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Vincentian filmmaker Akley Olton.
Vincentian filmmaker Akley Olton.
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Vincentian filmmaker Akley Olton will create history this month when his documentary, MADULU, THE SEAMAN becomes the first film from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to premiere at Hot Docs in Canada.

On the beaches of a Caribbean whaling town, a young boy begins to understand the meaning hidden in his great uncle’s sweet sea shanty serenade.

The whaling town of Barrouallie, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one of the only places in the Western hemisphere where men still wrestle with the creatures of the deep to find food to survive.

George “Tall12” Frederick is one of the most legendary whale hunters in the small Caribbean village, as well as the last surviving keeper of the old sea shanty songs he sang out on the water. Now retired from whaling, he tries to pass on his lifelong traditions to his creative young nephew Amari, who instead dreams of leaving the island and becoming a soccer star in Paris. Nevertheless, Tall12’s legendary tales do sink in and are manifested through Amari’s artwork and his innate connection to the land as the end of whaling looms on the horizon.

MADULU, THE SEAMAN is a lyrical documentary that attempts to preserve the rich history of a dying tradition in the wake of the economic struggle at the hand of the tourism industry. Interweaving documentary footage with animated sequences of young Amari’s drawings, the film uses a touch of magical realism to explore the divide between past and present and new interpretations of old traditions.

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The film features Caribbean Sea Shanty performances by George “Tall 12” Frederick, one of the most successful harpoon gunners in the Caribbean.

”Tall12”, now retired, is one of the last remaining traditional whalers of Barrouallie. He made a living hunting blackfish (pilot whale) and singing songs while he rowed, towed, and waited.

For those who have read Roger D. Abrahams’ book “Deep the Water, Shallow the Shore” about Shantying in the West Indies, Tall12 is the guy front and centre on the cover. The 21st-century renaissance of a maritime music tradition among living practitioners represents a remarkable survival that deserves greater recognition.

The film intends to bring back to life these old-time, folkloric stories to help explain the origins of this Caribbean village, which is now swiftly losing its traditional heritage.

MADULU, THE SEAMAN has been officially invited to have its World Premiere at the 2023 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 27 – May 7). The film will be presented in a Shorts Programme. It is eligible for the Award for Best Short Documentary, as well as the Audience Award.

Hot Docs was founded in 1993 by the Documentary Organization of Canada (formerly the Canadian Independent Film Caucus), a national association of independent documentary filmmakers.

In 1996, Hot Docs became a separately incorporated organization with a mandate to showcase and support the work of Canadian and international documentary filmmakers and to promote excellence in documentary production. Each year, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival—North America’s largest doc festival, conference, and market—presents over 200 cutting-edge films from around the world.