The Solitary Alchemist at MovieTowne

Director Mariel Brown (centre) enjoys a hearty round of applause after The Solitary Alchemist, a portrayal of the life and art of Barbara Jardine. With her from left are: Barbie Jardine, Marina Salandy Brown (ttff director), Sean Edghill (cameraman) and Eniola Adelekan (cinematographer)

Yesterday evening, a full house at MovieTowne POS sat enraptured by filmmaker Mariel Brown‘s documentary, The Solitary Alchemist—an intimate and moving portrayal of the life and art of Trinidadian jeweller, Barbara Jardine. The film traces Barbie’s history, from her education at London’s Royal College of Art to the return to her native Trinidad in 1974 and her life here since, with a present-day focus on Barbie’s creation of a new work for an exhibition in Scotland.

After the film, Mariel answered a few questions with Barbie and Sean Edghill, her cameraman, and Eniola Adelekan, her cinematographer. When asked why she chose to make a movie on Barbie, Mariel said the following: “I have childhood memories of my mother dressing up, getting ready to go out. And then, when I was 16 I saw an exhibition of jewellery at Precious Little and Barbie’s piece, In Memoriam was there and I was absolutely gobsmacked as I had never seen figurative work like that.”

Years after the show, Mariel curated an exhibition of work by locally-based artist/jewellers and got to know Barbie a bit better. She was delighted when the artist invited her to see a piece she was making, and noted last night that it was evident that Barbie was open to sharing her creative process. After Mariel was asked in 2006 to edit on a book on Barbie, she got to know the artist a bit better and became even more fascinated and realised that there was a story there she wanted to explore.

There are quite a few beautiful shots of Barbie’s jewellery in the film and, for this, Mariel gave credit to Eniola and Sean whose technical skills and sensitive eyes succeeded in accomplishing an extremely difficult task. Eniola spoke briefly of the “infinite discipline and patience” required for the work they did in shooting Barbie’s pieces, as well as the fact that the silence and stillness of shooting sometimes left him transfixed. Also of note in the film: there is almost no imposed light whatsoever, a deliberate move as Mariel wanted Barbie’s home to feel like it does on any given day when there is no camera and crew there. This allowed for a greater intimacy between filmmaker and subject and, in turn, for greater intimacy between viewer and subject. Also of note is the musical track, which was composed specifically for the film and lends itself especially well to specific moments without overpowering the purity of the narrative.

When asked if she had made any compromises, Mariel said that she would have gotten an editor if she could have afforded one instead of editing the work herself (a task for which she pushed herself as far as possible) but, other than that, no. She also told of the process of shooting and how it took longer than she had initially planned. Three months turned to five months and then six, and, before she and Barbie knew it, it had been three years. And, as Barbie noted, it was “three years of ups and downs for both of us.”

And, on the subject of collaboration: To me, one of the loveliest things about the Q&A; was that Mariel insisted on having Barbie and the two people who worked so tirelessly on the film by her side as she spoke; that she wanted to share the experience with them, and to acknowledge to everyone present the hard work that they did and the fact that the film couldn’t have been made as it was without them. The line of people who stood in front of us: subject, filmmaker, festival director, cameraman, cinematographer, got me to thinking about a film as a miniature life: sure, we might be able to make it without each other, but would the end result be anywhere near as good? Perhaps my sentimentality was a function of watching a film with such strong emotional content. But after Barbie said her last words for the evening—”When you put yourself in the hands of a biographer it’s a gesture of trust in that person. I have to thank Mariel for treating me and my work with enormous sensitivity and respect.”–I suspected that what I had perceived as sentimentality was, perhaps, something a bit deeper.

A still from The Solitary Alchemist

A full house takes in the post-screening Q&A;

Eniola, Mariel, and Sean at MovieTowne after the screening

Date: Fri 25 Sep, 2009
Category: ttff news and features

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