The National Gas Company (NGC) is buying the Banyan archives.
NGC President Mark Loquan made the surprise announcement at the opening of the Banyan Retrospective as part of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (ttff) at NALIS on Thursday night.
“As a state enterprise that is heavily invested in the preservation of our local arts and culture, NGC views the Banyan archives as a national heirloom that we cannot afford to lose. So much of our long-term sustainability depends on understanding our journey and protecting our heritage; on leveraging the strengths of our past to feed future growth and to understand our own identity,” he said.
“Therefore, when we were presented with the opportunity to pursue ownership of these archives on behalf of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, we did not hesitate. Today, it is our great privilege to announce that NGC is pursuing acquiring this archive and will, from here forward, be joint custodians of this massive vault of Caribbean memory and history. The other party to this ownership is of course the users and viewers of such historical data.”
Loquan revealed that NGC intends to partner with a third party to manage this archive which will help connect the supply with demand and ensure the Banyan archives are put to best use.
This, he said, includes circulating more content for public education and guiding research and development.
When contacted, Loquan told Loop News that they still need to sign off on the agreement but the initiative is very much in line with the company’s involvement in arts and culture.
“This is very much in line with sustainable thinking where you identify in the country and history and it is captured in videos and interviews and over the same years that NGC was born,” he said, describing the decision as a no-brainer.
Christopher Laird, co-founder of Banyan, said Loquan’s announcement was a blessing.
“It is a blessing because I have been trying for quite a number of years to get the institutions and various libraries to acquire and even access the archives and I got a lot of disappointments. It is great that NGC has got it, they understand the need and value of the archives,” he told Loop News.
“It is absolutely fantastic that people with the money understand the value and put it at the disposal of the nation, which is what we have been trying to do since we digitalised it five years ago.”
The Banyan database, he said, contains 15,000 items including 2500 video files with 1000 hours of material. Among the files are interviews with many of this country’s legends who have long passed such as six hours of interviews with CLR James.
Laird said the archives contain 500 programmes and 200 recordings that were never edited or made into programmes.
He said it took them five years to digitise everything and a further four years to catalog and add the metadata.
“I have been very anxious about the future of the archives because if I was to go no one would know about it,” he said.
Filmmaker Bruce Paddington founded Banyan Productions in 1974. Together with Laird and the late Tony Hall, the production company recorded many cultural segments, covered festivals, and conducted interviews with legends of the day, which were aired on the Gayelle series.
Banyan made the first local soap opera “Who the CAP Fits” in the late 1970s, and were commissioned to produce documentaries throughout the Caribbean
In his address, Loquan said through its documentaries, interviews, and creative programmes, we can get a glimpse into how our people lived, their struggles, and their hopes for the future.
“We can spectate at our early festivals, learn old-school methods for things we do today, meet our nation-builders and cultural icons or take masterclasses in our artforms from late legends. We get to see our country and region in a time of transition and at watershed moments in history. We get to see our identity taking shape,” he said.
He said the Banyan archives also contain rich source material for young filmmakers and storytellers.
“The volume of blockbuster movies and TV programmes today that are set in past eras highlights the fascination of the modern viewer with the past. With relatively little of the postcolonial Caribbean represented in film and TV, the stories that can be parsed from the archives are a goldmine of inspiration for creative content. By providing raw material to feed our creative industries, the archives represent an engine for economic diversification and sustainable development.”
The retrospective programme is a core element of ttff/22 and runs from September 22 – 28. It comprises several events, which take place at NALIS on Hart and Abercromby Streets, Port of Spain. These include screenings of some of Banyan’s most important television work; a ttff talk with Dr Bruce Paddington and Christopher Laird; and an exhibition of photos, memorabilia, and more at the Rotunda in NALIS – all of which are free and open to the public.
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