THE BOY FROM BELMONT
By Josanne Leonard
It is a sizzling hot Republic Day in T&T as I sit down with Belmont born international film-maker Horace Ove to talk about his latest project ‘The Ghost of Hing King Estate’ a film based on true events shot in Trinidad in August 2006. A conversation with Horace is really a meandering through life, politics, events, people, history and of course the craft and business of film with the conversation always coming back to ourselves. As we speak, Horace shares some of his thoughts and memories of his early boyhood days in
Many times during our musings, he is animated as he recounts details of some of his films and is keen to share them, his mind sharp as ever, never mind it threatens to throw us off our task at hand, which is a deadline for this paper. One film that seems close to heart is his first feature film ‘Pressure’, the first ever by a black British director. With funding from the British Film Institute, Horace made Pressure (1975) a film based on a Trinidadian Windrush family and the harsh realities faced by their off spring being young, black and dispossessed in Britain in the 1970’s. Horace recalls collaborating on the screenplay with fellow Trinidadian, Samuel Selvon. Says Horace: “I didn’t make the film sitting in my living room. I went out with Sam and we researched it. It was Sam’s first film script and as black Londoners we were aware of what was happening but when the film came out people didn’t want to admit it was true. In fact they wanted to ban the bloody film but the critics saw it and insisted that it be released and today DVD’s of the film are still selling!”
I feel the tug in my heart as I listen to his anecdotes and marvel at his accomplishments mindful that we in this place (the Caribbean) carry on as if this business of making films, creating music, writing books and inventing dances to go international, now starting. And sadly how we defer to the Hollywood Shuffle hustlers who come through the auspices of our tourists boards, universities, film commissions and other foreign governments and agencies to teach us about building a film industry while Horace Ove, Euzhan Palcy (French-speaking Caribbean), Lina Gopaul (Jamaica) and many other internationally acclaimed film-makers from this region are lucky to be dusted off every so often for PR dross.
After spending a few hours with Horace at the Glencoe home of Annabelle Alcazar, former wife, long time working colleague and one of the producers of The Ghost of Hing King Estate, I kept thinking about how important, necessary even, it is to reconnect my son’s generation and those to come with our beautiful and accomplished history in film, music, literature and the visual and creative arts. The following is but a glimpse of Horace Ove extracted from that leisurely yet inspiring ‘ole’ talk with him. It is one I hope will continue with him and others like him in the region. One love, Josanne
JL: Horace, you know we could break morning here when we start to talk so let’s see how best we can edit ourselves as we go along (laughter from both). You said something very significant I think….”
HO: “I was lucky to grow up in
JL: What is it about this upbringing that has marked you so indelibly?
JL: And is this where your fascination with film began?
HO: Most definitely. The other side of this great cultural experience for me was the cinema. There were several cinemas all over the country and in
JL: What was that like?
HO: Ketcharse! When I got to
JL: How did you manage to get into film school being broke and all?
HO: I was lucky. When I did apply to the London School of Film Technique, the first film school ever, I got a grant. I was one of two black men in the school, the other being Yemi Ajibade, a Nigerian who became an actor and film-maker. You know I come back to how
JL: So would you say this realist/surrealist approach to film-making is your ‘brand’?
HO: Most definitely, this is my brand even though I was into a few
JL: Fast forwarding to the present, how would you describe The Ghost of Hing King Estate from that perspective, given that some of the reviews have said that parts of the movie are overstated, over dramatised etc?
HO: I brought that same approach to the making of this film. That’s why you have the flashbacks, the dreams, the voice-overs and the points of view of the character (played by Susan Hannays-Abraham) going back into her life and how she observes life and talks to people. Although some people may say it’s over dramatised, it isn’t. Even as a low budget film, nothing was done by chance. I would never compromise my knowledge and years of making films even at the risk of ticking off the financiers and others working with me. My experience as a film-maker means that I go out and observe the real world and the characters coming out of that world. So when I began work on that film I knew how to direct the actors, I knew how I wanted to shoot it, the locations I wanted to use. I had to know when the actors were going over the top since most of our actors in the film came off the stage. I had to personalise it and tell them it was about their real lives for them to act the character coming out of the real life to get the right performance. I know that people scream and shout and bawl….this happens in
JL: Can you develop this idea a bit?
HO: Sure. Most people here only see American films and television, so when they relate to real life in the cinema or television, they relate to American films that have nothing to do with them or their reality. It is do with
JL: Let’s get back to Ghost of Hing King Estate
HO: Like I said previously. In this film, I’m only pointing out the reality that is us. This is a real story. We read about it but we don’t see it. The only time we can see it is in a film. In The Ghost of Hing King Estate I tried to make the actors portray what real people do when they are angry or get upset with others. I’m not a foreigner talking about this, I grew up in this country and I’ve seen it. I see this country from top to bottom and so when I make a film like The Ghost of Hing King Estate, I’m telling one of our stories.
JL: How important is film and the moving image in helping us to see ourselves and tell our stories as you’ve just said?
HO: Very, very important. That’s why most of my films, television features and documentaries are based on socio-political themes whether they’ve been made in the
JL: Let’s touch on the business of making films. It was difficult for you back in the earlier days of your career to get money to make films and I’m referring here to the
HO: To answer your question right away, today
JL: With all kudos to those working for the development of our film sectors across the region, and I leave Cuba out because Cuba does have a well developed film sector, what does the renewed buzz about ‘creating’ a film industry mean to some one like you?
HO: Let me answer you in two ways. Firstly, you mentioned
JL: Horace, you know I have to conclude this part of our discussion but la luta continua. What’s next and any final thoughts before we go to an intermission?
HO: I really want to commend everyone who worked on the film, The Ghost of Hing King Estate. TT1.2 million is not a lot of money for a full feature film but we got it done. Francis Escagy wrote a brilliant script so it made my job that much easier. I hope all of T&T enjoys the film when it does have a full cinematic release. As for me, I have to head back out to the
JL: well congrats and big love.
HORACE OVE – FILMOGRAPHY
Horace Ové is an accomplished Caribbean film-maker, director, screenwriter and photographer and is known internationally as one of the leading black Independent filmmakers to emerge in
the Black Power movement, to their younger, British born son who struggles to find his place between he two cultures.
Beyond that his film career has produced such diverse films as ‘
film was shot on the actual location.
Ové also directed the documentaries, ‘ASIAN ARTS’ featuring a young Anish Kapoor In the early 80's;‘WHO SHALL WE TELL’ (1985) on the Bhopal gas disaster, and ‘DABBAWALLAHS’ (1985) tiffins (food carriers) of Bombay, who endanger their lives daily delivering home cooked lunches across the city by train, bike and on foot. ‘PLAYING AWAY (1986) a cinematic feature written by Caryl Phillips detailed a Brixton cricket team's journey to play an English county cricket side and the cultural clashes that ensue. The film stars Norman Beaton, Nicholas Farrell, Joe Marcell and Stefan Kalipha. Ové directed various episodes of the groundbreaking television series ‘EMPIRE ROAD’ (1978-79), which was the earliest attempt at addressing the multicultural society that existed in
In 1991 he directed ‘THE ORCHID HOUSE’, a four part period drama set on the Caribbean
Alongside his film career, Ové has worked extensively as a photographer. He has had several exhibitions over the years across the world as well as various retrospectives at UCLA, The British Film Institute in
Horace has won several awards over the years; he was named Best Director for Independent Film and Television by the British Film Institute in 1986. He was the only non-Jamaican to be given a Dr. Bird award by the film industry of
He is currently editing the feature film, ‘THE GHOST OF HING KING ESTATE’, shot in Trinidad In August 2006, based on true events when six workers on an estate died in mysterious circumstances. The overseer's wife was blamed for poisoning them as she had a reputation as a 'witch' and was vilified by the larger community. After an autopsy on the sixth body (her husband), it was proved that they died of pesticide poisoning. She was freed but lives today are still haunted by the ‘Ghost of Hing King Estate’.
This article was published in the October 2007 edition of the Trinidad and Tobago Review, the official publication of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies