Saturday, 23 July 2011

Interview with Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine, a Trinidadian-born writer and film producer, has won six awards on three continents in 2009-2010, for his direction and production of Mas Man Peter Minshall. The Carnival artist from Trinidad, who, for three decades has been presenting provocative themes about man’s incompleteness as street theatre in the annual festival, drew global attention as an artistic director for the Opening Ceremonies at Olympic Games in Barcelona, Atlanta and Salt Lake City - Emmy Award.

Mas Man picked up Best Documentary prizes in Trinidad and Tobago, and at the New York and South Africa International Film Festivals. The film also garnered Best Cinematography at Chagrin Falls Documentary Festival; Best Director, Short Documentary at the Los Angeles International Film Festival and Honorable Mention Best Documentary, as a work in progress, at the Greater Columbus International Film Festival. The film was nominated for Best Documentary at eight festivals.

Narine has written for the Village Voice, New York; served as a features editor at The Miami Herald; and an editor at Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and Ebony magazine. He received awards for feature writing at Ebony and The Herald. Narine fought in the American war in Vietnam, and benefited from the GI Bill at Hunter College, New York University, Brooklyn College and the University of Miami. He is currently writing a screenplay about the human condition as it pertains to the constant fluctuations of battlefield survival.

1.     Tell us about, ‘Mas Man’.

Mas Man is about Peter Minshall, an existential hero in Trinidad and the largest novel character among carnivals anywhere in the world. For four decades he has had us in his mirror, which he calls mas, not masquerade, because his graphic imagery of society is much bigger than that. It is largely about who we were, what we've become and why we haven't changed. Though some of his carnival presentations are indisputably positive, the seven deadly sins remain his overarching theme. Indeed, he captures society so eloquently; his mobile theatre literally rubs up against upper-crust art.

Midnight Robber

2.     Why did you make this film, and what do you hope to achieve with it?

I made the film partly because when Minshall was an artistic director of the Opening Ceremonies at the Barcelona Olympics, the media described him as “someone from the Caribbean,” and so I set out to inform the world about his storied past. Also, when I heard he was designing his first band, Paradise Lost, my antennae went up. I studied the book in a literature class in high school, and I never thought anyone could depict Milton’s work as mas. I’ve been shadowing his presentations ever since. He’s an astute storyteller.

3.     Is there an underlying message in ‘Mas Man’?

Sure. The incompleteness of man. And we see it being played out in his mobile gallery, which is the streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad. But we are bringing his erudite message to film festivals, theatres, and eventually your living room. And if the work in progress has given a clear indication of the seriousness and breadth and depth of the film, by the awards it picked up so far, our conclusive production, Mas Man - The Complete Work, should endear any audience to its signature personality. It will be premiered September in Toronto.

Fly, Fly Sweet Life

4.     How did you enter the world of filmmaking?

Like any 12 year-old boy growing up Behind the Bridge, a gang-ridden area known for its birthplace of the steel band, I watched a lot of movies with my friends. One day we took in a movie on the way to a soccer practice session, and when it was over the guys left while I stayed back to watch the credits roll. They came back to hustle me out. I told them they should at least honour the people who made the film by staying for the credits. They laughed harder when they heard me say that someday my name would be scrolling like that on a movie screen somewhere. Little did I know I was being prescient then.

5.     What do you find most rewarding in the production process?

Editing the work. It’s like watching your own child being born.

6.     What do you find most challenging, and how do you overcome it?

Structuring the film, because it almost always surprises you when it takes a different course of its own volition. Part of the creative process, I guess. It’s the Muse at work, for sure.

7.     Peter Minshall is one of my favourite artists. When did you first discover his work, and what effect did it have on you?

Hummingbird, a costume he created for his adopted sister for the 1974 Junior Carnival Queen competition, which it won. I thought we had a new genius in mas, after George Bailey died in 1970. And Bailey was the Father of Mas.

8.     With a population of just 1.3 million, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has had a profound effect on world culture. Time and time again, our citizens have proven themselves pioneers, capable of excelling in every artistic field. What makes us so unique?

What makes us unique is the fusion of cultures in a cosmopolitan society, perhaps the most complex in the Western Hemisphere. Trinidad and Tobago is renowned for its competitive Jones, or idiosyncrasy,  if you will. You name it - from kite flying to stick fighting to female boxers.


9.     What have you done to promote and market your films, and what advice would you give to other filmmakers?

I once worked as a public relations manager for a major airline, so that’s been an asset. Also, I was a feature writer and editor for three national publications. But that doesn’t mean the business comes to me. I still need to get the film right by doing as many cuts as it takes. For example, the film has won six awards for Best Documentary, Cinematography and Director - all of them for a film dubbed, until today, a work in progress. I travel with the film wherever it goes and I observe and listen. But conscientiousness is an ego thing. You must be willing to improve your product at any cost. And that’s why we’re only now getting ready to wrap the work two years after it won Best Documentary in Trinidad and Tobago as a rough cut. So stick with it is my advice, until you know it’s fully ripened.

10.  Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal viewer?

The film’s niche is performance art, but anyone can enjoy it and come away feeling they’ve never seen anything like this film before. It carries a universal theme. Schools and education departments show interest, too. There’s so much to learn about art, costuming, and human behaviour, for example.

The Sacred and the Profane

11.  What advice would you give to help others build the confidence required to embark in a career in filmmaking?

Watch a whole mess of films, then enrol in a film school and find your own groove. It’s about the story. Always. And that’s half of it right there. Everyone has stories to tell.

12.  Have you considered producing or directing movies? If so, what are your aspirations, or reservations, regarding this?

I’ve produced and directed 14 documentaries about the cultures of Trinidad and Tobago. I’ll tackle my next film as a screenwriter. That’s where the story begins to develop.

13.  If you were to choose a favourite piece of fantasy art, what would it be?

Dusk at Las Cuevas on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. And you don’t need to be stoned.

14.  What are you doing now?

Structuring a script about my combat experience, which will be told through allusions about the human condition stretched to its infinite conscience.

15.  Describe ‘Mas Man’ in one sentence.

A designer chooses the two dominant characters on earth - good and evil; and dresses them up in costumes year after year so people can watch themselves from a pervert’s eye view (to see who’s winning, even though they know how it always turns out - and there’s the rub). 

16.  Where can we find you and your work?

In Miami, and the Mas Man Official Site.
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