Words by Nneka Samuel
Filmmaker Damani Baker is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund his documentary film, “The House on Coco Road,” a touching, intimate portrait of the women in his family; unsung heroes whose stories aren’t well known but are worthy of being told.
Baker, an Oakland, California native, moved to Grenada with his family at the tender age of 9. Fueled by his activist mother’s desire to participate in Grenada’s new found independence and successful revolution, the film is set amidst the backdrop of the 1983 assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, and the ensuing U.S. invasion of the spice isle. It was a time of great change whose impact affected countless lives. It is time their stories be told.
So far, Baker has completed production on the documentary and in addition to turning the camera on himself and his family, has interviewed the likes of Angela Davis, who visited Grenada with Baker’s mother in 1982. The doc has received support from the Sundance Institute and Paul Robeson Fund. Kickstarter donations will aid in additional interviews of people like Dr. Cornel West and California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, as well as film scoring, to be helmed by Grammy nominated artist Meshell Ndegeocello, and final completion through editing.
With only a few days left before his Kickstarter campaign comes to a close, Baker was gracious enough to speak with POTENT and answer a few questions. Read on to learn more about Damani Baker and “The House On Coco Road.” Click here to support this film.
POTENT: Where did your family live when you moved to Grenada?
Damani Baker: We lived in the Limes in a house The Ministry of Education set us up with (my mother Fannie Haughton had come to work with them). I loved it because it was walking distance to Grand Anse Beach and we knew all of our neighbors. It was paradise. After school I would rush home, have some curry and dumplings, go for a swim, then do my homework. What more could a 9-year-old ask for!
POTENT: You and your family moved to Grenada not long before the invasion. How old were you at the time and what are your memories of that tumultuous period?
Damani: I was 9 when we moved. Living in Grenada was a beautiful adventure my mom took us (me and my younger sister) on. The events that led up to the invasion we’re incurably sad. Everything my mother imagined for us was unraveling, we sat and listened to Radio Free Grenada during the unrest. On October 25th, 1983, I remember waking up at 4 am and seeing a US military cargo plane flying over our home, and thought, ‘where could that be going’? Several house later we found ourselves hiding under a bed as the full scale invasion began. It was terrifying.
POTENT: How did it feel returning to Grenada for the first time after having left in 1983?
Damani: I was excited and anxious. It was sixteen years since we were evacuated. I really wanted to make a film that revisited this incredible piece of my family’s history but I think I came back looking for much more. I felt proud of what we were a part of. As Angela Davis says in my interview with her, “Grenada was a beacon of light.” And I think it still is.
POTENT: You had to stop working on the documentary for quite some time when your father was ill, and then to work on your documentary film, “Still Bill” (about musician Bill Withers). What does it mean to you returning to it now? Has your vision expanded and do you see the film with new eyes?
Damani: Returning to it now feels like something I have to do, it’s a homecoming of sorts, a celebration of family and the world we all were dreaming of. Right now I couldn’t be more moved to make this film a reality. Because it’s also a multi-generational tribute to the women who raised me and the simple choices they made that I think changed not just my childhood, but the world.
POTENT: Your film looks to be an intimate exploration of family, sacrifice and dedication; an homage to unsung heroes. Why is it that message especially important today and what do you hope people will take away from it?
Damani: I hope people will see this project and reimagine their own potential. Right now, yesterday, and probably tomorrow we continue to drift deeper into a culture of consumerism, celebrity, and lack of respect for each other and the planet. This is unsustainable. I hope the House on Coco Road inspires people to think differently about what a livable world looks like. For me, for a short moment in my life, Grenada and how we got there, was just that.
POTENT: How do you think your film will be received in Grenada (and the Caribbean as a whole) and do you have any plans to screen there once it’s complete?
Damani: It would be an honor to screen it in Grenada. I’ve been taking to the incredible Dessima Williams about partnering with GRENED (Grenada Education and Development Programme) to host the premiere. It would be a transformative experience for me, for sure. I hope that it will be received well because it’s a celebration of the hope and humanity that Grenada imprinted on my soul.
POTENT: How did you get Meshell Ndegeocello involved in scoring the film?
Damani: I am a HUGE fan of her music, her poetry, her ability to make you feel something. Over the years I have often listened to her albums with this project in mind. For me, her music is a personal and visual experience. So I asked her, and she said yes! I am honored that she’s a part of this project.
To learn more about the documentary, “The House on Hope Road,” visit the Kickstarter campaign here.