I was invited by the British Council to visit Trinidad to screen the film Every Cook Can Govern which I co-directed and edited about the Trinidadian revolutionary C.L.R. James at the Trinidad & Tobago film festival. At first I was a little daunted. I made the film with over 200 young volunteer-learners in Britain really for an audience new to C.L.R James’ inspiring works. These include Black Jacobins, Beyond a Boundary and many more. I had, thanks to Bruce Paddington and the Banyan archive team in Trinidad, accessed brilliant archive of James himself to interweave in the film, but how would people react to the film in Trinidad- C.L.R. James’ home? Had we done their hero’s amazing life and works justice? How would the story of a great anti-colonialist and unrepentant Marxist, as James was and as told by a Brit, go down? I not only needn’t have worried, the warmth and tremendous reception the film and I received was extraordinary, overwhelming, stunning in fact. At the University of the West Indies (UWI) there was standing room only at the screening and people couldn’t get in, it was so packed. Terrific Q&A’s followed too and at a screening in San Fernando hosted by the Oil Fields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), rows of young workers and older Trinidadians some of whom had known James raised great points, stories and shook my hand. This was the very auditorium that had held James’ funeral. It was awesome to say the least. James, the great universalist, who in fighting colonialism never believed in throwing the baby out with the colonial bath water would I think have been pleased. It’s testimony to a changed world too, well reflected by the openness of the British Council, the encouragement of discussion and argument in the Q&A’s, its support for an inspiring festival that shows edgy and challenging films from across the Caribbean and the world. Its staff deserve much praise too for looking after this large lady from the East End of London who makes Citizen TV and political films which ask big questions with young people, so exceptionally well. I was treated like a celebrity and even met one in the shape of the great Trinidadian born actor Don Warrington, a guest too with his filmed performance of King Lear to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. A joint press conference with Don and a reception at the British High Commission were all a first for me and I felt very honoured, our crew back home were truly thrilled to hear of my Trini experience.
I learned much too from local Trinidadians and the British Council’s own Jade Joseph about everything from Creole cuisine to the oil and gas industry, to employment, standards of living and schools. I had to try Doubles, Roti and Bake & shark of course and see the beaches-all highly recommended. I squeezed in visits to landmarks I’d only read of too, Queens Park Royal College which James had attended, Queens Park Savannah where James would talk to the groundsmen, Queens Park Oval complete with its Leerie Constantine stand-the great cricketer who had encouraged James and funded him to come to England in the 1930’s and of course James’ grave in Tunapuna cemetery. His grave is marked with a huge stone book and I felt quite a lump in my throat for a man I had never known but over 5 years of filming his story had become my friend.
James’ story is the story of the West Indian abroad and I am now not surprised that these islands have produced such political giants. Ideas travel and when people travel with them, meeting new people, asking questions, adding new nuances and experiences, the potential impact is huge. This old Brit abroad can’t compete but thank you new found friends on this amazing island for an experience I will share widely back home and remember for ever. You have helped our film no end and we hope it will screen ever more widely now. Come and visit us any time too.