Monday, December 12, 2011

The Story of Eric Williams - how we see it.

Eric Williams was a man of contradictions. From a family that felt disenfranchised because of their class and colour, but who were in many ways privileged compared to the working class in the then British colony of Trinidad and Tobago. He was a man respected for reaching the pinnacle of British education, yet he dedicated his life to ending colonial rule. A lifelong scholar who was often unwilling to admit his mistakes. A politician who used even his disabilities as tools of power. Calling for ethnic unity in Party and country, yet not above using race to win elections. A passionate loving husband to one wife, a cold and bitter wind to another and party to a third, secret marriage. A man driven by hard-work and discipline, who allowed corruption and intrigue to flourish around him. He was seen as a man of the people, and at the same time, he saw himself as intellectually superior to others; a visionary who expected his decisions to be followed without opposition. He sought after mentors, then pushed away even those closest to him. One of the first advocates of West Indian Federation, yet unwilling to drive the union after Jamaica’s withdrawal. Anti-colonial, yet not willing to depart radically from British systems of governance. A Prime Minister who transformed the lives of many in Trinidad & Tobago through education, political mobilisation, and economic development, yet did not go far enough, some say, to undo the ongoing hierarchies of a post-colonial society. A devoted father to his last daughter Erica, he could not, in the end, despite her advice, leave the politics that had come to define his life. He died unexpectedly under disturbing circumstances in office after 25 years of leading Trinidad and Tobago. Still, Eric Williams’ power, personality and politics continue to define the nation.

Inward Hunger: The Story of Eric Williams is a 3-part documentary series on the life of Dr. Eric Eustace Williams, the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. This groundbreaking documentary was produced in recognition of the 100th Anniversary of Williams’ birth on September 25th, 2011. It consists of three episodes, each running for approx. 1 hour. Episode 1, Great Expectations, follows Williams from his birth in the British West Indies in 1911 to his dramatic entry into politics in 1955 as he “Let down his bucket” in Woodford Square, Trinidad. Episode 2, Movement of the People, begins with the emergence of Williams and the PNM as a political force, and the roller-coaster of events that formed part of the West Indies’s struggle for independence, which came to a head for Trinidad and Tobago in 1962. Episode 3, Power, covers Williams’ public and private life as the leader of a young nation full of expectations, divisions and upheavals, leading up to the dramatic circumstances surrounding his death.

The series explores both the political and personal life of Eric Williams, in order to understand the multiple sides of his complex and enigmatic character. It is the first documentary series to delve into the character and life of Williams in such depth and from a variety of perspectives. The documentary goes beyond “Williams as Prime Minister” to examine the diverse facets of Williams’ personality, ideas and behaviour as eldest son in a large family, student, historian, writer and educator, husband and father, friend, professor, international civil servant, and Party leader. This portrait of Williams reveals the aspects of his family and school life that shaped his personality and perspectives from childhood; his understanding of colonial society and his uneasy place in it, having won access to an elite colonial education, yet facing financial hardship throughout his youth, and a pervasive sense of discrimination; his charisma and public persona as a father-figure, a saviour, a domineering and eventually distant leader; his privacy and intensity in close/intimate relationships; his mentors and the sometimes traumatic breaks with them; his career as an educator in the classroom and in the public sphere; his fight with the Caribbean Commission and entry into politics; his dominating leadership style and charismatic, yet changeable political personality; his vision for an independent society – his reforms and social transformation, hesitancy to change the status quo, the deep loyalty and strong opposition he engendered from within the Party he created and the wider society.

Williams is a highly controversial figure in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean - revered in some quarters, vilified in others. This series attempts an honest exploration of both his strengths and weaknesses, his successes and failures, his private and public lives. The documentary draws on a wealth of written and audio-visual material on and by Dr. Eric Williams, including rarely seen archival footage of Trinidad and Tobago in the 1950s and 60s. In addition, the series draws on extensive research on Williams published by scholars such as Prof. Colin Palmer, Prof. Selwyn Ryan and Prof. Ken Boodhoo. The narration is carried by the powerful voice of Nigel Scott, while Williams’ voice and the voices of other characters in the series are brought to life by renowned actor Albert Laveau and emerging talent Catherine Emmanuel. Calypsos craft a musical storyline, offering an everyday man’s commentary on Williams at each step of his journey in public office. And Francesco Emmanuel’s original score weaves through the series, connecting music, voice and image.

Diverse perspectives on Williams come through original interviews with journalists, writers, historians, revolutionaries, family members and former politicians and associates of Williams. This pioneering documentary series reveals Eric Williams in unprecedented breadth and depth, in the context of the history, society, region and world that shaped him, the forces to which he at times succumbed, and those he fought to change.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Challenges of Distributing Caribbean Content

In 2010, a new company was launched with the purpose of taking Caribbean audio visual content to the world.  The company, Caribbean Tales Worldwide Distribution was a hugely ambitious initiative that received some seed funding from the business sector in Barbados, and was headed by filmmaker, Frances-Anne Solomon.  I was at the launch in Toronto, along with a number of Caribbean filmmakers who were in the city attending an incubator session on pitching projects, organised by Caribbean Tales.  It all seemed very exciting.  But it was just the beginning of a road which I assumed, from my own experience, would be very hard to travel.

Although in recent years, there's been more and more film and television content being generated in the Caribbean, it's been incredibly hard to find an audience, either on a national scale or regionally, far less internationally.  This is so for many reasons.  Although I have been lucky with some of my own productions, regional broadcasters are circumspect and sometimes hostile to the notion of broadcasting films and television shows and series made locally.  Oftentimes they are convinced, by whom I don't know, and based on what, I've no idea, that local audiences don't want to see local shows.  Along with others, I've argued that this is not the case for years.  I've cited television series that defy this spurious "fact". And in the mean time, just like lots of other people, I've just got down to the business of making documentaries and television shows that are of interest to me, and which I believe and hope will be of interest to a general audience. 

So distribution in the Caribbean is pretty much an every-man-jack for himself affair.  In much the same way as production is, although, people are more amenable to the idea of sharing their time, expertise and equipment, than they are to divulging the names of possible broadcasters.  We're all out there in the big world, trying to get TV stations o broadcast our programmes and hustling some DVD sales.  Many of us, myself most definitely included, have been begging for someone to take up the challenge of distributing our content.  And it is a challenge.

Yet when, in 2010, a Caribbean distribution company was set up and launched, I was both optimistic and skeptical.  Yes, please, someone help me to get my content, which represents now thousands of hours of work and effort, out into the world.  But wait... how can I trust that anyone will want to do as well by my projects as I do?  How can I give my precious things to someone else to represent?  Do they have ANY idea how hard I've worked on this? (I must add, that we've all been forced, in a sense, to think this way; producers in the region face wall after wall on which we continually have to bang and knock and push with all our might.  The climate is generally hostile to our endeavours.)  And so, ever the agnostic, I optimistically and skeptically signed a contract that would give Caribbean Tales Worldwide Distribution the right to distribute two of my documentaries.  But I'm realising now, that I was cutting off my nose to spite my face.  If I'm prepared to go as far as signing over my content, then I must believe that the distributor will succeed.  I can't be half in, half out.  What's the point of that?  I'll only be hurting my company; my films.  So I have decided to believe - that my content can find a place in the world with help and representation.  I have decided to get behind my distributor and do what I can to help them succeed.  If I don't, if none of us producers do, then how can we expect success?

For more information about screening, broadcasting or buying either The Solitary Alchemist or The Insatiable Season, please contact Caribbean Tales Worldwide Distribution.  (For

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

DVDs of Inward Hunger - we're taking orders!

Just in time for Christmas 2011, we're doing a limited run of DVDs of our three part television series, Inward Hunger: The Story of Eric Williams. Locally, TT $200 each, regionally and internationally, US$30 each and in the UK, 20 pounds. Drop us a line at  if you'd like to order! 

(Shipping and handling will be calculated per order.)

Inward Hunger: The Story of Eric Williams

In September, SAVANT launched its television series, Inward Hunger:The Story of Eric Williams, with a private screening at the Central Bank Auditorium.  It went really well, with an appreciative and diverse audience.  Here's what director, Mariel Brown, had to say:

Several years ago, I was sitting with my father, the writer Wayne Brown, and discussing various documentary projects that I was interested in pursuing – one of which was on our first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams.  My father said in the end he thought Williams’ life was a tragic one.  This perplexed me.  I’ve heard many people talk about Williams, but no one ever described him as a tragic figure.  And so, it was with a great deal of curiosity and a desire to learn as much about this man that I embarked upon the documentary Inward Hunger.

Telling the full story of a man who is both deified and despised is no easy thing, and in this series of films, I have tried to paint as honest a picture of Eric Williams as possible.  He was a complex man – a brilliant and in some ways revolutionary scholar; Williams worked tirelessly for Trinidad and Tobago, led us to Independence and through the Black Power Crisis.   Initially, he believed fully in the Caribbean and its people, but,  over time, grew increasingly embittered and disillusioned. He revolutionised our education system and was the driving force behind our infrastructural development, perhaps most importatnly, the creation of Point Lisas.  Williams ewas a man of the world - a brilliant strategist and politician.  Yet, in many ways he was flawed. He was imperious and intellectually arrogant and dismissive. As he grew older, he became increasingly parranoid and withdrawn until he became a relative recluse.  A man who cared little for wealth and material possessions, Williams seemed to turn a blind eye to the corruption that was running rampant in his cabinet.  Many saw Williams as a kind of Messiah - the man who could save them.  Yet some argue that this has led to an entrenched cutlture of dependency in our society.

So you see, Williams was a man of contradicitons, and telling his story required an enormous amount of work and commitment.  It required the willingness of my sponsors, First Citizens, and Goverment Infromation Services Ltd, to go down this road with me, and my own belief that a viewing audience would appreciate and be interested in a fuller picture of the man known to us as the father of the nation.

And so, I have many people to thank for their participation in this project:

First of all, my sponsors, First Citizens, The Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, and the Government Information Services Ltd. In particular, I'd like to thank Dexter Charles and Maxie Cuffie for taking the initial leap with me.

I would like to thank the two women who have worked alongside me from the very beginning of this project: Catherine Emmanuel and Alake Pilgrim. I don't know how I would have managed without you both. My parents, Megan Hopkyn-Rees and Wayne Brown, who passed on to me their tenacity, perseverance and enduring curiosity about the world.

I'd like to thank the current staff of the GISL, CEO Andy Johnson, Rodelle Phillips and Bobbi Jeffrey-Hicks.

Thanks to the Eric Williams Memorial Collection and Erica Williams Connell, for allowing us carte blanche to research and record in the Museum and the Collection, and Mrs. Williams Connell, for agreeing to be interviewed.

Thank you to the DP for this project, Sean Edgehill for his patience and beautiful work. Thank you to Nigel Scott and Albert Laveau and Catherine Emmanuel for lending their voices to the script. Thanks to Francesco Emmanuel for the moving original score, Phil and Dion at Eclipse audio and Cedric Smart who did the soundmix.

Much thanks also, to the many people at the National Archives, the National Museum, QRC and the Red House for allowing us to film there. Thank you to the Williams family members, and SAVANT supporters who helped us to source the images and audio for this project. Thank you to the Central Bank Auditorium for all their assistance. And to Richard, for his steadfast support.