And the ttff/14 Winners are…
Behaviour, an incisive portrait of the life of an at-risk boy in Havana, claimed the top prize at the 2014 trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) in an awards ceremony held in Port of Spain this evening.
Directed by Cuba’s Ernesto Daranas Serrano, Behaviour beat out four other films to nab the Best Narrative Feature prize at the Festival. Behaviour was also a favourite with the Festival’s youth jury, who awarded the film a special mention.
The youth jury gave its top prize to a Brazilian film, the charming LGBT-themed coming-of-age drama The Way He Looks, directed by Daniel Ribeiro.
Best Documentary Feature was awarded to a film from the Dominican Republic, Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada’s You and Me, an intimate look at the complex relationship between an elderly woman and her domestic servant.
A documentary was also the winner of the Best Trinidad and Tobago Feature Film—Miquel Galofré’s Art Connect, an uplifting crowd-pleaser featuring young people from the urban community of Laventille in east Port of Spain, whose lives are transformed when they undertake an art project.
The inaugural Amnesty International Human Rights Prize went to The Abominable Crime, Micah Fink’s touching, troubling reflection of the struggle gays and lesbians in Jamaica face to achieve their rights.
Here is a full list of the awards:
Best Narrative Feature: Behaviour, Ernesto Daranas Serrano, Cuba
Best Narrative Feature, Special Mention: Sensei Redemption, German Gruber, Curaçao
Best Documentary Feature: You and Me, Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada, Dominican Republic
Best Documentary Feature, Special Mention: Hotel Nueva Isla, Irene Gutiérrez and Javier Labrador, Cuba
Best Short Film, Narrative: Bullock, Carlos Machado Quintela, Cuba
Best Short Film, Documentary: ABCs, Diana Montero, Cuba
Best Trinidad and Tobago Feature: Art Connect, Miquel Galofré
Best Trinidad and Tobago Short Film, Narrative: Dubois, Kaz Ové
Best Trinidad and Tobago Short Film, Narrative, Special Mention: Noka: Keeper of Worlds, Shaun Escayg
Best Trinidad and Tobago Short Film, Documentary: Field Notes, Vashti Harrison
Best New Media Film: They Say You Can Dream a Thing More Than Once: Versia Harris, Barbados
Amnesty International Human Rights Prize: The Abominable Crime, Micah Fink, Jamaica/USA
BPTT Youth Jury Prize for Best Film: The Way He Looks, Daniel Ribeiro, Brazil
BPTT Youth Jury Prize for Best Film, Special Mention: Behaviour, Ernesto Daranas Serrano, Cuba
People’s Choice Award, Best Narrative Feature: A Story About Wendy 2, Sean Hodgkinson, T&T
People’s Choice Award, Best Documentary Feature: Art Connect, Miquel Galofré, T&T
People’s Choice Award, Best Short Film: Flying the Coup, Ryan Lee, T&T
RBC: Focus Filmmakers’ Immersion Pitch Prize: Raisa Bonnet, Puerto Rico
RBC: Focus Filmmakers’ Immersion Pitch Prize, Special Mention: Davina Lee, St Lucia
Best Student at the Film Programme of the University of the West Indies: Romarlo Anderson Edghill
Best Trinidad and Tobago Film in Development: Rajah: The Story of Boysie Singh, Christian James
Image: A still from Behaviour
Filmmaker in Focus: Kiki Alvarez
Kiki Álvarez was born in Havana in 1961, and has a degree in Art History, Communication Theory and Screenwriting. He is currently the head of the fiction film programme at Cuba’s International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV). He is the director of several acclaimed short and feature-length films, including our ttff/14 selection, Giraffes, which premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
In this story, Manuel and Lia are a young couple desperate to find accommodation in Havana. They manage to illegally lay their hands on the keys to an old house in the city centre. If that didn’t put enough of a strain on their relationship, the previous occupant, Tania, who had actually been evicted, refuses to give up her home. A silent, tense and provocative domestic war among these three beautiful, vulnerable, volatile twenty-somethings ensues and plays out as an impending hurricane places them under lockdown.
Our blogger Aurora Herrera got a chance to speak with Kiki Álvarez ahead of his trip to T&T for the screening of his film.
What made this interplay between the three protagonists attractive to you?
Giraffes was born from an idea of Claudia Muñiz [the film’s scriptwriter and one of the two lead actresses]; she conceived the story and wrote the screenplay based on general and personal experiences. It just gave me a premise to work from that also guaranteed that my ideas about the production design would allow me to control the direction and staging and also to work with the actors how I wanted to in order to achieve the things I wanted to explore in their characters.
Many of the scenes seem very organic and as if you let the three actors improvise and feed off of the others’ energy. How much of a role did the script play when shooting?
To ensure that air of spontaneity that runs through the film I made sure to test very little; there are only two scenes that I thought were fundamental for the definition of the characters and the to establish the tone of the relationships between them. Then the rest was playing around every day, finding the specificity of each moment and how to film it. My idea was that the actors seek and generate energy in every moment, energy that would make us pay attention and be outstanding enough to document.
Now, to defend this idea of an interactive style in my direction, I have to know how to receive, use, and conduct energy and creativity offered to me by the actors, creative people and technicians working in my films.
Why do you finally decide to show Lia’s work life outside of the house?
This is the most controversial film sequence; writing for the purists and the unity of time and space that suggests the film is a dramaturgical error, but I long ago gave up self-imposing rules of this type. At that moment in the story no one wants to leave the house to see what will continue to happen between Tania and Manuel but Claudia and I wanted was to go for a walk to Chinatown to explore Lia’s mood.
Ironically, this sequence works like a Chinese box; breaking the story with the expectations that have been generated with all of the mystery and lack of Western psychological explanation that usually make for tall tales. Why is it that Lia does what the client asks and what are the consequences for the story? We do not know and I do not care to elucidate. It is a beautiful mystery; sometimes in life you do not ask what and why you do and that may or may not have consequences. I think we often forget that films talk about life, and life tends not to ask for any explanations sometimes.
Are you trying to hint at anything with the relationship between Manuel and Lia? (She is a working woman and he stays at home all day; however she says that when he would hug her it was so tight she felt her bones would break.) Is love enough to sustain that kind of relationship?
Manuel’s love is everything to Lia and she does not need to explain it to live it with life-long intensity. We are the spectators, the voyeurs of that story, and we need to explain why. I think Manuel is the most complex and difficult-to-define character; he looks like a crackpot, a pushover, immature, sometimes a jerk, but is slowly discovering a sensitivity and attitude to life. Lia already knows it and Tania discovers it eventually. Towards the end of his song, he defines himself: a giraffe, one that has no voice because his voice is so different than the rest that men do not listen. To answer your question, I think that love is never enough and in the case of Lia she confronts him with such intensity that far from sinking, it carries his passion.
When you envisioned the film, did you have any parameters for the sex scenes or did you let the actors decide what they were comfortable with?
The first thing we shot was the sex scene between Lia and Manuel when the film begins. For me it was essential to create comfort between the actors and crew; nudity and sex had to be natural, everyday. Also, it had to be with the agreement of Claudia and my complicity with her was crucial.
How long did the shooting process take?
We shot in 15 days. It was something that we made sure from design and production through a small team that was multifunctional and highly concentrated. If one knows how to shorten preparation times from one shot to another, and this is something that digital cinema allows, you can shoot in half the time that we were accustomed to with the poor production times the analog film demanded.
What’s next for you?
Our new film is called Venice and has just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to a very good reception from the public and critics. This is the synopsis: Monica, Violet and Mayelin work in a beauty salon. On payday they go out to buy a dress for one of them, starting an unexpected journey into the depths of the Havana nightlife. At dawn, exhausted and penniless, they start dreaming of opening a beauty shop of their own, which they will call Venice.
Do you have anything to add?
I am very happy to present Giraffes in Trinidad and Tobago. We are Caribbean islands and it’s important for us to know more about each other. At the very least, I make films for that, to expose and to learn.
The final ttff/14 screening of Giraffes takes place on Friday 26 September, 8.30pm at MovieTowne, Port of Spain. The director will be present.
ttff/14 workshop review: script development
One of the main goals of the ttff is the continuous development of the local and Caribbean film industry. At ttff/14, a variety of panels, presentations and workshops are being held.
Last Monday morning a script development session for producers, hosted by European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE), was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Clare Downs, a script consultant from the UK, worked with the participants, introducing the main script development tools and seeking to strengthen their understanding of narrative principles.
Clare kicked off the session by establishing the importance of themes. She noted the following:
- Themes arise from the resolution of the conflict
- Themes reveal how a character has or has not changed
- The experience of the journey reveals the meaning and theme of the story
- Issues and ideas are not be confused with themes
One of the central points of Clare’s presentation was the importance of a note of intention for scriptwriters.
“Everybody in the development process should write out note of intention,” she said. “You need to establish why you want to make this film and what drives your curiosity. Ask yourself, ‘What is my film about?’ Not issues, but what do you think it’s about?’”
She advised that the producer should also write a note of intention; that is, why they are connecting to that particular story and what they think it’s about. During the process, one should always revise the note of intention, and it is important to see if these notes of intention between the writer and the producer match. Also, when you go to raise funds and submit your treatment and your script, an extremely good note of intention can make a big difference.
“That’s a good way to put yourself inside the development vortex,” she said. “Then ask the director to write their own note of intention. If they have a completely different take, then you decide if you want them or not.”
Clare also spoke about deciding how stories end; is the story being told a story in balance, or out of balance?
“I find that happy and sad endings are rather closed,” she said. “When you consider whether or not a story is in balance or out of balance and the main character can put things relatively in place or vice versa, the story can take on a different resonance, rather than having just a happy or sad ending.”
The importance of critical thinking versus analytical thinking also featured prominently in her presentation.
“There is nothing worse for a writer to say, ‘I don’t like that character.’ That is an example of critical thinking and it closes down a conversation. They are not being analytical. It would be much better to ask questions and use a Socratic method like ‘Why did you decide to do this with the character?’ and let your writer explain and have a real dialogue.”
She pointed out that rhythm is very important in a script and as a producer, you must read lots of scripts and utilize that analytic thinking.
“You can be more critical during brainstorming at the beginning of the development process, then the job is to be analytical,” she said.
Another concept that Clare introduced to workshop participants was the “white-hot first draft” which is basically the first version of the script.
“In this version of the script, writers are able to focus on what is compelling about the characters and the story and what raises their curiosity,” she advised. “Then, the producer can use it for the development of the treatment.”
Clare also broke down the method of building the story through sequences and rhythm, not scenes, a very important differentiation.
“There are eight sequences and every sequence has a function and the end of each sequence sets up the next sequence,” she said. “The first sequence is the routine of life, where you introduce the main character, other secondary characters and the antagonist, hidden or obvious. Exposition of the world comes through conflict, as the characters are revealed. In the first sequence you also set up the point of attack, also known as the inciting incident or the hook where something happens to throw the main character out of balance. Keep in mind that the point of attack relates to the genre.
“The second sequence is collision,” she continued. “At the end of the first act we have the main tension, that is, where we know what the main character wants, and the tension between what we hope that they will achieve it, but we equally have to fear that they will not get what they want. For us to fear, we need to plant the seeds of antagonism in our first act.
“The more you have an equal tension between hope and fear the better. Uncertainty is the great principle of drama and the viewer needs to be emotionally connected to the story between their hope and their fear.
“Then you have two sequences of rising action where the character gets closer to what they want at the Midpoint. Then you build point where they have the twist and the main character has two sequences of falling action where forces of antagonism are in control at this point of the story. At the end of the second act comes a twist where they are in crisis. They are faced with a new tension, where they now have, or have not, to address what they need. Then comes the climax, when the main character confronts the antagonist, and then finds a resolution. In a world in balance, they are able to get what they need and overcome the antagonist. In a world out of balance the antagonist is triumphant.”
Clare also encouraged participants to be sure to differentiate between the main character and the central character when developing scripts.
“The person who is the main character has the biggest amount of baggage to deal with,” she said. “The story turning points are based on them. The central character reflects more thematic concerns.”
She also pointed out that writers should pay attention to foreshadowing, planting and paying off to establish a strong emotional ending.
For her last piece of advice she encouraged writers not to be boring and predictable when creating the antagonist. Remember, we are ourselves are antagonists to those who desire what we want. Write your characters from the inside out. Plot emerges from character, not vice versa.
Short films in focus
Last Friday night, a package of short films—comprised mostly of T&T films, all but one of which had their world premiere—screened at the ttff/14. The package featured Hidden Avenue, directed by Daniel Ahye (T&T); Last Night, directed by Ayesha Jordan (T&T); How Many Times, directed by Ryan Khan (T&T); The Cutlass, directed by Darisha Beresford; Cleaning House (T&T), directed by Toni Blackford (Jamaica); and Flying the Coup; directed by Ryan Lee (T&T).
Hidden Avenue stood out for me because of the rhythmic spoken-word voice over, which told the story of a young man who is a member of a charity organisation. However, as with all things that seem to involved money in our beloved country, corruption unfolds before his very eyes. The protagonist chooses to do nothing and subsequently must face the consequences of his inaction. The four-minute narrative is Ahye’s first offering at the ttff and began as the subject matter for a song competition. The film was a course submission and had to follow the themes of accountability and transparency. Derron Sandy wrote the spoken word piece and the video came together in just a matter of days. It is definitely encouraging to see creative people coming together from different fields to collaborate on a film. These diverse backgrounds give texture to the work.
Last Night is Ayesha Jordan’s third submission to the Festival, and received great applause from the audience at the screening. It focuses on a young girl who awakes in the middle of the night and has an encounter with a strange entity. Honestly, I had trouble sleeping that night because I kept thinking about this film. I do believe that that is an indicator of the film’s success. One audience member complimented her team on the score of the piece, saying that it achieved the air of oppression befitting a horror. A very interesting fact is that the story is based on a story written by the little girl who stars in the film. Jordan’s film reveals her talent to create the exact intended atmosphere that the genre of the film depicts. Her previous Festival entries were a rom-com and a drama, and she maintains that she experiments with different genres in order to keep her work new and to paint a story that people would always be interested in.
How Many Times? is a story about a woman who is about to get married who finds out that her abusive mother has been released from prison. I know the filmmaker Ryan Khan personally and was very happy to hear that this film screened at the Short Film Corner of the Cannes Film Festival. Suffice to say, I was expecting a lot from the film. According to Khan, the film, which took two years to shoot and one year to edit, is an experiment in visual language. The film definitely grabs your senses and simultaneously draws you in and evokes an emotive response, without much dialogue. As film critic Kaleem Aftab said in his workshop last week, “When we watch a film we should separate the dialogue from the visual image. Film is a visual medium and the visual should take precedence over dialogue.” In my opinion, Khan can consider his experiment in visual language a success.
The Cutlass, directed by Darisha Beresford, is based on a true story of a kidnapping crime in T&T. The eleven-minute narrative was written and produced by Tenille Newallo. I would like to say kudos to the team for bringing these issues to light in such a dramatic and creative way. It is great to know that the woman who had this happen to her is very supportive of the entire project. These are stories that need to be told because they open up very important dialogues around crime, kidnapping and the abuse of women in our country, issues that define our daily lives but are usually dismissed. In the Q&A after the screening, Newallo pointed out that she felt it was important for a woman to direct the film. Newallo insisted that despite creative license, the film has stayed as close as possible to the original story, where the true essence of the story, her bravery, and the mental battle between the two characters, has not changed. As Newallo pointed out, it is a story of human struggle and triumph.
Cleaning House was quite enjoyable to watch. Directed by Toni Blackford, a Jamaican writer and director, the film tells the story of Susan, a seemingly quiet and pensive housecleaner who takes her job seriously. The film unfolds as she receives a phone calls and then heads off to a job. She cleans the house of the person who requested a housekeeper but then she drugs him and begins to search through his apartment. The homeowner is then revealed to be a psychopathic pervert. Blackford has done a great job of keeping the film tight and focused. The storyline is interesting, the cinematography is great and the actors are very believable. There was not a second that went by that I was not engrossed in the film. Also, judging by the resounding applause from the audience, they enjoyed it as well. I think we are all looking forward to seeing more from Blackford.
Absolutely hilarious! That’s my take on Flying the Coup, the second film in this year’s festival directed by Ryan Lee, a graduate of the UWI Film Programme. His other short, Cubes, evoked the same belly-bursting laughter as this 24-minute film. In this film, set during the 1990 attempted coup, the neighbourhood troublemaker accidentally ends up teaming up with a police officer on his first day of work in order to escape Port of Spain. They trip over each other’s personalities as they try to escape the chaos-filled streets of the capital. The entire audience at the Little Carib Theatre was in stitches throughout the film. A great cast supports the writing—actors who know how to communicate comedy with their body language and facial expressions, which tickles the funny bone of viewers, frame after frame. Shooting a period film is always a challenge; however Lee applies his creativity well to meet this issue. During the Q&A, Lee commented that he initially wanted to do a serious piece about that episode in our country’s history but was met with some opposition. While I do hope that Lee gets to pursue his creative goals, I for one am really glad that this comedy was created. A definite must-see in this year’s Festival.
Image: a still from Flying the Coup
ttff/14 workshop review: Film appreciation
This past Saturday, the ttff held a film appreciation workshop at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The workshop targeted film enthusiasts—that is, people who may not be interested in making films but are still fascinated by questions of cinema, image making and meaning in general.
The workshop was facilitated by Kaleem Aftab, a British film writer for the Independent and National newspapers as well as Filmmaker magazine. He is also the author of Spike Lee’s authorised biography, Spike Lee; That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It.
During the three-hour workshop, Aftab utilised different films to guide the participants in how to analyse films. Particular points that he covered were typecasting, the use of montage (editing), jump cuts and the use of technology. Aftab showed clips from various films like The Outsiders, Pulp Fiction, The Celebration, La Dolce Vita, Do the Right Thing and others to demonstrate these points.
Here are some excerpts from Aftab’s presentation.
On story and characterisation
“A bad critic will just tell you the story; but films are not just about what happens in the movie but what happens with the character and how the character builds up. We can’t keep thinking that the plot is all of it.”
“When thinking about film appreciation, it is a good idea to examine film history and how the industry developed over time.”
On the role of technology in filmmaking
“Films are not just a product of time and place but also capability; the tools at the disposal of filmmakers over time. We can’t think in the same way about the films made in 1950 and the films made today because of the technology available to make them. In the 1950s in Germany, the beauty of their films was the way they used light and shade and very long shadows. That was their version of 3D.”
On empathy and realism
“The more empathy we have with the characters, the more a movie means to us. This leads us into immersive realism. Many documentaries use this technique. Normally the realism of movies is not the realism of life but because it is the movie we accept the language of movies. Now fiction films are being made like documentaries to get that sense of immersive realism.”
On technology (again)
“Talking more about technology, what is important? Is it that we want to be wowed by the film or do we want to be taken on a journey? If we want to be wowed, the film becomes totally different. You also need to ask, ‘When is the director helping us and when is he manipulating us?’”
On the importance of the director
“The story and background of the director is also important. We need to know who he is and what stories he tells. Fellini has a background in vaudeville and the circus and was interested in exploring the eccentricities of life as well as the internal struggle of people and we see those influences play out in his films.”
On acting and typecasting
“In terms of good acting and bad acting, we have to ask ourselves, “Is it bad acting, or a bad choice of movie, and does the audience refuses to see the actor in a different role?” Bad acting is when we see an actor and we don’t believe them in a role. All actors have strengths and weakness and it is hard to think of one that can do everything. Also, sometimes actors are given bad scripts and no matter how much they try to bring the story to life, a bad script can make it difficult to do that.”
On going beyond Hollywood
“One of the problems with film appreciation is that things that are not American are dismissed. There is fascism in film appreciation that we have to appreciate one type of film, like the ‘Oscar’ film. You have to remember to be open-minded and appreciate things about life in other cultures.”
On the future of cinema
“I think the latest trend in film is what part the audience has to play in the democracy of film. With YouTube and other platforms, they are reinventing films all the time, creating parodies and telling the stories in new ways. So essentially, there is no final version of a film now.”
Film festival and New Fire team up for concert event
The trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) is teaming up with New Fire, a new concert series on the local music landscape, to present We Are New Fire, a concert featuring some of the top alternative acts in T&T.
The concert takes place this Thursday 25 September at D Nu Pub aka Mas Camp, at the corner of Ariapita Avenue and French Street in Woodbrook, from 9pm to 11pm. Admission is $60, payable on the door.
The formidable lineup for the show is:
Gillian Moor & Bush Tea Party
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 492-7516.
The first ttff/14 filmmakers’ panel
The first ttff/14 filmmakers’ panel discussion was held two nights ago at Drink Lounge & Bistro in Woodbrook. Five directors whose work is featured in this year’s Festival—Sean Hodgkinson (A Story About Wendy 2, T&T), Sean Escayg (Noka: Keeper of Worlds T&T/USA), Miquel Galofré (Art Connect, T&T), Kaz Ové (Dubois T&T/UK) and Neto Villalobos (All about the Feathers, Costa Rica)—were on hand to answer questions and talk with each other about their work.
These panels function as a conversation for the filmmaking community and it is one of the most important things about the festival: the idea that local and international filmmakers get together to share their experiences and talk about filmmaking in general and how we can progress as industries in our different countries and territories.
Melvina Hazard, ttff Director of Community Development, moderated the panel and and got proceedings going.
All of you have had experiences with film festivals, some more than others. What value do you see in using film festivals as a way to promote your work?
Villalobos: Hello and thanks for being here. It’s a pleasure for me, being for the first time in Trinidad. I think that film festivals are really important for the films that I make. My film is a very independent and small movie. It’s very difficult to show the movie outside festivals. Some TV channels bought the rights but I don’t think it’s a film for theatres like the Hollywood movies we see in cinemas, so I think it’s very important. I started one year ago doing the premiere in Toronto and then San Sebastian in Spain and then a lot of places like Vancouver, Miami, San Francisco, Stockholm, Havana, Buenos Aires and I think when people watch the movie in another festival they ask for it to go to another festival so it’s blowing up and you don’t have to anything. Just your sales agent has to push the film. So it’s great.
Hodgkinson: I think for me, our film festival gave us a platform to show the film to an audience. We didn’t know how people would react. The reception was really good and then we were able to sort of raise funds via corporate Trinidad that is very, very rare. So we were able to fund the sequel that sold out and caused some chaos. It’s a commercial film and I would have liked if MovieTowne had given us a bigger screen to accommodate the film but it is what it is. I think the film festival is important. It gives filmmakers a chance to launch and then move on from the film festival. It’s nice to have a mixture of both so the audience could come out and se different things.
Ové: I don’t have much more to add to that. My experience with film festivals is quite limited because this is the first festival that my film is showing at. More than anything else, especially for a short film, it is a platform to get it seen which there are not as many of in comparison to long films. So it’s really the idea that your film is out there and is being seen by people in the industry.
What was it like directing your film? In Dubois, Ové directs his sister; in All About the Feathers, Villalobos directs a chicken. Can you talk about that?
Indra Ové (Kaz’s sister who stars in the film): We’ve developed a language and a way to speak on set. What was lovely working on Dubois was spending a lot of time discussing what we wanted to get out of the characters and the story. That is unusual in filmmaking. That is phenomenal. So when you arrive on the day to shoot it, you kind of already know what the essence is and what you are trying to achieve. I think I’m good at taking direction. It’s was a two-way thing, very collaborative, a give and take. He gave me some challenging stuff to do and I think I rose to the challenge. There was a lot of trust and it was a fantastic experience.
What are some of the challenges and differences in working with the two set of characters of your films Fish and Noka? (To Sean Escayg)
Escayg: I don’t do reads per se but I do blocking. I don’t do reads because it falls into a grey area because when shooting sometimes it seems like they are reading from a script. I use a lot of non-actors. With Fish, the first thing I did was take away the scripts and I said, “I need you to get your money back from this guy.” They don’t have lines but they are reacting. Noka was a different challenge, it was a kid and there was a creature that he was imagining and fighting and he had to react to it. The magic is not having a script but getting out of your head. For example, the creature hit a cabinet and there was actually someone who hit the cabinet by accident and we used that take. That’s what we look for.
What is it like working with children in a documentary film? What are some of the challenges a well as positives? (To Miquel Galofré)
In a documentary it is easer because what you want of them is to be themselves. It is not hard because kids can be open, I guess when it comes to fiction it is more difficult but in Art Connect I was trying to get the trust and I just said be yourself. You have to make them feel comfortable, make eye contact, the boom is a big thing with kids, the get afraid and they don’t talk but once you get the trust, it works.
How attached are you all to getting a theatrical release? Can you talk about traditional distribution versus online distribution? Is it that you want to monetise your films in order to keep working or just to see it on the big screen? Does everyone want to go Hollywood?
Escayg: I love to see my stuff on the big screen but the point is to get it seen. If it’s to make money and I do a feature that’s what it is but if it’s a short then I want to get it everywhere to be seen. I go to festivals so I can see it on a big screen and so that my actors can see themselves as well.
Hodgkinson: The feeing when the audience laughs when they are supposed to laugh, there is a feeling of exhilaration you get. In Tanzania, I didn’t know if they could relate and they did.
Villalobos: I wouldn’t do it in some other place with my movie because I don’t know if anyone would go to see that movie but in Costa Rica, it was very successful, we had 20,000 people in the theatres. I’m not sure about the festivals, if people in Stockholm or Trinidad are going to feel the same as the people in Costa Rica. In the end I think it’s about being human and everyone connecting with the same thing.
In terms of money and fundraising, in some of the movies, product placement was that a deliberate strategy. What are some of the ways you were able to raise money to make your film?
Hodgkinson: I think after the first Wendy aired on TV, we went to Audi to meet with them and we were very excited about getting that chance and then we got Trini Fried Chicken that’s how we funded the movie—NGC [National Gas Company], National Lotteries Control Board. For example, there is a scene where a character calls her father and he is watching the lotto. It’s very natural. What was awesome was no one said you can’t say this and you can’t do that. They gave us free reign to do what we wanted. I don’t know how it happened but we were very grateful.
Escayg: We had a local producer here who was sourcing funding and we got Angostura but they were pretty open to letting us do what we want.
Villalobos: I hate product placement because I don’t feel like I’m making a film, I feel like I’m making a commercial so I wasn’t even thinking about that. I suppose that if it’s not affecting the film in any way, then that’s fine.
The panel was followed by the filmmakers’ lounge, where the public got the chance to engage with the filmmakers on a one-on-one basis.
Film in Focus: Art Connect
Two nights ago, after seeing Miquel Galofré’s film Art Connect at its world premiere at ttff/14, the education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh pledged his support to extend the programme to schools throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
The film, based on a project initiated by artist Wendell Mc Shine, vividly illustrates how creative intervention changed the lives of a group of young people in Laventille, a disenfranchised and volatile community in T&T. The film documents the profound impact that painting, poetry, music and dance had on the children, who were given digital cameras to record their experiences.
By supporting the extension of this programme to schools throughout the country, other young people will gain the chance to express themselves in ways that they never have before.
The cast of Art Connect was there along with their loved ones, teachers and supporters and many of them spoke, thanking the film team for their experience. Their presence provoked quite a passionate response from the audience; spectators also pledged their financial support to the programme and one teacher publicly expressed that she wanted to learn how to implement the programme in her own school.
Here are some of the comments from the film team and the cast during the Q&A session:
Miquel Galofré: I have so much to say that I cannot say anything at all. This is their [the kids’ ] film; they are amazing. Thank you.
Charlotte Elias, producer: Miquel and I met four years ago and we were determined to do something together. It was and is a relationship based on trust. I think all of you can see the vision that he had for this film from the beginning and the love he put into it. One of the things that we looked at with the film is that we all believe in the intervention and transformative power of creativity. That’s what the film really celebrates; the profound effect that that can have. The key thing is that there re real artists who wake up in the morning to do this type of work. They themselves have come through a similar journey and Muammed [Muwakil] beautifully represents and epitomizes what that can be and is well-loved by everybody here this evening.
Muhammed Muwakil, musician: How many times are we going to have this same conversation before we realise that everybody does not learn the same? How many times are we going to have to say the same things over and over? Every day that we live and breathe we are losing children and it’s because we are trying to teach fish to climb trees. When we came in [the kids] were very open and they worked very hard at things that they thought they couldn’t have done but they did it.
This was supposed to be a pilot project to show what can be done. This can change lives. It didn’t take a thousand years and it didn’t take a billion dollars, it just took a little attention. Things like this can work, there are so many artists willing to give for things like this. That said, we were well paid to do this. The people who did this wanted to make sure that this was a sustainable thing. I would do it for free and they know that, they gave me an opportunity to give of myself in a way that was sustainable. You want to talk about sustainable development? This is sustainable.
Isis Gairy, one of the film’s subjects: Without everyone cooperating this would not have been finished, everybody worked as a team. Even though we had different circumstances and different brick walls, we broke that down and made sure that we did what we wanted to do
Ateion Jones, another of the film’s subjects: I would like to say thank you to the Art Connect project, especially Charlotte, you’ve made my life grow, and I’m doing things right now that actually have decided my life. Thank you everyone for this experience; parents, producers, people who helped, thank you very much.
Salif Calif, another of the film’s subjects: I would like to say that it was a pleasure working with all of my past schoolmates from Success [Laventille Secondary School], and I met some amazing people—Mud [Muhammad Muwakil], Miquel and aunty Charlotte. I just love all of these people and I hope that we can continue the programme in other school and areas and that we can show that the youth are not just about drugs and guns, that they are positive and that we san do a lot of things if we get the natural push. Thank you for coming to see the movie and enjoying it.
Miss McDowell, teacher at Success Laventille Secondary School: This [film] is so deeply personal. It was a really long journey and the film was the culmination of that and my students opened themselves up to me. Through the experience they were really broken open, they exposed themselves and quite frankly at the end of it, they were rewired. They now have a renewed sense and sensibility and I am so proud of them. I thank Art Connect for that.
Audiences can catch Art Connect again at the ttff/14 on the following dates:
Saturday 20 September, 10.30am, MovieTowne POS
Wednesday 24 September, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Saturday 27 September, 5.30pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Tuesday 30 September, 10.30am, MovieTowne POS
Film in Focus: Noka: Keeper of Worlds
Shaun Escayg is a Trinidadian writer and director based in Los Angeles. In 2012 his debut short film, Fish (ttff/12), won several international awards. Noka: The Keeper of Worlds (2014) is his latest short film.
In preparing for this film, I did read that Escayg’s background in the special-effects industry has allowed him to work on several major movies such as Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and, most recently, The Last of Us.
I though, that’s great, he is qualified. Still, I was very curious. How would our folk stories translate on the silver screen? How would he keep our stories local yet infuse them with the ability to be shared with the world in a successful cinematic way?
Eight-year-old Gabriel, played by Stephen Nagy, suffers from schizophrenia and like his deceased grandfather is a timid recluse. He encounters an old friend of the family, Midnight, who gives him his grandfather’s journal. This journal opens a portal into a parallel world filled with creatures and mystics, challenging his beliefs and empowering the young boy.
Noka gives our old folk tales a modern edge and makes them relatable to the younger generation. The cast, especially Midnight, played by Conrad Parris, brought the film alive. He definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies. Gabriel, played by Stephen Nagy, is a formidable new talent who was applauded by the audience and who we all really hope to see more from.
The animation is really well done and I would like to congratulate Escayg. At times, I felt that I was engaging with the same creatures of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
The set and costume design also pays great compliment to our local talent. As Jonathan Ali, Editorial Director of the Festival said, “We are expecting big things. You have the film festival in your corner and we will be supporting you and we are behind you all the way.”
Here is how the Q&A with the audience went down.
Take us back to the beginning and the idea behind Noka. Where did it all start?
My grandmother used to tell me all of these stories about soucouyants and la diablesse as a little boy. I was petrified but it was fun and at the same time it got the creative juices flowing in my head. So when I got to LA and I got into film, all of these things were influences and that’s what you see.
Are there plans to make a feature out of this?
Yes. So this is basically a “proof of concept” for a feature film. It will involve more characters and go more in-depth with the noka. So yes, there are plans.
Are you connected to the animation society of Trinidad?
I am connected to Anime Caribe. I have worked with them and Jason [Lindsay] is a facilitator of a lot of the work you see there as well. The goal is to try to develop the industry so we try to work together.
The house in the film, where is it located?
That’s the Stollmeyer’s estate in Santa Cruz. It’s beautiful.
I would just like to know how Stephen, the young man, mentally prepared for this role and get into the part so well, for such a young person?
Stephen Nagy: Sean helped me a lot and taught me the steps and what to be expecting. Of course I didn’t necessarily see all the monsters and creatures and he also helped me a lot with preparing myself for what’s coming.
Sean: And he’s pretty talented.
How many local people did you use for the film in terms of costuming and make up?
The only foreigner was the assistant director. Everyone is local and there is such amazing talent [here]. From the wardrobe to set design, everyone is very talented.
Were there any major difficulties in getting this film done compared to Fish?
Because of the CGI this was a lot animation. So the cut was waiting, everything else was waiting, it was just the animation. That made it a longer process and without budget it was really difficult. So it was eight months after we shot the film until the film was completed for four minutes of animation.
When you are in LA and you meet with investors and producers and you tell them about your ideas, how receptive are they in terms of Trinidad and Tobago as a place for doing the things that you want to do?
That’s a good question. They are surprisingly pretty excited about it, especially the accent, especially the set. I was shocked with the reaction to Fish. So how I started with Fish, it was pretty violent, not like this with kids but it was a test to see how Americans view [Trinidad] and [Trinidadian] English dialect in a non-foreign-language film and the reaction was overwhelming. We had written Noka first and we weren’t sure if anyone would like it and then we ended up with Fish and everyone loved it so I said OK, it’s time for a more extensive film.
Noka: The Keeper of Worlds will have one more showing on Monday 29 September, 3.30pm at MovieTowne POS.
Film in Focus: Difret
Last night, the ttff/14 had its first screening of the Ethiopian film Difret, as part of its Panorama offerings, films that connect our country to our heritage countries via history and humanity.
The film is based on the true story of Meaza, a young lawyer and women’s advocate in Addis Ababa, who provides free legal services to the poor. A 14-year-old girl named Hirut is abducted by a farmer who intends to marry her, as is the village tradition. However, she shoots and kills him with his own rifle in an attempt to escape this unwanted fate. Hirut is charged with murder, and Meaza takes on her case. Inspired by this young girl’s courage, Meaza embarks on a long, tenacious battle to save Hirut’s life.
Despite the fact that this true story was responsible for overturning the law in Ethiopia and Hirut was not sentenced to death, I left the theatre with tears on my cheeks, a building anger in my heart and a very disturbed feeling in my soul.
According to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), 51 million girls between the ages of 15-19 are currently married; 100 million girls will be married before eighteen within the next decade.
This is not even the tip of the iceberg with repsect to the human rights abuses that women and girls experience.
While the cinematography and acting were solid and admirable, the most important thing about the film remains that the truth of Hirut’s story and what happens every day to girls like her, moves audiences to reflect further on their lives, on the situation of women and girls in our own country. Even though our situation might not be as severe Ethiopia, we still have laws on our books that allow girls as young as 12 and 13 to be married; and, as seen in the news, our women and girls are constantly sexually harrassed, raped, tortured, abused and murdered for refusing to allow men to do as they wish with them.
I am happy that the flm provoked that reaction in me. Complacency is a dangerous thing. If Meaza had been complacent about Hirut’s case, Hirut would have been dead along with hundreds more girls who did not want to follow tradition and be abducted, and the law in Ethiopia would not have been changed.
One of the film’s executive producers, Lacey Schwartz, enagaged in a Q&A session with the audience after the film. Here is an excerpt.
How did you get involved to make this film?
My partner at Truth Aid [an NGO Schwartz owns] is Ethiopian and she met the director when he just had a script and wanted to make this happen. This is a pretty well known story in Ethiopia and so when she met him and read the script, she was really taken by it. It really connected to a lot of the work that we do, particularly around women’s rights, so we felt that this story was something that we could really localise and do a lot of outreach around. So initially we just had a script and we worked on that and raised money for it to get it done.
How did Angelina Jolie get involved?
One of the other executive producers is a really well known Ethiopian-American artist and she is really well connected and she is amazing. She sold a painting to help finance the film. She had a mutual friend with Angelina and she thought that this is a project that she would really love and would connect with the work that she does. At this point we were actually done with the film and Angelina watched it and said, “How can I help? I want to do whatever I can to help” and she really has been amazing and very, very supportive of the film.
Could you give a background to the politics behind the Minister of Justice? There seemed to be a contradiction between the traditional culture and the justice system there.
In terms of a background, this is a big theme in the film and it is still something that continues to this day. These are obviously issues that aren’t specific to Ethiopia. Child marriage and child abduction happens all around the world but it was a huge issue in Ethiopia. It has gotten better but it is still a problem.
That also follows a lot of work that we want to do with this film, which is not just to show it in theatres [in Ethiopia], but we also want to make sure that we go out to open-air theatres, bringing the screens and projectors to the different villages. That conversation around how you advance things, not just in terms of constitutional law but traditional law and even though the film did help to advance the constitutional law, it is still very much an issue in terms of how things are upheld and the rules that different villages follow.
What part, if any, did the real Hirut play in the making of the film and what does she think of it?
During the making of the film she was not involved. She does do work around these issues. It’s really sad, to this day she still cannot go back to her village and is separated from her family. So it goes back to what I was saying before and also that last scene where there is the celebration of the success but also mourning what she will never have and that’s still very much the case. It’s not just a success but it’s also a tragic story. She is becoming more involved now that we are doing outreach around the film and with the possibility of conversations and to have her be an activist around the project.
What kind of film distribution plans do you have? Are you doing a theatrical release or are you just doing the film festival circuit?
At the Sundance film festival in January we won the audience award for World Dramatic Competition and then we went on to Berlin where we won their audience award as well. We have sold the film in 22 countries around the world and it will be coming out theatrically this fall. Ethiopia has just submitted the film for best foreign language film for the 2015 Oscars. We are in the process of figuring out what exactly the theatrical release is going to look like in the United States so we haven’t yet sold it in the US.
You are not just here for Difret, you are also a filmmaker yourself. You have a film yourself in the Festival which also had its first screening this evening. Can talk a bit about that?
I have a documentary I directed called Little White Lie. It’s a personal film about dual identity and family secrets. My partner and I were making these two films at the same time and I’m happy to say that the trinidad+tobago film festival is our first film festival that both films are showing at so that’s a great thing for us.
The other film is very different but connected to the same ideas. We have a non-profit production company and we make these projects to talk about the larger issues they raise to use them as tools. My partner and I have non-traditional backgrounds as filmmakers; I went to law school, she went to medical school. She is also a visual anthropologist so we look at using media as a tool to have a lot of the conversations and so the work that we want to do. So even thought they are different—one is a documentary film, one is a fiction film; one is an international film, one is a US film—we feel they are very connected because they are both strong stories about women and both talking about the power of telling the truth.
So there are themes running through them both and we hope that more and more we will have opportunities to program them together. We are very excited that this is the first festival that we can do that with and we hope to do that more as we move forward.
Difret will be showing again on Wednesday 24 September, 1.00pm, at MovieTowne POS.