Monday, May 07, 2012

Mas Man—A work of art: As told to BC Pires

Dalton Narine

My name is Dalton Narine and I’ve just completed the upgrade of Mas Man: The Complete Work, my documentary about Peter Minshall. My mother and father lived on the same Laventille street as Rudolph Charles and Franklyn Ollivierra of Phase II. I learned to write at Richmond Street Boys Primary. Under Mr Carrington, I was an essayist at eight years old. I’ve lived in Miami most of my life.

One afternoon, my father was teaching me to tell time on a clock with a big face. A man dashed in and told him, “Come quick. Yuh wife just drown. They trying to revive she.” She died several months later at the hospital. My father escorted me to Fatima to be denied entrance because, the priest said, I was English Catholic and could be snatching space from a real Roman Catholic. I’d never seen him cry, but, that morning, his tears stained the Fatima gate. When my sister got through the front door of Bishop’s, his heart lightened. 

I’ll owe the bank till I die for all the loans to produce the film. It cost me $3.5 million. It was worth every penny. I attended Howard University, Hunter College, Brooklyn College, New York University and the University of Miami. All that tertiary education was funded through the GI Bill for veterans. My schooling in Trinidad helped put me over the top in the university’s entrance exams. I was the only student in the dorm to begin as a sophomore. 

I yearned to be a writer, not a black writer. I was one of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s top speakers. David Susskind chaired a discussion with me and three other veterans about the war for an hour on national TV. That led to an award-winning documentary, No Vietnamese Ever Called me Nigger, which still plays on college campuses. 

Esquire magazine were looking for an articulate black Vietnam veteran to chronicle racial warfare on the front lines. I returned to the killing fields as a civilian writer with the rank of major. Really, it was a death wish, because I should have died on the battlefield alongside 53 buddies who got wasted by our Air Force bombers near the Cambodian border.

Osibisa, the African/Caribbean pop band, emerged as the black Santana. My collection includes all their LPs and CDs. I know (founder-member keyboardist) Robert Bailey well. I planned to use my favourite song, Woyaya, in a scene about grunts partying in a hootch the night before a 30-day operation. The lyrics are apropos to such an uncertain mood: We are going/ Heaven knows where we are going/It will be hard we know/ And the road will be muddy and rough. Woyaya resides in my Mac. 

Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead; James Joyce’s Ulysses; and The Battleship Potemkin, a 1925 Russian film, changed my life most. Hands down, Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah are my favourite directors. Apocalypse Now is the best Vietnam film, though I was closer to Oliver Stone’s Platoon. I didn’t see the documentary The Fog of War. But I lived it.

I began shooting Mas Man in 2005-6. I spent a year trying to interest ministries and the private sector. (Then Tourism Minister Howard) Chin Lee’s office response was, “What if Minshall never brings another band?” Penelope Beckles, bless her heart, spoke with the film company, which eventually helped out with $100,000. The short version was rushed for the 2009 TT Film Festival. The Complete Work was achieved after 20-something cuts. 

The 89 minutes of Mas Man represents seven years’ hard labour for me. We plan to roll out the upgraded and rebranded work as a three-disc collection, more than five hours of Mas Man. I made Mas Man as a work of art about a work of art. A man from a tiny Caribbean island who reached 80 per cent of the planet in a single night.  

The best thing about making Mas Man was being in Minshall’s company, an erudite storyteller. The worst part was grovelling for funds. I could make a film about that runaround! My greatest regret was that I didn’t get better quality footage from the Ministry of Information. But GISL did the best they could under the circumstances and I appreciate their effort. A Trini is someone who lives life to the fullest until the cup runs over and spills out as ole talk. To me, Trinidad and Tobago means many nice times.

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