Film Festival Pays Tribute to Visionary Jamaican Artist (September 27, 2015)

Rickards articleThe T&T Film Festival’s New Media exhibit on the works of the late Peter Dean Rickards drew a large crowd of appreciative viewers not only from T&T but the Caribbean, especially his native Jamaica.

The pictures shown were beautifully simple, almost stark, evoking a range of emotions from laughter and nostalgia to disgust and sadness.

Seven short films were shown which showed different aspects of Jamaica. ‘Ambush’ showed a young black girl, Mariah, dancing quietly to music. ‘I had that dream again’ was very surreal, with a man smoking a cigar suddenly being confronted by a woman dancing on the roof of a house. ‘Solaris’, showing a woman lounging on a beach alone, contrasted drastically with the manic energy of Stone, with singer Terri Lyn. ‘Kingston 1996’ and ‘Proverbs 24:10’ looked at different aspects of dancehall culture, while the final film ‘Friday July 13, 2012 – Ninjaman at Exodus’ showed a snippet of Rickards‘ work with the Jamaican DJ.

During the slideshow of Rickards‘ work, one of his closest friends and one of the managers of his artistic estate, Ross Shiel, gave a moving tribute to the photographer, filmmaker and storyteller.

“His work was a rare, sharply focused eye-view into Jamaica’s culture and daily life. He could be dark or he could find optimism in the gloom, could make you laugh or could make you cry, or all at the same time. We think a lot of it came from being born in Jamaica but raised since his teens as an immigrant in Canada. It gave him a different perspective on the nuances, the weirdnesses of different cultures, especially his own; and together with his innate fascination perhaps made it so much easier for him to see what the rest of us wouldn’t or maybe, couldn’t.”

Sheil said Rickards was apprehensive when he was first invited to T&T four years ago, because of the perceived antagonism which exists between the two countries but Sheil said “Rickards really enjoyed the experience and his eyes were opened by the size of the creative community in Trinidad and the appreciation for his work and other people’s work as well.”

“I worked with him since 2004, and in many ways he showed me a different side of Jamaica from what I saw as a journalist. He found things in the culture that other people wouldn’t see and gave it dignity and a sophistication. Maybe in Jamaica we self-stereotype ourselves too much, we tend to go after the same hype as everyone else and I think his work struck a nerve overseas as well because people always suspected or wanted to see a more diverse representation of Jamaica and he was someone who could capture that.”

“He could write really well, he was a photographer, a videographer and even had a project webcasting sound systems from a basement called Kingston Signals, which was pretty amazing in the days of dial-up internet. He was someone who just really enjoyed taking daily life and making stories and narratives out of it, in whatever the medium. I know there are many people, including younger artists who are coming up now, and it’s remarkable and interesting how many say they were influenced by him in some way. That shows we do have room for diversity and real representations that don’t have to be sugarcoated, or deny how our society really is. He said basically we have extremes in Jamaica, extreme ugliness and extreme beauty and extreme good and bad and he captured all of that, sometimes at the same time. He had a pretty wicked sense of humour as an artist and could be cutting and controversial at times. I think that him going was a loss to Jamaica and the country was a bit more boring as a result, because there wasn’t this representation.”

Sheil said this is his first time coming to the T&T Film Festival and he was amazed by “the level of organization that’s gone into it, the amount of Caribbean films they’ve sourced, not just from the English-speaking Caribbean, it’s quite remarkable. It says something that here’s a Jamaican filmmaker who didn’t get invited by the Jamaican Film Festival but they’re showing his work at the T&T Film Festival. There are still some projects of his that we, the managers of his estate, have to finish, so this event is very encouraging as we do that work. There’s a book project he had that was basically laid out and completed, there was an unfinished documentary project with Ninjaman, and we want to restart FIRST Magazine.”

“It’s cool that this is going on and it’s appreciation of work from other Caribbean islands which is what it should all be about, we’re not really that big to draw those lines for something like this. I think it’s a really awesome achievement by the organizers.”

The works of Peter Dean Rickards can be found at www.afflictedyard.com and www.peterdeanrickards.com

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