Cariwood: Myths and Legends
by Travolta Cooper
Cannes, France – Myths. They are the stories and archetypes that shape the interior makeup of any people. These tales (fairytales and folktales) belong in every nation on earth, and they give glimpses into the collective story and journey of that particular region. The main characters of the myth, its hero, and anti-heroes are whom we call ‘legends’. And historically, on the principle of myths and legends the art cinema storytelling was born. As the cinema evolved into industry (like the Hollywood industry in America) our myth and legends were marketed and categorized into genres and subgenres of film. In the Hollywood context you have the myths and legends of the West and John Wayne. These are movies we’ve come to call ‘Westerns’. In Bollywood (the world’s second largest film industry) in India there are the myths and legends of gods and goddesses as miracle workers, offering answers to life’s problems; all against the backdrop of music, of course. In Nollywood of Nigeria (the third largest industry) the myth and legends stem from the world of Christendom, and its mythology of witches and pastors. Nollywood films are particularly popular in the Bahamas (or as they’re called home, “African movies”). Let’s imagine for a moment we had a “Cariwood,” an industry for film in the Caribbean. If we did, what do you suppose would be her myths and legends?
Thus far here at Cannes, I’ve had two phenomenal experiences, both of which involve the myth and legend. In regard to myth, this was a film called “Tale Of Tales (Il Racconto Dei Racconti)” directed by the Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone. It was the strangest and most brilliant of an experience at the cinema, I’ve had thus far at Cannes. Tale of Tales is based on Neapolitan fairy tales written by Giambattista Basile in the early 17th century. These tales involve interwoven stories of kings, queens and ogres. It stars an ensemble of Hollywood and European actors including Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly and Toby Jones. Tales of Tales is dark and glorious. And while it exists firmly in an ancient setting (with a lush production values not strange to Italian cinema), there’s so much to relate to in these stories even today. What I loved most about the film, aside from its very original story arc (you really have no idea where this film is going) is how while it sticks to its archetype and fairytale, it also defies it. It takes new directions giving us something both old and new… something postmodern. I never read the original tales of Giambattista Basile, so I asked the filmmaker Matteo Garrone at the Cannes press conference if he took a creative license in revising some of the material and he said “Yes”. Then he said what hasn’t changed is the “soul” of the literary material. That very response pretty much defines the myth.
As for legends at Cannes, that would be Woody Allen. Mr. Allen (now 79 years old) is the most versed and prolific filmmaker in history and he’s at Cannes with his newfilm “Irrational Man.” Irrational Man stars a Joaquin Phoenix, in a profoundly dark and funny performance as a depressed College Professor who befriends a female student, played by Emma Stone. Irrational Man is vintage Woody Allen but it’s also something new. It’s postmodern. The film invites comparisons to Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point and is equally obsessed with the themes of chance versus design. It’s a philosophy that has consumed Woody Allen’s entire illustrious career and his material has made in a hero (and in some cases anti-hero) of Hollywood and European cinema legend. When he was asked about at the press conference about the nuances of his storytelling, Mr. Allen replied that “movies are here to provide distraction.” “Reality and life is hard sometimes and even the great philosophers needed something to distract their minds and times from everyday realities.” In essence, Woody Allen was pointing to the magic of the myth and having spun this magic for some many years further proves his status as a Hollywood legend.
So, all this brings me to my original question. With Caribbean Cinema all but absent at this year’s Cannes, let us imagine for a minute if it were. And if it is, what do you suppose would be the collective myths and legends that make up a Caribbean Film Industry? We have thus far produced four episodes of The Cinemas this year, for Tempo Networks (you can also watch all four online at StudioAnansi.Tv). And on each show, I raised this question to our various guests. Actor Affion Crokette (Episode 1) recalls the “Hag” myth of Trinidad lore when he was growing up. Romola Lucas (also Episode 1) of Studio Anansi remembers the legend of Br’er Anansi from her Guyanese heritage. Sidney Poitier recalls the B’er Bouki and B’er Rabbi myths and tales growing up on Cat Island, Bahamas. And Roger Bobb recalls the Oliver legend of Jamaican lore. All these myths and legends share one common denominator; they are all trickster tales. While we have many things like race, class, language, and culture dividing us in the Region (some of which arguably stifles our progress as a Regional Industry), what seems to be the thing connecting us are our myths and legends. Is it possible for the Region to unite under this reality? Well, this is historically how our cinema industries were born around the world. As we continue our search for “Cariwood” at Cannes, I wonder where the Caribbean myth to unite us as region exists. And if it does, who’s that legend (in the making) of a Caribbean filmmaker to tell that story?
Check out some of Travolta’s pics from his time at Cannes: