Unlike most Caribbean islands, Pina Colada and beach bars don’t really cut it in Trinidad & Tobago, the discovery of oil in the 1970s meant that the island – almost uniquely in the Caribbean – doesn’t have a significant tourism industry, consequently the island has an authenticity often absent from it’s tourism-orientated neighbours. It’s raucus vibrant and lively capital, Port of Spain is a party-animal city, with bars and nightclubs open till the last drinker staggers out of the Puncheon Rum bars into the dark blue Carribbean night.
Famous for it’s incredibly colourful and stunningly imaginative Carnival, when the communities that make up Port of Spain compete for the best bands and costumes in a night of revelry and music that lasts long into the February nights.
The US Army established a military and naval base in Trinidad and Tobago during the Second World War and it was as a result of the US presence, that the island became a popular location for many American film productions throughout the 1950s.
From films like ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ to ‘Fire Down Below’ many big budget Hollywood movies chose to shoot in aTrinidad’s relatively unspoiled natural environment which doubled for Pacific islands in many 1950s war movies, notably, Robert Mitchum & Deborah Kerr who featured in John Huston’s ‘Heaven Knows, Mr Allison’.
Since the Americans departed, Trinidad & Tobago’s film industry has been more reliant on home-grown products and over the years has produced a number of notable films.
The cultural diversity of the islands (and the Caribbean generally) are well reflected in the indigenous Trinidadian films which feature black, Indian and European film-makers, cast and influences.
One of the classics of Caribbean cinema ‘Bim’ directed by Hugh Robertson, depicting a young Indian boy’s descent into a life of crime, was also shot in Trinidad as well as the 2006 haunting surrealist fantasy ‘SistaGod’ directed by Robert Yao Ramesar in which a young women comes to believe she is the new Messiah.
During the 2014 Edinburgh Short Film Festival, we were able to feature the work of Trinidadian director Karen Martinez, whose short film ‘After Mas’ tells the story of a mis-matched couple who fall in love during the hectic, free-for-all that is the islands Canival celebrations.
The opening scene of After Mas is set during the pre-dawn festival of J’ouvert that marks the official start of Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago. Thousands of revellers dance on the streets covered in mud and paint, disguised as devils and other traditional characters. This is the wild and dirty part of carnival that has an edgy, electric charge. It is a world away from the glittery ‘pretty’ carnival images that people might be used to seeing. The film was shot during the actual festival, documentary-style, and it captured the raw spontaneous energy of the night. Indeed, the film could act as a metaphor for Trinidad itself with it’s vibrant mixed community and it’s playing with roles and identities. The film premiered at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival before coming to Edinburgh last year.
The Trinidad and Tobago film festival is the key film event in the islands and runs for the second half of September every year. The first film festival took place in 2006, and was supported by the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company, a state enterprise and 2015 is it’s tenth year.
Our partnership with the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival over a year in the planning, is finally about to bear fruit when the first two nights of Edinburgh Shorts are screened in Port of Spain. The screenings fall on Wednesday September 23rd and Monday September 28th during the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival 2015.
Our programme for Port of Spain is eclectic and attention-grabbing which is a fair reflection of last year’s ESFF programme as a whole and so we have included ‘Coda’ by Alan Holly, the Oscar-nominated animated short that won our 2014 prize for Most Creative Short Film, ‘One Man’s Loss’ by Philip Sansom – winner of best cinematography at the San Jose Film Festival, the outstanding Australian animated short ‘Butterflies’ directed by Isobel Peppard was also Academy Award qualifying. Set in a steam-punk claymation universe, the dark and touching short follows a young factory girl who dreams of being an artist.
We’re also screening the award-winning short doc ‘Walk Tall’ which tells the astonishing story of 91 year old gymnast and former Olympian, George Weedon and was directed by Kate Sullivan, ‘Enitity’ directed by Andrew Desmond is a stunningly-rendered French sci-fi that follows an abandoned spacewoman, Joscha Thelosen’s Terry Pratchett-esque 2D animated short ‘The Hour Glass’ is both funny and moving and follows the life of the Grim Reaper who encounters an unexpected visitor.
As you’d expect we’ve combined these outstanding UK and international shorts with a clutch of short films from some award-winning and talented Scottish film-makers, including Bryan M Ferguson, the US Based Scottish film-maker, whose short film ‘ The Misbehaviour of Polly Paper Cut’ was a favourite at last year’s festival, ‘Love Cake’ directed by Eleanor Yule, is a period romance, shot in Edinburgh’s New Town and with a vivacious and colourful opening sequence, ‘Getting On’ by Ewan Stewart which won Best Scottish Short at the Glasgow Film Festival is another wry and ironic comedy that features a great central performance.
In addition, we are also screening ‘Clutching at Straws’ directed by Louise Scollay, a haunting documentary that explores the ancient Shetlandic tradition of creating elaborate straw guisers with some arresting archive imagery, as well as the story of ‘Henry & The Puffins’ by Liz Musser, which follows young Henry and his close relationship with the puffins on the remote Scottish island of Fair Isle..
We can’t wait to screen these films for Trinidadian audiences and we’re also looking forward to the second part of the project, when we host a visit from the TTFF and their selection of some of the best of contemporary Caribbean shorts..more of that to come!
The Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival runs from 15-29 September 2015.