Words by Tishanna Williams
The 2014 edition of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF/14), the largest Caribbean film festival, begins tonight with the premiere of the 50’s-styled docudrama Pan! Our Musical Odyssey. Written by noted Trinidadian historian Kim Johnson and produced by Frenchmen Barthélémy Fougea (who received the César, the French equivalent of the Oscar, in 2014 for the best documentary with On the Way to School) and Jean Michel Gibert, the project was placed in the hands of award-winning Belgian director Jérôme Guiot. Two years and over 400 cast members later, Pan! Our Musical Odyssey is being touted as one of the greatest films on the steelpan, the only musical instrument to have been invented in the 20th century (which, as it turns out, has been documented in quite a few movies).
Pan! Our Musical Odyssey is unique in being a docu-drama, featuring dramatic scenes with actors, as well as documentary footage. It tells the instrument’s epic story starting with the underprivileged young people living in impoverished and violence-ridden areas of Trinidad where the instrument originated. Placing a dramatic story within this historical context, the film chronicles the steelpan’s journey from its invention as an expression of the lower classes to its current international prestige.
The film has already started to ripple through Europe: It’s been translated to French and, in fact, this version of the film was shown at this summer’s Sunny Side of the Doc Film Festival in LaRochelle, France. Master pan composer Ray Holman, who is responsible for recreating the steelpan sound of the 50’s for the film, is already on tour with his steel band in Europe. The docudrama also boasts a soundtrack featuring not only classic steelpan sounds but also new music from contemporary artists, including Bunji Garlin’s “Differentology” and an original track (featuring steelpan) from English producer Jamie XX called “Touch Me”
For its English-language premier, Pan! Our Musical Odyssey will be screened at the Globe Cinema in Port of Spain in true vintage red-carpet style, with era-appropriate cars parking outside just for the occasion. LargeUp caught up with Barthélémy Fougea and Jérôme Guiot in Port-of-Spain to get the details on the much anticipated release.