By Stephen Spark
Photographer Stephen Spark
United Kingdom | Monday 30 November 2015: 0:00 GMT
They stalked across the dry grass of the savannah, covering the ground in gigantic strides. They were recognisably human, yet those attenuated legs were insect-like and their outlandish garb sinister yet alluring. There was something of the giraffe’s grace and ungainliness about them, and the likeness was reinforced as the eerie trio picked their way cautiously through a row of stately trees. Three of them there were, trailed by a straggle of people, as a soft rain began to fall. To the uninitiated, the scene on Clapham Common on 26th July must have looked like an alien invasion, something out of H G Wells’s War of the Worlds. Fortunately for the survival of south London, these aliens had only come from the planet Trinidad & Tobago and their intentions were benign. The trio of moko jumbies had assembled at the bandstand at the centre of the common and were making their way to the Omnibus Theatre for a preview of a new film, Ah! Hard Rain, written, produced and directed by Greta Mendez. This was far more than just a film show, though. In the first room, high up on a set of steps, a beautiful, enigmatic character, a spirit of nature, silently read and tore up newspapers and let the pieces flutter down to the ground. We were instructed – or rather, commanded – by Mendez to fold the scraps in an elaborate and mysterious fashion to make a model boat. SN’s reporter clearly needs to stick to his day job of writing about ships rather than trying to build them! For the screening itself we were shown an early draft, as more funding is needed to complete the project, but it promises to be a film that will set people talking. In these straitened times, it’s a bold move to make something so defiantly artistic and thought-provoking. The showing was followed by a question-and-answer session with Mendez and her team. The film uses myth and tradition to explore pressing contemporary issues of human trafficking across the world’s oceans and the pillaging of the sea’s natural resources by the developed world at the expense of the rest of humanity, especially in Africa and the Caribbean. These are big themes, even if they are rarely given the global attention they deserve. In less sensitive hands the film might have become a mere rant or a depressing catalogue of man’s inhumanity and greed. Fortunately, Ah! Hard Rain – which takes its title from Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ but also references acid rain – is a thing of joy too. It owes much to the creativity of mas, which almost alone of the arts can make transcendent beauty out of horror and ugliness. As Mendez said at the launch, “We see these people dead on the beaches, but I wanted to show them in their beauty.” Filming took place in Trinidad, Cornwall and Kelsey Park, Beckenham, and in many cases used local people rather than actors. In one dreamlike sequence a man comes down a long straight road, and we see he is wearing a headpiece in the shape of a boat. This was real mas played in Port of Spain in 2015 and the masquerader is a genuine fisherman. The scenes at sea were for real too, as were the dangers, lending a visceral edge to some of the most dramatic and poignant scenes. There is still a way to go before we are likely to see Ah! Hard Rain in its full glory, but Soca News is confident that the final result will be well worth the wait.