Horizon at Sandy Point

Monday, March 16, 2015

Connecting with art

Cinematography that's up close and in your face. Action and soliloquy driven by rhythm, cadences in language, music the way Trinis like to play it - two turns above loud - the uneven jerky sometimes dark record of handheld go pros: all are spliced into an artful cinematic flow of sound and image that's hard to look away from. The film-maker turned critic who sat in the front row at the iMax cinema confessed to being compelled by the action, unable to move for the 80+ minutes of the film. "I'm glad I saw it, best production in a long time," he pronounced after staying to see the roll of credits - producers, sponsors, crew, teachers and families, and of course, the youngsters from Success Laventille Secondary School.

This is part of the success of Art Connect the film: that the finished documentary is itself an artistic expression of its creators; the artist Wendell McShine, musicians Freetown Collective, British dancers Anthony and Kevin, filmmaker Miguel Galofre, producer Charlotte Elias, the crew, sponsors and  others who elected to enter the lives of these Laventille teenagers.

It takes a village to raise a child, yes. But it takes a special sensibility to devise practical, expressive and technical avenues for the transition from childhood to adult. Art may be the vehicle that is missing from the academic and societal routines of most young people in Trinidad and Tobago. This conviction is the thesis of Wendell McShine's initiative Art Connect, not just to open up and transform youngsters but just as importantly, to give the adults, parents, teachers, administrators insight on a "way in,"methods to reach young people growing up in a changed and rapidly changing world.

The first "art connect" programme carried out by Wendell McShine was funded by Atlantic, the Trinidad and Tobago LNG company, and took place in Point Fortin Trinidad in July 2007. The Arts Project was called Our Point and may be seen here:

Shine as he is known in the international art world conceived a programme that would teach art (drawing, painting, animation and mural-making) while documenting the process with videography and music. His wife Yadira Albarran Kamin has been instrumental in the process. A few years ago, he took Art Connect to Liverpool working with elderly and disadvantaged groups, as well as young people. This process is also recorded in a Shine video here:

Art Connect programmes wherever they are happening are proof of concept of Shine's motivating principle: “We all share a common interest in the well being of our societies, and self expression is one of our core values both as individuals and groups. I have created the Art Connect Project rooted in the philosophy that investment in education, art and humanities is vital for the uplifting and development of any society."

The location for Art Connect the film happens to be the seamier side of Port of Spain, Laventille, the reputed crime capital of Trinidad and Tobago. But this is not the story of gangs, guns or drugs. This story deals with the light and life still to be found in these hills above Port of Spain. More than that, it tells personal stories, that are at once intimate and universal, of self discovery and healing, through interventions of art.

Viewers may be shocked by the barely clothed pregnant woman chasing her children down with a cutlass. They may want to pity the children growing up in close quarters with killings, disappearing fathers, drug and money machismo. But, as David Rudder says in one brief comment, there is always hope in Laventille. Here is a place where people lived and aspired, with a higher than normal requirement to struggle and to overcome. There are real and revelatory moments when the teenagers are able to go beyond what makes them unsmiling, serious, stony, or "vex," to show their true selves.

We will remember Ateion, Maliq, Sharice, Isis, Eyed, Daniel, and the other brave youths who exposed their feelings and fears for Art Connect. These are not child actors but teenagers whose lives are transformed through mural-making, writing, music, movement and dance, and the process of filmmaking. In so doing, they shape a prayer for safety and guidance in the lives of young people everywhere. Develop their self-esteem and keep them from the bad influences in their environments. Connect them with the means to expression, to work out the anger and pain in their lives, and reinforce the self love they need to bring them through the most treacherous times of their lives.

The accolades that the film has received are well-deserved. It is visually narrated, rhythmic and fast-paced. But it is the hearts of these teenagers - unscripted, authentic, un-acted - that makes this a compelling narrative. It is hoped that Art Connect the film will be seen by communities all over Trinidad and Tobago, and be received as inspiration and motivation -  cri de coeur for the arts, pan, painting et al - for healing, for awakening potential through self-expression, for transformation.

Charlotte, Maliq and Ateion - among the stars of Art Connect - were present at the screening.

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