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.