Last night, there were dramatic scenes at D’urban Park, where Guyana’s official Golden Jubilee celebrations are set to take place in just a few weeks. But this time it wasn’t the rushed preparations, dodgy wooden seating or bendy flag pole in the spotlight. All eyes were fixed on the two projector screens set up by CineGuyana to showcase a series of locally produced and shot short films.
The eight films in the CineGuyana’ set – Luck Beat Handsome, The Bottle, Beached, The Encounter, Three Cards, Backyard, Hope and Tradition – are not new. They were, according to Stabroek News, produced in 2011 under the President’s Film Endowment Project, established by the previous president Bharrat Jagdeo. [NB: I arrived late so can’t confirm all were screened last night, but I know the programme also included the short To The Night.]
The films have travelled overseas too – to Guyana’s diaspora communities in New York, Washington and the UK. Tradition and Hope have also been shown at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival in Barbados, while Backyard and Three Cards were selected for the AFRIFF International Film Festival in 2011.
But CineGuyana’s ambitious project to take the films to eight of Guyana’s ten regions, and screen them for free, is admirable. At d’Urban park, a crowd of about 40 gathered under the white tent, but there were at least the same again scattered around the tent – watching from their cars, the roadside, or perched on the edge of the fountain surrounding Cuffy’s statue.
The audience seemed to enjoy the show. When the geeky star of Backyard made another pratfall in front of the beautiful popstar living next door, they laughed at his foolishness. When the wayward teenage daughter of To The Night shouted ‘whore!’ at her prostitute mother there were grumblings of disapproval. When The Encounter showed a man writhing around in the bath, apparently while being screwed by a ghost of a dead woman haunting his hotel room, the temperature (and laughter) rose up few notches.
The stories, I was glad to see, were undeniably Guyanese. The cinemas at Giftland Mall and Ramada Georgetown Princess Hotel churn out Hollywood blockbusters and the odd Indian movie. So the difference was refreshing. The Bottle and The Encounter reminded me of the kind of films you find in Nollywood, though instead of witchcraft we had the Guyanese folkloric spirit, the ‘bacoo’, in the form of an evil, wish-granting genie; and the aforementioned lascivious ghost looking for revenge and a passage out of limbo (plus a bit of action).
Backyard was classic nerdy-boy-gets-the-girl territory, but the physical comedy of the main character, whose expressive eyes bulged behind his glasses, brought a freshness to a familiar theme. Some people in the audience laughed scornfully at the desperate antics of the father in Three Cards, gambling away his last GUY$300 to pay for medicine, but as he clutched his weak daughter to his chest you really felt for him – and the Guyanese people who right now are in the same situation, hoping for a miracle to see them through.
To The Night was my favourite, with its sensitive portrayal of a prostitute doing her best for her family and battling against useless fathers, condescending clients and teenage rebellion – torn between socially respectable but back-breaking housework for a critical mistress that paid a pittance, and lucrative sex work that paid the bills but potentially was going to push her daughter into the same life. The arguments between mother and daughter felt authentic, the dilemma real, the tone not too heavy, the frustration palpable, and the ending believable.
What more delights does the Guyanese cinema ouvre hold? What productions have sprung up since 2011? I’d like to find out.
I got a small glimpse of the dynamism and DIY efforts out there among the youth yesterday, before the CineGuyana screening, when a teenage girl introduced me to the Berbice comedy trio CoolBoyz she had just been watching on YouTube through fits of laughter.
Any more recommendations? And if anyone knows where I can see the CineGuyana films I missed (particularly ‘Tradition’), please let me know.
Also, I saw a post on Facebook about a Guyanese make-up artist competing to win a place at a professional make-up school in Hollywood. I thought his dedication and artistry was pretty inspiring, so worth checking out (and voting). If only to see how on earth he created this crazy Medusa lizard-woman. Freaky.