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Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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A lament for Grenada
Right from the start, in the opening minute of his new film, Dr Bruce Paddington makes it clear that he’s pretty attached to both Grenada and the 1979 revolution.
He visited the country at the rosiest time in its arc of change and found the country, in 1983, flush with the enthusiasms and energy of a people suffused with hopes for the revolution and, as the film makes clear, its charismatic leader, Maurice Bishop.
He relates this part of the story as a narrator, in his own voice and with a quite clear tone of regret for the loss that the country would experience just two months after his visit, when the revolution imploded and all the ideals and concepts were swept away in blood and violence.
Paddington pops up again as a disembodied voice at the other end of an interview a few times near the end of the film and physically in a curious coda to the documentary, clips showing the responses of the participants to a rough cut of the project which runs without their heated dialogue.
Forward Ever tells the story of the New Jewel Movement (NJM), led by Maurice Bishop, which took power in Grenada in 1979 when the country's Prime Minister Eric Gairy left the island.
After an all too brief bit of stage setting, Gairy essentially disappears from the narrative, to be replaced by the handsome, eloquent and apparently ultimately naive Bishop, whose presence commands the first hour of the film.
His personal charm is passionately conveyed by “Camy,” a student witness to his final hours who as a grown woman remembers the slain leader fondly. “God take he time and make Maurice,” she says.
And yet for all his appeal, there are clues to his dislocation from both the revolution and the Grenadian people embedded in the film itself.
In clips from a 1983 speech at Hunter College, we see a strange Bishop, his eyes seem unable to engage the audience, who is capable of sharing odd aphorisms like “in a revolution, things operate differently,” and “all revolutions involve dislocation.”
Other observers are not so fuzzy on the cause of the movement’s collapse. Leslie Pierre, who published The Grenadian Voice for just two issues before being tossed into jail for offering a counter-revolutionary perspective, was quite clear that the NJM understood the power of the media and moved to stifle dissenting voices early.
It was a strategy that was not calculated to impress the educated and well-off in Grenada, so it remains one of the curiosities of the Grenada revolution that during the height of its popularity, when it would have almost certainly swept any elections, it did not do seek democratic consolidation.
The subtext of the film seems to be that the revolution was carried along by an almost universal national love affair with Maurice Bishop.
Even Nellie Payne, who describes herself in the film as “anti,” clearly not a supporter, would say of him, “Bishop himself was polite. If you met him, he was polite.”
All of which makes the centrepiece of the film, a harrowing, step by step retelling of the events at Fort Rupert (now Fort George) from multiple perspectives so absolutely chilling.
It’s impossible to come from the film unimpressed by this bit of filmmaking and one is left with a terrible sense of horror and loss at the end of the narrative, which guts the revolution of not only its charming leader, but any sense of romance and enthusiasm.
And it’s here, after more than 90 minutes, that the film hits its High Point and really should have ended.
But Forward Ever presses on for almost an hour more, telling the story of the US invasion but compressing it to fit the narrative framework of a Grenada in confusion before spiralling out into a lengthy effort at reconciling the experience of the revolution into contemporary Grenada.
Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t work. The work that’s gone into Forward Ever might have made one powerful feature documentary about the rise and fall of the Grenada Revolution or a powerful two part documentary about the revolution and the US invasion.
The effort at compressing both of them into one film doesn’t do either justice.
There’s more to the story of Eric Gairy who disappears early in the film and more to the consequences of the US invasion, both regionally and internationally.
Those aren’t the only omissions in the lengthy documentary, though some other perspectives are likely to be absent because of illness, death or simple disinterest in a project that sought to exhume the remains of an emotional time in the country’s history almost three decades after it came to a definitive end.
And it isn’t as if there’s a lack of material either. Paddington and his team have done an admirable job of gathering old photographs and footage of the era, and the images often convey far more than the spoken narrative is capable of conveying.
What that’s led to is a film that’s too long by far, clocking in at two and a half hours that seeks to compress two huge historical events together and ends up giving short shrift to its second topic.
After the film hits its natural arc and offers some clarity about the circumstances of the murders at the Fort, it can offer nothing new about the greatest mystery of that event; the disappearance of the bodies of Bishop and the others killed at the fort.
The hourlong denouement hauls the viewer through an unsatisfactory tour of the subsequent US invasion and the efforts at reconciliation that followed the release of those convicted of complicity in the Fort Rupert murders.
What Forward Ever desperately needs is the courage to either prune the film down to a definitive narrative of the Grenada revolution or the energy to split the work and build a stronger second documentary out of the last hour of the existing film.
Until then, the work will constantly risk losing all but its most dedicated audiences after its first 100 minutes are up.
Forward Ever premiered on September 20 as part of the T&T Film Festival and will run at MovieTowne at 8.30pm on September 30.
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