, to be fair, is a student film made on a budget that aspired to shoestring; had it even tried to be Trini, it would have deserved substantial praise.)
Trafficked, set in a supposedly Spanish-speaking country, actually bends over backwards to deny and disguise its connection to Trinidad. Sally’s Way, by director Joanne Gail Johnson, is easily the least bad. Certainly it is set in and deals with Trinidadian issues successfully, with a lot of that success due to Sean Edghill’s cinematography, Roger Israel’s score and Roland “Remy” Yearwood’s strong supporting role.
It says a lot about our movie industry that the prime movers of the strongest feature Trinidad film at this year’s festival are all dead. Bim writer Raoul Pantin, shuffled off this mortal celluloid this year, long after director Hugh Robertson and composer Andre Tanker. Bim screens on September 24, at the Hyatt Regency, which will also screen Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come (8 pm September 20), Euzhan Palcy’s great Martinique movie, Sugar Cane Alley aka Black Shack Alley (8 pm this Wednesday) and the first Surinamese feature, and definitive Africans vs Indians Caribbean film, One People aka Wan Pipel (8 pm September 23).
The strongest local film of any length—with apologies to Christopher Guinness’ fine abstract short, Fade to Black, and Elenie Chung’s ambitious Goldfish, both in competition with it for the bpTT Short T&T Film prize—may be Christopher Laird’s 32-minute documentary, which takes its name from the first Carnival band Peter Minshall designed, Stephen Lee Hueng’s 1976 presentation, Paradise Lost. Comprised entirely of recently rediscovered (and, thankfully, remastered) video footage of the Carnival band and modern video of the Minsh, playing himself large, this is half-an-hour of wonderful art, eloquently explicated. There was no preview link to last year’s People’s Choice feature winner, Damian Marcano’s short, Giants, but it may well be already dwarfed.
Other films to look out for include Re:percussions: An African Odyssey, directed by last year’s opening film writer, Kim Johnson, The Chinese Mayor, The Miracle Worker, Sugarcane Shadows, Papa Machete, Sixteen and Party Girl.
Tickets for Tuesday’s opening night screening of Sweet Micky for President cost $200 at the festival office, 199 Belmont Circular Road, opposite Belmont Secondary School.
Call 621-0709 or visit ttfilmfestival.com