By Sue-Ann Wayow
RUNNING frantically up a lonely hill in Princes Town, the father heads towards the sound of the voice of his son Steven.
We will never know if he finds him as the douen has dragged him away into the bushes.
For those of us who may not know or cannot remember, the douen- a child character of local folklore and according to legend, with feet facing backwards, has the ability to lure other children away from their parents. It can be considered the pied piper of Trinidad.
This character comes alive in a short horror film written and directed by Riyadh Rahaman from Realise Road, Princes Town.
It was one of the pinnacles of his filmmaking career, shot near his home and starred his family members including his father Zaf Rahaman as the father, his 15-year-old sister Azara Rahaman as the douen and his cousin Shazeed Mohammed as the son.
The film Douen produced last year, has already received many international accolades by being featured at several international film festivals with Rahaman being awarded Best First Time Director at the Hollywood Blood Horror Festival in Los Angeles, USA.
The film that he worked on for three months from script to screen also won at that festival in the best horror category.
Douen was not selected for the 2022 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival which was why Rahaman entered it into international film festivals.
Rahaman, 23, in a recent interview with AZP News said horror films that centred around folklore characters were quite popular with the local audience.
In 2018, his first short horror film on a character – the Lagahoo gained a lot of positive reviews from viewers and was selected for the 2019 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and the 2020 Film and Folklore Festival.
Most of his films can be viewed on Youtube from his channel Riyality Studios which has about 70 videos, including short feature films.
It was by watching Youtube before he was even a teenager that Rahaman discovered Youtubers – the name given to content creators on the social media platform.
Back then, as a Form One pupil of St Stephen’s College in Princes Town, Rahaman realised that Youtubers had an audience with large followings.
It was also from Youtube that he would learn all of the skills needed to create his films that are now publicised on that forum.
“I learned on Youtube, watching Youtube videos,” he said.
Rahaman said, “I was bored, started watching Youtube and I kind off realised that Youtubers exists, that all these people have like audiences so that inspired me to start making Youtube videos with a webcam from your laptop. Hobbies come and go when you are a teenager but I guess but that stuck.”
For those who may wonder why he speaks with an American accent, Rahaman moved to New York when he was just about a year old and spent the first ten years of his life in the US.
His first Youtube video released in 2011 and starring himself and Mohammed, started off as something to do to kill boredom.
Over time, his father realising his passion and skill pointed him in that direction while also encouraging him to do well in his academics at school, promising to buy a camera if he was diligent in his studies.
Apart from filmmaking, Rahaman loves to tell stories. That is the methodology he uses for his films.
By the time he reached Form Five, he already knew that his career would be mapped out in film.
With no option to do film at secondary school, Rahaman opted to do Caribbean Studies, Communication Studies, Economics, Information Technology and Law at the Form Six level of St Stephen’s College.
He said, “The intention was that I will go to UWI, I will make connections, I will live on my own get a degree but very early on, I kind of realised it was not for me.”
Starting off at the University of the West Indies (UWI) pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in film, Rahaman dropped out of class after just six weeks.
Admitting that the action would brand him “ a college dropout” he said it was not easy informing his parents Zaf Rahaman and Anisa Rahaman that he would not be continuing his university studies.
Rahaman said, “They have been supporting me since 13, 14. They always pushed me to do this. I was trying not to be delinquent and it was one of the biggest decisions that I had to make.”
He made sure to advise others not to do the same unless they had a good idea of what they were going to do afterwards.
“Don’t do like me and just drop out of school especially if you don’t know what you are going to do,” Rahaman said.
He encouraged people to not let limitations be an excuse for production.
Overcoming challenges of not having his own camera after it broke at around age 16, and using his father’s computer to edit in the night till morning, Rahaman eventually began using his phone to do his creations.
Two of his films were completely shot with his phone a Samsung Galaxy S6 and made it into the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.
“Things like gear, just make do with what you have. Once you have an idea that you are passionate about, you will make it work regardless,” he said.
For this year, Rahaman wants to keep at his game and to strive for higher hills.
For years, his productions have been a “one man production crew” with his family members as actors, his home and environs as settings for scenes and he wants to branch out.
He said many people have been reaching out to him via social media, asking how they can become involved and he was currently building a mental database.
The film director will be sticking to local stories as he really wanted to push local content which he said was also being used in the classroom by some teachers who contacted him.
“Film is such an entertaining medium especially if you want to influence. We are all influenced by film, our clothes, the car we drive… I love to educate and entertain at the same time. I have a lot of ability to influence so I could kind of use that for good. Film is something that kind of last forever,” Rahaman told AZP News.
Apart from filmmaking, Rahaman also loves beatboxing, a talent that he said was being more recognised now than previously.
It was because of that talent, that he was recognised by the US television show hosted by Jimmy Fallon and he almost was featured on that show.
He tells the story of how he almost made it in Youtube production posted two weeks ago entitled “This Trinidad Filmmaker was almost on Jimmy Fallon.”
Confessing his disappointment, Rahaman picked himself up and is focused on other ventures.
One of his dreams is to produce a full-length feature film and with 30 pages of script already in hand, Rahaman would be working to make that film a reality, bringing a polished local production to the big screen.
It would be a giant step forward from his Youtube channel, after getting recognition from a video shown on Gayelle TV which was where he started receiving some sort of local recognition.
Rahaman said while not much income was made by producing films, when he started doing videography for clients, his income increased and he was able to purchase better equipment.
One of his major clients is Chief Brand Products and he handles all of their video productions which can also be viewed on Youtube under the company’s Youtube channel.
He just bought his dream camera which would do the job for years to come.
Rahaman said, “Everything on my Youtube channel of what I do is surrounded by storytelling so these storytime videos I would want to continue doing that. I have films that I have written that I want to pull off the shelves now. Douen was last year. People want to see something new. People want to see more folklore as well.
“I think that people like local stories and people like seeing something on the big screen that they have never seen before. These folk characters kind of remind me of the Marvel characters before they were made into movies. There are so many backstories of characters that you have never seen before and it something that is a bit forgotten. When people see a folk character like this, they are wondering what it could do.”
With films all family-oriented, he said, “When I make films, I want to make it as general as I could so kids could enjoy it as well as adults. I don’t ever want to make something that is restricted.”
Rahaman hopes to see more incentives for film and the development of the industry, with more opportunities being offered for university graduates.
With many years in front of him, he said, “I want to do folklore, action, comedy and a bit of drama. I am still young in my filmmaking career so I want to experiment. Bottom line is that I want to tell local stories”