Mary Wells is an award-winning independent film writer, director and producer based in Jamaica. Her experience includes over 20 years in television and film production. She studied Television Production and Theatre Arts in the USA, and has a BA from George Washington University.
Her work has consisted mainly of small documentaries and dramas for young adults and children. In 1999, her short documentary Now Jimmy! was awarded Outstanding Documentary from the Caribbean in the Sheryl Lee Ralph Film & Music Festival. In 2007, her first feature screenplay for a film, Landscape in Pastels, placed second in the Hartley Merrill International Screenwriting Prize competition.
Her ttff/13 film, Kingston Paradise, is her debut feature narrative film. It is also the first feature film to be written and directed by a woman in Jamaica. Like Ms Wells, the film is candid, and looks at the real story of urban Jamaican life.
What was your inspiration for making Kingston Paradise?
I wanted to make a flick. Something highly artistic and centred around a small crime drama, but different. I wanted to tell a small, seemingly everyday story from an urban neighbourhood. I wanted to attempt a Caribbean film that had a little bit of a commercial cover, that could definitely appeal to a mass Caribbean audience but at the same time it was artsy and off beat. I wanted to create a classic American-style three-act-structured film that was also a nuanced kind of storytelling that would begin to portray something a little bit different coming out of Jamaica. For many years, my bread-and-butter video production projects allowed me to work in communities in Kingston with many young people from all walks of life who had the most amazing personal stories and talent. That helped to inspire Kingston Paradise.
You are the first woman in Jamaica to write and direct a film. What does that mean to you?
Maybe I could be the first woman to do a feature narrative film out of Jamaica. Many other women have directed short films and if [it is that I am the first Jamaican woman to make a feature], I wear the hat with pride.
Did you experience any prejudice from your male counterparts?
Yes there are inequalities and prejudices, no question about that. Of course, on a film set in the Caribbean, a woman director faces sexism. [Talking about] that would take a separate and special interview. But regardless, as mentioned in another interview, this is changing now that there are a lot of very powerful women in the industry in the Caribbean. Women run tings. Most of all, women have very distinctive voices and bring great humanity to the medium.
Do you think a feminine perspective influenced the film?
Most definitely. I managed to tell a hardcore story with very little violence and have some tough guys dreaming for a better life through a painting, which represents the quintessential Caribbean view, a soft beach scene, a kind of nirvana. The guys who’ve seen it love it it and got it. Women are more arbiters for peace to solve the human condition. Although, I won’t lie, whether you are a man or a woman, who doesn’t like to watch a wicked film that has a fight, a shoot-out and a chase?
How do you feel about the fact that this is the Caribbean premiere of your film?
Wonderful. I look forward to it and to the feedback and comments from the Caribbean. My principal audience is Caribbean people. So, I’m very excited and honoured to have the premier in Trinidad at ttff.
I also want to thank all the incredible talent of the Crew and Cast involved, The incredible support from the people and entities who helped me shoot the film, (The CHASE Fund Jamaica, The Creative Production Training Centre Ltd. (The CPTC) and a Dutch entity, Caribbean Creativity). And the incredible support and guidance from CaribbeanTales and Frances-Anne Solomon. From the projects inception CaribbeanTales gave incredible support and guidance and all the support for its Post-Production with seeking and committing pertinent personnel or Post crew and giving assistance of all kinds. It would not have been possible without all of this support.
How did you source the actors?
As you know, Jamaica has an old theatre community and I first sent out a casting call for auditions to their association and to the Jamaica school of drama and to people who I’ve worked with. Although, the two lead actors, the characters Rocksy (Chris Daley) and Rosie (Camille Small) I handpicked. Chris Daley I invited to one of the casting calls and Camille Small I had worked with before and was just blown away by her natural talent in front of the camera and knew, even though I auditioned different women, she was it.
Can you talk about the central motif of the painting?
The extreme contrasts of life on the streets of Kingston, alongside a beautiful watercolour painting placed in the room of the main characters where much of the story hangs, is a visual metaphor [for a] pastoral, other world, a simple Caribbean view that’s the juxtaposition of a harsh urban story. The painting is by my mother, a well-known Jamaican painter from another generation who has greatly influenced me.
How do you think audiences will perceive the relationship between Rocksy and Rosie? Do you think they will find a connection to their own Caribbean lives?
Rocksy and Rosie will be perceived as rough, but unfortunately very contemporary. Modern friendships and relationships are not so romantic any more. Some are very selfish. Many are not as aggressive and I’ve gone overboard a bit of course [in portraying the relationship]. It is not a visually sensitive friendship, they are using each other and there’s much abuse but circumstance has them tied. I think we can all relate and connect to this kind of desperation in different degrees. So yes, I believe many will connect with it in the Caribbean.
You utilised Rosie’s story to touch on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Is this of particular importance to you or has it become such a part of Jamaica’s narrative that you had to include it?
I’d say the second half. It’s become such a part of Jamaica’s narrative that I had to include it. It all started when I once spent some time in Southern Africa and was amazed at the pandemic there! The Caribbean is certainly en route, but in 2013, we’ve become sleepy about the issue. When you read about our stats, it’s alarming yet there’s no real national alarm.
What is the message of the movie?
This movie is a richly layered story; it’s a powerful journey about the chaotic violent lives of disenfranchised youth that explores their broken dreams and aspirations. Kingston Paradise is a small, powerful film showing the ongoing struggles and humiliation of a people, and the only alternative is to rise above.
Now that that the film is over, do you feel vindicated?
Yes! But it’s not over. Another journey is about to take place—that is, the promotion, sales and distribution journey. I am still raising funds for this! But it is all good, it’s exciting!
Mary Wells will be a guest of the ttff/13 and will attend the September 28 screening of Kingston Paradise. The film’s current schedule of screenings is as follows:
Fri 27 Sept, 5.30pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Sat 28 Sept, 8.00pm, Little Carib Theatre, Q&A
Mon 30 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago