Ian Harnarine, part of CLACS Affiliated Faculty and an alumnus of and professor in the Graduate Film Program at Tisch, started off as a student of Physics and Astronomy at York University, later earning an MA in Nuclear Physics from the University of Illinois at Chicago. At this point, Harnarine, who had always had a interest in film, realized that he didn’t love science enough to continue on for a Ph.D. in the field. Having no responsibilities to anyone but himself, he decided to take a chance and applied to NYU’s Graduate Film Program. Harnarine said that he chose NYU due to the fact that unlike schools like UCLA and USC, its “education is stressed on personal storytelling, not Hollywood. NYU is focused on developing you as an artist”.
Harnarine’s most recent success is a short film titled, “Doubles with Slight Pepper”, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011 and screened at the IFC Center in New York City two weeks ago. The film takes place in Trinidad and tells the story of a son who sells doubles (Trinidadian street food) and is unexpectedly reunited with his estranged father, who returns from Canada.
Harnarine’s personal background was the sole inspiration for the film, as he was born in Toronto to Trinidadian parents. He also felt that even though Toronto and New York City are hubs for the Caribbean diaspora, this region and its people have not been explored in the media, and he was interested in bringing this to life. As he put it, “Everyone is starved for representations of themselves (in film, tv, etc.) and my work is an attempt to do that”.
Film is clearly something that Harnarine is very passionate about. He said that the most surprising thing about making a film was that “film is how much of yourself that you put into it”. He added, “If you do badly, it hurts your soul. You take it far more personally than, for example, doing badly on a physics exam. There’s a personal connection that you have to your work”. This personal connection translated to “Doubles with Slight Pepper” – “This film was a personal story trying to illuminate fundamental human relationships. People have been emotionally moved and understood what I was trying to do, despite their cultural background”. However, the best part of making the film was that his mom was able to travel to Trinidad and actually see the film being made, and later, win awards. It was important to Harnarine that his mom be a part of it and that she got the chance to understand what he does.
Today, Harnarine is keeping busy teaching sound in the Graduate Film Program at Tisch, teaching Physics to undergrads in the Physics Department, and working on adapting “Doubles with Slight Pepper” into a feature film. He also wrote a script with Spike Lee called “Time Traveler”, and is currently working with friend Jon Malkiel on a film adaptation of the book Soucouyant, which is slang for “spirit” in Trinidadian folklore. The book has personal importance for Harnarine because it takes place in Toronto and focuses on Trinidadian folklore.
However, Harnarine still finds time to enjoy New York City, where he has lived since 2005. He loves it here because it has the “best of everything–people, food, cultural amenities”. He also loves the energy of everyone here: “Everyone is kind of trying to ‘make it’ and you feel constant energy and feed off of everyone else”.
Elizabeth Con is an MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU