Filmmaker in Focus: Sudz Sutherland
The second installment of our Filmmakers in Focus series looks at David “Sudz” Sutherland, a Canadian filmmaker of Jamaican heritage. Sudz’s first feature, Love, Sex and Eating the Bones (2003) won the prize for best debut feature at the Toronto International Film Festival. He worked extensively in television after that, and is now making his second feature, Home Again, the story of three Jamaican deportees. The film recently wrapped up principal photography in Trinidad. One day during shooting he sat down with the ttff on his lunch break and—while eating a roti—answered a few questions.
trinidad+tobago film festival: You were born and raised in Canada, but you’re of immigrant parents?
Sudz Sutherland:Yeah, my parents came from Jamaica. They met in England in the ‘60s and then came to Canada thereafter, and I was born in Canada after they arrived.
ttff: Home Again, then, has personal resonance for you as a child of the Jamaican and Caribbean diaspora. How did you decide to make this film?
SS: Myself and my partner Jennifer Holness—my co-writer, and she’s also producer on the film—everybody we know has a story of a cousin or brother or sister who’s been deported. And it’s a very common occurrence, being from a Caribbean background. And so we thought we should tell this story. If we don’t tell it, it’s not going to go down in history and nobody’s going to know about the story of deportation. So many of our stories are just lost, and we didn’t want that to happen.
This is a fictional feature, so it’s an exciting, dramatic piece, that looks at an issue that affects the Caribbean on another level. The deportees coming back, people say “Oh they’re mashing up the place” and that’s what the argument here in Trinidad is, and what the argument is in Jamaica as well. So we wanted to look at that also in terms of what are options you have as a deportee. How can you reintegrate yourself into society, and sometimes a society that you don’t know, especially if you emigrated as a child.
ttff: You decided you would tell the story through several different characters. Could you talk a little bit about those characters and their individual stories, and how they link together? I’m assuming their stories are all interconnected.
SS: Oh yeah, they’re all interconnected, because you’re going to the same places, seeing the same things, because you’re kind of on the fringes of society. Our lead character is Marva, played by Tatyana Ali, who has Trinidadian roots—her father’s from San Fernando—and was born in Brooklyn. Marva is deported for being a drug mule. There was one particular woman who we based our research on who was in fact deported. Also she didn’t get a chance to be with her children because her children were in foster care. So we wanted to tell that woman’s story. And Tatyana Ali did a great job playing that part, and now she’s back in America on a Penny Marshall movie.
In terms of the other characters we’ve got Lyric Bent, from the Saw movies, and he’s playing a character called Dunstan, who was also in the drug trade but he was a dealer. He’s also been a gangbanger and was in prison and he’s been released and deported. He lives in a garrison community but he needs permission from the don to live there. So he meets the don, who’s played by Kadeem Wilson, a Jamaican actor, who was in Ghett’a Life [a ttff/11 selection] and many other films, he meets the don, who regards him with suspicion.
And then there’s Everton, played by Stefan James, who is on set today, a Toronto actor who we see go through the cycle of drug addiction, which many deportees find themselves in. Not fitting in you seek solace, and many people find solace at the end of a crack pipe. So we wanted to tell that story. And they all intersect, and they all overlap each other’s lives in some way.
ttff: The film is set largely in Jamaica, but you’re shooting in Trinidad. How did that come to be, and how have you found it substituting Trinidad for Jamaica? What logistical challenges have you encountered?
SS: I think it came to be because we were trying to find a suitable location that would double for Jamaica. Some of the areas we’re dealing with in terms of Jamaica, Trinidad is a perfect double for. Logistically, there’s a [35% tax] rebate here, a tax incentive for filming. So we said, OK, we’ll do a location scout to see if it could actually double for Jamaica. And we found that it could—it could double for a lot of places, it could double for Miami, Cuba, parts of Africa, even. There’s a lot of possibility here.
As to logistical challenges, we’re actually filming in Carnival, which is craaazy. But we had some scheduling issues with actors so this how we had to film. That in and of itself is a challenge, because we’re in competition for gear and personnel.
ttff: And how have you found working with the local cast and crew?
SS: We’ve had a fantastic experience with the actors. I was quite impressed with the Trinidadian talent pools. In some ways they’re deeper than Toronto’s talent pools—not in all categories obviously, but in some categories they are. I’ve had actual choice. And so I’ve been fairly happy.
ttff: Who are some of the local actors you’ve been working with?
SS: Terri-Leigh Bovell, Michael Cherrie, Conrad Parris, Leslie-Ann Levine, Pauline Mark. Quite a few. They just did a standout job. Some really good performances.
ttff: Let’s switch gears and look at the bigger picture, when it comes to attracting international film productions to shoot in T&T and the Caribbean in general. What’s your opinion on this? It’s obviously a good thing, in terms of bringing in revenue, but in terms of helping local film industry professionals hone their craft, what do you think they can learn?
SS: They’ll learn a hell of a lot. I think that the reason why the Toronto crews are so good is because Hollywood started coming north to Toronto, thirty, thirty-five years ago. And if that didn’t happen, the crew that I brought from Toronto wouldn’t be as good. Even somebody who’s only been in the game five years in Toronto is really quite good.
I’ve got some of the best crew members in the country, people who I respect and admire, and they wanted to come down, obviously because it’s slow in Canada in the winter, but also because they wanted to work on this project. And I know that a lot of our local crew members are learning a lot from them, because they were trained by some of the best in the business, in the world. I don’t know if you can put a price on that, because those experiences spin off. There’s a way that the Hollywood system, the discipline, teaches you, in terms of actually achieving your [work] day and making [the film] happen.
ttff: Do you also think it’s important to try and get diasporic filmmakers to come and work in the Caribbean?
SS: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s all about fostering relationships with diasporic filmmakers. I think that people like myself, Spike [Lee], Clement Virgo [Poor Boy’s Game, ttff/08], Charles Officer [Nurse.Fighter.Boy, ttff/10], there’s a number of filmmakers in the diaspora, not just here, but in the UK as well, we should all be thinking about shooting in the Caribbean. And we should be told, If you bring a budget of three or four million [Canadian] dollars, this is what it can get you here. For the most part we don’t even know where to start, and I think the T&T Film Company can do that, make those local introductions and say, well, here’s our stunt personnel. We had to come and find stuntmen. Where are they going to come from? So we had to do all that work. This is a pioneering effort and we put a lot of time and effort into putting some infrastructure in.
ttff: Finally, the shoot wraps up next week, are you staying for Carnival?
SS: Unfortunately, no. I gotta go to Jamaica and film something there for this film. Then I have to film in Toronto as well. We don’t stop this roadshow until March.
Home Again is expected to be ready for release in August.
Photo: Sudz Sutherland (in hat) with some of the cast and crew on the set of Home Again
Call for submissions for ttff/12
The call for submissions for the ttff/12, which takes place from 19 September to 02 October, is now open.
Presented by Flow, the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) seeks to highlight excellence in filmmaking through the exhibition of films made in the Caribbean region, including Latin American countries in the Caribbean Basin; by Caribbean people of the diaspora; and by international filmmakers that reflect Caribbean culture and way of life both in the region and the diaspora.
Selected films screened at the Festival are eligible for the following five jury prizes: best narrative feature film (US$4,000); best documentary feature film (US$4,000); best short film (US$2,000); best local feature film (TT$20,000); and best local short film (TT$10,000).
There are also three people’s choice awards, for best dramatic feature, best documentary and best short, each worth TT$5,000.
All selected films are also eligible for screening on Flow’s video on demand service after the Festival.
There is a submission fee of TT$60 (or US$10) per entry.
The Festival screens films in digital and 35mm formats. Entries of various lengths are accepted.
All initial submissions should be made either in digital format (for example, via Dropbox, Yousendit, FTP, Vimeo, Cinando, Festivalscope or personal secure online link), or in NTSC DVD format and must be in English or with English subtitles.
You may also submit via www.withoutabox.com, trinidad+tobago film festival.
All submissions must be accompanied by:
• Running time
• Year of production (not before 2010)
• Country of origin
• Language, and if subtitled
• Name of director, producer and cast (if appropriate)
• Short biography of director
• Festivals screened at/awards won (if any)
• Contact information
Digital submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
DVD submissions should be sent to:
trinidad + tobago film festival
199 Belmont Circular Road
Port of Spain
Trinidad & Tobago
Submitted materials will not be returned.
THE DEADLINE FOR ALL SUBMISSIONS IS 31 MAY 2012. THIS DEADLINE WILL BE STRICTLY FOLLOWED. PLEASE DO NOT SUBMIT FILMS THAT DO NOT FULFILL THE STATED CRITERIA.
ttff/12 reserves the right to determine the eligibility of the submissions to be screened at the Festival, the appropriate venues and time slots for the screening of films, and to use excerpts of the films for publicity purposes. All films submitted must have applicable clearances and the Festival will not be held liable.
The ttff seeks to make all screenings at the Festival T&T premieres. Occasionally, however, the Festival considers films that have already been shown in T&T. Please contact us if you have a film that falls into this category.
Please note that there are usually many more submissions than spaces available in the Festival lineup and therefore not all films can be accommodated. This does not necessarily imply that a film has not met the Festival’s criteria or is of poor quality. It may be that we have already selected a film on a similar topic, or that a film is deemed to have already received sufficient public exposure.
The ttff, which is in its seventh year, is held annually in September and receives leading sponsorship from RBC Royal Bank and bpTT, and supporting sponsorship from the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company, the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism, the Tourism Development Corporation, the Tobago House of Assembly and the National Gas Company.
Filmmaker in Focus: Sophie Meyer
Welcome to Filmmakers in Focus, a new feature on our website that presents conversations with filmmakers at work in Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean. First up is Sophie Meyer, a documentary filmmaker.
Originally from France, resident in London (where she is an independent media producer), Sophie has been coming to T&T for over a decade. During that time she has made several films, including Salt of the Earth (2006, and a trinidad+tobago film festival selection in 2008), a documentary about parang music.
Sophie is currently at work on a new film, about stickfighting. She found time near the end of her busy shooting schedule—in the middle of the Carnival season—to sit down and chat with the ttff about the film.
trinidad+tobago film festival: What is the name of the film?
Sophie Meyer: The film is called Mystic Fighters. It’s a film about stickfighting and the power of the ancestral drum.
ttff: How did you decide that you wanted to tell the story of stickfighting?
SM: I’ve been coming to Trinidad for quite a while now. The first time I came was in 2000. And I experienced J’Ouvert. And throughout the years I’ve come back regularly. There’s something about J’Ouvert that instinctively I connect to. So I started to look into J’Ouvert, the roots, the history, everything. And this is how I got interested and I started to learn about Canboulay, original Carnival, stickfighting.
I wanted to look at the [stickfighting] tradition a little closer and see where it came from, what remained of it, and who are actually the people who make it survive. I’ve always been very interested in looking at rituals, folk traditions. The parang documentary [Salt of the Earth] was looking at this music coming from Venezuela. Mystic Fighters in a lot of ways follows this same idea, looking at people and their original traditions, and where they come from.
ttff: What was your approach in making the film?
SM: The approach is…I’m not a historian, I’m not an anthropologist, I have passions, I just see something that touches me and I want to explore it and explore who makes this happen. As someone from a European background with no ancestry in the West Indies, how come that it resonates. I’m not looking at making an informative documentary. It’s not that. The intent was to give an account through my own eyes—I’m very aware that it’s totally subjective—of what I think is a beautiful artform, very spiritual and rooted in African ancestry.
ttff: How did people in the stickfighting world respond to you as a foreigner and a woman? Stickfighting is very much a man’s world…
SM: I [first] went to a stickfight, to a competition, in 2009, I think. I sat there and I was just looking at the gayelle and thinking, What is happening? It’s going so fast, I don’t understand. And I turned around and there was this guy who visibly was well into the fight and knew exactly what was happening. So I said, Excuse me, can you explain what just happened? I was so lucky that day because I talked to one of the most passionate stickfighting fans, probably the best person to talk to, and he explained to me. His name is Merrick Mundoo. He has been invaluable and is actually the producer of the film. He was the contact for the stickfighters, he was the entry.
I did some filming that time, I interviewed some stickfighters for research purposes, I met a few people, historians who know about traditional mas, I read a lot of books, trying to understand. It took me quite a long time to put the pieces together. I couldn’t make it [for Carnival] in 2010, neither 2011. 2012 is the year when everything started to come together.
ttff: Tell me about the importance of drumming to stickfighting.
SM: Without the drum there’s nothing. The drum calls the spirit of the fight and calls the fight. In other words, the beat of the drum directs the fighters. I love music, and the music is a very important element for me. So I approached it from this aspect, the mystical aspect.
ttff: Stickfighting is also violent. Is that something that was a factor in how you looked at it?
SM: It’s violent, yeah. The purpose is to buss your [opponent’s] head—you get the most points when you hit the head. There’s a lot of blood in the gayelle. People have died following some of the hits. Some go blind. Yes, it’s dangerous. But the point is they still do it. It’s so ingrained. It’s a tradition passed on from grandfather to father to son. I haven’t met a stickfighter who hasn’t learned his art from his father, or his grandfather. And they just have this urge, it’s exciting, and it’s something they look forward to. One of them said, “You have to be stupid to be a stickfighter.” One hit and you could lose your eye, or even your life. So it’s very dangerous, yes. But yet they go back to it, there’s this thrill.
What came up also, for a lot of them it’s a way to be recognised in society. And they tell you also it’s how they access what I interpret as power, or spirits. If you look at their faces they are inspired by the drum and they take on another persona. Some of them look so fierce—I’ve got faces in my head—and when they’re out of the gayelle they’re as sweet as can be.
ttff: There’s a lot in terms of ritual that goes along with stickfighting, not just in the stickfighting itself, but other aspects like the making of the bois, the stick. Was that something that you also explored?
SM: What we did was that we went in the forest with the stickfighters and we cut a bois from a poui tree. There’s a ritual attached to it, absolutely. It comes from the tradition that everything around you has spirit. Nature has spirit, you don’t just go there and help yourself to anything you like. You go there with respect and you ask permission, you “pay” the tree and then you go. All these guys are a wealth of knowledge in terms of the forest, they know the plants, they know the trees, they know the animals. To me the mystical aspect is that, really.
ttff: Of course, you have to “mount” the stick…
SM: Well, no. Careful with that. Some people do mount their stick, but the stickfighters I interviewed, and I believe them, they play “clean” stick.
ttff: We should probably say, to mount a stick means to—
SM: To mount a stick means basically to go through a process of putting poison in the wood, to give it an evil power. You do that by getting a crapaud, a frog, and putting the stick inside the living frog, then you put the stick on a tree, you let it rot for twenty-one days, and there’s other things that you do, and that is really bad. I was told, and I saw it, it leaves marks [on the body] that look a certain way. I was also told that the worms [from a mounted stick] actually infect the skin. It’s quite controversial. The funny thing is that every time you speak to a stickfighter they will tell you so-and-so is playing mounted stick, they are not clean.
ttff: Coming back to the style of the film, will it have narration, and talking heads? Or is it all observational?
SM: Well, I’m still thinking about it. I would like to use as little narration as possible. I want to use music, but we’ll see how it goes because as you know music is expensive. We’ll see how it will work out. Funding is really an issue I’ve got to look at.
ttff: How have you funded the production so far?
SM: My credit card.
ttff: So it’s all you?
SM: In terms of money? Yes, but you can’t say that it’s only me, the team of people who worked on it, without them I would not have been able to do it.
ttff: How big is the crew?
SM: Well there’s the cinematographer. I’ve got a sound engineer but not all the time. And I have a permanent producer, Merrick. He’s never worked on a film, but he’s amazing. He’s a dream. I’ve been very blessed and very lucky.
ttff: When do you expect the film to be ready?
SM: There’s an exhibition on the 15th of June in London, so I’m going to have a version of the film done for that. What I really would like is the film to be presented at the trinidad+tobago film festival. So I’m going to do what I can to have it ready so you guys can see it and decide whether you want it or not.
You can find out more about Mystic Fighters on its website, www.mysticfighters.com, or by visiting the film’s page on Facebook.
Photograph of Sophie Meyer by Maria Nunes
Community Cinergy kicks off in Mayaro
An outrageous romantic comedy from the Bahamas will be the first offering of a new cinema-screening venture being hosted by the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) and sponsored by bpTT.
Entitled Community Cinergy, the initiative is a series of free public screenings of local and Caribbean films from the ttff. The screenings will take place throughout the year at venues across Trinidad and Tobago.
The first film to be shown will be Crazy Love (2010), a romantic comedy written and directed by Clarence Rolle of the Bahamas. A ttff/11 selection, Crazy Love is the story of Charlene and Lionel, who have been happily married for several years. When Lionel loses interest in her, however, Charlene decides to rekindle their passion by seeking the advice of her friends—with hilarious results.
The screening takes place on Saturday 25 February, from 4pm, at the Mayaro Resource Centre in Mayaro. Admission is free, and there will be food and drinks on sale.
“BP Trinidad and Tobago is pleased to support the trinidad+tobago film festival to bring film to communities across the country,” said Danielle Jones, Manager, Corporate Communications, bpTT.
T+T Film Nights: Calypso Dreams, the Directors’ Cut
A new version of the classic documentary Calypso Dreams, directed by Geoffrey Dunn and Michael Horne, will be screened at the National Library in Port of Spain as part of the ongoing T+T Film Nights, an initiative of the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) and sponsored by the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company.
The screening, which is being held in association with NALIS, takes place on Sunday 12 February from 6.30pm. Admission is free.
First released in 2004 to great popular and critical acclaim both in T&T and abroad, Calypso Dreams is the story of calypso as told through interviews with and the music of some of its greatest exponents, including Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Black Stalin, Crazy and Sugar Aloes.
The film—which novelist Earl Lovelace called “a cinematic monument to calypso”—also pays posthumous tribute to many legendary calypsonians, such as Lord Kitchener, Lord Pretender, Mighty Terror, Lord Blakie and Mighty Duke.
The version of the film to be screened at the National Library is a recent directors’ cut, never seen in T&T and featuring significant new footage.
Before the screening there will be a live performance by an artiste who appears in the film, courtesy of TUCO. There will also be food and drinks on sale.
“NALIS is once again pleased to collaborate with the ttff to showcase our culture via the medium of the film,” said Debbie Goodman, Public Relations and Marketing Officer of NALIS. “We view our role in preserving and promoting our national heritage as critical to the development of a sense of self and national identity.”
UPDATE: Lord Superior, one of the stars of Calypso Dreams, will perform before the screening.