AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Nicola Cross and my documentary short, Becky, won the Best TT Film at the TT Film Festival last week.
I’m from round the Savannah.
Early life in Federation Park seems long ago, playing on the street, liming on the wall. Fairways was quite dull.
But “round the Savannah, in the Dere Street apartments, was exciting. The Allums (Desmond & Cathy) and Pierro (Guerrini, an earlier Trini to the Bone) downstairs and Merlene (Samlalsingh, an earlier Trini to the Bone)…It was a
I was raised by both my parents but time-shared, living with my father Ulric in Trinidad during school terms and my mother Ann in England for summer vacations, and she would spend Christmas with us.
I was born in Tanzania and came to Trinidad when I was five. After a year, my parents separated and my mother went back to the UK, leaving me with what she felt was a community and a family she, an only child, never had.
Also, at the time, she didn’t want to raise me, a young black girl, alone in London. Thank God she made that decision!
When I was 12-ish, my sister (Sue Woodford-Hollick) found us and when I was 18, my brother (Richard Finch) found us.
Both are my father’s children but I didn’t know I had a sister or brother. So we gained a family.
I’m staying in my sister’s house right now. My sister has three kids and the middle one is ten years younger than me. I’m closer in age to my nieces.
My brother, a head teacher in the UK, retired (to) South Africa.
My father’s pride and joy were the two pens he won for solving the Times cryptic crossword.
I never had to fight my father. I never felt the need to leave home. Because he never restricted me in any way, shape or form.
Valmiki Kempadoo told me, “You need to leave home!”
And I said, “And go live where? Three minutes away in Cascade? I’ll leave country. That makes more sense.”
And I went to Peru for a year and a half.
In Trinidad, I had community but I felt like I had inherited it from my father, he had done it all and I was just “along for the ride.”
(Living) in Peru on my own, no one knew me, I thought, “You can create your own community.” Because your father taught you how to.
I told a therapist once, “I obviously don’t value my work because I can’t charge people. How can I charge (impoverished) NGOs?”
After five minutes, she said, “You value your work. What you have to work on is charging people.”
I came to film late. I was working in the Environmental Management Authority. Persuading Trinidadians that the environment was necessary and important to their own health and well-being was challenging. Perhaps I could reach them with the powerful tool of film.
I got one of the first grants from the first Filmco under the Tourism desk. I wrote the script for and directed my first film, Flood Print.
I knew what I wanted. (But) I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t pick up a camera. I was just hiring cinematographer, editor, everybody.
While Dad was dying – or not dying – over three years, I was auditing the UWI film programme, I was volunteering at the film festival. I applied to do a masters in film and, after one experience on a narrative film set, I was, like,
That was when I realised I was documentary.
All my life, I’ve been documenting.
Working with the Institute for Gender & Development Studies, there was this documenting of people’s lives. And that gave me the language for gender.
I did a masters in documentary by practice. Visibly Me was my thesis film.
Before that I did a short on my mum, which was quite sweet.
A lot of it is choosing the characters. That’s when I started shooting and doing everything. Which I’ve been doing since.
My documentary Becky won the award in the Women Over 50 Film Festival and I was, like, “They chose it because of Black Lives Matter!”
And then it won the TT Film Festival prize.
And I almost didn’t enter Becky in the TTFF. Because (its subject, female genital mutilation) was not a Trinidadian story.
Because I’ve volunteered for it, because four of my films have been in it, the Film Festival has a special place in my heart. I understand the festival and its quality. I respect the process.
So when the TT Film Festival tells me, “Your film is of quality,” I believe it.
I understand that Becky, the film, is good. But Becky, the human being, the Kenyan woman, is
(People’s Choice winner for The Interview) Ayana Harper and Alex(andra Warner, maker of The Forgotten Boys) are my cohort.
Maybe I won the prize, but they are my team, really. They are my film family.
I think it’s really important it’s three black women. I have to make sure that, any time I have a success, I am taking black women with me. That’s the only way things will change.
Because the statistics, the number of women in front of and behind the camera, are not enough.
I live sometimes with my mum in Lewes, a small town in England. I walk for my coffee every morning and meet people in the street the way I do in Trinidad.
But last time I was in Trinidad, I went to that Syrian food place in Shoppes of Maraval, nice fellas, and there were these people buying their food at the same time. A father and three of his sons.
And I thought, “I have seen those boys all my life! I remember seeing them in the car as schoolchildren when I was going to school!”
I have no idea what their names are, but I’ve known them for decades.
Trinidad is the only place in the world where that happens for me. That familiarity is unique.
For me, a Trini is somebody who cares about Trinidad.
When I think of Trinidad, I think of “my community.” Trinidad is in my veins.
In Trinidad, I don’t think about being Trinidadian.
But in the United Kingdom, I
know I’m a Trini.
There is a history, there is the music, stuff that, even if you don’t know anything about it, it gets inside you.
Read the full version of this feature on Saturday at www.BCPires.com