In the 1970s two important, indigenous Caribbean films were made: Jamaica's iconic The Harder They Come, starring Jimmy Cliff, which still takes some measure of credit for introducing reggae music to the world, and Bim, which explores race, politics and working-class challenges in colonial Trinidad.
If you've never heard of Bim, far less seen it, that's all about to change, thanks to the power of social media. Pat Ganase has started a Facebook page called Bim, the movie–the modern-day equivalent of the Hollywood fan club–in an attempt to ignite online discussion about the film and the issues it deals with.
"I decided it was time for the first all-Trinidad film to have a Facebook fan page," Ganase says. "It was the first film that didn't just use our environment as a location and our people as exotic natives or extras. It is a film with a story that is authentic...and ours."
Raoul Pantin collaborated on the script. The actors were all local. So was the majority of the film crew. The early fusion soundtrack was composed by the late Andre Tanker and performed by some of the country's most outstanding musicians, including Mungal Patasar. But, most importantly, it was a Trinidadian story. Ganase, friends with Suzanne Robertson (who co-produced the film with her late husband Hugh), says that the couple saw a bright future for the film industry in T&T, even back then.
"The first Trinidadian film company was SHARC," she explains, "named for Suzanne, Hugh and their children (Antonio and Anna) Robertson. Bim–and SHARC–probably failed then, for the same reasons that film, as a viable industry, is not succeeding today. There is a failure to appreciate it as a productive industry that can employ many, many people and bring returns on investment through distribution."
There is a sense of d�j� vu.
"The challenges for young filmmakers today are the same," Ganase says. "Funding, institutional support, distribution and marketing. The film industry is not a solitary art, which is why it is an 'Industry' with a capital I."
But the sense of familiarity does not stop there; it extends itself to societal challenges as well. While the film marked a particular time in our history, addressing our attitudes towards racial identity, Ganase thinks that its lessons are still relevant.
"Maybe it can tell us something about crime in our society," she offers. "It certainly has something to say about young men who grow themselves up, without father or family."
The plot follows the main character Bhim (initially pronounced Beem) Singh, whose father, a union leader for the sugar workers, is killed on the day of his sister's wedding. Bhim leaves the only life he knows in rural Trinidad to live with his aunt and her ne'er-do-well husband in Port-of-Spain. He is an outcast from the get-go, and soon gets drawn into a life of petty crime, working for an underworld type who re-christens him Bim.
Upon its release, the film was not panned by critics, but it didn't quite get rave reviews either. The New York Times critique in 1974, for instance, opened by saying, "By no conventional standards is 'Bim' very good, but it's still vastly more interesting than lots of other movies you're likely to stumble on."
"Interesting" may have been an understatement; it certainly struck a note with local audiences, presumably even before anyone had even seen it. T&T's Censors Board banned it.A month after legal action was taken against the Censors Board, the film was finally screened–uncut–at the landmark Roxy cinema in St James.
"The language is harsh; it had plenty cusswords," Ganase recalls, "but not unwarranted. People who have seen the film are the ones who perceive it as seminal and important. There is a ring of truth in Bim the movie."
The film certainly appears to have a timeless quality to it. Ganase attests that "viewers of all ages and in every decade respond [to the film] the same way...as if it is something that they were deprived of."It's not that I want people to know the film," she says.
"It is that people have a hunger for it." Ganase says the Bim Facebook page "will point us in a direction that comes from the collective."
One idea that came out of user comments, for instance, was the suggestion by artist Christopher Cozier to work towards having Bim listed in Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project, which restores and distributes films from countries that are underrepresented in global film culture.
"It is a worthwhile idea that might be an avenue for new distribution," Ganase explains. "There will be a showing in the future. But I think that will happen when the time is right."
More info: Visit the Facebook page for Bim the Movie.
CORRECTION (Feb 9, 2014): The byline of this article originally credited the wrong author, because of an editing error. The article was written by Janine Mendes-Franco, not Janine Charles-Farray.