The children’s film Sally’s Way, directed by T&T filmmaker Joanne Johnson, had its local premiere yesterday at the ttff/15. Our blogger, Aurora Herrera, attended the screening.
Earlier this year I saw a TEDx talk by a researcher named Brené Brown. It focused on vulnerability, connection and wholeheartedness. In her talk, Brown comments that connection is why we are here. It’s how we’re wired.
As I digested Joanne Johnson’s film Sally’s Way, this is what kept coming up in my mind.
Johnson’s film features twelve-year-old Sally, who is happy in her childhood activities, hanging out at the block standpipe and getting on with her fellow community members. That is, until her grandmother falls ill and she has to live with the Dindial family that her grandmother worked for as a maid. Sally grapples with the emotions of leaving her only living family member, fielding gossip and bullies at school and an unwelcoming set of peers in the Dindial’s home. All of this is compounded by the worry that she will be relegated to living in an orphanage.
Johnson, who began writing and producing for television in the early 1990s, adapted Sally’s Way from her own children’s book of the same title, written in 2002. At the screening she informed the audience that some children in Sea Lots inspired the book.
Several members of the audience admitted that they were crying during and after the film, and that they were very moved by the content.
“There are so many important and key emotional [moments] in it and it’s so rich that way; it speaks to us all as humans,” one audience member said to Johnson. “The intimacy of relationships is what speaks to us all and you really portrayed that and it was incredible. Thank you so much.”
Johnson also said that at the film’s world premiere at the Seattle Children’s Film Festival a jury of children, ages nine to fifteen, awarded the film a prize.
“There is something universal about the kids responding to Sally, the Sally journey, the Sally story,” she said. “It’s the emotional content as well.”
Another audience member expressed the desire for the film to be shown everywhere.
“I have to say in the aftermath of the election, this movie is so important to talk about who Trinidad really is,” she said. “It is so important to see how we are all the same. I think you should be showing this movie everywhere.”
The actress who plays Sally, Alyssa Highly, also expressed how the role changed her for the better.
“Being Sally has changed me in many ways because I look at life with a different perspective now,” she said. “I see things more clearly, like sometimes I pretend I’m her. When I’m by myself and I have to make a tough decision.”
Johnson also spoke about how the film came about, describing how she forged the partnerships that made the film come to life.
“The Trinidad and Tobago Film Company had a lot of incentives at the time and we applied for a production assistance grant and then just on intuition I drove down Anna Street and I saw BCO [Brown Cotton Outreach, a theatre company], and I remembered the powerhouse that is [Sally’s Way producer] Louris Lee-Sing and I knocked on her door and I said, “Sally’s Way film anyone? And luckily she said, “Yes please!”
“Then [producer] Tracy Farrah was another powerhouse I worked with in sports and then I made a call and she said she would meet with me. Also, thanks to Angostura—I’m sure you all had a chuckle at our product placement, and it is a bit risky to combine advertising with children’s content, but we needed support and it was the only way to do it.”
Fellow ttff/15 filmmakers Juliette McCawley and Sandra Vivas were in the audience and congratulated Johnson on the film.
“I know what you’re doing is so hard and it’s great how well it is doing away, said McCawley. “When I was a little girl, I really wanted to act so I think it is wonderful that you gave these little girls the opportunity. There is a future for you guys. It is a drop that is going to cause a ripple in many, many ways.”
Vivas who admitted that she was “crying almost from like the beginning,” asked about the casting process.
Johnson admitted that it was daunting to “raise money and then bank on kids.”
“They always tell you don’t work with kids and animals in film because it is unreliable,” she said. “So we decided that we would spend a lot of time auditioning and training kids. We were looking for families that wanted it. So it wasn’t just about the child. We auditioned entire families.”
Highly’s grandparents were also in the audience supporting her. Her grandfather expressed how proud he was and also admitted that he was moved to tears by the film.
Johnson pointed out that Highly and her family really proved their stamina as “They live in Talparo and we were shooting in Patna and on a good day that is a two-hour run. This little girl has the discipline and the commitment that you don’t often see in adults.”
The screening ended on a really happy note with a government youth development officer for Port of Spain and Woodbrook commending the film and saying that her ministry would be happy to assist in distributing the film through grant funding.
“We shall start growing seeds and working together,” she said.
You can see Sally’s Way at the ttff/15 on the following dates:
Wed 23 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS Q&A
Thu 24 Sept, 7.15pm, UWI Q&A
Sat 26 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Mon 28 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne POS
Tue 29 Sept, 11.00am, MovieTowne Tobago Q&A
Tue 29 Sept, 10.00am, Southern Academy for the Performing Arts Q&A