Following a three-year pandemic-induced hiatus, St Paul’s Carnival returned on Saturday 1st July with a theme of ‘Learning from the Legends’. This remained consistent with the several fringe shows preceding the main event, which included Inna Wi Carnival Cinema.
Words:Nathan Hardie, @hardiewrites
Images: Donovan Jackson, @donovanjackson342
Inna Wi Carnival Cinema was presented in collaboration with Cables & Cameras at The Trinity Centre in the week and began with host, Junior Saunders welcoming us to a night of four short films showcasing the cultural history of St Paul’s Carnival.
Leading the way was Home Carnival Queen by Somina, a five-minute piece highlighting the significance of the parade’s matriarch. Shot during lockdown, their colourful outfits shone brightly in the empty streets and back gardens. Impressively choreographed dancing is mixed with past and present queens sharing why the role is so important.
Costume-maker, Carol Sheman showcases her creation for this years event carnival
A position of empowerment, one described it as “a channel for me to freely express myself”. It finished with an impactful message stated by the elder queen to “let everybody see who you are, and walk proudly as a black woman”.
(L) Audience members. (R) Junior Saunders talks to Community Elders
Michelle Pascal’s Hats explored similar themes through a comedy-drama lens. A black barrister opposed to the Windrush deportations is conflicted about having placed her mother into a care home. Dementia is always a sensitive topic, especially when used in a light-hearted fashion, but Pascal has balanced the tonal tightrope perfectly. Highlighting how we become a product of our environment, the message of Hats emphasised the need for staying true to our cultural identity, particularly if we have lost our bearings.
This point is hammered home by Colin Thomas’ documentary Celebrate What?, which took the audience back to the first St Paul’s Carnival in 1968. News footage from BBC South West combined with talking head interviews presented the suburb candidly, showing the vibrant diverse community thriving amongst dilapidated buildings and outdated ideals. Whilst it is easy to laugh at the ignorant views towards wanting to dance, there are discomforting parallels regarding a National Front speech to politics today.
Experiences shown in the documentary were unofficially verified via Keziah Wenham-Kenyon’s short Inna Wi Carnival: Reflections of a Generation. A casual roundtable conversation between local elders provided wholesome anecdotes and genuine opinions on the carnival. What these last two pieces made clear is how much progress has occurred over the last fifty years, yet called attention to the modern issues we are facing now.
After the cast and crew of each project were rightly celebrated, a panel discussion took place between Saunders, community activist Jendayi Serwah and filmmaker Keyane Nwakalo-Allman. Serwah succinctly pointed out that the carnival cost is increasing but its offer is decreasing, shrinking from a multi-layered ten day programme into a solitary Saturday. She also correlates this with the erasure of African history in contemporary society, limiting Caribbeans to one boat journey in 1948.
(L – R) Keyane Nwakalo-Allman, Jendayi Serwah & Junior Saunders
So how do we improve St Paul’s Carnival? Keyane suggested it is by watching films like those displayed at Inna Wi Carnival. After appraising Celebrating What?, he said we can “learn from the past to understand the present and then improve the future”. Therefore, by learning from the legends as this year’s theme encouraged, we can return to the roots of St Paul’s Carnival and fully take pride in the community once again.
Nathan Hardie is the newest member of our team and developing a career as a film critic and scriptwriter. Find out more about Nathan and the projects he’s been working on here
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