SINGING for the CARIBBEAN: Maggie Harris on winning the Regional Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014

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Maggie HarrisWinning the Commonwealth Short Story Regional Award for the Caribbean is an immense honour, both to represent the Caribbean, and to allow my work to reach an international audience, as although I have been writing for more than 25 years I am still relatively unknown. The Caribbean’s multi-layered history still has stories to offer, and how we tell them is as important as what we write.

I am an avid supporter of storytelling and oral history. This may be partly because I am a poet, and certainly because storytelling came to me at my mother’s knee, with jumbies outside, a board house, and the far away voice of radio. Yes there is a grandmother too, and oil lamps and outside toilets, and riverboats on the Berbice and Kwakwani rivers where my father, as a tugboat captain earned his living.

The voice of my story, Sending for Chantal is first person Caribbean English. It is set in Guyana but has universal similarities in this global world where migration still disrupts family life. As one whose own migration occurred in the early seventies, the break-up of family and social structures caused a foundation of loss which still underpins my writing. As a child being educated in Guyana, English Literature was an invitation to other worlds, an invitation which has never lost its appeal, and some of my childish scribbles made their way into the Berbice High School Magazine. But it wasn’t until I was 39 years old, as a mature student at Kent University, that I was to encounter those Caribbean writers who showed me my path – amongst them – Walcott, Brathwaite, Selvon, Agard, Hippolyte, Nichols, Senior, Goodison, Kincaid. Before that my scribbles remained sentimental expressions of passion, and my 20s and 30s were spent being a full-time mother exploring a variety of artistic genres.

Since the early 90s I have been dedicated to writing, sometimes supported by part-time teaching and literature promotion. After I won the Guyana Prize for Literature for my first collection of poetry, Limbolands, in 2000, I had this dream that I was going to walk into bookshops and see my book there! I had a lot of learning to do! What I did do though, was to create a platform that was not there, in the part of Kent where I lived. Poetry had become my voice, and I used it to create literary events which gave local writers a platform, inviting Caribbean and Black British writers like Jean Binta Breeze, Jackie Kay, Mark McWatt and El Crisis to share the emerging canon of our literature.

MaggiePoetry had become a force; as performance, it was audience-friendly, inclusive and entertaining. It took me to Europe, to represent Kent, it even granted me two TV performances one of which came via a phone call when I was in St Lucia on a research project! But stories still enticed me, my first Caribbean story was included in Short Circuits, a littleBrown/ Virago anthology, and when Kingston University Press held a memoir competition, Kiskadee Girl was the result. A short story collection was to follow, Canterbury Tales on a Cockcrow Morning.

I have had my share of rejections, but have been extremely lucky to have had as publishers creative visionaries who believed in me. Small presses do not have the resources available to do major promotion, but together we do what we can to promote my writing. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mango Publishing, Kingston University Press, HopeRoad Publishing, Cane Arrow Press and Cultured Llama for having faith in me. And for Commonwealth Writers for awarding me this prize.

My wish now is that this prize will encourage more people to seek out my work, and that it will inspire other writers never to give up!

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In her second blog, Dr Hilary Robertson-Hickling is now back home and in front of her students at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica

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Hilary attended The Ninth Annual Huntley Conference in London, where she conducted a master classs on Resilience and the African Caribbean Community on 22 February 2014.

My journey to England in February 2014 was filled with excitement and anticipation, and as my publisher Rosemarie Hudson reminded me: ‘You’ve not come to London to work or study but to reflect and enjoy the experience.’ Winter makes demands on the human body so we took great care to be appropriately dressed. We travelled from the Domus Medica – our temporary home in Wimpole Street in Central London – by bus, train and taxi, using the internet to plan the route.

Hilary at the 9th Huntley Conference, Feb 2014

Hilary back with her students

Our previous visit to England in 2011 seems a lifetime away. At the Huntley Conference on 23 February this year, where my book White Squall on the Land was launched my husband and I met many people who were in the business of publishing, writing and community activism – and made new contacts and friendships. My PowerPoint presentation on, The Story of White Squall on Land was well received and there were questions about future collaboration and the linkages between the Caribbean and the UK. My books were purchased, and I was delighted to sign them.

The conference consisted of engrossing presentations about family archives and their importance to the development of identity; also, the topic of the significant contribution of African and Caribbean people to the world. This subject is frequently unnamed and ignored! Participants of three generations were present and there was evidence of the support and solidarity necessary for survival in the changing, often hostile, context in Britain. There was much laughter and camaraderie as well as moments to honour those who had now become ancestors, like Jessica Huntley.

We visited relatives in Willesden, who had come to England in 1965 from Jamaica, and relived some of the moments of family history in Hanover Jamaica and London. Their home had been my first home when I visited the city aged 21 in 1975. The neighbourhood had changed, I discovered, many of the Caribbean families who once lived there have been replaced by Eastern Europeans and Asians.

I was interviewed on three occasions, including a joint interview with my husband, conducted by Patrick Vernon. We made visits to my husband’s psychiatric colleagues, and also to my high-school friend, the playwright Patricia Cumper (author of One Bright Child).

At a master-class I conducted on Resilience and the African Caribbean Community, the response was heartwarming. The organizer, Hari Sewell, was very pleased with the turnout and the response of the academics, mental-health professionals and service users who were in the audience.

During this trip, we also enjoyed the food, and the sights and sounds of a changing London, crossing cultures, crossing languages. I often thought of the changing face and place of the African and African Caribbean population in Britain as I saw the anguished face of Stephen Lawrence‘s mother now a Baroness as she spoke of the fight for justice for her dead son.

After ten days it was time for home so we left London on a BA flight, which had almost two thirds of its passengers seeming to be multi-generational black Britons, their families and co-mates. The flight was uneventful on one level but my mind was very occupied, processing the experience and thinking of how many stories the passengers of all races might have to tell.

And as I neared Jamaica I thought about this centuries-old relationship with Britain and about our 51-year-old post-colonial independence struggles with identity and the profound psychological and economic transformations which were required to make the transition into independence. The discourse continued on the very next day when I started to discuss the trip with the students at UWI and showed the same PowerPoint presentation, which I had prepared for the Huntley Conference.

My students asked many questions about the trip and I provided information to update them about: Walter Rodney and his publishers Bogle-L’Ouverture, founded by the Huntleys, and I reminded them that we have a responsibility to research and publish our own stories.

I am implementing new strategies in social media such as this blog as my HopeRoad publisher encouraged. I might well be like new wine in an old wineskin . . . but I hope that I won’t burst!

Our February Blogger is Dr Hilary Robertson-Hickling author of White Squall on the Land – Narratives of Resilient Caribbean People

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 Hilary Robertson-HicklingHilary is on her way to the UK to attend The Ninth Annual Huntley Conference – When They Were Young -22 February 2014.

This is the first of her two blogs

The preparations for travelling to England this time are different from those made when I first visited in the flesh at age 21 in 1975, when I came on subsequent trips eventually leading to a period of residence from 1997-2000 and then subsequent trips. This time I am preparing to meet a new group of people at the Huntley Conference, at a master class I will conduct with MIND on fostering resilience in African Caribbean people. Before my first trip I had travelled in books, through the BBC, through oral and written history and in the school that I attended the Queens School established in the year of the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. I was born at the end of the colonial period in Jamaica and have grown up in a post colonial society struggling with its difficult past and making efforts to transform itself.

I am armed with a very expensive visa, have been preparing for my classes to be taught by others at UWI in my absence, organizing my clothes for the winter, getting my website, blog and other postmodern stuff together to promote  my book, White Squall On The Land and myself to my new audience via ebook. I am getting the understanding of real and virtual life. My husband has visited, studied and worked in Britain and he too is intrigued at the new and old country which we shall see. So we are preparing for the adventure, which lies ahead.

I am a librarian’s daughter, who loves the smell, the touch, the look of books.  I think that libraries are magical places and now I face the fact that we access books through the internet, tablets and other devices. I have loved to read since I was a small child and have had the opportunity to meet many authors through their books or even in person.

And now I have become an author to share my narratives and those of my extended family across the African and Caribbean diasporas to give voice to many ordinary people engaged in the extraordinary business of living in a world which renders some invisible and minimizes their contribution to global civilization in the 21st century. Our very resilience in the face of many daunting odds is at the heart of my thoughts and what I write.

The task has become more urgent as I teach thousands of young people in Jamaica at the University of the West Indies Mona School of Business and Management. They come increasingly from deeper rural and deeper innercity Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean. They face the poverty, uncertainty, desire for better that their cousins across our diasporas and people of other races and classes face. I know that our stories must be told to encourage, inspire and give hope tears and laughter. As I realize that one way of making people feel hopeless is to deny the knowledge of their roots and possibilities. As Pan African Hero Marcus Garvey noted, “A people without knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots.”

I have long harboured the urge to write more than the academic papers, which I suspect that few read and have had columns in the local newspapers where I have engaged in what is known as public scholarship. For me the knowledge which we unearth through our research rightly belongs to our societies and should help in the business of solving our problems. It records our individual contributions to the world and reflects our hopes, failures and aspirations. My own interest in psychology and the elements of our behavior continues to grow, I teach about behavior at the workplace and how to change dysfunctional behavior which gets in the way of our progress.

So when my husband and I worked in mental health in Birmingham England in the last decade of the 20th century we grappled with the experiences of African Caribbean migrants and their children and grandchildren. We tried to understand what kept them well and what made them ill. So our research in psychiatry, psychology and theology helped us to come to an understanding of pathways to healing for those who were mentally ill. My PhD thesis at the University of Birmingham was about this quest for healing in that Black British Community. The migrant comes in search of a better life only to find that some of the things that he or she thought that had been left back home are still present.

My interests and research converged and the many journeys of my own extended family to Britain, America, Africa and elsewhere came to occupy my mind. I have tried to escape from these thoughts about migration and loss, black identity, racism but the thoughts continue to occupy my mind. So my research unearths the letters kept by my mother from one of her uncles in Panama at the time of the second decade of the 20th century when he suggested to his brother, my grandfather.  “Mr. Hungry was riding a grey horse and white squall was on the land.” This letter provides the name for my book. White squall is extreme hunger, which is evident as dry spittle at the corner of the mouth. We know that this was just another cycle of famine, which required West Indians to go to build the Panama Canal, to cut cane in Cuba and to go to where the economic opportunities were available. Another cycle brought people to England in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Now I believe that those who are the descendants of who Erna Brodber sociologist and author calls “Africans enslaved in the New World” continue into infinity migrating, striving, returning. Through my book White Squall On The Land, which continued from Birmingham to The UWI Campus I have followed the trajectories and hope to write more on the themes of this book, to encourage our young people to find their voices to write and express their experiences. Academic success is one possible route to the reclamation of selfhood denied them by history. I share this book and books written by other people and tell them to write their story. We are the same people from Jamaica to Brixton, to Birmingham and wherever else we go. I hope to meet and share these experiences with them at the Huntley Conference on Saturday 22 February 2014.

Like the Huntleys and John La Rose, Rosemarie Hudson and others in Britain developed outlets for the stories of the lives of thousands.  In Jamaica and across the Caribbean there have been publishers like CARIMENSA at UWI, which specializes in matters of a psychological and psychiatric nature and originally published White Squall On The Land.  Neither writing nor getting published is easy but we have to make the time, use the resources available in our institutions, defy the critics and keep the faith. This is a message from a very mature woman who will have turned 60 the day before the Huntley Conference aptly titled, ‘When They Were Young.’

Literary Tours: Building Cultural Bridges – By our guest blogger for January Qaisra Shahraz (blog 2 of 2)

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Reading to students

Reading to students at St. Dominikus
Mädchen, Karlsruhe

As a writer I have been extremely lucky to have reached an international audience. In the last few years I have travelled to many cities and countries; including Fiji, Ottawa, Jaipur, China, either as a participant at international literary festivals, book fairs or multiple city literary tours to promote new novels in different languages. The country that I have visited the most in the last ten years is Germany. This is all thanks to my short story ‘A Pair of Jeans’

Lise-Meitner-Gymnasium, Lverkusen

With students at Lise-Meitner-Gymnasium, Lverkusen

This story, as explained in my previous blog, has been studied for the German ‘Abitur’ literature course in schools since 1991. It has led to numerous tours and school visits; including a visit to the prestigious Salem International College near Constance. Some schools have hosted me several times. It has been a marvellous experience indeed.

Munster

Munster

In the last few years tIn the last few years, “A Pair of Jeans” has opened out a whole new world to me both on a personal and a professional level, leading to many new friendships: with reading tours, teacher training seminars, and even the writing of a literary guide book for German teachers, ‘Emerging India Study Guide’. It has been an excellent two-way traffic. Whilst I fell in love with Germany, marvelling at the beautiful churches, well-kept cemeteries, sophisticated ICE trains, and the breath taking beauty of rural landscapes, I introduced my German friends to my home city of Manchester: a wonderful, multicultural world of settled migrant communities, thriving harmoniously together, where integration is the aspired norm not assimilation.

Neuenbuerg Gymnasium

At Neuenbuerg Gymnasium who hosted me several times

The story has become a vehicle, actively engaging me in robust discussions with an audience of often up to two hundred 17-to-18-year-old German students and their teachers, on a number of topics ranging from migration, integration, veiling, Islam phobia, racism, terrorism, arranged marriages, etc. This interaction is mutually welcomed and appreciated, giving me the platform to explain, describe, challenge, and raise awareness. Above all to build intercultural bridges; pressing home the message of the need to understand and respect other faiths and cultures and to look beyond the westen.

Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf

This week I am touring the Ruhr Valley of Eastern Germany and am Düsseldorfbeing hosted by Deutsch-Englische Gesellschaft Ruhr e.V. I’ll be visiting the beautiful cities of Essen, Dusseldorf, Munster as well as Schwerin.This time it’s not the schools that I’ll be paying a visit to but the general public and adult readers who are interested in literature. Again I look forward to the intercultural dialogue and interaction with my German hosts and guests.

Essen

Essen

I will be reading from and discussingmy ‘A Pair Of Jeans’, ‘The Holy Woman’, ‘Typhoon’ and ‘Revolt’.covers

A Pair of Jeans & Other Stories – By our guest blogger for January Qaisra Shahraz (blog 1 of 2)

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A Pair of Jeans & Other StoriesA story behind my story ‘A Pair of Jeans’
A writer’s journey can sometimes be full of surprises. There is a story behind my short story ‘A Pair of Jeans’. Written long time ago, and included in 13 world-wide editions, with 8 in Germany, “A Pair of Jeans” is the very first piece of fiction I wrote. On maternity leave from my teaching job and pregnant with my first son, Farakh, I joined a local women’s writers group run by Manchester based publishers ‘Commonwords/Crocus Books’. We would meet every Tuesday afternoon and read our stories or poems to our fellow aspiring writers. Their enthusiasm and supportive feedback spurred me on to write other stories.

The writing course I was doing with the London School of Writing at the time encouraged us to write about what we knew best. As a young British Muslim woman of Pakistani origin growing up in the UK, I was fascinated by our lives – double lives in fact –in which we were able to slip in and out of our two personae on a daily basis.

Siigning copies of A Pair of Jeans & Other Sotries

Speaking to and signing copies for students at St Agnes Girls Gymnasium, Stuttgart

First published in the UK in 1988 in Holding Out, by Crocus Books, the short story explored the issue of clothing, female modesty, multiple identities and cultural clashes. In 1989 it was picked up by a German Professor/Editor, Dr. Liesel Hermes, as a literary text to be used in German schools in a collection entitled Writing Women; Twentieth Century Short Stories. Other authors included Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, and Margaret Drabble. These were the people I had studied. It was a very humbling experience.

I had not envisaged it being used as a literary text in another country. I was still learning my craft, putting pen to paper and letting ideas flow out of me. When the editor started to write a teacher’s guidebook and started to quiz me about my story’s content, analysing themes, characters, etc. I got cold feet. I became highly defensive – worried that the readers (students and teachers) would read far more into it than I had ever intended. For me it was just a story – pure fiction. For the readers it was potentially a mirror of a community. I decided to write a new ending, with a more positive outcome.

Prof. Hermes and later the German Education Ministry however, opted to keep both endings, cleverly reckoning that they provided a good discussion point and a comparing and contrasting writing exercise for the students. So it became a story with 2 endings. When ‘A Pair of Jeans’ became prescribed reading for the German Abitur English Literature exam in 2005, guess what I did? I had another bash at it – revising and updating it, making it more topical, with a new focus: the showing of the flesh. I was happier with this version.

Reading and discussion of A Pair Of Jeans

Reading and discussion of ‘A Pair Of Jeans’ at Pädagogische Hochschule, Karlsruhe (University of Education) with literature teacher trainees

Munster, Germany

Munster, Germany

A story can take you round the world but if it leads to a better understanding of different global communities, and makes us get out of our little boxes, it is most welcome in present times.

Currently it is also being used as an academic text in universities in several countries including Morocco, Singapore, India and Pakistan. In a textbook on my work, ‘The Holy and The Unholy’, there are three academic papers on ‘A Pair of Jeans’. These include Battling Orthodox Eugenics: Reading “A Pair of Jeans” in Rabat, Morocco’ by Professor Mohammed Ezroura An article, ‘Reading Qaisra Shahraz’s “A Pair of Jeans” with German students’, by Professer Liesel Hermes, who originally introduced the story in Germany. In india Professor Shuby Abidi explored ‘The Mensahib Complex – Collision and Collusion of Identity’ and Dr Sami Rafiq also discussed ‘A Pair Of Jeans’ in her article ‘Grace under Pressure: An Exploration of Female Worlds in Qaisra Shahraz’s Short Stories’.

In my collection of short stories, The Elopement, The Discovery and A Pair of Jeans focus on intercultural issues; Miriam in A Pair of Jeans discovers that a seeming innocuous item of clothing can cause disaster while Rubiya in The Elopement and The Discovery pays the price of rejection for her past misdeed. In The Zemindar’s Wife and Perchanvah the reader opens a window into a world of feudal lifestyle and class consciousness that is embedded in the psyche of many of the country’s inhabitants. Escape and the City Dwellers explore the feelings of those struggling to discover the meaning of “home”, whilst The Malay Host is a contrast with an element of the mysterious. What is behind the one locked door in the old Malay house that is a tourist attraction and why is the woman of the house brandishing a piece of burning wood at the Western visitors?

CLR James on How to Re-Write The Black Jacobins by David Renton

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Cricket’s Philosopher KingIf the historian of slavery, British and Caribbean political activist, and one-time cricketer CLR James (1901-1989) was still alive, he might set out his vision for the world through some compelling, broad-brush explanation of the state of the worldwide austerity project and of the limits it had reached through the opposing force of popular protest, whether in Turkey, Egypt or the US. It was equally his style to begin with something different, more intimate, a memory of a time long past.

CLR James began his visionary book Beyond a Boundary with a recollection, as a child, of having watched through the window of his family home, situated beside the ground of Tunapuna Cricket Club, as the team’s star batsman Arthur Jones emerged to applause, struck the ball hard, and was caught in the deep, before returning to the pavilion humbled, his supporters downcast. Even James as a child was overcome with despair. Why had this small incident cast him down so low?

This was James’ answer: “Time would pass, old empires would fall and new ones take their place, the relations of countries and the relations of classes had to change, before I discovered that it is not quality of goods and utility which matter, but movement; not where you are or what you have, but where you have come from, where you are going and the rate at which you are getting there.”

Six years ago, when I published my biography of CLR James which is now being published for the first time this month by HopeRoad as an electronic book, (CLR James – Cricket’s Philosopher), I stated that it was my intention to persuade Marxists of the joys of cricket and followers of cricket of the calibre of James and James’ Marxism.

Events in the last two weeks suggest an unwelcome symmetry. The cricket has become more brutal since then with captains threatening to break the arms of the opposing team’s bowlers and batsmen returning home scarred. On the left too, we have had our brutes, and we struggle to disassociate ourselves from them. Perhaps on both sides of the equation we could do with a period of reorientation, a reminder of the best about ourselves, and of why we do the things that we love.

James’ musings on Arthur Jones are as good a place as any to begin. “The relations of countries had to change”. James’ other great book, The Black Jacobins rescued from posterity’s condescension the story of the Haitian Slave Uprising and the part played in it by Toussaint L’Ouverture, showing that the slave trade was not brought to an end through the goodwill of William Wilberforce or any other Parliamentarian but as a result of a life-and-death struggle on the part of the slaves themselves.

“The relations of classes”: in James’ contemporary account the moment which made him a Marxist was travelling to England, to act as a ghost-writer for the great Caribbean all-rounder Learie Constantine who was then working as the club professional for the Lancashire club side Nelson.

James’ arrival coincided with a lockout by the owners of the town’s cinema. “The Nelson operators were paid at this time around 45 shillings a week, and the owners of the theatres decided to reduce their salaries. What followed was a boycott by the town’s public, who refused to consent to any lowering of pay … The whole town of Nelson, so to speak, went on strike. They would not go to the cinema. The pickets were putout in order to turn back those who tried to go. For days the cinemas played to empty benches. In a town of forty thousand people you could find sometimes no more than half a dozen in the theatres. The company went bankrupt and had to leave. Whereupon local people took over and the theatres again began to be filled.”

To his then lover Constance Webb James confessed his pleasure at hearing the story and his identification with the workers of Nelson: “I was thrilled to the bone.”

“Old empires would fall”. This was the immediate context to Beyond a Boundary, the independence of India and of the former European possessions all over Africa and across the world. More than two decades earlier James had helped to found the International African Friends of Ethiopia, a campaign against Mussolini’s colonial war, which had brought together such young activists as George Padmore and Jomo Kenyatta, who by the 1960s had become respectively (Padmore) the leading writer of African independence and a hero to the revolutionary left in South Africa and (Kenyatta) the first Prime Minister of Kenya following decolonisation.

In his memoir, James sought to show that the cricketing rise of the West Indies was the product as much of Politics and of History as of the talents of the individual cricketers; and he made a case for absolute human liberation, rooted in such unlikely supports as the moral code of the English public schools, the literary culture of the Victorians, and the succession by which a team game designed for the inhabitants of small, pre-industrial towns had become the property of the insurgent Caribbean.

Even if our public schools are more venal, and our literature barer than it was, even if sport is more widespread and shallower than ever, James principle of movement remains good. It is not what you have but where you are going that counts.

HopeRoad Publishing celebrates its’ second birthday this month!

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As wCricket’s Philosopher King_Bannere celebrate our second birthday we would like to thank all our friends for supporting us over the past two years.  We have brought you a mix of titles from all over the world which we hope you’ve enjoyed.  We hope you particularly like our two printed titles, The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod and Tula-The Revolt by Jeroen Leinders, both translated from Dutch. The films of both titles are still doing the rounds of festivals so we hope you’ll get the opportunity to see them in your local cinemas once they’re on general release.  We’re rounding-off the year with the publication of CLR James – Cricket’s Philosopher King by Dave Renton due 21 November.

Highlights for 2014, include a new novel by Balraj Khanna, called Indian Magic, about sixties London and the newly arrived hero, with all his uncertainty in what is an alien life and city, and from the author of A Pair of Jeans, Qaisra Shahraz, another exciting collection of short stories. If you’re a crime fan, you’ll love the two crime novels from Sylvester Young, Sleeping Dog Lie and Love, Lies and Bleeding. We are also delighted to welcome Avantika Hari Agrawal and her novel, Land Gold Women, a follow up to her film of the same title.

Remember to look out for special offers from our website where you can purchase and download to your reader within minutes.

The Cost of Sugar, Surinam’s most popular novel headlines Dutch Film Festival, September 25!

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Cost of SugarHopeRoad’s recent publication of Cynthia Mcleod’s gripping historical novel The Cost of Sugar (Hoe Duur was de Suiker) in paperback is just ahead of its’ film premier at the Dutch Film Festival on Tuesday September 25.

Read the interview with HopeRoad’s founder in DevSur, Surinam’s News Source here

Q&A with Jeroen Leinders the Director of Tula – The Revolt

Tula - The Revolt

Tula – The Revolt

Why did you want to tell this story?

I bumped into this story by accident about five years ago. I was surprised that I’d never heard about it before and that apparently nothing had been done with it until then. It is a special and true story shedding light on a dark period in our history. But above all it is a story containing all the necessary elements – like despair, love, hope, treason and determination – to make a beautiful film.

Do you have a special relationship with Curacao?

I spent most of my youth on Curacao, so that the island is automatically ‘special’. There is not much more to it than that, though. The Curacao from my youth is very different from Curacao as it is today. This nostalgia might have been of influence in choosing this subject matter but for me this was definitely not decisive.

Did you have much influence on the script?

I spent a lot of time on it. After I’d buried myself in the story I listed all the historical facts. That doesn’t tell you anything about the characters of the people involved though. Next thing I did was to write a brief outline of the story as I pictured it. I wasn’t pleased with the direction which the first couple of drafts of the script took. So then I wrote an elaborate outline, which I developed into the book ‘Tula, Verloren Vrijheid’ later on. I had a fair number of arguments with the American screenwriter, Curtis Holt Hawkins, during the process but I think we worked things out rather well in the end.

Were you determined to film on Curacao or have you considered taking a different location?

The idea to shoot the film on Curacao existed right from the start because many of the original locations still exist. It lends style to the film to know that the scene you’re filming actually took place on that location. We did however at some moment consider moving to South Africa. This would probably have made things easier on a logistic production level but in the end we decided to film on Curacao.

Was it challenging to film on an island with hardly any film industry of its own?

It certainly wasn’t easy at all times. It simply means you have to fly almost everything in. We worked with a crew that consisted mostly of English people but fortunately we were also able to get support from several local crew members. Without a Curacao network and knowledge of the situation and rules at the island it probably would have proved impossible to make the film on that location.

How did Curacao respond to your film plans? Did this way of bringing the times of slavery to the attention of the public appeal to the Curacao people?

They were very positive about it, although we did of course receive critical remarks during our preparations, too. In the end slavery is something from the past that we share.  How this story is presented is crucial. We tried not to judge but to leave that to the viewer.

Did it take you long to find the right locations? Or were the original locations still (at least partly) intact and useable?  

Many of the locations were still intact and could be used with some set dressing. In some cases we had to move to different locations of course, but we were able to find everything on the island.

Did you already have actors in mind when you read the script?

Making our wish list regarding the cast is something we started with very early and which took us a long time to complete. The Dutch cast didn’t take very long because the characters in the film really need certain types. Jeroen Willems in particular is a good example of this. It’s taken me until two weeks before the shooting started to get him on board this film. And indeed he turned out to be the only right choice for this part. It’s terrible that he died recently.

How did the cast come about? Did all of the actors audition or did you offer an actor like Danny Glover his part at once?

If you know who you want for a role you don’t let people audition for it. That was the case with Danny Glover but also with most of the Dutch actors. In England I did do some auditions. The English cast was selected by Jeremy Zimmerman and I must say this speeded up the process immensely. On Curacao we did a couple of casting rounds as well because we wanted to give local actors a chance to participate in this production too.

Why did you choose to make an English-speaking film and not let the slaves speak Papiamento among themselves?

The most important thing for me was that the film be able to reach a large audience. Language has been an issue throughout the making of the film. For instance, one of the consequences of our decision not to make the film Dutch-speaking was, that we didn’t get financial support from any Dutch fund. Still I considered English the most logical option. What’s more, English offers a range of possibilities in the filed of actors and actresses. It works very well in the international blend of Dutch, English, American and Curacao actors we assembled, judging from the atmosphere on the set.

Do you expect to be criticized because people will see the film Tula the Revolt as yet again a white impression of slavery?

There will undoubtedly be criticism. I can hardly imagine being criticized for presenting a white view on slavery, though. We’ve made a great effort to build and check this story with the help of local historians. I really think this is an honest story that does this common history justice. Of course it has been romanticised but I think that in essence the film gives a good impression of the mutual relations at the time.

Is it unintentional that the release of the film coincides with other films about slavery, like Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’?

The fact that attention is drawn to this issue in the Netherlands is not coincidental. It has to do with slavery being abolished by the Dutch 150 years ago. The release of a film about slavery in the United States may be a coincidence but I think that the time has simply come to deal with subjects like slavery in films. Even if it’s just to acknowledge that this grave injustice actually existed. That simple fact alone would be of great help to understand the way the world looks today.

You can watch the trailer here