Gripping. Dynamic. Spectacular. Three words that pack major punch—and all have been used to review The Cutlass, the powerful Trinidadian film that has left audiences awed, critics nodding with approval, and investors rubbing their hands as they witness the dawn of a viable T&T film industry.
Alongside these celebratory adjectives, one word shimmers at the fore of my mind after speaking with the film’s scriptwriter, Teneille Newallo, and director Darisha Beresford. That word is: authentic.
The film strives for honesty and accuracy in all aspects – from the setting to the storyline – but most notably, it is authentically Trinidadian.
We take a brief look at how that authenticity was achieved by Newallo and Beresford over the span of the film’s ten-year journey, from the moment it was conceived to the day it stole the show at the 2016 Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival.
It all began with a kidnapping in Trinidad in 2005. At the centre of the harrowing incident was Newallo’s close friend, played by Lisa-Bel Hirschmann in the film. So at its core, the plot of The Cutlass is anchored in truth, portraying the grim reality of gender-based, violent crime in Trinidad and Tobago.
The script therefore had to be meticulously crafted to give a genuine portrayal of the social and emotional complexities within this reallife horror story; Newallo, at the time a scriptwriting neophyte, tackled the mammoth task with extraordinary zeal, seeking authenticity from the get-go.
“When I did one of my drafts,” she recalls, “I was in the Dominican Republic. I stayed in a one-bedroom apartment by myself where there was barely any electricity. I walked everywhere.
There was no hot water […] but I wanted to have that feeling of isolation similar to what the kidnap victim went through […] It made it a lot easier to put myself physically, emotionally, spiritually in that place.
I needed that distance away from home as well, to get that feeling of isolation, of loneliness. It made a big difference with the soul of the material.”