A Great 10th Annual St. John Arts Festival

Caribbean Ritual Dancers

This year’s St. John Arts Festival can happily boast three out of three successful evening shows with unexpectedly large attendances in each case.

The St. John Film Society’s film entitled “Sarayaku: Rivers of Corn,” by Marta Bautis provided an intriguing portrayal of life in a small village on the banks of a tributary of the Amazon River in Ecuador where the villagers had successfully resisted the exploitation and desecration of their land, their traditions and essentially their raison d’etre, by oil prospecting companies.


It was intriguing because to all outward appearances the village was that of a typical primitive settlement of original South American Indians carved out of the jungle/rainforest with buildings made of surrounding vegetation and the people using the yucca plant as a staple of food.


But, and it was a big but, these people had conventional schools for their children and one adult in particular was studying for her baccalaureate degree. There were even some laptops, donated by an American professor at one time, being used on an everyday basis.

The confrontation of villagers and oil company prospectors reinforced by government soldiers even ended up with the soldiers’ weapons being taken by the women of the village at one point only for the soldiers to ask for them back!

A living example of what would have happened to this little Eden of a village if they had accepted a paltry $50,000 from the oil companies to proceed with oil exploitation, was a similar village downstream from Sarayaku, which was apparently reduced to essentially a toxic waste site.

Although seemingly a nothing place to most Westerners’ eyes, these people valued their land, their traditions and beliefs as an integrated whole, inseparable, and united to save it.

To abandon it and go to the city, like Quito, would result in them being treated as second class citizens, without any true life-sustaining roots and community.

The second evening event produced by Janet Cook-Rutnik was a series of short videos made by St. John residents. Some of these films were intentionally very funny and others were more abstract reinforced with carefully chosen background music.

Tommy T’s contribution was hilarious. Made in the old days of getting an inspection sticker for a car on St. John. Tommy played himself, the inspection officer, the garage mechanic, who fixed the “violations,” and other characters associated with his ordeal. No doubt exaggerated as most humourous films are.

Janet’s journey with a rock left me wondering. Janet has a rather dry sense of humor such that the whole business of picking up a 50-pound rock on St. John and carting it on first a donkey and than a mover’s dolly to the ferry, and then on a Seaborne seaplane to St. Croix — much to the curiosity of the pilot — to be finally dropped on a red Oriental rug in a house on St. Croix.

It left me shaking my head with similarly dry amusement. Much credit is due to William Stelzer for a really professional film.

Crazy drivers are not limited to adults as shown by a filmmaker who’s two-year-old son was the star in his film. Pulled over by the police for erratic driving and possibly DUI, lo and behold, who was sitting in the driver’s seat but the infant!

Who, during the course of discussions between the police officer and other individuals, crept into the police car and drove off in a similarly erratic manner!

There were several other movies worthy of note but seeing them is far better than trying to describe them.

The crowning glory of the three shows was no doubt the “Caribbean Ritual Dancers” event hosted in the Westin Resort’s grand ballroom, gratefully appreciated by the St. John Arts Festival.

Diana Brown is indeed both a remarkable director of the dance troupe and an individual performer in the show.
The sheer energy, color, motion and vivaciousness of every performance in the entire show was so uplifting, particularly on such a rainy Sunday night.

Moreover, for the Westin guests who had just arrived on the island, it was a show which emphasized the traditionally romantic and exotic nature of the island which attracts visitors in the first place.

In other words this show is what prospective visitors imagine what going to the Caribbean really means/has in store for them.
The variety of individual performances was also startling. Ranging from the old traditional Bamboula dancing, all in simple white costumes to begin with, to beautiful, colorful costumes for other dances including salsa with a spicy change in rhythm.

Two towering, colorful Mocko Jumbies, had children in awe, as did Diana Brown’s fire-eating and glass treading acts.