By ABIGAIL RUSSELL
The soft noises of the jungle became uncharacteristically prominent as the film’s opening shot faded in. Two young men, both painted blue from head to toe, walked solemnly through a jungle river toward a majestic waterfall. This epic scene, which served as both the opening and closing scene in Maria Govan’s “Play the Devil,” is one that captivated the audience.
Govan is new to Colorado College’s film department. As introduced on Monday, April 8, Govan stepped in just this spring to teach basic filmmaking. In the same introduction, she was praised for winning awards, fiction filmmaking, and having a relatively new, yet distinguished, career as a documentary filmmaker. This diverse experience lends itself well to CC’s film and media studies program, which “tend[s] to be holistic and integrated … or at least attempts to be,” according to film professor Dylan Nelson.
“Play the Devil” is Govan’s second film, and it was written, directed, and produced entirely by her. It was completed in about two and a half years and was made almost entirely in Trinidad with a cast of local Trinidadians. In the words of Govan, the film “was made on a very, very low budget,” although they did receive some support from the Trinidadian government.
“Play the Devil” tells the story of Greg, an 18-year-old, lower-class, Trinidadian boy with enormous potential and big dreams. James Young, a wealthy older man, takes a seemingly strange interest in young Greg and is uncommonly kind to him, using his wealth to give Greg access to things he couldn’t have even dreamed of before. However, when the two spend the weekend together on the East Coast, James’ intentions become clear as the two engage romantically. In the remaining scenes, Greg is emotional, trying to come to terms with his own identity and his experiences with James. The film comes to a shockingly violent end when Greg accidentally kills James in a moment of desperate frustration during the pre-Lenten Jab Festival.
This complex work by Govan deals with prominent modern social issues. Most obviously, Govan depicts the repression and acceptance of homosexuality within a young individual as well as with the relationship between economic class and access to power in modern Bahamian society.
In a Q&A following the film screening, Govan explained her inspiration for “Play the Devil.” As a member of the queer community and a native Bahamian, these aspects of Greg remind her of her teenage-self. The Jab festival shown in the final scene also inspired Govan. Having once experienced this festival herself, Govan was looking to explore what role the “shadow” and “devil” play in such a prominently Catholic society. In the words of Govan herself, “what happens when we embrace our ‘shadow’ and what happens when we deny what we deem to be our shadow” is the overarching theme of this film. “I was interested in the repression of parts of ourselves and this idea that violence erupts when we do repress, when we deny,” Govan said.
In addition to her own personal experiences, Govan was inspired by the story of a young boy in Trinidad who committed suicide after becoming involved romantically with an older man. Govan recalled “being so struck by that idea that someone was so alone that they would do that … I just couldn’t believe it, in this time and space,” she said.
Govan also spoke to some of the obstacles she faced while producing this film, such as bad roads and casting difficulties. Most prominently, however, she speaks to the unique experience of working with “non-actors.” Due to Govan’s wish to cast locally in Trinidad, many of her actors and actresses ended up having little to no acting experience. “There were times when I just couldn’t get what I wanted and I didn’t know what to do,” Govan said. She admitted that some of the nuances Govan had imagined in her “mind’s eye” didn’t come through in the final product.
Even with these setbacks, however, “Play the Devil” was a breathtaking film, and the CC community is lucky to have access, even temporarily, to such an accomplished and inspiring filmmaker.