T&T; filmmaker Mariel Brown won the people’s choice award at the 2007 trinidad+tobago film festival for The Insatiable Season, her documenetary about mas man Brian MacFarlane’s Carnival presentation Threads of Joy. This year Mariel returns to the Festival with a portrait of jeweller Barbara Jardine, The Solitary Alchemist. In this Q&A; the director discusses, among other things, why documentaries are superior to narrative films, the best filmmaking advice she’s ever gotten, and Meryl Streep.
What was the first film you remember seeing?
The first five minutes of Star Wars when I was about four, at Roxy cinema.
When was the last time you cried during a film?
I cry all the time at the movies–the last time was in that film My Sister’s Keeper with Abigail Breslin and Cameron Diaz. But I all-out bawled when Meryl Streep sang “The Winner Takes it all” in Mamma Mia!
What matters more, having the proper budget, or having complete creative control over your films?
For me, it’s having complete creative control. It’s too heart-breaking otherwise. Studios can wreck your life and hold on to your film without explanation. This has happened to a friend of mine and I see how horrendous an experience it is. Although it’s stressful raising the money yourself, at the end of the day, the film is mine, and I know I’ll do the best by it that I possibly can. I suppose it helps that I’m not particularly interested in making those flash, big-budget films. I think I’m more likely to be able to raise the money for my own productions because the budgets aren’t over the top.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
That’s hilarious! Meryl Streep would be my pick! (But she’s always my pick!)
What can documentaries do that fiction films can’t?
Documentaries take you into a real event or situation, with real people. In a way, there’s no need for that suspension of disbelief, as the experience ought to be absolutely truthful. The more documentaries I watch, the more I think the form superior to narrative films. Because they are, in so far as it’s possible to achieve, the truth, without fabrication. To me, they take someone closer to the human experience than a narrative film.
What’s the best piece of filmmaking advice anyone’s ever given you?
Don’t show the film to too many people while you’re making it. Also, make sure your lens is clean, the horizon is correct, exposure is good, and shot in focus. Also, it doesn’t matter if I can’t explain to a crew why I want what I want. It’s enough that I want it.
What film have you seen more than any other?
What Remains: The life and Work of Sally Mann, and probably Singing in the Rain.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about life from filmmaking?
To trust my own instincts–stop questioning all the time. Also, there’s something wonderful in imperfection–something utterly human that is beautiful and correct.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about making films?
In Trinidad, the biggest misconception is that making a film will make you rich and that filmmakers are just trying to take advantage of everyone. (This is particularly rampant at Carnival time.) We do this work in Trinidad purely out of love for what we do–because believe me, it’s not going to make anyone rich here anytime soon.
A viable Caribbean film industry: possible, or just wishful thinking?
It’s most definitely possible–but it needs private sector, government and audience support.
Can filmmaking change the world?
I don’t think so–but it can certainly change one person’s perception of an event, or a person, which is enough for me.