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‘70, Remembering a Revolution’

By Leiselle Maraj Monday, December 13 2010

A Black Power revolution happened in Trinidad in 1970? Being a child born in the 1980s who learnt about Trinidad and Tobago’s history up until the point of East Indian Indentureship and the Chinese and Portuguese arriving shortly after, it was a shock to me to know there was such an uprising in my own country, a fact I found out only when I began working at Newsday a little over four years ago.

So it was with fresh, enthusiastic eyes and ears, I viewed the documentary film ’70, Remembering A Revolution, produced by Trade and Industry Minister, Stephen Cadiz.

For over two hours, I sat in the darkened cinema listening to those involved, representing government, military, business and black Trinidadian interests at the time.

They recalled their experiences, the social climate, the tension, the anger, the justifications, the humour and the story leading up to, during and after the months when young black citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, fuelled by the fiery words of Geddes Granger, who is now Caricom Cultural Ambassador Extraordinaire, Makandal Daaga, and Clive Nunez marched through Trinidad and Tobago demanding equality of treatment.

There was an attempted mutiny by soldiers of the Trinidad and Tobago regiment, a fact that fascinated me, a person mildly interested in history. I, being a person who could hardly wait for A’ Level history class to end in secondary school, sat through the entire showing of the documentary listening to every word of those interviewed for the film.

Cadiz explained at the premiere this was the exact reason why he felt the need to create ’70. Younger generations who are not history buffs do not know of these events unless they were lucky enough to have older relatives involved in the uprising.

Working together with his sister Elizabeth Topp, who directed the film along with Alex de Verteuil, and editor Luke Paddington, Cadiz worked for three years to bring the documentary into being.

Over 40 hours of interviews were recorded but all the footage could not be used due to the film’s two hour limit. Cadiz assured however, it will be placed in the library at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus to be accessed by anyone interested in knowing more of a time when tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Port-of-Spain.

Fifteen minute snippets of each interview are also available at the film’s website, www.70themovie.com and the film was expected to be screened on television for the first time last Friday and Saturday on Gayelle the Channel.

DVD copies of ’70 will be released in early 2011.

The documentary began with a man making his way through the San Juan Public Cemetery to the grave of Bazil Davis, whose death in 1970 at the hands of police sparked off one of the highpoints of the revolution.

Journalist Raoul Pantin, Minister in the Ministry of Food Production Senator Doctor Jennifer Jones Kernahan, Calypsonian Brother Resistance, the late actress and comedienne Mairoon Ali and comedian Sprangalang (Dennis Hall) among others told the story of discontent among black Trinidadians post-Independence with photos and footage of the time in between interviews. Expectations of equality remained unmet in the late 1960s with whites still in control of the private sector while those hired by companies were light skinned Trinidadians.

Unrest began in Trinidad when Caribbean undergraduates studying at the Sir George Williams University in Canada were arrested for the part they played in protest and student riot at the school.

Students accused a biology lecturer of racism and when this complaint was dismissed in January 29, 1969, they staged a sit-in at the computer centre.

On February 11, students threw computers out of the centre’s windows, wrecked property and set fire after negotiations to hear their complaint and end the sit-in failed last minute.

The film traces the actions of students at UWI, St Augustine led by Granger who expressed solidarity with their Trinidadian and regional counterparts who, according to reports were being roughly treated by Canadian authorities. The barricade against the Canadian Governor General, Roland Michener who attempted to enter UWI during a visit in 1970, the march through Port-of- Spain on February 26, 1970, meetings, the march from Port-of-Spain to Caroni to gain the support of Indo-Trinidadians, the coining of the phrase “Black Power movement” by the media, the violence, the death of Davis, the national state of emergency called by then Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, mutiny, arrests, trials and the overall impact of the movement were explored in the film.

Williams’ daughter, Erica and founding member of the People’s National Movement Ferdie Ferreira expressed the sentiments of the Williams-led administration while Raffique Shah sought to clarify the regiment’s intention when he attempted to lead officers from their Tetron base into Port-of-Spain in an attempt to overthrow the government.

Ferreira , who was at the premiere, said the documentary still lacked some viewpoints on the revolution. However it still remains an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to discover the power behind people united to achieve change, to demand their right to equality the impact of which is still felt today.

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