Caribbean films and filmmakers will feature heavily in my diary over the next few days. My weekend and the days ahead will be consumed by the creative geniuses brave enough to pioneer the Caribbean cinema movement. Up until now, there has never been a platform dedicated to exclusively showcasing film productions by, featuring and for a Caribbean audience, but a dedicated few are determined to make that change.
I remember years ago curiously peering out the window of my bus home from school at Bollywood posters plastered across an abandoned Indian cinema. When it was finally demolished I knew that it’s sad fate was a result of the blockbusters bucketing out of Hollywood and raining on the parade of these cheerful posters that couldn’t attract audiences big enough to keep its screens open. I strongly believe in the power of the people and what the people want, they get! Growing minorities of people want more than just American blockbusters that tell the same stories in the same settings. They want to be enlightened while being entertained and they will go in search of it, even if it’s not readily available.
Cue New Caribbean Cinema (NCC), a collective of Caribbean filmmakers who combine their skills to create films with a deep cultural impact regardless of budget and means of distribution. Cofounders Storm Saulter and Michelle Serieux are the definition of ‘labour of love’, they love what they do and live what they do, which is why when Michelle travelled to London last year to meet David Somerset, the Cultural Programmer of the British Film Institute, she made sure audiences in the UK could have access to films produced in the Caribbean.
This weekend saw the UK premier of award winning Jamaican feature film ‘Better Mus Come’, directed by Storm Saulter and the world premier of ‘RING DI ALARM’, a series of seven short films by six Caribbean Directors. The response from the audience was very positive, one of intrigue, respect and admiration of the work that had been putt into making the short films. I caught up with founders of NCC Storm and Principle Producer Michelle who brought together directors Nile Saulter, Joel Burke, Kyle Chin and Michael ‘Ras Tingle’ Tingling for the weekend’s BFI takeover event titled ‘Jamaica We Love You’.
Trailer Better Mus Come
Trailer ‘RING DI ALARM’
Storm Saulter was born and bred in Jamaica and graduated from The Los Angles Film School in 2001. He took on the role of writer, editor, director and cinematographer for his first feature film ‘Better Mus Come’. Set in the ghettos of downtown Kingston, Jamaica in the 1970s, the film is a tragic love story that focuses on the agendas of opposing political parties who enforced their messages through gang warfare and violence.
Editor: What would you say to a non-Jamaican audience member who has just watched your film and was already fearful of travelling to Jamaica because of the violence they have heard or read about in the media?
Storm: Bettter Mus Come is a period piece that shows the root cause of a lot of this crime and violence and it’s something that needs to be addressed in Jamaican society. Jamaica has changed; it’s definitely safe to travel there. The film shows that a lot of the violence is self-inflicted; it’s Jamaican people against each other in their own communities with a political motive behind it. The violence seen in the film is not random violence, it’s not targeted at outsiders; it’s a social dynamic in a country that is perpetrated by the politicians. This is not a film about bigging up the badman and political thuggery is not unique to Jamaica, I’m telling a universal story because this kind of violence happens all over the world.
As a Jamaican I want to address the violence in Jamaica by showing cause and effect rather than glamorizing it. We had a good turn out for our screenings in Montego Bay and Kingston, but there are still a lot of Jamaicans who haven’t seen it yet because it has not been released on DVD. I really want to do public screenings in community centers in more rural parts of Jamaica to bring it to the people because it’s the people’s story.
Born in St Lucia and based in Jamaica, Producer, Writer and Director Michelle Serieux received her MA in film, cinema and video studies at Columbia University in the City of New York. Her short film ‘Missed’ is a study of human interaction and expectation.
Editor: How does it feel to be showcasing your work in London for the first time and what do you bring to the creative table as the only female in the New Caribbean Cinema collective?
Michelle: I’m extremely excited that we had the chance to show our films at a sold out BFI screening in London. I came to London last year to discuss the work that we are doing with New Caribbean Cinema with the BFI, so I’ve been excited about this day for a long time. I came knowing the value of what it is we had done and David Somerset validated that as well. We worked really hard to make it happen and I am so thrilled we had a packed house and we sold out ‘Ring The Alarm’ three days before the screening. It shows the demand for Caribbean cinema and the strength of our philosophy.
As the Principle Producer of New Caribbean Cinema and the only female in the collective I think I bring all of my sensibilities in terms of organisation and sensitivity, but I do a damn good job of keeping things together not just as a woman, but as a producer. My short film ‘Missed’ allowed me to grieve the death of my cousin who passed away in 2007. It was something that was really preoccupying my spirit and I really needed to deal with it. ‘Missed’ has answered a lot of questions for me and let me say what I wanted to say about taking things in life for granted. What I like about the response of the film is that women really get it so much more than men. After the screening women surrounded me and were very intrigued by the leading lady played by Sharea Samuels. That’s a really special thing for me because it’s really about her and her story.
There are so many untold stories that I would like to tell through film because our lifestyles are so complexed. I am very interested in character driven stories, the Caribbean is full of characters and we have such a diverse set of people and culture.
Editor: One more thing, why did you go for the brave shave?
Michelle: I had dreadlocks and when I cut it off people behaved like I had killed somebody. I have never had processed hair in my life, it’s just never appealed to me. My hair is a homage to African women and it’s low maintenance.
Images by Frederique Rapier