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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Louisa Streeting

New St Pauls Carnival film celebrates its roots through voices of founders

A new film has been released exploring and celebrating the roots of St Pauls Carnival, one of the most important cultural events in Bristol, through the recollections of local elders. Inna Wi Carnival: Reflections of a Generation is the first instalment in a film series featuring crucial figures from the origins of the event and provides an oral history for future generations.

The first St Pauls Festival, as it was then called, was in 1968 organised by local residents and activists to bring together the European, African-Caribbean and Asian communities. The community event, which saw food served from people’s front gardens, wanted to challenge negative stereotypes of the area.

By 1991, it was renamed St. Paul's Afrikan-Caribbean Carnival and became what it is known to be today - to celebrate the life and histories of Bristol’s African Caribbean communities through song, art, music and movement.

Read more: Bristol Rovers' Jamaican food stall has sights on major expansion

The film’s director and producer, Keziah Wenham-Kenyon, joined as a Community Engagement Co-ordinator for St Pauls Carnival in July 2021 although his involvement with the organisation stretches back to 2018 when he first volunteered. His stand-out moment was walking in the procession in 2019 in the wake of the Windrush scandal, a poignant moment celebrating the legacy of Caribbean migration.

Keziah Wenham-Kenyon, director and producer of the film (Ruby Walker)

“For me, that was a moment of prideful solidarity in the face of deplorable Tory migration policies,” Keziah told BristolLive. “That was a key moment for me and there were lots of important people in that procession.”

Soundsystem culture at carnivals was always a big part of his life growing up. “Carnival is very much a part of my journey. I’m of Caribbean heritage so it’s a celebration of my lineage as well.”

His background working across multi-media production and engagement work in the Black community positioned him perfectly to help facilitate Carnival’s film project. The film idea was conceived during lockdown when the Carnival organisation was revisiting its roots and looking at new mediums to capture and celebrate its history.

Keziah has previously helped to launch a wellbeing and digital inclusion project, funded by St Monica Trust, to introduce the older generation in St Pauls and Easton to forms of online communication during the pandemic - which led him to the next stage of the project.

He said: “A lot of people I hosted these community projects with, the next phase was to capture and preserve their stories, and in doing so, preserve the traditions of Caribbean Carnival for future generations. Recording these stories was to act as a community archive to shape how Carnival was programmed in the future. Carnival is aware that as it progresses and adapts to reflect societal changes, at the same time it’s important the roots aren’t forgotten.”

Crew of Inna Wi Carnival: Reflections of a Generation (Khali Ackford)

The 23-minute documentary was filmed over just three days in April this year on a low budget through the lens of key figures from the Bristol community, with St Pauls Carnival’s LaToyah McAllister-Jones as Executive Producer, Richard Ferron as Co-Producer and Patch De Salis as Editor and also Director of Photography alongside Keyane Allman. It features Barbara Deterring, who was involved with the West Indian Parents and Friends Association, which was part of the founding organisation of Carnival. The late Roy Hackett, a co-founder of the Commonwealth Co-ordinated Committee, was also involved in setting up the event.

Other interviewees included Ruby Bennett, a caterer and Iva Williams. Learning of her parentage to renowned Bristol-born DJ, Roni Size, was a surprising moment for Keziah. “I didn’t know she was his mum, that just came out in the moment. She did it in a very nonchalant way.

“He started performing at a young age at Carnival and has gone on to be successful in his music career. It goes to show the importance of that platform for young people to develop their creative practice.”

The meal was served by Caribbean caterers, Jerk King (Khali Ackford)

The spontaneous moments on set were some of the most special for the crew, one of which was a meal scene where the elders were fed - with food provided by Jerk King - to reflect on solidarity. “They spontaneously broke into song, singing old Caribbean folk songs,” Keziah remembered.

“There was one, in particular, Linstead Market by Louise Bennett, and there was a beautiful moment around the table where they were singing in unison it felt so uplifting and a moment of electricity that couldn’t be scripted. A lot of this project is about storytelling and the importance of stories, so without hearing them sing that song, that bit of history would have been lost to me.”

The film was first privately screened in July so the Elders could feedback and offer editorial input to Keziah and his team before it was shown publicly. It was then premiered on the first day of Encounters Festival on October 1 at Watershed to mark the beginning of Black History Month.

The screening at Watershed (Alexandar Polis)

The event was themed around how stories shape culture and tradition and began with traditional Caribbean and African dances along with a panel discussion before the screening, which was then followed by a free feast of Caribbean and Guyanese food. ‘Inna Wi Carnival’ forms the title series with the idea for new films in the future.

“People have been saying it was an amazing cultural exchange. For the community, seeing their stories represented in that way on the big screen left people glowing. Everyone is buzzing with ideas for the next one,” Keziah added.

They’re working towards small community screenings and planning to enter it into more film festivals to widen the release. It will eventually be available online and will be included in St Pauls Carnival’s schools and education programme within Carnival 365 to create workshops around the documentary.

“I would like it to resonate not just with the St Pauls community where it was birthed but also with the wider audience that comes down to engage and experience Carnival. I want to encourage that audience of people to think about it in a different, more meaningful way with an appreciation for its legacy. It’s not just an excuse to have a party, there’s history here.”

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