Maria Govan of the Bahamas, director of Rain
This evening is the opening night gala of the trinidad+tobago film festival/09. One of the films being screened is Rain, directed by Maria Govan of the Bahamas. Here we present an in-depth, illuminating Q&A; with Ms. Govan about the movies of her childhood, the vagaries of the filmmaking process, and the highly emotional experience of shooting her first feature film.
What’s the first film you remember seeing?
I am not sure whether it was Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz, as I have very early memories of each. They are each my favorites of all time!
What was the last film you saw?
What matters more, having the proper budget, or having complete creative freedom?
I honestly think they are both very important in that one impacts the other. Having creative freedom was my experience on Rain but when we ran out of money on many occasions it was a very heavy weight to carry and ultimately impacted what happened creatively. I think incredible pieces of work can happen with very little money but I also feel that it is important to have the budget needed to manifest and honour the vision that one has in mind.
Which filmmaker do you admire most?
That is a very difficult question. Hmm…. I will say this, [Pedro] Almodovar is someone I am appreciating at this moment as I think about my next film. I am drawing inspiration from his work as it lives in the same world and spirit as the film that I am now writing.
What film have you seen more than any other?
I will say it, even though it may not be the coolest response. When I was young we watched The Sound of Music oh…a hundred times possibly. My mother was a huge fan of musicals and so I have seen them all, inside and out.
What’s the best piece of filmmaking advice anyone’s ever given you?
As I sit and ponder what story to tell next, having been through a tough year where distribution has been really awful for smaller independent films like ours, my thinking about what is marketable is often tangled in my creative process more than I would like. My producer Nate the other day said something very simple that resonated with me. He reminded me that we really have no idea what will sell because everything is changing all the time and the market is truly a mystery in many ways, so thinking from the end will not serve the work. He reminded me to simply tell the story that I would want to see most myself, and that is all that one can do–create from one’s own personal place. That very simple reminder was helpful in taking some of the pressure off and freeing up the creative spirit.
If you had a chance to make Rain over, would you do anything differently?
I would do so many things differently, yes. The full answer to that question, however, is so complex that I could honestly write a book. I learned so very much along the way and truly feel that I will be a very different filmmaker on the next one.
A few very simple things that I would have done differently on Rain, as examples, are the following. I would have consolidated our locations better. We had over forty locations to film in twenty-two days. We moved sometimes three times a day which is really stupid when time equals money and both were limited. I would have insisted that we rehearse more. I had next-to-no rehearsals with a number of people who had no acting experience whatsoever. I would have taken longer with casting as casting is everything. If someone utters only a word in a scene that person needs to be really incredible, even in the smallest of moments. Having one person fail a scene can destroy it entirely. We went into production without having certain really important roles cast and that was devastating. I wanted to push the start date back as a result, but was fought by someone on my team who insisted that we begin filming as planned. It was a mistake that cost us a great deal in retrospect. I could go on and on and get into more complex answers but for now I will leave you with those few important and simple things.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about making films?
I think people often try to impose formulas as to how to make work, find money and begin the journey as a filmmaker. I can remember when I left Los Angeles to return home to Nassau many of my friends said, “You will never make films if you leave L.A., especially if you go home.” Ironically I feel it would have been the opposite. Had I not listened to myself and stayed in L.A I would have likely been stuck in production, never having made the step to being a creative agent in the work. I think the best advise I can give, and this is really cliché in some ways and can be applied to many things, is that one must listen to one’s own inner voice and trust that. There is no formula whatsoever to making creative work; in fact I find the path is often crooked and bumpy and off-road sometimes in thick bush, so my best advise is to pack light and be ready for what may turn out to be a steep and rugged climb. Most things worth doing will be challenging, they will surprise us and require us to stretch in ways that we may never have anticipated but passing through that kind of threshold is such a gift–as the view is almost always magnificent on the other side.
A viable Caribbean film industry: possible, or wishful thinking?
Of course it’s viable! The region is so rich with story and magic and colour–so much that is so inspiring and so moving. I can say that there are a number of Bahamians now making really strong work and so if we, as a very small country can contribute to the global platform of cinema in the important way that we are in this moment in time, I have complete faith that as a region there are truly great things ahead!
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about life from filmmaking?
I have been so humbled by the experience of making Rain in that there is so much yet to learn. It was like climbing a very steep cliff. I fell a number of times and had to pick my weary and broken self up. Too often I wondered if the film would ever be finished, as we kept running out of money along the way. I will say this though, as in life, nothing stays the same, and this was my experience on Rain. When I felt most hopeless and like giving up, something shifted and I was a little closer to the end. God gave me just enough to take the next small step and when one led to the next, the mountain became shorter, one phone call, one email, one moment at a time. If you keep on keeping on, you will survive the climb no matter how hard it may be along the way. It is that simple. Tenacity and focus sometimes go a lot further than even raw talent and creative vision. As Rain unfolds in front of me on the big screen, more than anything that I have achieved creatively, I am most proud that I stuck with it and saw it through to the end. That for me is the greatest achievement of all. I now have a wealth of knowledge and insight, a far thicker skin and a film that is traveling the world to boot!