On Saturday, at 11 am, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest will premiere a new half-hour film, Port of Spain: A Writer’s Heaven. Join host Wendell Manwarren of 3Canal as he wanders the streets of the city bringing alive works of literature from classics to contemporary.
This documentary was made to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bocas Lit Fest and was made possible by the festival’s title sponsor, The National Gas Company, and with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts. It is a unique addition to the virtual 2021 programme, having morphed out of a planned, actual walking tour of the city.
According to Festival Director Marina Salandy-Brown, it was fortuitous.
“Now we will have it for posterity, and it will be available for all to see and experience globally. We regard it as critical to our promotion of our capital city as the contemporary literary hub of Caribbean literature.”
The Bocas team selected the authors to be featured—hard choices had to be made when original plans for a longer production had to cut. Janine Mendes-Franco wrote the script and produced it, and Dion Boucaud at PixelPlay Media directed. This Manwarren walkabout also features VS Naipaul scholar Professor Ken Ramchand and two contemporary authors Barbara Jenkins and Breanne McIvor.
For Marina Salandy Brown, there is so much to celebrate at the festival this year and this film is part of that: “Our literary arts are impressive. Right now, many of a new generation of writers are coming through, getting unprecedented book deals and winning big prizes, and importantly, increasingly, they are doing that while living at home in the Caribbean. Publishers are coming to find them.”
The film starts in the National Library on Abercrombie Street with the quote from Derek Walcott’s famous Nobel Prize speech which gives title to the film: “Port of Spain . . . a downtown babel of shop signs and streets, mongrelized, polyglot, a ferment without a history, like heaven. Because that is what such a city is . . . a writer’s heaven.”
Manwarren crisscrosses the city from the library and the Old Fire Station, which had been home to Walcott’s Trinidad Theatre, to the Red House and its connections to Ismith Khan’s The Jumbie Bird to Woodford Square, then on to the Lighthouse, up Calvary Hill, over to Belmont, back to the Botanical Gardens, on to St James and finally up Chancellor Hill.
In Belmont, Manwarren meets with Barbara Jenkins and they talk about her recent Belmont based novel The Righest Place (2018), which Bridget Brereton praised as “funny, sad, intriguing and complex.”
At the Botanical Gardens, he joins young writer Breanne McIvor to discuss a dark story about a midnight robber based around the Savannah from her collection of short stories, Where There Are Monsters (2019). From there, it is off to St James to the family home of VS Naipaul, which was the basis for the one in his novel, A House for Mr Biswas. He meets with Ken Ramchand, leader of the Friends of Mr Biswas who worked to get the building preserved and turned into a museum. They have a fascinating discussion on how this house that Naipaul lived in during the late 1940s served as a basis for this seminal novel.
When the project was first pitched to him, Manwarren jumped at it. An avid reader, he also has always been grounded in Port of Spain, raised in Belmont, now living for many years in Woodbrook.
“For me, it resonated on many levels and I found it a very exciting project.”
The initial focus on Derek Walcott brought back his days working with the famous writer and acting in his plays. Since the script largely involved reading quotes from literary works, it required accuracy.
“Sometimes you take the script and wing it because you have a sense of what it is, but if you’re quoting the books, they want you to do it totally accurately. It was a nice challenge. I have to go back into my old acting headspace, memorizing my lines!”
On Calvary Hill the film focuses on Earl Lovelace’s classic novel The Dragon Can’t Dance (complete with dragon) and hearing Manwarren read from the book, you wonder why he has not been hired to create audiobooks for all the Lovelace classics! A couple of local residents came up when they were filming this segment and asked Manwarren what song they were filming a video and when he explained this was a piece about Lovelace’s great novel and one of them immediately responded: “I’m going in the library. I’m going to find that book for me.”
For Wendell Manwarren, that was a triumph that “this young man was now so moved to find this book to read about this place that he lives in.” He wants all the viewers to follow that example, take the virtual journey through the streets of Port of Spain with him this Saturday and then read, read, read.
The NGC Bocas Lit Fest runs from April 23-25 online. The full programme is online at www.bocaslitfest.com.