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A black and white photograph with a man on the left, a woman in the centre and another woman on the right. All figures are looking into the camera.

Martina Attille

Dreaming Rivers

Dreaming Rivers (1988) is a film written and directed by Martina Attille for Sankofa Film & Video. In this allegorical work, actor Corinne Skinner Carter performs the role of Ms T, a black Caribbean woman in transition. Her children Daughter (Angela Wynter), Sister (Nimmy March) and Sonny (Roderick Hart) sit at her bedside and attend to the unspoken intimacies of history and transnational belonging.

Considering the legacy of Dreaming Rivers Alice Rekab has written a short text to accompany this film. Sometimes our dreams depend on what is not available explores the film’s influence and resonance within the artist’s own experience of intergenerational migration and its significance within the FAMILY LINES PROJECT.

 

Sometimes our dreams depend on what is not available

Dreaming Rivers was released by Sankofa Films in 1988 when I was one year old. (I am the white passing child of a mixed marriage born in a very white space.) The Dublin of late the 1980’s and early 1990’s was a monoculture and I was the only one I knew with a Black dad and a Black grandmother.

I learned our story by heart. I carried a photo, who we were and where we came from. I taught people how to say our surname. These were fragments of lives remembered, and retold, woven together to make some kind of sense to anyone who asked the question “where are you from?”

Because of my light skin tone, people questioned if I was my father’s child. (Unreliable, suspicious, unlikely.) I lived twenty nine years of a life before I saw anyone who was, and who looked, like me on screen.

In Dreaming Rivers I saw for the first time a family that looked like mine, tonally and emotionally. (I didn’t know there were grandmothers like mine out there in bedrooms and in grief just like mine, the shared spaces of the African Diaspora.) This was underscored all the more by the variation in our geographical placement, Attille’s vision of a Caribbean maternal space, and mine that of a Sierra Leonean.

The resonance of the Atlantic passage Dreaming Rivers lays over and enmeshes with my histories and memories and into my work speaking to the loneliness of Black women in mixed marriages far from home. Telling me about the cold, the isolation and the physical dependence.

Martina Attille’s Dreaming Rivers inaugurates the FAMILY LINES project through its representation of intergenerational migrant experience, its veneration of domestic space, and the personal, syncretic relationship between the maternal and the objects of devotion in her home. The few things she has power over. I often consider my grandmother’s experiences of powerlessness in relation to her husband and her children, how she negotiated a city/country/location/new place and found her space of sanctuary in her bedroom, during the time she spent here in Dublin from the mid 1960’s to 2014 when she died.

Presenting Dreaming Rivers at the start of the FAMILY LINES project is a way to share/stating/making clear my artistic heritage. It pays respect to the work of Martina Attille and asks what this film could do and mean for another generation of African descent living in Ireland today.

Alice Rekab, September 2021

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