Reviewed in issue 74 of the contemporary journal, Wasafiri, by Louis James.
“The film gives new insights into William’s personality omitted from his own autobiography, Inward Hunger, and historical studies. His daughter Erica speaks of the warm, humorous and affectionate father Williams himself may have felt too insecure to reveal in public. Totally disregardful of self, and fearing any appearance of weakness, in his last sudden and fatal illness Williams refused all offer of medical help, or the solace of company, and the day after his death was found dead under an African robe in his study. More effectively than could a printed text, the multiple voices of Mariel Brown’s film present a complex, moving portrait of both Williams and the nation he did so much to create.” Louis James
Reviewed in the TNT Mirror, September 30th 2011
MEDIA WATCH spent the afternoon of last Saturday’s Republic Day holiday engrossed in Mariel Brown’s documentary ‘Inward Hunger: The Story of Eric Williams’ which, for the first time, was shown in its entirety on GISL Channel 4.
The documentary was launched two weeks ago with the premier of Part I at the Central Bank auditorium in Port of Spain, and the broadcast of the remaining two parts on Republic Day demonstrated Brown’s expert cinematography, considering the limitations of material and budgetary resources which would have obtained.
At the premiere, GISL chief executive, Andy Johnson, gave credit to his predecessor Maxie Cuffie who commissioned the documentary, as well as First Citizens Bank, the main sponsor. As well he might, for without their initiative the Government would have had no tangible expression marking the Eric Williams centennial.
Brown’s balanced portrait of Williams’ life owes much to Ken Boodhoo’s book ‘The Elusive Eric Williams’ and it is not surprising that Boodhoo was extensively interviewed for the piece, although there were also references to Williams’ biography from which the documentary drew its title. The production kept faith with her father’s (the late writer Wayne Brown) description of Williams’ life being a tragedy and certainly the dramatisation of his last moments underlined that description.
The filmmaker deserves credit not just for her ability to construct a credible portrait of the country’s first prime minister through a combination of archival research and interviews, but that she managed to combine glimpses of the private and public life of Williams in a way that had not been previously explored.
A revelation in the film is the candid appraisal by his daughter Erica Williams, who spoke openly about her father’s failings as well as his accomplishments and who clearly still retains some bitterness over the circumstances surrounding his death. Brown opted to utilise mostly academics, like UWI Professors Patricia Mohammed, Hamid Ghany, Selwyn Ryan and Brinsley Samarroo rather than Williams’ political allies or foes for perspective. This was a risky strategy given that academics (like journalists) are hardly ever as objective as they claim and the film could have benefitted from additional perspectives or the insight of those who worked closely with him.
In any case the strategy worked as the frank appraisals were unusually free of the partisan tinge which could have damaged a project of this nature and still made for compelling viewing. The film, also for the first time, made extensive use of GISL’s video archives for a major production and hopefully should mark the beginning of a trend. If anything, greater use could have been made of the audio archives of what used to be the Radio Unit to reduce the need for voice-overs.
Albert Laveau’s rendition of Williams’ iconic monotone was all over the place and, apart from not always capturing the cadence of his speech, was delivered in a sometimes bewildering mixture of accents. But barring some uneven audio levels, arising no doubt from the variety of archival material used, and which should have been corrected in post-production, the documentary is an excellent film.
Media Watch’s decision to give so much attention to this review is to some extent due to the realisation that many persons would have missed it, given the poor promotion of what should have been a major launch. GISL’s advertisement promoting the showing of the film first appeared on Friday, September 23, the day before the broadcast, and scheduling it for the weakest television viewing slot on Saturday afternoon at 1.30 (Sunday evening at 7pm would have been best) would have increased the audience considerably.
And of course, GISL could have ignored the boycott instructions and advertised in the Mirror if they really wanted the public to know they were showing the film. The real pity is that so few people would have seen what is a really beautiful and important work.