Trinidad & Tobago Review, July 2012 Edition

Page 22


Long Distance Pelau

Page 22

T&T Review July 2012

By David Cave

IF HOME-SICKNESS could be stewed to perfection, it might look something like A Bess Pelau, a short film produced by the young British-Trini team of Robert and Lesley-Anne Macfarlane. Served up before a preview audience recently, A Bess Pelau is expected to be released at the 2012 Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival scheduled to run from September 25-28. UK-native Robert Macfarlane, and his Trinidadian wife, Lesley Anne conjured up the script for the eight-minute film about the culinary misadventures of a stereotypical young Trinidadian, Sean, (played by Joseph Browne) who is far away from home. It soon becomes obvious that Sean is grieving for the homecooking and coddling that he had so taken for granted. Lesley-Anne, who had her hands full as collaborator in the script-writing, conceptualisating and post production processes, said she and her husband wanted “to make a film that most West Indians who have lived away can relate to and which addresses key issues such as studying abroad, missing home and homecooked food”. Indeed, Sean, the sole visible actor, makes this very clear in the first few minutes of A Bess Pelau. At first, Cathy he tries to reassure Peterson-Francis his mother, voiced over by Lesley Anne's real mother, Cathy Peterson-Francis via Skype, that his only complaint is the cold weather and getting to the many fast food outlets where he lives. We soon come to understand, however, that Sean is really just desperate for the reassurance of his mother's voice, even if she is emphasising the harsh, pragmatic reality of her son's situation. Fade to black. One week passes and Sean finds a copy of the Naparima Girls’ Cookbook, the unofficial Bible of T&T cuisine, packed neatly in his suitcase by his apparently omniscient mother. He quickly thumbs through it and finds the recipe that will become the Bess Pelau. Cathy Peterson-Francis says the real Pelau ordeal actually involved her daughter Lesley Anne who had her on the phone for several long distance phone calls over a number of weeks. Cathy's laughter and steupses over the running conversation are what convinced Robert that she was right for voicing the role of Sean's mother. Looking back on that time, Cathy advises with a smile: “I hope that when you have your children, you'll make sure that they know how to cook before they leave home”. The film’s climax is an example of masterful scripting. The conclusion is clear for the audience to see, but the subjectivity of Sean’s success persists even beyond the rolling of the credits: “We thought that it would be too boring and too cheesy just to have Sean come out in the end with a perfect Pelau dish”, explained Lesley Anne. A Bess Pelau would mark the Macfarlane’s first foray into the T&T Film Festival. The short film is uncomplicated, light-hearted with straightforward humour. The sequence is very linear, and the story-line is straight and devoid of the heavier diasporic issues that arise, such as displacement. Robert Macfarlane’s direction and cine-

Collective Caribbean Amnesia Statement of George Lamming, Chairman of the Judges, in announcing the winner of the Bocas Literary Festival2012

matography are impressive in engaging the viewer’s attention through contrasts of perspective with staccato transitioning between full-body shots of Sean and close-ups of his mouth, face, abdomen and the fire beneath the pot, all stitched together with seamless video editing. The progress of Sean’s attempts at cooking is marked by the constant opening and closing of doors; which quickly shift from the apartment door, to the cupboard, to the refrigerator, to the pot cover. The movement pulls the viewer into the high-paced exhilaration of Sean's apparent progress, as the neophyte chef seems

to be on his way to becoming an Pelau expert, thereby asserting his Trinidad and Tobago identity in a cold and foreign land. Ultimately, the viewer is left to judge whether Sean succeeds, or if his cooking still needs his mother’s urgent intervention. After the formal screening of A Bess Pelau at the TTFF, the Macfarlanes plan to work on other projects in Trinidad. They have already completed a music video, “De Vibes Cyah Done” for Rapso group, 3 Canal.

WE ARE coming to the end of a very remarkable display of organization; and all the more remarkable when you consider that writers are not best known for disciplined behaviour. This is an achievement for which the BOCAS Literary Team deserves our gratitude and admiration. Writers can creatively draw on the work of other writers, and here the Puerto Rican, Loretta Collins Klobah - in her brilliant collection of poems - The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman, refers us to her Haitian neighbour, EdwidgeDanticat's story 1937. In Danticat's story, she said,?Haitian women needed to remember that baptism of blood their mothers received in the massacre at the river. 1937 was the year 30,000 Haitians were slaughtered by order of Rafael Trujillo who initiated a crusade to expel from the Dominican Republic, all Haitians, including those who were born there of Haitian or Dominican parents. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island whose border is the river that carries the name Massacre. One of the grimmest chapters in Caribbean History is received in absolute silence in the curricula of most Caribbean Schools. It's as though there was a desire to institutionalise this amnesia with a passing nod of apology. They admitted how little?they knew; though living just next door, as islands go. A similar erasure helps to obscure the assassination of Walter Rodney - a superb scholar whose academic authority was always humanised by his personal involvement in the daily struggle of the humblest citizens, a commitment which cost him his life on June 13th, 1980. Today, just 30 odd years later, there is a generation of Guyanese youth who do not know that name. They admitted how little?they knew; though living just next door, as islands go. These lines are a sharp reminder that we are a people who do not know the house they live in. We are familiar with the room we inhabit: the Room Trinidad/Tobago, the Room Jamaica, the Room Barbados or the Large Room Guyana. But we do not know how these rooms relate to each other; nor do we understand how this collectivity of rooms defines the house we call the Caribbean: a region which is now in its deepest crisis of fragmentation. Let us reflect on the generations of intellect and imagination - José Marti, AimeCesaire, C.L.R. James - who have invested, each a lifetime, in this enterprise of our integration and leave here with the conviction that it will not be allowed to fail. I now declare the 2012 Winner of the BOCAS Literary Award: Is Just a Movie by Earl Lovelace.

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