Film-maker Kevin Garbaran sees bright future for local industry

By Michael Jordan

When a daughter takes her father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease to his childhood home in the countryside, she’s forced to make a difficult choice that could create a deep rift in her family. But, along the way, daughter, father and other relatives embark on a journey of rediscovering cherished moments, finding solace in each other, and learning profound lessons about love and resilience in the face of fading memories.
That’s the plot behind the Guyanese short film “Old Toy Train”, which is scheduled to premiere on April 25 with support from the British High Commission. It’s the creation of 2019 Commonwealth Short Story finalist Kevin Garbaran, who collaborated with film-maker Rae Wiltshire (“Eating Papaw On The Seashore”) to produce the 18-minute film.
The film’s four-member cast comprises Marisa Morgan-Bonie, veteran stage actors Michael Khan and Renita Doodnauth-Dindyal, and eight-year-old-Adhinav Richard; and the entire movie was shot at a house in Farm, East Bank Demerara.

Film-maker Kevin Garbaran

Film-making has been a life-long dream for the 29-year-old Garbaran, and he finds his success somewhat overwhelming. “It feels surreal at times. Like being on set for the first time with the cast and crew present, and seeing this idea and these characters take on a life of their own,” Garbaran related to Guyana Times. “Only a handful of people have seen it so far, and the response has been favourable.”
The script came from an idea that he’d originally intended for a short story. He wrote the script in about two weeks in April, 2023. “The idea was stewing in my mind for much longer than that, though. It was just a matter of getting it out onto the page,” he disclosed.
The journey from script to screen took approximately a year, with cast and crew working on a rigorous schedule.

“There were a few challenges with taking this from script to screen. First, it took us some time to find the right cast. Only Marisa had prior acting experience in film. Both Mr. Khan and Renita have done acting work in theatre before, but this was their first time working in film. This also marks the acting debut of eight-year-old Adhinav,” he explained.
“There were also some initial challenges with finding a location, but Rae eventually found a house located in Farm on the East Bank of Demerara. The house was to be rented for a few weeks, so we had limited time, as new tenants were moving in soon. The entire film was shot at that one location,” he also disclosed.
“Funding is a perennial hurdle we had with getting productions going. On average, we worked 10-hour days, and one of our filming days ran well into the night. We started filming in April, 2023. Filming took six days, and this was spread out over three weekends because everyone had full-time jobs, but the energy on set was positive from both the cast and the crew. Everyone was invested in it; so, regardless of the challenges, working as a team, we got it done,” he detailed.
“We had story-boarded the entire film beforehand. This was done by Nicholas Peters, and we had some readings and rehearsals with the cast before we started filming.
Rae (Wiltshire) completed editing in January 2024.”
Aside from having it shown locally, Garbaran hopes to submit ‘Old Toy Train’ for international festivals.

Fascination with stories and films
Garbaran grew up in Zorg, Essequibo, and had an early fascination with stories, languages and films.
“My grandfather worked at Satya Cinema in Mahaicony before it closed down. Those early memories of watching films there are hardwired into my brain,” he disclosed.
Though storytelling was a passion for Garbaran, this student of Suddie Primary School and President’s College chose the “practical” option of the sciences. He enrolled in the University of Guyana and pursued a BSc. in Environmental Studies; but the passion for writing won out.
In 2019, he wrote the brilliant coming-of-age short story “The Ole Higue of Market Street”, and was overjoyed when his story was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He explained: “I had just finished university. I had no prior experience in creative writing, nor an academic background in it, but I had a story to tell. I wasn’t expecting to be shortlisted, so that came as a shock and also with some anxiety, as I felt I hadn’t done enough to call myself a writer. I’ve since moved past that way of thinking, and I’m now comfortable in knowing that I don’t know much,” he declared.
“Being shortlisted did help me tremendously in making connections with writers both locally and internationally. It gave me a sense of belonging to a community, something that I think is essential for writers and creatives, and I’ve also benefitted from two workshops held by the Commonwealth Foundation right here in Georgetown,” he disclosed.
It was at one such workshop that he first met award-winning local film-maker Rae Wilshire. In 2022, he enrolled in the Georgetown Film Festival (GFF) workshops which were run by Wiltshire.
“That’s where I wrote the script, and where I learnt about some of the fundamentals of filmmaking. I learnt a lot from that workshop, especially on what it takes to be a good director, and the differences between writing for film and prose writing. I’m still learning,” he declared.
“I see a bright future for local films. We have the talent both in front of and behind the camera. The challenge is in encouraging that talent and having access to opportunities for creatives to hone their craft. If we want to see that future become a reality, it starts with building a community,” he said.
“Support for the arts in Guyana has been inconsistent at best. Where there is structural support and major sources of funding in other countries, Guyana is lacking. Couple that with the fact that we don’t see ourselves on the big screen, we’re mostly raised on foreign films and media. And so I think (that), in some way, as a collective, we’ve internalized a notion that filmmaking is something foreign. Though there have been films made in Guyana by Guyanese over the decades, those are few and far between,” he explained.
“Of course, I think this is changing. Independent filmmaking is relatively easier to do now than it was 10-20 years ago. Local creatives are collaborating and stepping up to create their own opportunities and fill the gaps. It’s a lot of work, but it can be done,” he predicted.