21 DAYS is a St Lucian docu-drama currently on theatrical release. It is produced by Dale Elliot, who is the creator of the immensely popular TV series UNTOLD STORIES. It tells the story of group of Gros Islet fishermen lost at sea.
GLORY DAYS & TRAGEDY is a book by Therold Prudent about the same men lost at sea, from the point of view of the village as well as the sole survivor. No problems, right?
Of course there are problems. Did Prudent and Elliot have a verbal agreement? (“A discussion” only Elliot says). And now, there’s disagreement about how much of the book was used in the movie and how much of the deal was kept.
According to Prudent, “The deal was fair acknowledgment of the book and fair compensation for Kennedy,” who was sole survivor of the tragedy. The problem is that while Prudent wrote a book about a village in crisis, Elliot produced a docu-drama about some villagers lost at sea. So did Elliot do wrong by using the book without signing an agreement? Or did he in fact use the book at all?
Elliot has said that he didn’t use the book as source material, which makes sense and is ironic at the same time. It makes sense because Prudent’s book takes place in Gros Islet and at sea while Elliot’s movie takes place almost exclusively at sea. But it is ironic because Elliot credits the book in the movie and quotes the book extensively both in the movie and in promotion materials.
Elliot originally loved Prudent’s book. He couldn’t put it down, he read it three times over. At least, that’s what he was saying back then. For some reason, he is now saying that he didn’t use the book. (Or that he did. Depending on, I don’t know, whatever.) To his credit, his focus is not exactly the same as Prudent’s although his story and some of his script are the same.
Elliot’s plot is on the ocean. Prudent’s plot in in the village and at sea. Prudent spent more than half of his book establishing the relationships and the character of the village itself before getting into the debacle. Elliot relied almost exclusively on Kennedy’s account of being lost at sea for his main plot. The result is that Elliot’s movie looks a helluva lot like the climax of Prudent’s book. But because Elliot did not sign the agreement in which he proposed to use the book as source material for the docu-drama, he is now in the unfortunate position of having gotten Prudent’s permission but having no way to prove it. Meanwhile, the docu-drama itself stands as evidence that the book was used. The movie quotes the book, and in some cases, follows the book’s version of events in the village while the men were lost at sea.
Which is all quite unfortunate because 21 DAYS is a touching docu-drama and GLORY DAYS & TRAGEDY is an even better book. The synergy between the two could have created a proud and touching moment when Saint Lucian literature once again made it to the film screen. Instead, we have failure to communicate.
GLORY DAYS & TRAGEDY is very entertaining. Surprisingly so. Saint Lucian literature tends to be divided into the very excellent books and the less than average, with almost nothing in between. The very excellent books have tended to come from a small but persistent artistic community that includes the likes of Kendel Hippolyte, McDonald Dixon, Garth St Omer and a troublesome fella named Derek Walcott. There are a few notable exceptions, like Rick Wayne’s first novel and Earl Long’s work springing like wild fruit outside the garden fence. But mostly, the good to great Saint Lucian literature is produced by the Disciples of Harry Simmons, the mid-20th century Saint Lucian gothic monk who codified the Saint Lucian oral and visual canon of culture and history. Lol.
Seriously though, Lucian literature, perhaps more than any other in the Caribbean, is a disciplic succession. And Prudent wasn’t on the list of Harry Simmons’ disciples, so you can understand that there wasn’t as much expectation attached to the book as there was to the well-promoted docu-drama 21 DAYS, which is based on the same events.
But in the wild fruit section of Lucian literature, Prudent did match Earl Long for presenting an effective village literature. GLORY DAYS & TRAGEDY is an important contribution to the very sparse number of important novels about 20th century village life in Saint Lucia. But where Long’s Mon Repos was interesting to a Castries boy on summer vacation, Prudent’s Gros Islet is immediate, intricate and inescapable. Long is an enthusiastic observer in Mon Repos, but Prudent is a real villager, a future community leader coming of age when disaster strikes at the heart of his part of the community.
Long’s Mon Repos is a slice of time captured, but Prudent’s Gros Islet is a moment made eternal, a moment of tragic change given immortal life. Where Long’s Mon Repos is sunny and playful and riddled with folk comedy, Prudent’s Gros Islet is salt-stained and kerosene lit, the faint smell of Roman Catholic incense in the air, the sound of machines competing with the surf in the daylight for the first time in history.
Not to mention that Gros Islet is the most world famous village in the Eastern Caribbean and Mon Repos is, well, Mon Repos.
Prudent’s book is colorful and unpretentious, full of details that transport the reader to a different world, a different Gros Islet, a time when Saint Lucia was most itself. It is also important that the story is told from Prudent’s point of view as he is one of the key points of transformation. Like other ambitious young activists, Prudent is a symbol of the village transforming itself out of the late 19th century fishing village directly into a 21st century sustainable development.
Apart from running water, lights and the polio and TB vaccines, the 20th century didn’t offer very much and Prudent is the right man to reveal that, without even trying. The village boy turned international consultant is now famous for trying to get Saint Lucians to agree that Labour and Flambeau are the same damned thing.
But you see political chieftains like him and Spider, in their innocence and youth, filled with some kind of unreasonable urge to achieve something spectacular for the sole purpose of saying to the world, “You see what Gros Islet people can do.” (It’s so ironic to see Spider Montoute in that innocent glow especially in light of what transpired while he was in government.)
It has everything you want from a village life novel: nostalgia, inappropriate comedy, unique and interest-ing details of culture and history, real portraits of real people in a very, very real situation. It’s a tragedy that Prudent takes care to set up, carefully constructing village life and the relationships that were about to be lost.
The book is complex enough, that if I was a cash strapped producer I would want to spend as little time in the village and as much time on the boat as possible. Shooting the boat scenes involves a fixed number of defined characters in a controlled situation. Shooting in a village involves dealing with actors, real villagers, cops, closing down streets and all kinds of unpredictable village stuff.
So one understands why Elliot veered the movie away from the village to the ocean.
But there is no way that anyone who read the book would miss the stylistic similarities in the movie. Entire portions of the book’s are lifted wholesale into the movie’s script. And the effects were very positive. Elliot made the right decision to use the book. He’s just making a strange decision by insisting he kinda didn’t use the book.
If Prudent was a litigious son of a bitch, he could get an injunction against Elliot easy. It’s probably in Elliot’s interest not to mess with Prudent right now. How hard is it to give a guy extra credit when he isn’t even asking for money?
Prudent can afford to look like a jilted girlfriend if that’s how Elliot wants to portray him. Prudent has nothing to lose. All this mix up only serves to promote his book, which is actually rather good. As they say, the book was better than the movie, anyway.