Bim—still relevant after 40 years

bim poster

Jeremy Taylor reviews the ill-fated Bim, 40 years since its first release in Trinidad. Bim will be shown in Trinidad under the auspices of the Lloyd Best Institute. 

Movies had been made in T&T before. But they had mostly used the islands as an exotic backdrop for other people’s stories. With Bim in 1974, film-making in T&T took a startling turn. Here was a home-grown story, and it was not exotic. It ripped away the mask, the Caribbean stereotype, to reveal some of the ugly realities that lay hidden behind.

Bim, the film’s title character, is a young Indo-Trinidadian from the canefields, where there is violent competition for control of the sugar workers in the dying years of British colonisation. Bim is sent to stay in the capital Port-of-Spain after his father is murdered; there he has to cope with a violent urban Afro-Trinidadian scene. As he leaves family and school behind, the film traces the boy’s steady brutalisation and alienation as he does what he must to survive. Eventually, by being badder than all the other badjohns of the day, he becomes the sugar union leader, and forms an Indian-based political party to fight the next election. But his inner emptiness leads only to a wasteland of drunken despair.

Bim’s foray into harsh social realism gave the Caribbean film industry—such as it is—a cult movie reminiscent in some ways of Jamaica’s The Harder They Come two years earlier (whose Jimmy Cliff soundtrack had helped reggae break into the world market).

Bim was the result of a partnership between American director Hugh Robertson, his Trinidadian wife Suzanne Nunez, playwright/journalist Raoul Pantin, and composer/performer André Tanker.

Robertson had met his wife in Trinidad while making a film adaptation of Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain for NBC. He was the first African-American to be nominated for an Oscar, for his editing work on John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy in 1969 (which also earned him a BAFTA for best editing), with Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. He had edited the original Shaft movie in 1971 with Richard Roundtree (with music by Isaac Hayes), and directed the murder mystery Melinda starring Calvin Lockhart in 1972.

In Trinidad, the Robertsons set up a film production company with the idea of kick-starting a local film industry. Bim was its first feature film. It was finished in 1974, and had a delayed opening in Trinidad the following year after a protracted struggle with the local film censors, who were scandalised by its street language.

It went on to be shown at a few film festivals in the Caribbean and Los Angeles (winning a gold medal in the US Virgin Islands), and earned a sympathetic review in the New York Times (December 2, 1976), which found Bim a good deal more interesting than many more slickly-made films.

Yet, since the 1970s, Bim has rarely been seen. In recent years it has had a handful of festival screenings, but you couldn’t download it or stream it anywhere, and you couldn’t order a DVD because there wasn’t one. The Robertsons’ second feature film was not even screened in Trinidad: they returned to the US in 1986, and Hugh died two years later.

But Bim has never been forgotten. In 2014 a Facebook page was launched to revive interest in the movie and lobby for a reissue. Many of those who saw it claim that it is just as relevant now as it was back in 1974, in its treatment of violence and corruption, ethnic and political tension, and popular despair.

MORE INFO

Screening times for Bim

September 24—Central Bank Auditorium, PoS

September 28—Palladium Cinema, Tunapuna

October 1—Naparima Bowl,

San Fernando

University students are especially encouraged to come to the Palladium showing.

Each show will be followed by conversations with personalities who were involved, moderated by Sunity Maharaj.

To book tickets call 663-5463.

For the original report go to http://www.guardian.co.tt/entertainment/2014-09-21/bim—still-relevant-after-40-years

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