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MAS MAN - A Dalton Narine Film in Review

Documentary about Trinidad & Tobago Carnival Artist Peter Minshall
Dalton Narine Film
dalton narine

Global - The production “Mas Man” is one that should be introduced and featured at film festivals worldwide.  After all, this chronicles a man whose works and creativity have been the visions which entranced international audiences over the years, including at the 48th annual Miss Universe pageant, and when more than eighty percent of the world’s population was encamped around their television sets for the full opening ceremonies of no less than three Olympics (1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta and 2002 Salt Lake City).  The magnificence and challenges of the games that were about to unfold for two weeks - were envisioned and launched via the mind of Peter Minshall as the opening ceremonies’ Artistic Director. 

Acclaimed carnival artist Peter Minshall
Acclaimed Carnival artist Peter Minshall

But as much as he has been internationally heralded, Peter Minshall has always returned home, to where his heart is.  And it is against this backdrop that much of Mas Man the film, unfolds.

Mas Man is far more than an outstanding documentary film about a great, internationally-acclaimed, award-winning, multi-talented artist named Peter Minshall, who, incidentally is one of the best in the world at what he does.  This production goes further and essentially provides a successful definition of the question “what is this art form called ‘Mas’?”  In the study and highlighting of the genius of Minshall, we, the audience, are afforded a glimpse into the very obsession that Minshall himself expounds to be far greater than him, or any individual - “The Mas.”

“...Mas is about taking the essence of a people and processing it in such a way that you can represent it in a forum that  has not existed before, but which the people will immediately recognize - And lets them (the people) see themselves and understand their own essence.”  - Todd Gulick

The film, Mas Man, opens with the strategic positioning of Todd Gulick, managing director of the Callaloo Company, explaining what is ‘Mas.’  The comprehension of what is Mas is a critical component to the understanding of what makes up this complex character that is Peter Minshall.

Mas Man goes a long way towards successfully allowing the audience to feel the passion for the art form that burns within Minshall, and the raging indignation and contempt he holds for those who would denigrate the art form by design, ignorance and/or lack of talent - for mere profit.  For Minshall, in denigrating the Mas, one demeans and severs the continuity of a story, heritage and life of a people.  Life is art - art is life.

Visions from Minshall's 1982 Carnival presentation 'Papillon'
Visions from Minshall’s 1982 Carnival presentation ‘Papillon’

And there lies the brilliance of this documentary film produced and directed by film maker, (and steelpan historian and pan man) Dalton Narine; by Minshall allowing this selfless examination of his life work and to a certain extent, his philosophies and beliefs. 

We, the viewers leave with a better understanding and appreciation of ourselves - and the dynamics of life - through art and culture.  Indeed, Minshall is Trinidadian and the stories he tells through his creations are those of Trinidad & Tobago, but the themes of self-examination, self-empowerment, epic battles between good and evil, and realization of beauty through art - are universal concepts and needs that everyone can identify with and relate to.  From Paradise Lost (1976) to The Sacred Heart (2006), Peter Minshall has had a special love affair with the people of Trinidad and Tobago through his Carnival productions.

Minshall himself says in this film that:

“....real art was being made all around me...the real art is literally emerging from the streets - Mas is a powerful, communicative expression of the spiritual and physical energy of human beings, and that is as good a definition of Art as you will get anywhere.  Mas is a combination of music, dance and sculpture and painting.  It communicates with gesture and movements.  It is danced.  It is played.  And then to double up the emphasis and to say - ‘I goin’ to play a Mas!’ - cannot reduce that to a few feathers and beads and a little bourgeois jump-up, and when it gets too hot, you go under the sprinkler!” - Peter Minshall

Narine brilliantly captures and essentially televises the essence of Minshall’s significance - and by extension, the greatness of the Trinidad & Tobago Mas art form.  It is accomplished through a series of personal interviews and testimonies with Mas Man, reflective stories by those who have worked closely with him, and images and video clips of Minshall’s works.  In fact, there is no narrator.  Narine lets Minshall himself, his work and those close to him-  do all the talking.

Film maker Narine cleverly allows the lead protagonist of this documentary to be the ‘work’ itself (the genius and artistic expression) of Minshall - which is consistent, with Minshall’s philosophies and own approach to his productions.  Self-examination, the magic and depth of Trinidad & Tobago culture, both figuratively and literally, and of course the epic battles between good and evil - are central themes to Minshall’s works.  Narine adequately documents both artistic and “cerebral” growth by examining Minshall’s influences and Trinidad & Tobago’s Carnival works from year to year.

Visions from the Minshall's carnival band 'Papillon'
Visions from Minshall’s “Papillon” creation

Mas Man shows how Minshall, through the artistry of his Mas presentations, speaks for the common man, the voiceless and the disadvantaged.  Minshall clearly understands the enormity of the art form - its socio-political and spiritual contexts and ramifications - as did other nationals of his country who, too, have created genius works.   The steelpan music arrangements of Clive Bradley, the writings of the country’s first prime minister Eric Williams, the steelpan innovations and inventions of Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall - are some that immediately come to mind.

In addition, Dalton Narine, through Mas Man and in Minshall, was able to quantify that ‘thing’ which defines the context for greatness - the ability to produce excellent works that have global outreach, appreciation and implications, and that capacity to do it again and again, and the courage to embrace and express in those works, one’s traditions - without apology.

Mas - “It’s like theater but it is not scripted, per say...  It has very powerful visual elements almost always, even if it is down to the naked body.  Mas necessarily implies performance - you cannot have a mas without performance it is a performance art...”  - Todd Gulick

In Mas Man we see Minshall exhorting, almost pleading with his supporters, masqueraders, and viewers  of his work (especially the latter), to recognize that through their own history and very present-day existence, that there is regal greatness in they themselves, and that aspect cannot be denied, granted, or bestowed.  Minshall is essentially saying “it’s an innate part of your DNA and heritage - which starts by recognizing that greatness.”  Moreover, when you participate in “Mas” you embrace that part of you.

Mas is life and one of the highest forms of human expression.

Peter Minshall is an artistic genius.  His creativity and productivity are unquestioned, unchallenged and unparalleled.  His place is in the annals of high theater - for the people, by the people - the telling of their stories is assured.

The works of Minshall

Dalton Narine was able to capture the importance of this individual.  He was able to put together a production through Mas Man, that showcases the mindset of the man - through Minshall’s own words, but even more importantly through the words of the people affected by his work - the audience, the craftsmen, the performers, his peers.

Acclaimed Carnival artist Peter Minshall
Acclaimed Carnival artist Peter Minshall

Minshall, like other great artists of Trinidad and Tobago - is unabashedly and unapologetically aware of the presence, richness and legacy of the country’s history, arts and culture.  He is proud, but cognizant and remorseful for the current unimaginative and sometimes ignorant group of mas promoters and their prevalence.   In the words of Minshall, Mas cannot be “reduced to feathers and beads.”

Minshall is a Trinidad and Tobago treasure, who understands the value of those Mas creators who came before him, but he is also very conscious of his own contributions to that legacy.

Mas Man Film director, pan man and pan historian - Dalton Narine
Mas Man’s film director, pan man and steelpan historian - Dalton Narinee

Film maker Dalton Narine was able to successfully bring the contradictions, modesty, denial of self-importance coupled with the necessary arrogance of Minshall, to the big screen through Mas Man.   Mas Man shows Minshall found a way to express that which was already exploding within him.  Furthermore, through his artistry, creativity and the embodiment of same through and by his legions of faithful masqueraders, Minshall time and again articulated with all its contradictions, the social landscape around him and his people, both on the national and global scale - for the eyes of the beholders.

As the film maker, Dalton Narine is not cowed by and is unafraid of, the magnificence of the creativity of the Mas Man himself, Peter Minshall, and deliberately goes about the expression and celebration of Minshall’s life’s work to date, without diminishing the man himself in any way, but maintaining the full ‘glare’ of the spotlight on the subject matter itself - the work of Peter Minshall.

What we see, and more importantly what we learn or leave with from the production, is directly attributed to director Dalton Narine.  And in this light Narine has put together a winner..

Director Narine has done a masterful job.  He is a man with the confidence, depth of knowledge, and vastness of experiences to adequately pull this off.  And Emmy Award winner Peter Minshall, himself, is about unbridled passion; insane commitment; courage; exuberance; a continuous quest for knowledge; giving voice to truth; feeding that insatiable global thirst for excellence; and bettering of the human condition.  All this is captured in “Mas Man,” by a Pan Man -  director Dalton Narine.

More on Mas Man, the movie - MasManTheMovie.com.

Highlights of Mas Man’s New York screening

Contact Dalton Narine - narine67@bellsouth.net 

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