Written by Roslin Khan and Romola Lucas
The short film, “El Cast,” with a writer from the Dominican Republic and a director from Trinidad & Tobago, represents one of the exciting aspects of Caribbean filmmaking today – the opportunities being created for cross-cultural storytelling leading to positive cultural interactions between Caribbean countries with different cultures. The film is directed by Shea Best, a young, emerging director from Trinidad and Tobago, and was screened at the 2014 Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival.
Geared towards children, the story centers on the transformation of the involvement of a child in a potentially dangerous situation into an enjoyable one. This is done by means of an unexplainable development – “Lo real maravillosa/ Magical Realism” – a feature of Latin American storytelling, which allows for the inclusion of the fantastic or mythical into what would otherwise be realistic fiction.
WHAT WE LIKED: The filmmakers’ attempt at inclusiveness, with the bi-lingual title, Spanish dialogue and English sub-titles – the cross-cultural effect. We also liked the way the reality of life in that community was depicted. The story centers on a single mom and her son, Jonas, who is forced to resort to the sale of narcotics to provide for herself and Jonas, and the danger to which she exposes him by having him deliver her drugs. Jonas’ fear of the unexpected is evident from his lack of response or reaction when his mother tells him that he will be on his own for more than a week while she goes to attend to her sick mother and even more alarming for him, is the fact he has to deliver her drugs while she is gone. However, by having her kneel down to talk to him, demonstrating much affection, leaving her phone with him while warning him not to answer if he does not recognize the number, and stressing the importance of not missing any classes, viewers can empathize with their plight, and are so drawn into their lives that what would otherwise be abhorrent behavior on the part of the parent, becomes acceptable under the circumstances.
We get the full sense of this struggle by the prologue’s eerie atmosphere, where the Mom decisively and intently cuts up meat while the blood from it flows unchecked. However, as the film progresses, the eeriness and tension are skillfully relieved by the catchy hip-hop tune, the bright sunshine and the hustle and bustle of everyday life as Jonas sets out to carry out his task, delivery of the package his mother left. As any young boy would be tempted to do, while on his way, he sees his friends playing a game in the town square, and joins them. After “carefully” dropping his package in the garbage can for “safekeeping,” he gets so involved in the game, he does not see the package being taken from right under his nose.
Jonas’ fear and ineptitude are well balanced by Paz, his miraculous and wise friend, who not only strongly believes there is always a solution to bad situations in life, but immediately begins to figure out a plan to help Jonas out of his dilemma. Not only does she skillfully and convincingly strategize to get Jonas an audition for a role in a competition during the time his mother is away, she also convinces him all he needs to do is believe. When he does get the role, she haggles for the amount he would be awarded so he could not only have enough money to cover his mother’s loss, but have extra.
The magical/fairytale aspects of the story are beautifully captured in the colorful and sparkling fast-forward images she experiences when she reads the flyer and when she goes to tell Jonas about the competition and is also evident in the flashback Jonas experiences regarding his mother’s pleas. In turn, this serves as the motivating factor for him to do his best as urged by Paz and his story has a happy ending, and the magical and sparkling lights are re-introduced, making this the type of story, which definitely provides relief from the stresses of life faced by children and adults in low-income communities.
We hope to see many more collaborations coming out of the Caribbean representing what this film represents – a great collaborative opportunity to increase the diversity in Caribbean storytelling by exposing artists to different cultures as they tell stories different from their own experiences but similar enough to make the Caribbean really feel like a melting pot.