Guyanese literature to film
Preserving our literary heritage
by Petamber Persaud
January 7, 2007
For some forty years, the film, ‘To Sir with Love’, has retained its magnetism as it continues to connect to varying and various audiences through the years.
For some forty years now, audiences around the world have shown great appreciation of the film, ‘To Sir with Love’, without knowing the film was an adaptation of a novel of the same name written by a Guyanese.
Yes, there are still many Guyanese who are also ignorant of the fact even though the book is on the Caribbean Examination Council reading list.
This immensely popular film was usually doubled in Guyana with ‘Guess who’s coming to Dinner’, both films featuring Sidney Poitier. Some of the reasons responsible for this lack of connection of movie to Guyana also bedevil other bits of our literature adapted to film.
The first piece of Guyanese literature adapted to film was the novel, ‘Green Mansions’, written by W. H. Hudson. The book was first published in 1904 and the movie of the same name was released in 1959 and appeared in Guyana during the 1980s. That movie, directed by Mel Ferrer, starred Audrey Hepburn, Anthony Perkins, Lee J. Cobb and Henry Silva.
The movie was not a hit even though there was a reprint of the novel to coincide with the release of the film. The book, on the other hand, is quite successful, going into many reprints.
To Sir With Love
‘To Sir, with Love’, the movie written and directed by James Clavell was released in 1967. It is the story of how an idealistic teacher and cynical teenage students of an inner city school of London beat the odds. It touches on issues of racial prejudices, sexual infatuation between a pupil and teacher, teenage angst and inspirational leadership. ‘To Sir with Love’, the novel was written by E. R. Braithwaite who was born in New Amsterdam, Berbice.
Braithwaite was educated at Queen’s College, Guyana, the City College of New York and University of Cambridge. He was a pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II. After the war, unable to find work in his field, he turned to teaching, resulting in his first novel.
Gift of the Forest
‘Gift of the Forest’ is based on a book by the same name written by R. Lal Singh and is about Amerindian village life in British Guiana. Filmed in the USA, released in 1968, it enjoyed a great run among the children population of California.
R. Lal Singh was born in Guyana on August 8, 1905 to East Indian parents. He grew up among the Makushi Indians until he was almost ten years. Incidentally, he was technical adviser to the filming of ‘Green Mansions’.
The Terror and the Time
This film, 1979, centres on nine poems taken from the collection, ‘Poems of Resistance’, by Martin Carter, some written in 1953 while the poet was in detention under colonial rule.
The film was directed by Rupert Roopnaraine who has also published a book on the poetry of Carter, ‘Web of October’.
Terror and the Time’ is told against the backdrop of the struggle for Guyana’s independence and ‘also documents the more insidious forms of everyday economic and cultural repression used throughout colonialism's long history’.
I Is a Long-Memoried Woamn
This 50-minute video produced by Ingrid Lewis in 1990 is based on the poetry of Grace Nichols’ award-winning book of the same name. Nichols won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize with that first book of poems in 1983.
The film chronicles the history of slavery through the eyes of Caribbean women in spoken word, song and dance. It shows the conditions on sugar plantations, the unfolding acts of defiance and the rebellion which led to eventual freedom. It tells of the African woman fighting for her space in society.
Grace Nichols, born in Georgetown in 1950, migrated to England in 1977. In 1996, she won The Guyana Prize for Literature in category of poetry with the publication, ‘Sunris’.
This film, 1991, is about infidelity and AIDS and is based on a play of the same name, both written and produced by Paloma Mohamed. This film was completed on a shoe-string budget and is listed as the first all-local production.
The play was first staged at the National Cultural Centre in Guyana.
Paloma Mohamed has won the Guyana Prize for Literature on three occasions in the same category of drama. As a film-maker, she has so far produced six films.
The Hummingbird Tree
The novel written by Ian McDonald was first published in 1969 and reissued two times thereafter. Set in Trinidad, parts of it were written while the author was at Cambridge University, while he was living in Trinidad where he was born and while he was living in Guyana, his adopted home since 1955.
The novel which is on the Caribbean Examination Council reading list won the Royal Society of Literature Prize for best regional novel.
The Humming Bird Tree’ was made into a film by the BBC in 1992.
This is a short list but impressive display of adaptations of Guyanese literature to film. A short list but impressive display of adaptations perhaps suffering from under exposure.