By Shamonique Murray
Oseyi and the Masqueraders is a coming of age story of a 10-year-old boy growing up in the remote village of Colihaut, Dominica, who finally comes face to face with his fear of a group of masqueraders called the Bann Mové. In a humorous yet authentic delivery, Director, Alwin Bully, and Producers, Anita Bully and Romola Lucas, present a story of cultural pride, ancestral reverence, and dutiful lineage.
The short-film screening took place on the sold-out opening night of CaribbeanTales International Festival ‘19, at Toronto’s Royal Cinema.
“The tradition of Bann Mové was dying out very fast. Before the film, there were two or three members dressed in Bann Mové costume. After the film, at this year’s carnival, there were 150,” says Alwin Bully, when asked what motivated him to write the screenplay.
‘Alwin Bully’ is a name that rings out in Dominica, with the same reverence for the Bann Mové, emulated in this story. The native Dominican, was the Department of Culture’s first Director as its Founder, and he is also the mastermind artist behind the county’s distinctive flag.
During a time when the tradition of Caribbean Carnival is becoming increasingly commercialized, the story of Oseyi and the Masqueraders is the perfect reminder of why customs need to be both evolved and honoured. Part of this honour was portrayed on film by Bully, casting village performers for the most part, rather than professional actors.
Except for veteran Jamaican actress, Leone Forbes, all characters in the film are some of Dominica’s most talented village performers. Producer, Anita Bully, shared that directing non-actors was a challenge along with gathering funds to complete the project, but these hurdles did not entirely translate onto the screen. Cinematographer, Yaphet Jackman’s, skillful use of low angle shots along with the extensive editing by UNITE, combined to deliver a film that really focused on substance and a symbolic storyline.
The story is relatable for many Caribbean people who were often taught to be leery of Carnival and its masqueraders, without ever knowing the significance of the tradition. Oseyi and the Masqueraders digs into the underbelly of this generational fear by exposing the unspoken taboo and symbolizing it through a child’s eyes. As Oseyi, played by Pacquette Langlais, faces his fear, guided by his comical sidekick and cousin, Tamika, played by Shernilla John Paul, viewers experience the rich roots of what many today take as frivolous debauchery. Behind the rites of passage experience of the Bann Mové, looms family secrets that expose unfaced grief and pain, both unexpected by Oseyi and viewers.
The fact that the cast are village performers only enriched the authenticity of the dancing done to the distinct drumming and accordion bands of Dominica. Their inclusion in the film and the subsequent increase of Bann Mové representation during Dominica’s 2019 Carnival, bring to light an idea to build upon what has already been done by our ancestors, rather than to forget their feats entirely. Could Bully be onto something? This may be an experiment for all Caribbean Carnivals to expound on for the 2020 season.
*Editor’s note: This film was originally screened at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival ‘19.