Crawling out the rat trap


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Category: Profiles Date: 29 Sep 02

While the politicians were ranting in all corners of Trinidad – creating fear in the minds of brain washed people – a small band of people, artists, songwriters, journalists, writers and musicians, were paying tribute to Horace Ove, “a master Caribbean Filmmaker.”


Speaking to the jam-packed room at 17 Rust Street, St Clair, at the launch of the Kiskadee Ringbellion Caribbean Film Club, gesticulating towards Ove, a young man reminded us of our first flowering as a country led by writers, filmmakers, artists, intellectuals – Sam Selvon, VS Naipaul, CLR James; people who mirrored our sapling country in the New World and allowed us to say with certainty, “This is where we came from, this is what we left behind, these are the people we met here with whom we share past, present and future, this is how we shaped one another and finally, this is who we are now.”


Ove as a Trinidadian, captures the continents of his country’s many veined origins – Europe, Africa, India – with his films. He uses his heritage to stretch himself endlessly, taking his rightful place as a citizen of the world. Because our Indian, African, European, Asian, Middle Eastern and Chinese threads are interwoven, we can collectively say: “Yes we came from all over to become what we are.”


This Belmont-born filmmaker, who started out as an extra as a slave in the film Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first Caribbean director of a feature film (Pressure), which deals with three generations of West Indians living in England. He has been the recipient of many awards, coping the Best Drama and Best Director award at the Indian Academy Awards in 1996, for the film Equaliser on the 1919 Amritsar massacre in colonial India.


He is a prolific and much-lauded film and documentary maker who is well known in Europe.


The question I put to Ove is, how did this country produce men with the enormous range and depth of our two Nobel Prize winners, and a slew of brilliant, expansive, articulate minds from CLR James to Selvon?


“I grew up in Belmont in the 50s and 60s, where black, brown, white, yellow and blue lived together. In our home we spoke Patois, heard smatterings of different languages. You never saw anything as ‘mix-up’ as the boys playing football in the Savannah.

“We also mixed with the droves of foreigners who passed through our islands – German, French, English, Spanish – and because we were as eager to learn about them, as they about us, got used to expanding our minds, found new ways of understanding ourselves, got curious about the world, saw ourselves in a social and political context.

“We would create a theatre in one another’s homes. I learned to paint in a room at the back of White Hall, in a class conducted by a foreigner and was fascinated when an Englishman produced one of Shakespeare’s plays in the Botanical Gardens.

“A projectionist in the cinema, ‘No–Teeth Harry’ we called him, was in a sense my first real film teacher. We would talk with him during and after films about its storyline, acting, content. I am convinced it was because of No-Teeth Harry I, as the sole West Indian boy in a prestigious London film school that I attended, later was able to hold my own.”


“How and when did we become a tribal people obsessed with race and petty politics, insular and inward looking?” I asked.


Ove answered:

“We used to pride ourselves for being the most mix up country in the world. What these politicians are doing now is criminal. Dividing people like that.. it leads to war. Not only are they setting people against one another, but also they are depriving people of the opportunity to develop their natural talents, which is abundant but which comes to a dead end because it is not nurtured.

“The boy who plays pan is applauded during Carnival and then ignored. No one says this boy is a musician, ‘Let’s give him a scholarship and nurture that’. Everything creative is cut dead, so you get this stagnant, repetitive, race obsessed country.

“No politician grasps the idea that people get their information from television – that square box can be used through locally made documentaries (rather than that American trash that feeds materialism, discontent in our young people) to help us understand the issues that we grapple with in Trinidad – crime, race, the cycle of domestic violence.

“We have no sense of balance – because we have removed a sense of asthetics from our lives – pelting plastic bottles, paper on the streets – replacing our graceful gingerbread Art deco, 30’s and 40’s homes, with ugly commercial places.

“When you remove that, people’s spirit shrinks into the mundane, into narrow places, into fear of the unknown, fear of other places, other people. Instead of recognising that it all belongs to us – that the world in a sense is part of our heritage – we retreat into holes.”


So what are we? I asked Horace Ove, “the master filmmaker.”

“We are rats falling into politicians’ traps: Traps of fear, traps of our own making.”

We can decide not to be rats anymore. It’s a start anyhow.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur