September 14, 2009

I am Not I: The Life of Trefossa

I am Not IIt’s hard for me to imagine a language or dialect without a word for “freedom,” yet this was the situation that Henri Frans de Ziel, alias Trefossa (1916-1975), faced when he began his writing career in Suriname.

In the moving and well-researched documentary, I am Not I, filmmaker Ida Does recounts the life of Trefossa, who for most of his life seemed to be constrained by race, culture, and the influence of his mother, yet ironically he is best known composing Suriname's National Anthem, coining the word, Srefidensi [translated freedom or autonomy], and for publishing a book of poems, Trotji, in Sranan Tongo, the colloquial language of Suriname.

Beginning with his humble origins, the film traces Trefossa’s circuitous journey from his birth in Paramaribo, Suriname and subsequent travels to the Netherlands, his return to Suriname and his death in Haarlem, the Netherlands. The documentary also uses extensive interviews with his sister, Hilda de Ziel; Mavis Noordwijk, a family friend; Richenel Ritfeld, a former student, and his widow, Hulda Walser to capture their obvious pride at the gift that Trefossa had given his compatriots: verse composed in the "Surinamean tongue”—an achievement similar in intent to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Although this revolutionary act of daring to speak in the mother tongue had an immediate impact on many of Trefossa’s contemporaries, he remained a man in conflict with his culture and times—at once impatient and forgiving. Yet sometimes, like in the poem, “Gronmama [Earthmother],” he demonstrates an ecological/symbiotic awareness of the land that has yet to permeate the consciousness of Caribbean peoples:

I am not myself

until my blood

is infused with you

in all of my veins

I am not myself

until my roots

sink down, shoot

into you, my earthmother,

I am not myself

until I manage

to keep, to carry

your image in my soul

I am not myself

until you cry out

with pleasure, or pain

in my voice

I am not I is a gorgeous film and its sensual cinematography captures the beauty of Suriname that Trefossa described in his poems. As Back Lot Film Festival states, “The film is one big poem, so beautiful that it leaves you speechless."

Give thanks to Ida Does and Interakt for giving me a chance to preview this remarkable documentary.

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1 comment:

FSJL said...

It's hard to believe that Sranantongo lacked a word for freedom. Surinamese writers deserve to be better known in the Anglophone Caribbean.