I recently read Terry Gajraj’s post on facebook ( and Guyana Stabroek News) concerning the lack of recognition by the government of Guyana for more than thirty years of representing the country in musical venues all over the world. As a Guyanese Chutney singer he has created a name for himself and at the same time has brought heightened awareness to the culture of Guyana. His accomplishments have been recognized by many countries but sadly he fell into the category of “a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country”.
I can empathize with Terry for sadly I have had similar experiences. I have produced and directed seven films set in Guyana and with Guyanese actors and have had to run through hoops to have them shown and receive even the minimum of support and recognition by government and private agencies. My film, “Brown Sugar Too Bitter for Me” even after being pirated and sold on Dvd’s still garnered over half a million views on youtube with appreciation and acceptance by audiences from countries all over the globe such as Trinidad, India, South Africa, Mauritius, Suriname, England, Malaysia etc. So did the movies “Forgotten Promise”, “Till I find a Place” and “A Jasmine for a Gardener”. I thought that over the years I was contributing to Guyanese culture by creating something like a Guyanese film industry, but I guess that aspect of culture was not recognized by the powers to be as it was so far apart and removed from attending to rehabilitation of football and cricket grounds, which are by the way no less of importance. Let me say however, the previous Minister of Culture, Mr. Frank Anthony, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Sam Hinds always made it their duty to attend the premiere of my movies. Mr. Donald Ramotar also did so when he was President. Other Presidents and opposition leaders even though invited every time never showed up. Thankfully too, Mr. Frank Anthony helped with transportation on two occasions.
The film “Protection Game” was made and dedicated to Guyana’s 50th Independence anniversary in 2015. I proposed the idea to three APNU AFC ministers when I met with them and who promised to showcase the movie as a proud Guyanese product. On completion I reached out through emails, through letters and even had the emails printed and taken to them. Not a single reply. That is after those Ministers of the then APNU AFC government gave me the assurance that the film would be shown for the 50th anniversary celebrations. I had hit the proverbial Guyanese brick wall. With no backing from the authorities a venue could not be found to accommodate the showing of the film. To this day, this film that was dedicated for that important occasion in Guyana’s History has not been shown in Guyana.
My latest movie “Brown Sugar Too Bitter for Me – The Oil Dream” was filmed entirely in Guyana, with an all Guyanese Cast and edited just before the elections of 2020, but because of the Covid pandemic it was only shown in Guyana in February 19-28, at Movie Towne. A few weeks before this film was shown, a Guyanese actress who starred in an international movie, was heralded and felicitated by various departments of the government and the University of Guyana. Although this actress had done nothing in her movie to promote the culture or the country of Guyana, the fanfare that she got gave me hope that at least the authorities were slowly waking up from their long slumber to acknowledge that “movies” were also part of the cultural landscape, but how terribly wrong I was. For the premiere of the movie at Movie Towne on Feb. 19, I sent out 40 invitations which included the President, The Prime Minister, Vice President, all the Ministers of the Government as well as the British High Commissioner and American Ambassador. I bought a separate phone so that I can have a phone number in
that letter for RSVP. Lo and behold, except for the British High Commissioner, the American Ambassador, the Prime Minister and three Ministers of the Govt no-one else felt it necessary to respond. And of course on the premiere, NOT A SINGLE MINISTER SHOWED UP. The British High Commissioner, The American Ambassador and the Minister of Foreign Affairs though, did send representatives. It was a very disappointing day as much was spent in the way of providing a red carpet affair with the anticipation of the attendance of the people who should be pushing such a project to further help with culture. The people who attended this event were entertained and impressed with Guyanese talent but again sadly, not the people who could have made a difference. And imagine this was in the period celebrating our own holiday/culture – MASHRAMANI.
I met with the President on February 22nd and he was eager to help and promised help directly and also through the Minister of Culture and that I would hear in a week. To this day, a month and a half later and even after follow up emails to him, I am still to receive a reply or any assistance. Five months before the movie was screened I wrote the Minister of Culture. HE NEVER REPLIED. When I got to Guyana and through external intervention he met me and told me he has to screen who he would meet. I guess I was not qualified. Is what I do not part of culture? Isn’t he the Minister of Culture?
I am not writing this to receive a reward or a medal or an award. I have gotten that from the powers outside of Guyana many times and from the people who are appreciative of what I do. Read the hundreds of responses on youtube, you will get the idea. And there are many other people who have been involved in the movie process that need recognition like writers Somnauth Narine and Ronald Hollingsworth, And to those behind the scenes like Richard Sanchara and Rajiv Sanchara. Singers Devindra Pooran, Terry Gajraj, and Nadeer Bacchus, and the many actors and actresses. Something is terribly wrong when people who promote Guyana and its culture are recognized out of Guyana and their efforts are not promoted or encouraged at home. ARE WE SO FOREIGN MINDED?
Now is the time for introspection and serious analysis. If Guyanese culture is “we own” then we need both government and private businesses to promote the works of our own artistes who are in the forefront of propagating our uniqueness. If we don’t wake up and smell our own Pomeroon coffee we may find ourselves one day celebrating the American festival of Halloween rather than our own Phagwah.