Greetings. This is an exclusive Abeng interview with the CEO of Roots and Culture Media, Clairomont Mali Chung, who is a film maker, which is only one of his creative talents. Roots and Culture Media is the producer of the documentary Walter Anthony Rodney Stories (or W.A.R. Stories). This is Part 1 of 2
Kaya @TheAbeng +The Abeng World-wide: Bro. Clairmont, how you doing, Man?
Clairmont Mali Chung: I'm doing good, Kaya. How are you doing?
@TheAbeng: Beautiful, Man, Beautiful. Its good to talk to you. It's good to finally have you here with The Abeng. Been a long time in planning. Could you first tell the readers whats the concept behind Roots and Culture Media?
CMC: Well, it started out really as a gallery that had began in Guyana by a group of artists back in the early Eighties. And ah, many of them had migrated and the group that had sort of loosely arranged and I suggested that we have an extension of it in North America. And...when I set all of that up I realized that the medium, we needed more access to a wider range of audience, And so, I began to think of producing other kinds of media and writing also.
So Roots and Culture Media is really an attempt, then, to consolidate all aspects of the arts and provide a forum that people can express themselves.
@TheAbeng: Can you tell us who some of those artists were?
CMC: Well you have people like Dudley Charles, people like Gary Thomas; one of the benefactors was Camo Williams- a pan player; Omowale, Lumumba, and bout four or five others... Winston Strick was an important figure in that, Ras Ita, but those were the core of it.
@TheAbeng: How did you get into film making?
CMC: Well it, its not exactly clear, its more by default 'cause I'm not really trained. I did do a course in college on film and another course on television. And then many, many years later, almost twenty years later, I had helped produce a local TV program for the public channels. And I realized the power of it, or it reinforced the power of the media; and then I decided to do the Rodney project which had been languishing for thirty years and no one seemed to either be inclined to do it and so I decided that would be one of my first.
"Money can't save us..." ~ Clairmont Mali Chung
#TheAbeng: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced?
CMC: I think most people you ask that question to, including myself, people would say the money...right... 'cause the money answers a lot of questions. But at the same time, if money is the thing keeping you back, then you'll never get it done, because you'll never get the money; you'll never have enough, even if you get money. So, yes the biggest problem is the money, but if the money is gonna stop you then perhaps this is not the thing for you.
Artists on the whole, and I don't really consider myself an artist even though, you know, I'm in the arts, they don't produce work because of the money, they produce because they have to, and they can't exist any other way...
@TheAbeng: They have to get their voice out.
CMC:..Right, they have to produce or they'd just wither and die. And so, right, ordinary people are concerned with money, people who are serious are not concerned with money.
@TheAbeng: That's a very true statement, Man, that's a very true statement, especially for us writers...
CMC: Money can't save us is the final analysis. And it wouldn't save the arts, the arts exist in our genetic, historical memory and make up. And that cannot be purchased. People try to buy it but it defies a valuation, you know, we just loan our creations to the society because nobody could really pay for what people create.
@TheAbeng: So let's talk about one of my favorite documentaries of all time, which is W.A.R. Stories, aahm, Walter Anthony Rodney Story. When did you first decide on that project?
CMC: Well it was around...well thank you first of all for the compliment... sometime around 2006 I was still producing the local television show and I was toying around with the idea of what to do with this new tool. And being, you know, a little familiar with what had happened to Walter Rodney, the importance of Walter Rodney to Guyana, to the Caribbean, to the Africa, to the World, it seemed like a project that would be important to the entire planet.
"Since the government itself has taken over so many facets of economic life, has nationalised the bauxite, has nationalised sugar, has nationalised a number of private firms, justifiably so, it has taken up a position as the principle, far and away the largest, single employer in the country. Consequently, the ground is really set for utilization of this device of the party card, of political control by means of denying the right to work." ~ Dr. Walter Rodney (see at 5:55 of this video clip W.A.R. Stories)
CMC: So it took about five years...
@TheAbeng: Five years?
CMC: ...yeah about four and a half to five years to actually get everything done and edited; and then, the putting together of it was very easy because the story of Walter Rodney is a dramatic story and it's very hard to mess up a story like that; I'm sure people can do it but it has a soul of its own.
@TheAbeng: Yeah, you and I have a common...we both kind of determined to keep his memory alive, you know, his energy, this iconic figure, you know, keep it going, keep the story going, keep his knowledge going, because I think its very, very important that especially the youth of the Caribbean, youth of Guyana so... my cousin was telling me a story he was talking to this young Guyanese guy who didn't know who Walter Rodney was. And when he told him the dramatic ending of Walter's life, the guy looked at him in amazement, he'd never heard of that. The guy lives right there in Guyana.its up to us as writers, as film makers, and griots, to really tell these stories that are important to us as a people and as community also. You know what I mean?
@TheAbeng: OK, can you tell me some of the challenges that you faced making this specific film?
CMC: Well this was, it wasn't that much of a challenge. You would think that a figure as important as he and who had been gone for thirty years, that there would be some difficulty. But, on the contrary, people were very enthusiastic about it. His name, Walter Rodney, is still very important all across the globe in intellectual circles and grass roots circles. And they were anxious to tell the story, still, and to venerate someone who they knew and who they loved. And that certainly came across in what they had to say; in fact, they were wondering, asking where I had been all this time; why I had I not come earlier. You know, and I had to be clear that this wasn't entirely my responsibility.
But as I said, people all over the world were enthusiastic about it. I still believe that, though I had never met Walter, that he certainly took my hand and showed me ways of doing this and introduced me to people that I would not have normally been introduced to, gotten to know....
"One of the things that Walter said that was always important to me, he said, 'We cannot let racism and white supremacy deprive us of the most important things white people have said.' [And he was] talking about Marxism." ~ Amiri Baraka (9:40 of this video clip W.A.R. Stories)
CMC: ...and in a way he showed me how to do this project.
@TheAbeng : Were there any surprises that came about, like something that you may not have known about the incident or these people [W.A.R Stories interviewees], like an interesting fact to you?
CMC: Well no, as I've stated one of the interesting things is that deep, abiding and remaining love for Walter that still came out after all these years. But one of the peculiar things is that the people in Africa did not know a whole lot about what happened in Jamaica, what happened to Walter in Jamaica. And the people in Jamaica, many did not know what had happened in Africa. Similarly, people in Guyana did not know about Jamaica or about Africa, or even in the U.S.; so, people were unfamiliar with what Walter had done in other parts of the world.
His work with the IBW (Institute of the Black World) in Atlanta for example, is a very little known episode in his life. And a very important one-
#TheAbeng : Atlanta??
CMC: ...yes, because through Atlanta he was able to liaison with people like Ralph Abernathy, from the Southern [Christian] Leadership Conference; Martin Luther King had been dead for some time but the group was interested in what Walter had to say, people like Robert Hill, people like Ron Daniels, Manning Marableall these people were at the IBW at the time, and were influenced by what Walter had to say even then and even now.
The Abeng: I think you mentioned before that you didn't meet Walter personally, that your paths never crossed. I think you said that though your paths didn't cross, you did have a spiritual connection by doing this film, by doing this biographical.
CMC: But as I said, I have come to know him by reading his writing, and through some other kind of connection that I'll leave for other people explain. But I do feel that the experience of making the film introduced me to him and transformed my life, it continues to transform the lives of the people around me as well; and, hopefully the product of our relationship, that is the relationship between Walter and I, will continue and transform even more lives because, after all, that is what we're trying to do - to venerate him, to kind of bring him back to life in a way as though, introduce new people to him, especially the youth, and carry on as Angela Davis has recently said in her talk in New York last Friday where she talked about us being the imagination of ancestors. And I think that that is an important idea and a concept on many levels because it is, after all, history must live in the present. And what they, the ancestors, were thinking while enslaved, the ideas of freedom is the ideas that we have to imagine and to continue because we aren't quite there yet. And, the beauty of the concept is that we are actually living the memory of people that have passed on. Walter is one of those imaginations that carried on from that period, and gave us the blue print and a template for us to carry on. So yes, we may not have met him but we're a part of his imagination.
[email protected]: And I recommend to everybody that they get this documentary, it's one of the best documentaries I've ever seen and I think, it doesn't have to do with my connection to the whole Walter Rodney story, but I really think this film was well done.
CMC: Well first of all, thanks for the compliment about the film; I really appreciate it, its good to know ... that coming from you, someone who's familiar both with the whole pantheon of personalities like Walter, so it's always good to know that people who know the work, understand it, like it [the documentary].
Part Two of this exclusive Abeng Interview with Roots and Culture Gallery CEO and W.A.R. Stories film maker Clairmont Mali Chin coming soon