Banyan News


A feature length documentary by Christopher Laird premiered in Toronto at the Caribbean Tales Festival In September 2013 and in Trinidad at the Trinidad & Tobago Film festival later that month.

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The Kalinda dance was brought to the Caribbean slave plantations from the Kongo and Angola. In Trinidad the Kalinda accompanied a development of the African warrior game of stick fighting and is practiced in arenas called “Gayelles”.

Two young Trinidadian internationally certified multidisciplined martial artists re-discovered their roots in this unique Trinidadian martial art and were accepted for mentorship by living legends of the art.

Follow Keegan and Benji as with humility, respect and the total commitment of the martial artist they enter the potentially lethal arena of the Gayelle which is to them is like a ring of liberation, “where I am a human being and I deserve to be alive and anybody in this circle I respect because they understand the value of life.


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In everything we have our own thing, the things that all humans need to survive, moulded and crafted to become wholly and solely ours. I went yesterday to see the Documentary feature "No Bois man NO fraid" done by Christopher Laird and narrated or better yet lived by Keegan Taylor and Rondel Benjamin. There is so much i can say and in time and with further reflection i will but for now, if you are a trinibagonian in your heart and you feel a connection to this place in any real sense then you must go see this documentary, it will move you to do more with your life. trust me. i just wanted to congratulate the stickmen and women and the makers of the film for now. Will say my piece later in earnest. Love and respect to all the warriors out in the road fighting. No Bois Man No fraid.

Muhammad Muwakil

78 minutes


Produced by Banyan & The Bois Academy of Trinidad & Tobago

© Banyan & Bois Academy of T&T 2013








Photo by Mark Lyndersay

Banyan News Archive


Banyan's Christopher Laird Honoured

In June this year (2009) Banyan's Christopher Laird, CEO of Gayelle the channel was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Caribbean Tales Film festival in Toronto and the University of the West Indies has awarded him an Honorary Doctorate (DLit).

 Following is an interview with Christopher Laird by Anna Walcott-Hardy:

AWH. How old were you when you decided to become a film-maker? Who were your mentors?


CL. I guess all youngsters want to make movies but I first seriously expressed the aim of becoming a filmmaker at 19. Film schools were just starting up in London, Poland and a few other places but the way to a career in film still meant getting a job and working your way up in the industry. My parents were adamant that I get my degree first.


My mentors at that time were not necessarily filmmakers but the many Caribbean artists especially the writers whom I had the privilege of knowing in my parent's circle growing up and those whom I met in the Caribbean Artists Movement in London in the 60s. John La Rose, Andrew Salkey, Edward (now Kamau) Braithwaite and I remember Wilson Harris being very supportive of my exploring things visually when he saw an illustrated poem I had constructed at the time.


I knew that I had a strong visual sense and a strong sense of mission in terms of expressing the Caribbean reality. Film seemed to be the way but I didn't know how to achieve it. Remember, the time was the late 60s, and we were all caught up in the revolutionary nationalism of the time. Video was just beginning and that really was the way I entered filmmaking.


AWH.  Do you have any projects you look back on and think – how were we able to accomplish this on such a limited budget, little resources and time?


CL. In the early days I guess almost all the projects seemed like that but as time went on one could not avoid a certain dissatisfaction or frustration that the work had to be so compromised by the lack of time, resources etc. It is an empty boast to say I had achieved X with nothing if X wasn't up to standard. Eventually I chose just those projects which seemed to promise a balance between resources and the quality of the outcome by accepting a degree of modesty in its design. Needless to say, when you get down to it, that promise is seldom if ever kept. You always want better. The growth of digital technology, however, has helped a great deal to achieve a semblance of quality with slim resources.


AWH.  Do you have a pet project?


CL. Gayelle was a pet project decades in the making and I have to count my blessings that I have had a chance in my lifetime to be able to confront the dream in reality. It is still a pet project yet to be fully realised.


My other pet project has been to make a film of Sonny Ladoo's NO PAIN LIKE THIS BODY. I've been working on that for 35 years, ever since I read the book 1974. Tony Hall, Errol Sitahal and I have a great screenplay but that is as far as we have got. Meanwhile I have been working on a documentary on Ladoo and have filmed about half of it. Work on that stopped  with the coming of Gayelle the channel.


AWH.  Who or what inspires you?


CL. There are so many names I shy away from naming them for fear of those whom I will necessarily omit.


I have always been inspired by the giants of our Caribbean civilisation, James, Walcott, Naipaul, McBurnie, Chang, those who I was privileged to come to know as people as a young person growing up. I grew up in a house that was often filled with such presences inspired by the dream of Federation and  I saw a whole generation crash and burn with its demise. That conviction of our unique and  shared Caribbean genius lived  on with the Caribbean Artists Movement and I like to feel that I act still in that tradition along with those who continue to share a vision of what we have to offer the world as a region.


While I would count my parents and people like John La Rose as significant guides, I would also admit the influence of those two generous and anarchic iconoclasts Ken Corsbie and Marc Matthews with whom I have been close over the years. If I have an ounce of their talent and spirit I would consider myself well endowed indeed. The recording genius Emory Cook is still someone I would consider a model for all my work with Banyan and Gayelle.


I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to work intimately with rewarding creative results with great talents like Tony Hall and his brother Dennis, Bruce Paddington, Errol Sitahal and Niala Maharaj and for the past five years I have had the incredible experience of working side by side with one of the most extraordinary human beings I know, Errol Fabien. Talk about inspiration!


AWH. For the past 30 years your productions have helped us to see ourselves, to better understand who we are as a people. With the challenges Banyan and then Gayelle have faced over the years what do you think is the future of film in T&T and of local programming in T&T?


CL. The conditions for Caribbean motion picture production are still difficult, but that is the nature of the business. Making films is never easy, anywhere. But as Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando says, 'you can't stop artists dreaming', even though for nearly half a century of television in the Caribbean we have had to dream other people's dreams.


Nevertheless there are hopeful signs: The Trinidad & Tobago Film Company is a huge step forward despite the fact that the government has slashed its already inadequate budget 50% this year; there are film courses at UWI and students are coming out of them with some promise. There are many young people out there now who fancy themselves as filmmakers. The technology is doing for film what it did for audio recording twenty years ago, putting it within the reach of everyone. When Gayelle started five years ago people came to us with ideas, now they come with DVDs.


AWH.  Do you think that subsidizing industry would help the progression of film or video productions and raise the standard and does this come hand-in-hand with censorship and regulations that may deter creativity?


CL. Subsidies for film production are absolutely essential if the state is serious about developing the industry. Our market is so small massive investment over a long period is needed to kick start the industry and establish momentum. This includes investment in developing marketing and distribution channels and infrastructure. The industry will not develop if we don't increase the size of our market and that takes real investment. It is a matter of faith in the real resource we have in the region, the creative drive of our people. This is what has filled the world with Caribbean Carnivals, it could be a world full of Caribbean media tomorrow. But the record is more than dismal when it comes to our governments having faith in the worth of our people.


AWH .Where do you see Gayelle the Channel in five years?


 CL. Gayelle the Channel in five more years will have to still be at the centre of Caribbean media origination one way or the other. It has already radically changed our expectations of our media. Compare the media environment when we began to that of today: the explosion of  channels, television personalities , series, shows and people employed in the industry. Yet we are still the only free to air station in the region with close to 100% Caribbean content 24 hours a day.


In the next few years you can expect a deepening and sharpening of focus as economic realities are driven home but the shape of the industry in five years will be unrecognisable compared to today. The glory days of broadcast television are way past and the new media is poised to turn established forms on their heads. I expect Gayelle to be in the midst of that. At the very least we will have been the main inspiration and model.


AWH . You've always seemed like such a even-tempered, unassuming guy -are you excited about being honored by UWI by being on stage, in front of the camera for a while?


 CL. I have always been a back-stage person. I guess I have appeared unassuming because I know I am no genius and it has taken 300 productions and many years of work and self-analysis of my work to find my particular talent and become secure in that.


I am not a flashy filmmaker, if you see my hand while watching a film of mine then I have failed in some respect. The people in my films are the subject of the films not me. You know, I see my films like I see my father's buildings. If you walk into a Colin Laird building, its elegance and his exquisite sense of scale will make you feel the dignity and infinite possibility of being human  I like to feel you get the same feeling when you watch my best work: the joy and pain, the intelligence and enduring courage that it takes to live our lives together in this world.


I am not alone in believing that in this society the fate of the truly innovative and committed artist is vagrancy of one sort or another, literally and/or figuratively. Our history makes us so brutal with those who don't accept their station. I have seen too many of our heroes talking to themselves in the street to not take it as a caution and know that those who have escaped that fate have done so because someone SAW them, recognised them, loved them, usually a nurturing friend or family member and they were wise enough to accept that love as more important than their dreams.

Recognition and appreciation too often happens here after death. So that the UWI has seen it fit to give me this honour  is wonderful. I am deeply appreciative even while I feel the accusing press of the legions of those still unrecognised and restless warriors who precede me and with whom I still walk.

AWH.  Do you have a favourite director/producer actor? Too many to name? Then can you list your five favourite movies/documentaries.


CL. The game of favourites has always left me feeling even more alienated because I don't understand the absolutes implied. "What's your favourite colour?" Surely it depends on the moment, the feeling, the context. I do have many filmmakers I admire greatly for one reason or another. There are many whose films I would go out of my way to see but I can't name one or two names of those I think are perfect. Some are good for one thing others are good in other ways and I take lessons accordingly. Perfection is a dream and an illusion and while it may be something for which we strive, if you have any wisdom at all you will know that it is the accident that often allows one to approach 'perfection'. That said, however, I must pay tribute to the Cuban filmmaker  the late Thomas Gutierrez Alea who has to be one of the world's great filmmakers and certainly a Caribbean giant.


AWH.  What are some of the projects that you are working on currently? 

 CL. Gayelle is and has been a totally consuming project for the past six years almost to exclusion of everything else though I have managed to make at least one documentary a year. I would love to have the opportunity to carry my Ladoo projects forward. The other is to be able to really finish my work on the Banyan archives, over 3,000 tapes of Caribbean culture over the past 30 years that still require more detailed cataloguing and digitising to make them more accessible.





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