by Wesley Gibbings
The screening of The Challengers by the UNHCR at the IMAX facility in PoS last week offered as much from the film itself as did the actual hosting of the event.
As is often the case at such events, the unspoken is as important as what is said and absentees as noteworthy as those who turn up.
Estimated that way, the entire experience is capable of vastly exceeding the sum of the parts of such an occasion.
So, we can virtually reflect on the screening without necessarily reviewing the nuts and bolts of a 20-minute film.
It was a production comprising modest filmic values but containing enormously important personal insights into one of the more critical issues of the day – this country’s awkward embrace of its obligations as a member of the global community, and some of the tragic outcomes of our failure to satisfactorily do so.
The Challengers is thus rich with opportunity as a tutorial on challenge, opportunity, and success and as a guide to some of the key features of the migrant story in T&T.
Here is a production that in 1,200 seconds introduces the myriad elements of an issue being confronted the world over - in as many different ways as there are countries involved. You see, nobody seems to have got this entirely right.
This is also difficult diplomatic terrain for an agency such as the UN Refugee Agency, for whom the use of words and phrases can serve as triggers for intemperance and ignorance – “migrants”, “asylum seekers” and “refugees” consequentially stretched to the cautious limits of technical correctness.
True, the event could have ended on the point of a cohesive Venezuelan volleyball team, but the organisers sensed the need for more. And here is where things got even more interesting.
For example, the lead story by any journalist could have come from when UNHCR National Office Head Miriam Aertker asked why the children of Venezuelan immigrants weren’t accommodated at our schools. In vain, I scanned the crowd for a designated plant from the ministry of education, or any related agency, for a response/excuse/explanation.
Yet, the denial of the right to an education for children is an acknowledged responsibility of every single state on the planet. Our country has boasted of a commitment to achieve the goals of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child while wilfully ignoring Article 28 which explicitly calls for compliance “no matter who they are.”
The “close the borders” crew who were either not invited (though they should have been) or chose to be absent ought to have been there to offer an opinion or answer. Their main political sponsors also appeared to have been absent.
As one of the stories of the day, there is also the headline regarding legal status – somewhat settled by an enlightened but deficient “registration” process in 2019 that effectively imposed a pragmatic cap on inflows - not tidily accommodated under international law but viewed in some places as a sensible thing to do.
There is indeed a case to be made for small, resource-scarce spaces such as ours. But this has to be nuanced against humanitarian obligations at law and through conscience. I had hoped for a response to that elephant in the room, but there was no one there to substantially do so. Where was the ministry of national security?
Is it that such a question is asked and answered in discreet spaces? I do not know. But not at last week’s screening.
There is, as well, the discomfort of having to address a problem involving neighbours who also happen to be friends. They beat their spouses every day and hang dirty underwear out the window facing you.
But “good morning” and “good evening” are what good neighbours do … and there’s also the question of an overhanging mango tree.
So, this is no easy transaction – though you need to call the police on them for the beatings and find a way to attend to the underwear question without jeopardising the opportunities mango season brings.
I listened to the minister of foreign and Caricom affairs being interviewed on Sunday. He sounds like the informed, polite neighbour who can pull this off. Yet, I looked for him last week and he wasn’t there.
People cannot be everywhere at every time, but this is one of the stories of our time and filmmaker, Rhonda Chan Soo, found ways to creatively ask all the pertinent questions. Too many remain unanswered because there were those who chose not to be there. What a shame.