The second filmmakers’ panel

Filmmakers’ panel, from left to right: Marina Salandy Brown (moderator), Ishmahil Blagrove, Adam Lowe, Mariel Brown, Steve McAlpin, Lawrence Coke, and Juan Gélas

Last Friday, members of the ttff sat with a few of our guest filmmakers at Chaud Restaurant for a panel moderated by festival executive director, Marina Salandy Brown. This was the second and final filmmakers’ panel for the 09 season. We welcomed the public to come take in the discussion free of charge, and the coffee and pastries were on us, too. Marina asked several interesting questions throughout the discussion, many of which have been or will be answered in detail in previous or subsequent posts. Two very simple questions asked were ones I hadn’t yet heard answered by our guests: “How did you become a filmmaker?” and “Any last words?” If you’ve ever wanted to ask either of these questions, then read on. Even if you haven’t wanted to ask either of these questions then I still suggest you read on, as the stories to follow are as much about society and choice and Life as they are about specific aspects of a career in film.

Juan Gélas, French/English documentary filmmaker based in Paris. His film, The Metamorphosis of Anguilla was screened at ttff/09
As a producer some 10-15 years ago, Juan gave cameras to filmmakers and sent them out to make films. He found the energy surrounding filmmaking to be incredible and soon knew enough about making films, although he wasn’t technically sound. Then came the digital age when cameras became affordable so he got one and began learning how to shoot himself. He shot often on his own and began to move into the independent filmmaking world. He likes this relatively new and freer method of making films but acknowledges the challenges of finding a way to finance the films he wants to make. The flip side of that, however, is that he has a lot of power as a sole filmmaker, as he has the opportunity to tell the stories he wishes to tell in the way he wishes to tell them. He also will spend months shooting the same subject (not continuously, of course) as he likes the bonds he makes in the process of making a film.
Juan’s last words: Not every story can be told, not when you’re dealing with reality and the world.

Lawrence Coke, UK filmmaker and bfm guest. His short films, Melvin: Portrait of a Player, Morally Speaking, and One Day at a Time, were screened at ttff/09
Award-winning master of spinning a succinct yarn, Lawrence starting making short films as a way to explore improvised comedy. He made a deliberate decision not to shoot his shorts in the same style—each is a testament to doing something slightly different. “Comedy is easy,” he notes. He also believes that shorts are a great way for a filmmaker to establish his or her track record, which goes a long way towards getting funding for larger projects. Case in point: Lawrence is currently working on expanding one of his shorts into a feature.
Lawrence’s last words: When dealing with the media, it’s important to find out who you’re working with. Research it. You need to have a clear and concise idea and a sense of responsibility as a filmmaker.

Steve McAlpin, US/Jamaican filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. His film, Bashment: The Fork in the Road was screened at ttff/09
Steve was a slam poet at the time he and his friends decided to make a film about their experiences of moving to America. They hadn’t planned on making it for anyone but themselves. Using MS Word, they wrote the script over a summer break, shot it over 8 months with a home camera and then put it together with an editor. They made 2,000 DVDs and sold them out in 2 weeks and then made 2,000 more but, by then, the film had been heavily bootlegged so demand for the DVDs decreased sharply. But the overall experience left them surprised them and gave them the confidence to make a more polished film. Their second film built on their experience of making the first.
Steve’s last words: I encourage you to take the time to learn all aspects of film, from the ground up. It’s Ok to start where you start, but be sure to get better.

Mariel Brown, Trinidadian documentary filmmaker. Her film, The Solitary Alchemist, screened at ttff/09 and her film, The Insatiable Season, was a People’s Choice Award winner at the ttff/07
In her early 20s, Mariel was a journalist for a local TV station but routinely had near nervous breakdowns and an ulcer or two. She loved the medium of TV but would fall apart every day and recalls that her father once told her that, “Journalists lived with their faces pressed against reality.” At the time she worked in TV, there was nothing else going on other than making news so she shot the pilot of a cooking show but then left Trinidad for Jamaica, burnt out in her mid-20s. She fell in love with (and in) Jamaica and stayed for a few years but returned to Trinidad at 29 and sold her cooking show to a local station and then made the show for 6 seasons. But she remained “most interested in trials of the heart and why we make the decisions that we make,” and so she set out to explore just that through documentary films.
Mariel’s last words: Don’t apologise for where you have to start; ultimately, it has no bearing. Be sensitive to your subject. There’s no need to reveal everything that you could reveal.

Adam Lowe, UK documentary filmmaker. His film, The Cinema of Satyajit Ray, screened at the ttff/09 and his film, Arena: The Strange Luck of V.S. Naipaul screened at the ttff/08
Adam started with a few words to the wise: A person is never who you think they are. You have to register and monitor your own connection to your subject. At a young age, Adam got an apprenticeship with the BBC and worked hard to make himself indispensable. He became a producer in his 20s and, in the 80s was sent to Trinidad to shoot a film on Shiva Naipaul. He admitted to being a bit different than our other panelists, in that he “doesn’t know one end of a camera from the other.” But he found a niche position in making films about artists and writers and such, and thinks of film biographies as fascinating and noted that his canvas has gotten bigger and bigger over the years. Adam spoke about becoming absorbed in his work and of the fact that he learned and earned his reputation and was never one to follow a traditional route—a route that, he admits is difficult but not impossible to pursue.
Adam’s last words: Eliminate obvious use of the word, “I”. When filmmaking is at its best, people will experience your individual perception of a subject.

Ishmahil Blagrove, UK documentary filmmaker and bfm guest. His films, Hasta Siempre and This is Our Country Too were screened at the ttff/09
Ishmahil once worked in personal security and, through this work, met a lot of filmmakers. He knew he wanted to be more intimately involved in filmmaking and so learnt how to operate a camera and got a job working for the BBC and Channel 4 as a correspondent. He soon realised, though, that working for an organisation meant that he would not have complete creative control over the stories he wanted to tell. Once the technology to make films became affordable and, thus, accessible, he acquired his equipment with the goal of being totally independent. He quit the BBC and got together with a few others to found his current independent film company, RiceNPeas. Today, they shoot films around the world, keeping the costs as low as possible through innovative measures.
Ishmahil’s last words: Reinvent the wheel; learn to draw but then throw out the rules. There’s no such thing as being objective. Be aware of yourself and your prejudices and class dynamics. Live in your own experience and lose the romance.

Date: Sun 27 Sep, 2009
Category: ttff news and features

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