LargeUp: France is a long way from Trinidad. How did you find yourself on the island and so invested in steel pan that you eventually created such a major work?
Barthélémy Fougea: I originally came here (Trinidad) 20 years ago to be a part of another film project called Calypso Season. My taxi took me to the hotel, I dropped my bags and was then immediately driven to Laventille, where I saw the steel band Desperadoes perform. I was hooked. I went back to France with a steel pan, started the French Pan Movement and by 2000 started the European Pan Movement. I have a school in Paris and launched the first European steelpan competition in 2003.
Jérôme Guiot: I had never heard of Trinidad before this film.
BF: Jerome is a well-celebrated director in Belgium. I saw his music videos and knew I had to have him on this project. So I called him and said “Listen I want you to come to Trinidad to shoot this film about the invention of [pan].”
JG: I had him on the phone in one hand and was looking up where Trinidad was and, when I saw Caribbean, I said, “Yes I’ll do it!” [laughs]
BF: I told him I was leaving in two days and I would meet him at Heathrow airport. He wanted to meet before but I said “No, no I have no time….” That’s my way of bringing people to Trinidad. When you come here, there is something that warms your heart. He couldn’t stay away after that.
LU: Why a docudrama?
BF: Steelpan is a part of Trinidadian culture that is very unique. There are many documentaries on Panorama and other steelpan competitions but no film has been done on the human adventure of those kids transforming an oil drum into an instrument. Kim Johnson was our lead. He was specialised in the history of steelpan and we weren’t knowledgeable in that sense so Kim himself went to find the stories of these people. What we did was create secondary characters to the real ones our research gave us, to link the narrative.
JG: The history is so complexed, with so many people involved. The history of steelpan shows that it’s really a country that created this instrument, not one person, so we created a story and character to symbolise the creation of the steelpan rather than focus on one real person or aspect. A docudrama was the best way to go through the history of pan in terms of a person’s experience, that an audience can relate to, with the time.
LU: With most of the festival’s films being shown in new cinemas and theatre spaces, why did you choose the old Globe cinema?
JG: Because of the history. The first pan concerts at the time was at cinemas, and Globe was a major part of that at the time, so it’s important for us to show it at that place. It will bring the film full circle.