Filmmakers Francesca Hawkins of Trinidad and Tobago, left, and Vero Bollow of Panama
Films are made by collaboration. Sometimes, they are also made by a collective. That’s the case with the two films that screened last night at MovieTowne, Sans Souci from Trinidad and Tobago, and The Wind and the Water, out of Panama.
In the typical filmmaking process, many people work together, each with a specially designated role: director, editor, production designer, what have you. When a film is made collectively, however, roles overlap; individuals do more than one task, and often tasks are shared. Sans Souci was made in this manner, as director Francesa Hawkins explained to the audience after the screening.
Sans Souci is a short film (but not a short short: the running time is almost 30 minutes) made by the current graduating class of the Film Programme of the University of the West Indies, a drama about a group of friends riven by differences in opinion around the 9/11 attacks, then brought back together under tragic circumstances. All of the action of the film takes place at a house at Sans Souci (a house owned by official TTFF artist Eddie Bowen), on Trinidad’s north coast, the beautiful, isolated location becoming a crucible for the characters, their emotional experiences there contrasting sharply with the name of the place (sans souci, without a care or worry).
Shot in an intense three-and-a-half days, Sans Souci film had no written script but was improvised by the cast and crew working together. Much of what else is in the film was improvised as well: the visual motif involving a cobo, for example, was not predetermined, but worked into the film as shooting took place. And of course, as usually obtains on student productions, many of the tasks behind the camera were shared. The film’s music score, however, was composed and performed by one person, Jason Dasent. As Francesca explained, Dasent, who is unsighted, composed the score by listening to the film’s diegetic audio: the dialogue of the characters, the sound effects and the ambient sound–the wind, the crashing waves.
The Wind and the Water, a feature-length narrative film, was also made by a collective, but under rather different circumstances. It was made by Vero Bollow with the Igar Yala Collective, which comprises mainly young people (working with their elders) from the indigenous Kuna tribe of Panama. The film tells two stories. One is of the Kuna people’s engagement with the outiside world, their struggles with maintaining tradition while also seeking to embrace modernity. The film is also the story of Machi and Rosy, two young people from the Kuna tribe. Their stories are contrasting ones: Machi, raised among his people on a group of islands, goes to Panama City to attend school and see what, if anything, life holds for him there; Rosy, born and raised in Panama City, goes to the islands for the first time when her grandfather passes away. Along the way Machi and Rosy cross paths, and a touching, subtly delineated friendship blossoms.
Working with technical experts from outside the tribe, the Kuna who helped make the film learned the process of filmmaking as the production went along. As an example of how this worked, Vero said that the young man who played the character of Machi also edited the scenes showing his character’s childhood. (Incidentally, all of the main Kuna characters were played by non-professional actors, and in most cases gave wonderfully naturalistic and under-stated performances.) She also noted that the themes and issues dealt with in the film–development, tradition vs modernity, the lack of opportunity for the marginalisation of the indigenous peoples in Panama–reflect quite strongly the actual situation facing theses peoples in contemporary Panama.
Loath to take credit for much of the film herself, Vero almost incidentally noted that The Wind and the Water (Burwa dii ebo in Kuna) is the first feature film to come out of Panama. It is interesting to note that this film was made by a collective. Perhaps collective filmmaking–as opposed to standard collaborative filmmaking–could become a successful mode of filmmaking in other places where the film industry is also developing, not least of all here in Trinidad and Tobago.