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Back To The Reel World: After Mas, Now What?

Back To The Reel World: After Mas, Now What?

Posted by Dalton Higgins on March 24, 2014

Many of my peeps on Face book are getting pretty pathetic now. Since J’ouvert wrapped up a few weeks ago they cannot stop posting pictures of themselves gyrating while inebriated to make us cold-weather-concrete-jungle-stuck citizens who couldn’t, ahem, free up some time to flee to Trinidad Carnival this winter feel bad. It looks to me like they are experiencing some severe Carnival withdrawal symptoms. Instead of posting their usual selfie’s, opinions on rapper Drake and socialite Kim Kardashian or the omnipresent relationship status updates, I am now being forced to view (endure?) a load of high resolution Jpeg images of them in various states of dress (and undress), coupled with extreme close up shots of steel pans, and out of focus Blue Devils photography.

Now don’t get me wrong. I, for one, do not feel sorry for my friends in any way whatsoever. Why? The formula is simple, really. Escape from Toronto + Trinidad carnival – the worst winter ever = worldly bliss. But this faux spring is here now, and it’s back to reality. Trinidad Carnival is over. So deal with it.

Perhaps I might be sending mixed messages here because I just viewed a press screener of a delightful little 20 minute Trinidad Carnival-centric short romance film After Mas that is being presented as part of the eight day Reel World Film Festival taking place between April 2-6th  in Toronto.

The Reel World film festival was created with the aim to showcase and highlight cinematic works that are being produced by talents from diverse communities. Of the 25 features, 37 shorts, nine music videos and eight webisodes— but who’s counting — coming to screens in Toronto and Markham this year, the thinking behind the festival has already turned our crank in theory because it features producers, directors, lead actors and production talents from right across the Pan American world,  and features 70% Canadian content.

While some film enthusiasts celebrated the recent Oscar Awards success of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave as Best Picture, others wondered why films with black leads that tend to centre around slavery and servitude get green lit, receive such critical nods and big budgets, and ultimately win Awards. From the first African American to win an Academy Award, Hattie McDaniel, in her portrayal of a house slave named Mammy in Gone With The Wind; to Morgan Freeman’s 1989 Academy nomination as a chauffeur in Driving Miss Daisy; and 2011’s The Help, about a black maid named Minny played by actor Viola Davis who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress; all the way to box office topping The Butler starring Forrest Whitaker as former White House butler Cecil Gaines. Don’t even get armchair critics started about Quentin Tarantino’s widely acclaimed Django Unchained spaghetti western slavery flick. 

Is the Hollywood studio system still viewed as a closed off entity for many racialized filmmakers who might be interested in directing and producing films that involve the day-to-day lives of black community members (and not slavery or docility)? Absolutely. So then it’s a delight to be able to take in a wide range of cinema at Reel World that tackle all kinds of subject matter coming in from Grenada, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, The United Kingdom, and the USA, among other destinations.

Anyways, back to my post Carnival musings. After Mas might just be the perfect film antidote for my poor Trinidad Carnival sufferers and devotee’s who have to wait a full year to behave all bacchanalian once again. Directed by Karen Martinez and presented by the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company, the film asks that ages-old question: what happens between the hotties jumping up and down in the streets, once Carnival dies down. Lead actor Curtis (Khafra Rudder) an emerging writer in Port of Spain thinks he’s found “the one” in Abi (Carly Coutts) a fellow Carnival reveller who plays the red devil to his blue devil character during Jouvert.

In this beautifully shot 20 minute short that begins on J’ouvert (the party the night before carnival), paint and mud streaked bodies gyrate to the soca anthems of the day while a potential romance brews these two characters who occupy different poles of existence, based on their race and circumstance: Abi is a blue-eyed Caucasian Trini woman of wealth, while Curtis is a black man hustling to make ends meet working at a juice bar while hoping for a proper paying writing career. The film which features two main characters who are tackling their first lead acting role has very little dialogue until after you hit the eight minute plus mark. The viewer can read between the lines as far as the potential that exists between these two characters crossing race and class lines to make their relationship manifest. In some ways, some parts of the plot can be thematically read like Spike Lee’s inter-racial dating expose Jungle Fever – just add some soca and Carnival costuming.

That being said, both the spoken and unspoken parts of the film speak to a universal feeling that many carnival participants experience, that of wondering what romantic possibilities might exist within the organized confusion and lovely chaos that is Carnival. And after mas dies down, and people return to their dim realities, as the title suggests.

After we all wash off the body paint, is there something we must all cover up? Do the masks we wear on Carnival streets obscure the realities of race, romance and class in Trinidad? Do our post mas lives have to mean a return to the banalities of life, or a world of infinite possibilities? Does Carnival provide a very temporary respite from real world issues? Of course, we all know the answer to the latter question, but it doesn’t make it any easier for Abi and Curtis to navigate their day-to-day lives and dreams. As both characters seem to accommodate the potential for romance on their brains, viewers still don’t quite get a sense as to how things will end up. So one can only hope that there will be a part two or a sequel to After Mas. Warning: After Mas might take you right back into carnival mode while you are sitting in your cubicle amidst the Toronto cold...which is actually not a bad idea! And maybe it’s time to crank up Bunji Garlin;s infectious “Differentology” song (aka the “We Ready Fi Di Road” song) that plays prominently in the film, after you read this review.

After Mas screens Friday, April 4, 2014 at 8:30 PM - Toronto’s Famous Players Canada Square Cinemas - Theatre 5. Check out reelworld.ca for more info. 

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