Trini filmmaker, Michael Mooledhar’s first feature stays safe by transitioning storylines from a beloved literary classic “Green Days by the River” by Trini novelist Michael Anthony, who was available for consultation (though the actual adaptation/screenplay was written by Dawn Cumberbatch) and also makes a cameo appearance in the movie. Thousands of school children over the years would have had to study-read the book, and they are quite likely the ones who voted for the movie which won the Audience Choice Award at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2017, indeed a most valuable accolade.
Mooledhar’s film is a lush promenade down the leafy lanes of memory, crossing over from cocoa to copra estates, from bush to beach and back, in the pre-independence British colony of Trinidad in the early 1950s, where Africans and Indians are swizzling-up in the callaloo of creolization that was the daily life of small villages in rural districts.
The film has a pastoral pace, langourous and unhurried, the camera luxuriating in the splendour of the undergrowth. The soundtrack reflects and amplifies the characters and action, with leitmotifs of French patois, vintage Kaisos, Orisha chants and dhantalesque Hindi overlays.
The through-line of the tale is your basic coming-of-age dilemmas of life choices for our star-boy, Shell. Looking for an office job in “tong” or being a labourer on the cocoa estate. He elects for the latter, at first, and the scenes of harvesting are some of the most visually memorable and elegiac, celebrating the time when cocoa was king, and a crocus-bag of polished beans could be used as pound-sterling currency in Boards of Trade.
If Story is at a stand-off, somebody has to die, in order to raise the stakes and prod the Hero into decisive action. Shell’s ailing father is the one to cross over to the other side. The scene where his mother lights a candle and his father prays fervently, giving thanks for his life, his wife, and his only begotten son, in a montage that goes from sick-bed to stretcher to gravesite, is the most poignant in the film. Played by Che Rodriguez with grace and dignity, his presence bringing back to mind his screen debut as a child star in the decades-ago, made-in-Trinidad movie “Bim”. Starring Ralph Maraj, with a script by Raoul Pantin and an original score by Andre Tanker, this was our first real intimation of the tremendous potential for a film industry in T&T.
While the production and distribution infrastructure is sorting itself out, the making of movies is still very much an entrepreneurial venture, now beginning to attract government and corporate support.
“Green Days by the River” had its North American premiere in downtown Toronto at the July 5 Media Launch of CaribbeanTales International Film Festival 2018 (now in its thirteenth year!) with the Director present for a Talk-Back. Mooledhar was also a previous participant in CaribbeanTales Incubator for emerging filmmakers. His diligence and commitment to his craft make him one to watch.
The T&T Ministries of Culture, Trade, Tourism and Finance would be well advised to prioritize the making of feature films from existing works of literature. A short list of Trini authors could include, but not be confined to……Samuel Selvon, Valerie Belgrave, V.S. Naipaul. Shani Mootoo, Earl Lovelace, Nalo Hopkinson, Elizabeth Nunez, Lawrence Scott.
CaribbeanTales International Film Festival now receives submissions from the Diaspora of the Caribbean Basin and the Americas, an embarrassment of riches in an eclectic tapestry of stories.
As an artist in self-imposed exile in the metropole, my Trini-to-de-bone-marrow is thrilled to madness by Kairi stories that I had no previous knowledge of until seeing them, up and shining, on the larger-than-life movie screen. Tracy Assing’s Arima-scape “The Amerindians” and Christopher Laird’s Kalinda epic “No Bois-Man, No Fraid” brought to me worlds that I never knew existed, even when I was still living in Trinidad. “Bazodee” was a delightful dream come true.
CaribbeanTales Film Festival is now the cultural high point of my year in Toronto… That space used to be occupied by the (Trini-centric) Caribana. That is no longer so, but that is annex mout-open-tory-jump-out-tory for annex time.