A major feature film on the steelpan is finally in the works and the local team behind it promises that the quality of the production will serve as the ideal marketing mechanism for the universal advancement of the instrument, while giving T&T an easily recognisable brand.Pan! A Modern Odyssey, is the title given to the project conceptualised by music producer and publisher Jean Michel Gilbert and Dr Kim Johnson, a veteran journalist and author, under the banner of the Caribbean Music Group.
Gilbert, the executive producer on the project, will double as co-producer alongside acclaimed french cinematic expert Barth�l�my Fougea and Johnson. Johnson, the historical consultant on the film, is also the man behind the script which has been re-written no less than 15 times. A French company called WINDS will serve as the international co-producer.
Action on the production comes three years after both Gilbert and Johnson realised they had a shared vision for an instrument they are passionate about and therefore made the conscious decision to enter a partnership.
Not just a documentary
Originally envisaged to be a 90-minute documentary, Pan! A Modern Odyssey has morphed into a cinematic docu-fiction. With the scope of the project re-imagined, the expertise of French director Thierry Teston, was enlisted with the aim of giving the work the type of polish one of this magnitude requires for impact, not just at home, but globally.
Filming for the documentary segment took place over two weeks during Carnival 2013. From the panyards to the Queen's Park Savannah stage during Pan Trinbago's National Panorama Competition, that "Carnival" aspect will feature accomplished musicians in the steelpan fraternity as Len Boogsie Sharpe, Andy Narrell, Ray Holman and Leon "Smooth" Edwards. Reigning National Panorama champion Petrotrin Phase II Pan Groove, Neal and Massy Trinidad All Stars, Birdsong and Witco Desperadoes will be spotlighted especially as the central characters for the movie were drawn from these bands.
Following this June's casting call, however, filming for the fictional segment is scheduled to take place over two weeks in September, where nine scenes chronicling the periods 1820 to 1963–from taboo bamboo to Independence–in T&T will be filmed. Then it's on to post-production before the local release in February 2014 and ultimately, the Cannes Film Festival in France.
Gilbert said: "Pan is our most sophisticated cultural item. So far, I think nothing has been done to promote the pan on an international level. Being in the music business for the past 21 years, it is clear that today, the music cannot go without the image. So what we are saying is let's do the ultimate film on pan, to be able to project the steelband industry. I spoke to the people at Cannes about bringing a steelband (from T&T) to the festival to perform and they loved the idea."
Taking pan global
The optimism from the pair is a direct result of positive feedback received coming out of discussions held with television executives in Cannes.While Pan! A Modern Odyssey was being developed, the Caribbean Music Group has convinced television stations in South Africa and India to film documentaries about the emergence of the steelpan in their own geographical locations.
Johnson said, "We are making this film on T&T. We are also encouraging other networks to make films on pan in their country. The historical part of their film will be taken from this film. If you making a film about pan in Nigeria, pan in Nigeria started with pan in T&T. So you pull about 20 per cent from this trunk film and add on your 80 per cent on Nigeria. So we are encouraging that type of relationship with other countries as well, so it will be in proximity with their audiences."
Gilbert said they have embarked unconventional approach because they wanted to create a new business model. He said when they thought about it, Pan! A Modern Odyssey would be the 90-minute docu-fiction that will serve as the central bank of footage for networks around the world desirous of producing a 50-minute documentaries about the steelpan and its impact in their respective cultures.
Gilbert has the touch
Gilbert is no stranger to international television executives. The feature-length documentary on the Calypso Rose (McCartha Linda Sandy-Lewis) titled Calypso Rose: Lioness of the Jungle, was produced by another of his companies called Maturity Music. It enjoyed several international screenings and met with critical acclaim.
That movie was four years in the making. The US network PBS bought into the film which was aired across 170 stations. As a consequence the veteran entertainer has bookings that have eclipsed Machel Montano and other soca star combined.
Johnson said, "In South Africa there is a Marimba and Steelband Festival. Two weeks ago, there was an International Steelband Festival in Australia. The steelband is used with delinquent boys in Nantes, France. There is a global network much of which is online, we want to tap into that network with our film, our ancillary products and brand T&T.
T&T has no brand, unless you know something specific. In India, they might know T&T because of Brian Lara...in the literary world they might know T&T because of VS Naipaul. To most everyday people, if you say Trinidad they might ask which part of Jamaica, but they can tell you about trench town (in Jamaica) We want to change that. There's an amazing experience called pan and it is not something that you can buy in a store."
To achieve this feat, however, funding is crucial. While state agencies such as the Ministries of Arts and Multiculturalism, Tourism, the Tourism Development Company and the T&T Film Company have signed on to the project, Caribbean Music Groups officials says it time for the private sector to follow suit.
Gilbert said: "We are extremely disappointed. We thought that all of the main private companies that are part of the national landscape would understand that private sponsoring would push the project which includes CDs, books and a Web site. We want people to see the dimension of the project and see how they fit into it."
About the Project
Pan! A Modern Odyssey is a trans-media steelband project based on a film aimed at globally promoting the steelband movement and branding T&T as its home.The project involves:
(1) the production of a 90-minute cinematic docu-drama on steelband in T&T, climaxing with the 2013 Panorama Competition;
(2) the production of several 52-minute television documentary films on steelband specific to TV networks in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, combining footage of pan in those countries with excerpts from the 90-minute docu-drama;
(3) production of ancillary items, including CDs, DVDs, coffee table books on pan, a dedicated interactive Web site, online MIDI steelpan competition, social networking and blogs, phone apps; and
(4) a global marketing thrust combining international broadcasters, distributors and touring agents to release the film and the ancillary items at main film and music festival worldwide along with live performances by T&T steelbands.