Words by Nneka Samuel

Art Connect, the uplifiting documentary film about a group of students from Success Laventille School in a volatile community in east Port of Spain, Trinidad, recently premiered at the 8th annual Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival. Directed by Spaniard turned T&T resident, Miquel Galofré, the film won both the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary Feature and the Best Trinidad and Tobago Feature Film Award.

The film, which was made over three years (starting in 2011), takes its title from artist Wendell Mc Shine who developed the Art Connect project to promote self awareness via the creative arts. Through workshops, the youth at Success Laventille were involved in music, poetry, painting and dance. Galofré also gave the students digital cameras to personally document their own lives. What followed was nothing short of transformative. Read on to discover what director Miquel Galofré had to say about the film.

POTENT: How long have you been based in Trinidad & Tobago and how is it that you came to be involved in the process of making Art Connect?

Miquel Galofré: I came for the first time to Trinidad thanks to the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival. I was a guest with my first documentary, Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?

During that week, I fell in love with Trinidad and I got an offer to film a new documentary. I accepted and I came to live here. It was supposed to be just for 6 months but this was 3 and a half years ago and I’m still here.

The documentary we were supposed to make didn’t happen (The Mike Men) but I had the chance to see Wendell McShine having his project with the students in Laventille and I decided that we should a film about it.

POTENT: The film gets its name from artist Wendell Mc Shine’s project. Did the two of you work together to determine the nature of the film, or did it evolve from your initial work with him and the children at Success Laventille School?

Miquel Galofré: He is the creator of this concept. When I meet him I couldn’t stop documenting all he was doing and filming deep interviews with the students. Once Wendell finished, I decided to expand the project with more workshops and make a film about all the experience.

POTENT: What was the incentive behind giving the children cameras to film their lives? What sort of changes did you witness occur once they had that power in their hands?

Miquel Galofré: We were trying to give them a voice, and to have the camera and being free to ‘film whatever you want’ was a good way to do it. We all are very different in public surrounded by people than at home with intimacy. The GoPro [camera] footage helped to know them better. And what comes out is very real.

POTENT: What has the public’s response been to the film?

Miquel Galofré: The response is overwhelming. The film is very well received. People get very touched, a lot of tears with smiles and the questions and answers after every screening are very emotional.

We had the Minister of Education (Dr. Tim Gopeesingh) watching the film and at the end he said he will add Art Connect programs in every school of Trinidad. The producer, Charlotte Elias, is getting a lot of calls and emails from people who want to help keep doing the program. It’s really amazing. The goal of the documentary was to show that this kind of programs work well trying to make possible more programs like this elsewhere.

Miquel Galofré at theTrinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2013.

Miquel Galofré at theTrinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2013.

POTENT: How has the Art Connect experience worked to effect positive change in the lives of the youth involved?

Miquel Galofré: The key was to listen to them. Once they talked and they opened themselves, all the problems they have got much more smaller. Often what damage you the worst is not the problems you have is how to deal with them.

POTENT: Are there any plans to continue the Art Connect process at Success Laventille School, or to bring it to other schools?

Miquel Galofré: Yes this is the plan. After the festival the producer of the film is starting to have meetings to see how this can be done.

POTENT: What other projects do you have in store?

Miquel Galofré: To be honest to get funds for film in Trinidad is almost impossible.
There are a lot of talented people in Trinidad with things to say but they don’t have the opportunity.

For me to get funds has been very difficult. I have nice projects that can’t be done so far.

Kim Johnson (writer of “PAN! Our Music Odyssey”) and I tried to make a film based on Debbie Jacob’s book, “Wishing for Wings” and it has been impossible. It’s a stunning book about how a teacher helps inmates at the youth prison of Trinidad Youth Training Center.

What I’m trying now is to make possible my first feature narrative film. I have a powerful idea and I feel I’m at the right place at the right time.

I will put my effort on this trying to start filming the next Carnival.

In the meanwhile, I’m editing a new Jamaican documentary called “Parenting” and doing commercial work with my Trinidadian production company, Trinidad and Tobago Rocks.

Check out the Art Connect trailer below.  Keep up with Miquel and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Photo Courtesy of Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival