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Trini to di bone!

Puppet power: (l-r) Santana and his partner Janice, with Pastor Stewart

MEET TRINIDAD'S newest celebrity, Santana. The star of the hugely successful series, I’m Santana, the feisty fella has gained fame across the Caribbean, he has his own ringtone, and has just been made the new face of Trinidadian beer Stag. Oh, and did I mention he’s a puppet?

This puppet, however, is not for children. In fact, I’m Santana is for adult eyes only, because it depicts very serious issues, like domestic violence, kidnapping and infidelity. But the show has received over six million hits and has now spawned an international movie, which will receive its UK premiere next week.

Created by filmmaker Roger Alexis in 2008 as an experiment, the show captures everyday situations in a Trinidadian street with sometimes shocking but always hilarious reality. Finally able to live his life-long dream of making a feature film, Alexis says that his creation enabled him to learn about the power of YouTube.

“I’m Santana started as a class project in film school,” recalls the Trinidadian puppeteer. “I was supposed to shoot a little skit to show off my skills in camera and lighting, but as usual, I waited until the last few days before it was due and I couldn’t find human actors to play the parts I wanted. So I had some puppets lying around and I used them instead.

“Then I put it on my YouTube channel and a few months later it blew up and went viral. I didn’t understand YouTube at the time. All I knew is it was somewhere you could put up your work for people to see it if they wanted to. I started sharing it with other people at my college and they shared it with others and it took off.”

Puppetry has long garnered worldwide attention, thanks to such characters as Sesame Street’s lovable puppet Elmo, and The Muppet Show’s longstanding couple Kermit the frog and Miss Piggy.
But According to Alexis, what separates I’m Santana from the rest is the fact that his protagonist is “real.”

“Kermit and Miss Piggy do their thing, but it’s not really real, coz at the end of the day they are animals. Kermit is a frog and Miss Piggy is a pig. But Santana is an African male, with dreadlocks and nearly everybody in the West Indies knows a Santana. This character is familiar to so many people, so he is very easy for them to understand and relate to.”

In fact, the filmmaker believes that by using puppets, he can capture the true essence of humanity.


On the riser: Trinidadian puppet Santana now has his own movie

“The show is really based on life,” he says. “It would not have been as popular if it was just human beings, so I decided to do everything through the eyes of puppets, and let the Caribbean people look at their day-to-day lives.”

Despite the popularity of the show, I’m Santana has also received it’s fair share of criticism from people who dislike the explicit language used in the series and believe that puppets should only be used for children’s programmes. Ironically, the first programme Alexis made was for kids.
“I had a TV show once called Herman’s Tales about a puppet who lives in a village and he tells stories about all sorts of adventures. That was a family-based children’s show.”

But this series did not manage to garner the same popularity or support as I’m Santana, and for years Alexis struggled to create his masterpiece.

“I always wanted to do movies, that was my dream. I worked my way through school doing jobs here and there and working in factories. Through the years I met people who had similar dreams, but I always wanted to do puppetry, and do it seriously, so I went and took out a loan and started buying equipment and investing in courses.


Filmmaker: Roger Alexis

“One day, I broke up with a girlfriend and I was just walking through a mall, depressed. It was there that I saw a few puppets on sale in a store. I bought them and that was my foundation.”

Now with the backing of producer and business partner Ian Pantin, Alexis is able break through the doors that were initially slammed in his face when he asked for help as a local aspiring filmmaker.

And with 2012 marking Trinidad’s 50th year of independence (on August 31), what better year for Santana to fly the flag for his country?

“There’s a mentality in Trinidad that believes quality films can’t be sustained in these small islands and that you have to market films out [overseas]. But I believe there are enough people in the diaspora to sustain a good film and of the rest if the world wants to get on board, then that’s fine.”

I Am Santana is at The Tabernacle, Powis Square, London W11 on April 13 and 14. For more information visit: www.iamsantana.co.uk

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