6-2 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​C​C​N​.​6​-​2.3 | Martens | Saulter PDF


EMIEL MARTENS

Towards a New Caribbean Cinema?
An Interview with Jamaican Filmmaker Storm Saulter

Storm Saulter (www​.storm​saulter​.com) is a Jamaican film­mak­er, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and visu­al artist. He is best known for direct­ing the award-win­ning Jamaican fea­ture film Bet­ter Mus’ Come (2010) and for co-found­ing New Caribbean Cin­e­ma, a DIY (Do It Your­self) col­lec­tive of young film­mak­ers in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean ded­i­cat­ed to cre­at­ing a new wave of Caribbean film­mak­ing (www​.new​caribbeancin​e​ma​.com). Togeth­er they have already pro­duced a series of short films under the title Ring di Alarm (2012), which was shown around the world before com­ing home to packed the­atres in Kingston in August 2014. In the fol­low­ing inter­view, which took place via Skype on Novem­ber 12, 2014, Storm Saulter talks about his career as a film­mak­er in Jamaica and dis­cuss­es his work in the con­text of Caribbean cin­e­ma and soci­ety.

Martens: Could you first briefly intro­duce your­self? Where were you born, where did you grow up, what sort of edu­ca­tion did you have, and how did you get involved in film­mak­ing?

Saulter: I was born on Sep­tem­ber 21, 1983, in Negril, Jamaica. I was num­ber sev­en of, even­tu­al­ly, eight kids—four boys and four girls—from Bertram and Greer-Ann Saulter. Both of my par­ents were artists in their own right. My father was a builder and an archi­tect and my moth­er was a design­er, busi­ness­woman, and just a pio­neer­ing woman in many regards, includ­ing moth­er­hood. They always encour­aged us to express our­selves cre­ative­ly and we all devel­oped some kind of artis­tic skill, even if not all—though many—of my broth­ers and sis­ters are mak­ing art for a liv­ing now. There was a very strong artis­tic streak embed­ded in us at an ear­ly age, which has over the years result­ed in a major cre­ative out­put by my fam­i­ly. Grow­ing up in Negril, which was still pret­ty much a hip­pie beach town, was a real coun­try life. We were very free. We got lost in the bush and came back home when it was dark. We ran along the cliffs and jumped into the ocean, that sort of thing. So, I was very much hav­ing my own adven­tures when I was young, and I was always aim­ing to cre­ate some­thing. As a teenag­er, I start­ed tak­ing pic­tures, as in still pho­tog­ra­phy, and lat­er I got into film­mak­ing, from the side of cin­e­matog­ra­phy more than from the side of the sto­ry. After fin­ish­ing high school in Kingston I didn’t real­ly know what I exact­ly want­ed to do. One of my sis­ters had moved to Los Ange­les and I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to join her, to leave Jamaica and to see some­thing of the world. Some­where in that peri­od, around 2000, the idea of becom­ing a film­mak­er became a real pos­si­bil­i­ty. I moved to L.A. and entered the Film Immer­sion Pro­gram of the Los Ange­les Film School, with a con­cen­tra­tion on cin­e­matog­ra­phy and edit­ing. It was a very hands-on expe­ri­ence. In between my school sched­ule I also worked on music-video sets. I was the hard­est work­ing PA you could ever meet. I was out to prove it! One day on set, I met hip-hop video direc­tor Lit­tle X, who kind of took me under his wing. He encour­aged me to move to New York to work with him, which I did. I worked on a lot of his sets as a sec­ond-unit direc­tor and just rolled a lot with him. For a late teenag­er, this was of course an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence. At the same time I some­what estab­lished myself as a visu­al artist. I start­ed doing video art, main­ly based on images I shot in Jamaica. I reg­u­lar­ly returned home and just doc­u­ment­ed every­thing with my dig­i­tal cam­era, lit­tle ran­dom Jamaican things, which I then edit­ed in a cer­tain way. At one point, I decid­ed to move to Mia­mi to work with Joshua Brat­ter, an immi­gra­tion lawyer and friend of the fam­i­ly who want­ed to invest in my first fea­ture film. As I did not real­ly want to become a hip-hop video direc­tor, the path I was head­ing in New York, this seemed a good oppor­tu­ni­ty for me. I want­ed to make movies! I hap­pened to move to Mia­mi Beach at the begin­ning of a par­tic­u­lar­ly vibrant moment in the local art scene, due in part to it becom­ing a new home for Art Basel. I began to real­ly exper­i­ment with video and pho­tog­ra­phy. The first exhi­bi­tion I par­tic­i­pat­ed in was at The Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art Mia­mi. It was called “Optic Nerve” and it was strict­ly for up-and-com­ing local video artists. I went on to exhib­it with a num­ber of Mia­mi-based gal­leries for Art Basel, then the Caribbean Bien­ni­al and through­out Europe and North Amer­i­ca. After a few years I had to go back to Jamaica to renew my visa; the visa was tak­ing a long time to come, and I real­ized I want­ed to make films there. So I decid­ed to stay and to give it all.

Martens: How did you set out to make your ambi­tion to become a film­mak­er in Jamaica a real­i­ty? At the time, there was no real film indus­try to speak of on the island, so how did you go about it to start?

Saulter: Well, my broth­er Nile also returned to Jamaica after fin­ish­ing film school in Lon­don so we decid­ed to pur­sue our film­mak­ing pas­sion togeth­er. We also linked up with a few oth­er young film­mak­ers on the island, notably Joel Burke, whom I already knew from before. Our fam­i­lies were close togeth­er and I had stayed with his fam­i­ly for a while when I moved to Kingston to fin­ish high school. While I was in L.A., Joel got into edit­ing through Paul Buc­knor, who had his own film stu­dio in the hills of Kingston. We just came togeth­er and start­ed to make short films, with Paul being our exec­u­tive pro­duc­er. He cov­ered the ini­tial costs to put for­ward the mon­ey and to make things hap­pen. My par­ents, along with Buc­knor, came up with the idea of host­ing an annu­al film fes­ti­val in Negril. This became the Flash­point Film Fes­ti­val and our shorts pro­vid­ed most of the con­tent. The fes­ti­val was very influ­en­tial for us as begin­ning film­mak­ers. We all of a sud­den need­ed to cre­ate content—we just had to. I came up with a script called Twang!, Nile with For­ward, and Joel with Bad Lucky. It was a dif­fer­ent kind of filmmaking—it was extreme­ly gueril­la, low bud­get, not nec­es­sar­i­ly script­ed, exper­i­men­tal film­mak­ing. Twang! was orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed as a short film, but even­tu­al­ly we tried to make it into a fea­ture. We spent one sum­mer shoot­ing our films and after that we edit­ed our own projects with advice and sug­ges­tions from each of us. We lit­er­al­ly fin­ished edit­ing only a few hours before the show­ings. When we host­ed the fes­ti­val for the first time in 2005, the films were not ful­ly there yet; they were a lit­tle rough, but I believe Flash­point kicked a lot of peo­ple on the island in the butt in terms of real­iz­ing that this is what we need to do to get the film indus­try going. It was all very hec­tic because we had so lit­tle time to fin­ish our films—I will nev­er do that again because you put out some­thing that isn’t your best work—but we pre­miered a bunch of stuff and I think it woke a lot of peo­ple up about mak­ing local films. We prob­a­bly made all the mis­takes that you can make as film­mak­ers, but after expe­ri­enc­ing that whole process, from pro­duc­tion to edit­ing, I was real­ly much more equipped to do my next sto­ry. It was a major learn­ing ground. Even­tu­al­ly we did three edi­tions of the fes­ti­val, one more in Negril in 2006 and, after my Mom passed away, one in Port Roy­al in 2008. It was at the third and last edi­tion that I showed a very ear­ly cut of my first real fea­ture film, Bet­ter Mus’ Come, and peo­ple start­ed to feel some­thing seri­ous was com­ing.

Martens: When did you come up with the idea of Bet­ter Mus’ Come and how did this project mate­ri­al­ize? 

Saulter: As men­tioned ear­li­er, when I was liv­ing in Mia­mi I worked with Joshua Brat­ter on the devel­op­ment of my first fea­ture-length film project. At the time—I was about nineteen—I wrote a script of a film enti­tled Fed­da (patois for Feath­er) about a 12-year-old boy, but it just nev­er came togeth­er ful­ly. Some­thing wasn’t ready; I guess I wasn’t ready. But a few years lat­er, when I was doing all that stuff in Jamaica, I recon­nect­ed with Josh and every­thing was right. We had these long con­ver­sa­tions about Jamaica, about geopol­i­tics, about sto­ry­telling. And I remem­ber we had a meet­ing one day and I was just shar­ing some ideas with him. I end­ed up explain­ing the rough premise for Bet­ter Mus’ Come and Josh imme­di­ate­ly said, “This is the one.” It was there and then that the film began to feel like a real pos­si­bil­i­ty for the first time. His sup­port gave me the con­fi­dence to devel­op the script I had in mind. I real­ly want­ed to make a film about the sev­en­ties. I had always been fas­ci­nat­ed with the Cold War and the inter­na­tion­al geopol­i­tics at the time. I read a lot about the Cold War and watched a lot of espi­onage films such as Bond and more sub­tle stuff. I became par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in the effect the Cold War had on Jamaica’s two-par­ty pol­i­tics. My par­ents and their friends often told sto­ries about the 1970s, that it was such a wild and vio­lent peri­od on the island that every­body now wants to for­get about it. It was so mag­net­ic for me, I just had to make a film about it. I start­ed to explore the archives of the Jamaica Glean­er. I read all these arti­cles about the ten­sions on the island that result­ed in var­i­ous states of emer­gency and had such a mur­der­ous impact on our nation and I began to con­struct scenes from those arti­cles. It became clear that, for me, the ulti­mate sto­ry of the Cold War era was about the poor peo­ple who were the suf­fer­ers, so the sto­ry had to rep­re­sent them. At one point I came across the infor­ma­tion about the Green Bay Massacre—the secret oper­a­tion car­ried out in 1978 by a spe­cial unit of the Jamaica Defense Force under a People’s Nation­al Party—in which five sup­port­ers of the Jamaica Labour Par­ty were shot dead after they had been ambushed at Green Bay. That dra­mat­ic event helped me to anchor my sto­ry. I pieced togeth­er snip­pets of infor­ma­tion and loose­ly recon­struct­ed the lives of the peo­ple who end­ed up at Green Bay. This moment real­ly showed the cir­cle of trick­ing peo­ple, using peo­ple, and final­ly get­ting rid of peo­ple once they act up. So the Green Bay Mas­sacre became the end­point of my sto­ry which I then built back­wards into a jour­ney of one char­ac­ter in par­tic­u­lar. I focused on a guy in the low­er ranks of soci­ety and the deci­sions he has to make as a con­se­quence of the com­mu­nal­ly seg­re­gat­ed polit­i­cal par­ties of the 1970s.

Martens: Bet­ter Mus’ Come became the first fea­ture-length his­tor­i­cal film to come out of Jamaica. How did you recre­ate the look and feel of the 1970s?

Saulter: Well, the per­son who needs much respect for that is our pro­duc­tion design­er Khalil Deane. He found all the props, from the cars and the signs to the guns and the clothes. He did an amaz­ing job, because we don’t have prop hous­es here in Jamaica that keep 1970s stuff. He had to find it all from actu­al peo­ple togeth­er with our cos­tume design­er Charl Bak­er. They had to hunt down all the indi­vid­u­als who had that stuff in stor­age or whose grand­par­ents had all these old clothes. They real­ly scav­enged Kingston to find the gen­uine ver­sions we need­ed. We might have made one or two dress­es, but we main­ly refur­bished old wardrobes. Also, there was a hotel in town that had all this old stuff as part of their decor—old radios, tele­vi­sions, beer signs, and so on. When we dis­cov­ered that place and had some arrange­ments with them to rent their stuff, that helped us a lot. Besides a real­ly strong pro­duc­tion design depart­ment and wardrobe depart­ment, we also had a strong make-up depart­ment. The hair­styles, and in par­tic­u­lar women’s hair­styles, were dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent in the sev­en­ties. The peo­ple who ran the depart­ments did a great job. Although we did every­thing in a real­ly low-bud­get way, we were very metic­u­lous with get­ting the look and feel right. The same goes for the loca­tions we select­ed. Our main loca­tion was Sandy Park, which is a neigh­bor­hood in the Barbican/Liguanea area that is not in Down­town, even though we were film­ing there to rep­re­sent Down­town Kingston. We just devel­oped a good rela­tion­ship with the res­i­dents there, espe­cial­ly with a group of young guys who were very active in the com­mu­ni­ty. They had a record­ing stu­dio, they were mak­ing music, they were putting on shows, they con­nect­ed us to oth­er mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty and just got the rest of the com­mu­ni­ty on our side. To recre­ate the are­na of a 1970s ghet­to, we basi­cal­ly only had to strip the new sig­nage and remove all the cars. Sandy Park, like many com­mu­ni­ties in Jamaica, has these lit­tle ghet­to parts, very rough and rus­tic, which do not look a lot dif­fer­ent than in the sev­en­ties. They are still places that are run down, unfin­ished, and under­de­vel­oped, wal­low­ing in incom­plete­ness.

Martens: Many peo­ple liv­ing in Sandy Park end­ed up appear­ing in the film, not only as extras but also in some of the title roles. How did you go about cast­ing the pro­duc­tion? Have you been able to show the film to the com­mu­ni­ty after­wards?     

Saulter: Most of the res­i­dents func­tioned as extras, but some indeed became lead actors. After a first round of audi­tions at the Edna Man­ley School of Visu­al and Per­form­ing Arts, we went to Sandy Park and pret­ty much audi­tioned any­one in the com­mu­ni­ty who was inter­est­ed. Lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of peo­ple came out to sign up. We gave them all lit­tle sce­nar­ios to play out in order to see who was tal­ent­ed. This is how we found Ricar­do Orgil who plays Flames, one of the main char­ac­ters. He was just so over­pow­er­ing at the audi­tion that we knew this guy was spe­cial. Then there was anoth­er great guy from the neigh­bor­hood, Duane Pusey who got the part of Dog­heart, the PNP bad boy who is the neme­sis of the lead char­ac­ter. So we end­ed up giv­ing them major roles in the film. The oth­er gang mem­bers that you see in the film were also guys from the neigh­bor­hood. They may not have a bunch of lines, but they def­i­nite­ly hold a look on cam­era. And of course many res­i­dents became extras in the crowds. At the same time, we hired a lot of peo­ple on set. We for exam­ple hired peo­ple to cook food and to do craft ser­vices. We also rent­ed a cou­ple homes from the res­i­dents there. When­ev­er we were shoot­ing, we had a house or two as pro­duc­tion offices. So we were real­ly doing busi­ness there and the peo­ple of the com­mu­ni­ty were involved on many lev­els. This is also the rea­son why we were able to move around, to cre­ate any set we want­ed, and to shoot all night there. When the film was ready, they were the first peo­ple to see it. We had our very first screen­ing with them at the Palace Amuse­ment cin­e­ma at Sov­er­eign Cen­tre, the clos­est cin­e­ma to them. They could just walk over there. So before the pre­miere we had this cast-and-crew screen­ing, main­ly with peo­ple from Sandy Park. It was amaz­ing. They were so excit­ed because it was all them in the film, all peo­ple and places they know. A few months lat­er, we orga­nized anoth­er screen­ing in the com­mu­ni­ty itself. We just put up a big screen in the mid­dle of the town. We also screened the film in Tivoli Gar­dens, the gar­ri­son com­mu­ni­ty and JLP strong­hold in West Kingston. The sto­ry of Bet­ter Mus’ Come was and still is in many ways very much their real­i­ty. When the film came out in 2010, Tivoli Gar­dens was the scene of vio­lent con­fronta­tions between gun­men and the secu­ri­ty forces, asso­ci­at­ed with the hunt for Christo­pher “Dudus” Coke. For me, the Tivoli Incur­sion bore resem­blance to the Green Bay Mas­sacre. So at the one-year anniver­sary of that event we did a free screen­ing in Tivoli Gar­dens as part of an effort by a group of young Jamaican activists to bring some uplift­ing ener­gy through cre­ativ­i­ty to the neigh­bor­hood. Need­less to say, this screen­ing was very emo­tion­al.

Martens: Besides these com­mu­ni­ty screen­ings, Bet­ter Mus’ Come also had quite a suc­cess­ful film-fes­ti­val run. Could you tell a lit­tle more about this?

Saulter: The film was first shown in the­atres in Jamaica. It was a big hit and made a lot of noise. We did not real­ly have an inter­na­tion­al film fes­ti­val strat­e­gy, but we want­ed to get the film out there, so we decid­ed to bring it to the 2011 Trinidad and Toba­go Film Fes­ti­val. It was real­ly the best deci­sion. Bet­ter Mus’ Come not only won the Viewer’s Choice Award for Best Nar­ra­tive Fea­ture Film, but the film also cre­at­ed such a stir and the ener­gy around the film was just so pow­er­ful that the film start­ed to roll. The peo­ple who saw it at that fes­ti­val alone start­ed to get it placed in oth­er fes­ti­vals. For exam­ple, we were way passed the dead­line for the Bahamas Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, but through a con­nec­tion we got in and it also won Best Pic­ture there. We were also in the Havana Film Fes­ti­val and the Domini­can Glob­al Film Fes­ti­val and we just did a lot of spe­cial screen­ings through­out the region. We unfor­tu­nate­ly haven’t been able to do a prop­er the­atri­cal run in Caribbean islands oth­er than Jamaica. For some rea­son that wasn’t hap­pen­ing. At the time Caribbean cin­e­mas were not very keen yet on show­ing Caribbean films. They saw it as a risk, but that is now chang­ing. They have had some local hits and are begin­ning to open up to screen­ing Caribbean con­tent. For me that is a no-brain­er. Clear­ly, when you put up the con­tent, peo­ple are going to come, even if it’s not amaz­ing. Any­way, after a few fes­ti­vals in the Caribbean, Bet­ter Mus’ Come went to the Pan African Film Fes­ti­val in Los Ange­les, where I won the Award for Best Direc­tor, and even­tu­al­ly it went to the Amer­i­can Black Film Fes­ti­val, where lead actor Shel­don Shep­ard won Best Actor. Beyond that, we got the chance to screen the film with the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val as part of TIFF Cin­e­math­eque as well as places such as New York, Lon­don, and Ams­ter­dam. Also, I have done a lot of aca­d­e­m­ic screen­ings. I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to trav­el to var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties inter­na­tion­al­ly to present the film. I real­ly enjoy these kinds of screen­ings, as stu­dents get the most engaged. They are look­ing at your film with a crit­i­cal eye, so you always get real­ly inter­est­ing ques­tions and dis­cus­sions, which is great. So basi­cal­ly, I have trav­elled the world with the film—and there are of course also tons of places the film has gone to that I haven’t gone to. We even­tu­al­ly received North Amer­i­can dis­tri­b­u­tion with AFFRM, the African-Amer­i­can Film Fes­ti­val Releas­ing Move­ment. The film had a the­atri­cal run in New York and Los Ange­les and spe­cial screen­ings in cities such as Atlanta, Chica­go, Seat­tle, and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. It then got on Net­flix and iTunes and last year it was broad­cast­ed in the UK on BBC2. So although we did not fol­low a stan­dard dis­tri­b­u­tion path, I think Bet­ter Mus Come’ def­i­nite­ly made waves. It was all very indie, but for a Caribbean film it was pret­ty ground-break­ing. It has cut a small path in the inter­na­tion­al world of cin­e­ma.

Martens: In 2010 you co-found­ed New Caribbean Cin­e­ma, a move­ment to fos­ter film­mak­ing in Jamaica. Why did you decide to launch this ini­tia­tive? How would you eval­u­ate Ring di Alarm, the first series of short films you released under the ban­ner of New Caribbean Cin­e­ma?

Saulter: I found­ed New Caribbean Cin­e­ma along with Michelle Serieux, a St. Lucian-born film­mak­er liv­ing in Jamaica, basi­cal­ly because we felt a need to put out work. Not only our own work but also the work of oth­er Jamaican film­mak­ers. We saw a good amount of young and tal­ent­ed peo­ple on the island doing com­mer­cials and music videos who want­ed to make the step towards short films and even­tu­al­ly fea­ture films. So Michelle and I decid­ed to join forces to cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for these young film­mak­ers to pro­duce work that could put them on the map. The idea was to write sto­ries that could be shot in a sin­gle day, so that it could actu­al­ly be done. There was no mon­ey to spend; it had to be as cheap as pos­si­ble. So New Caribbean Cin­e­ma became a mix of a feel­ing of get­ting work done and a method of how to get it done—a “by any means nec­es­sary” approach to film­mak­ing. We know we can always call on each oth­er to do things, even if we are not mak­ing films under the New Caribbean Cin­e­ma ban­ner. The first round of films that we made togeth­er, which was ulti­mate­ly put out under the title Ring di Alarm (2013), was the com­bined effort of the direc­tors Nile Saulter, Joel Burke, Kyle Chin, Michael ‘Ras Tin­gle’ Tin­gling, Michelle, and myself, with the sup­port of a group of amaz­ing actors and crew that shared our vision. We all made one short film and worked togeth­er on each other’s films. Although the Ring di Alarm films are very dif­fer­ent from each oth­er, I do think they have some­thing in com­mon, and that is a slight inter­est in the dark side of life. All the films seem to have an ele­ment of death, whether it is death com­ing and not know­ing how to deal with it or the pre­med­i­ta­tion of a mur­der or its after­math. They are all moral­i­ty tales. Each film has a char­ac­ter who is faced with a moral dilemma—they all have to choose which way to go and they all get what they ask for. It’s a com­mon plot device in much sto­ry­telling, but I def­i­nite­ly see it very direct­ly in the Ring di Alarm films. Even the comedic work is dark­ly comedic. Look­ing at our work, I think it gives you some insight into what the Caribbean per­son of our age is think­ing about and maybe slight­ly obsess­ing about. The issue of life and death is real­ly an issue we think about a lot, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Jamaica. I def­i­nite­ly see that as a day-to-day real­i­ty. At first, I didn’t even notice the vio­lent scent in most of the films, until oth­er peo­ple start­ed to make com­ments about it. I think we are obsessed with death—we are all deal­ing with death; it feels omnipresent. In film­mak­ing, these things tend to rise to the sur­face. One of my next film projects also involves death, a lot of death. It will make a social com­men­tary on mean­ing­less death and the cheap­ness of life in our soci­ety. I can­not tell too much about it yet, because it’s quite con­tro­ver­sial and I don’t want to get shut down. Anoth­er project I am work­ing on, Sprint­er, has noth­ing do to with death; it’s a com­ing-of-age sto­ry about the next great Jamaican sprint­er. It’s a sto­ry about the world of ath­let­ics, but even more so about a mod­ern Caribbean fam­i­ly and the rival­ry between sib­lings. It also deals with issues of migra­tion, with sep­a­ra­tion due to eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties else­where. So that’s a very dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Despite our slight obses­sion with death, we need vari­ety.

Martens: I know that you do a lot of the orga­ni­za­tion­al work relat­ed to your film projects your­self, from fund­ing to mar­ket­ing and every­thing in between. Could you tell us how you man­age the exe­cu­tion of your projects? Does it pro­vide you a sus­tain­able income, or to put it more gen­er­al­ly, do you think it is pos­si­ble to devel­op a sus­tain­able film indus­try in Jamaica?

Saulter: Well, Bet­ter Mus’ Come was fund­ed by pri­vate investors who believed in my work and Ring di Alarm was basi­cal­ly financed by myself. I was the exec­u­tive pro­duc­er. Fund­ing came from oth­er jobs, such as doing reg­u­lar com­mer­cials on the side. For my next projects, I am look­ing at all direc­tions and angles to get fund­ing. The Jamaican gov­ern­ment unfor­tu­nate­ly has no mon­ey avail­able. Hope­ful­ly, they will be pay­ing more atten­tion to enable local film­mak­ing, whether it is mak­ing the process less bureau­crat­ic or mak­ing incen­tives for investors. What­ev­er they have, I will be using. At the moment, I am main­ly look­ing at pri­vate investors and inter­na­tion­al grants. I have already received a lot of sup­port and inter­est for my new projects, so I hope to go into pro­duc­tion next year. I am cur­rent­ly in the process of fig­ur­ing how to put togeth­er a strong team that I can rely on to car­ry through work all the way to the end and to share respon­si­bil­i­ties. When you do a lot of Do It Your­self film­mak­ing, you end up con­trol­ling almost every­thing by default, but that is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the best way to do things. You can­not do every­thing. You need a team of ded­i­cat­ed peo­ple. I have tried to do every­thing myself for a long time and I am just now accept­ing that that’s not pos­si­ble. Hon­est­ly, when my week starts, my phone starts ring­ing. And some­times the week does not end, because my phone is ring­ing in the week­ends too. There is no set sched­ule. I do quite a bit of com­mer­cial work; that is actu­al­ly what I do most of the time. I usu­al­ly have a few of these projects going on at the same time, in dif­fer­ent stages of devel­op­ment, on which I work as a direc­tor or cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er or both. Through­out the week, I am often in touch with a cou­ple of pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies. I over­see treat­ments, I deliv­er edits, I go to meet­ings, I scout loca­tions, I am in pre-pro­duc­tion, or I am actu­al­ly shoot­ing. I am also one of the pri­ma­ry peo­ple doing the mar­ket­ing of our films through social media. While I have peo­ple help­ing me with that, I am the engine. And on top of all that I am sup­posed to be writ­ing, because I always have scripts to write. I am often curs­ing pure bom­ba­clat! about when I get to write. But in the end every­thing kind of com­pletes itself in its own time. When I have a dead­line, I just have to stay up for a few nights and get it done. In order to cre­ate a sus­tain­able film indus­try in Jamaica, I think two types of projects need to be made: projects made for $100,000 or less that are aimed at the local and dias­poric audi­ence with the hope of cross­ing over into the indie cin­e­ma mar­ket; and larg­er projects that are made in Jamaica pri­mar­i­ly for an inter­na­tion­al audi­ence. When you are mak­ing films here just for the local and dias­poric audi­ence, you have to be very good at pro­duc­ing decent work for cheap, because mak­ing your mon­ey back in Jamaica and the dias­po­ra alone is dif­fi­cult. But it is doable. It has been done in the past and will move for­ward in the future. In fact, you already see var­i­ous great low-bud­get film­mak­ers in the Caribbean work­ing like this, putting out film after film. This is one method of sus­tain­able film­mak­ing. The oth­er method is attract­ing more inter­na­tion­al pro­duc­tions, espe­cial­ly episod­ic tele­vi­sion series. These kind of pro­duc­tions would bring mas­sive invest­ment and employ­ment to the island, as tele­vi­sion series usu­al­ly run for a year or even years. This alone could cre­ate an indus­try. So yes, mas­ter­ing low-bud­get indies on the one hand and bring­ing in big-bud­get pro­duc­tions on the oth­er hand is the way to do it. I think it is pos­si­ble and I think it will hap­pen.

Martens: Tak­ing a region­al per­spec­tive, how do you see your work fit­ting in the wider devel­op­ment of Caribbean cin­e­ma? Do you con­sid­er New Caribbean Cin­e­ma as a dri­ver of a new wave of Caribbean cin­e­ma?

Saulter: I def­i­nite­ly think New Caribbean Cin­e­ma is a dri­ver for Caribbean cin­e­ma in gen­er­al. I just see it. I see local film­mak­ers in Jamaica mak­ing short films using our DIY method and I see it when we go to oth­er Caribbean islands. Peo­ple there have seen our work; they know what we are doing and it is ener­giz­ing them to make their own films. I want to get film­mak­ers from all across the region involved. Our first major effort, Ring di Alarm, was done by film­mak­ers liv­ing in Jamaica, but I want our move­ment to be more Caribbean-wide. There are cur­rent­ly great film­mak­ers emerg­ing from Trinidad, from Aru­ba, from the Bahamas—they are just mak­ing qual­i­ty pieces. We run into each oth­er at film fes­ti­vals and feel some­thing seri­ous is going on. So yes, togeth­er with these film­mak­ers I believe our move­ment is def­i­nite­ly push­ing things for­ward in the Caribbean. With that, I main­ly mean the Anglo­phone Caribbean. Of course the Latin-Amer­i­can film move­ment, with its main pro­duc­tion cen­ters in Mex­i­co, Argenti­na, Brazil, and Cuba, is already much old­er and more ingrained. But there is a huge lan­guage bar­ri­er. In the Anglo­phone Caribbean we are not real­ly exposed to Latin-Amer­i­can cin­e­ma. I got exposed to it when I went to Cuba for the film fes­ti­val and real­ized not only the sheer size of it, but also how unaware we are of what’s hap­pen­ing there. I do very much iden­ti­fy our work with the Latin-Amer­i­can film move­ment. First of all, I iden­ti­fy with the social real­i­ties. When I watch a film com­ing out of Rio de Janeiro or Mex­i­co City, it pret­ty much could be Kingston. The peo­ple look a lit­tle dif­fer­ent and the lan­guage sounds dif­fer­ent, but the social dynam­ics are very sim­i­lar. The films that inspired me major­ly are the Brazil­ian film City of God (2002) and all the films that came out of that Mex­i­co City move­ment in the ear­ly 2000s, such as Amores per­ros (2000) and Y tu mama tam­bién (2001). More recent­ly, Miss Bala (2011), a Mex­i­can dra­ma film, was excel­lent. I also see sim­i­lar­i­ties with our prac­ti­cal meth­ods, polit­i­cal state­ments, and cul­tur­al aes­thet­ics. I con­sid­er Latin-Amer­i­can cin­e­ma as where we are head­ing and prob­a­bly should be head­ing. I think we are on the brink of some­thing amaz­ing. I have been say­ing this for a long time, but I am now real­ly see­ing it. For exam­ple, a place where I am real­ly see­ing it is the Trinidad & Toba­go Film Fes­ti­val. They have the best selec­tion of work from the Anglo­phone Caribbean and relat­ed work from the oth­er Caribbean islands, from Latin Amer­i­ca, from Africa, from else­where. You see all our films get­ting way bet­ter. So I feel any moment now we can make the big hit films, I def­i­nite­ly feel that. If we would be able to get fund­ing more eas­i­ly, it would already be hap­pen­ing. In the next few years, we will be there. Pay atten­tion.

Martens: You observe sev­er­al sim­i­lar­i­ties with Latin-Amer­i­can cin­e­ma. What is Caribbean cin­e­ma bring­ing extra to the table? Is there some­thing like a Caribbean film aes­thet­ic?  

Saulter: There is. The Caribbean is so mixed up with influences—from Europe, Africa, Asia, North Amer­i­ca, and South Amer­i­ca. I think the Caribbean film aes­thet­ic is a bit more kalei­do­scop­ic, more sat­u­rat­ed, and more colour­ful. Films from Latin Amer­i­ca are often harsh and rigid and I think there is room in Caribbean cin­e­ma to be more vibrant, more play­ful, and more experimental—also using folk­lore and mag­i­cal real­ism as a real main­stay in the work. You already see that hap­pen­ing, espe­cial­ly in films from Trinidad & Toba­go. It is real­ly Caribbean and has a great role to play in world cin­e­ma. So the Caribbean film aes­thet­ic is still very much open, but it is def­i­nite­ly mag­i­cal, colour­ful, kalei­do­scop­ic, lan­guage-rich, and musi­cal. The two Jamaican films that real­ly inspired me are The Hard­er They Come (1972), of course, and Rock­ers (1978). The Hard­er They Come was just ground-break­ing. It was clas­si­cal sto­ry­telling applied to a very Jamaican real­i­ty. It still serves as a blue­print for Jamaican film­mak­ers; it will always be. The Hard­er They Come reminds us that mak­ing a great Jamaican film is pos­si­ble. Before Per­ry Hen­zell, the film’s direc­tor, passed away in 2006, I was for­tu­nate to pick his brain once in a while. Although we didn’t meet very often, I def­i­nite­ly learned a lot from him. One time I tried to pitch him the sto­ry of Fed­da, because he asked what I was work­ing on, but every time I was talk­ing for not even a minute, he asked me to start over again. He taught me that if you can’t encap­su­late what your sto­ry is with­in a few sen­tences, then some­thing is off. At the time I thought it was very harsh, and I didn’t agree with him, but as I have grown old­er I have come to under­stand what he meant. You have to know the essence, the soul of the film. The last time I saw him, about two weeks before he passed, I asked him some edit­ing advice. At the time I was edit­ing Bet­ter Mus’ Come and doubt­ing some scenes that peo­ple seemed to love but made me cringe every time. So I asked him if I should delete them or leave them in. He just looked at me and said: “When I cringe, I cut.” So I did that and of course Bet­ter Mus’ Come lost about half an hour of scenes, but it worked. He was very suc­cinct, to the point, and it meant a lot to me. It’s what I have been doing ever since. If I cringe now, for any­thing, I am cut­ting, no mat­ter how much the test audi­ence seems to like it. Although you will nev­er find it, you have to strive for per­fec­tion. Rock­ers was anoth­er great piece. It was almost like a documentary—it did not even have a real plot! They just filmed actu­al peo­ple as they were and then fig­ured out how to flow a lit­tle plot in there. In doing so, it cap­tured Jamaican lan­guage and cul­ture. It was like a time cap­sule. I made all the peo­ple involved in Bet­ter Mus’ Come study Rock­ers, because we were mak­ing a film set in Kingston in the late 1970s and Rock­ers was filmed in Kingston in the late 1970s. For us, Rock­ers was our Bible with regard to lan­guage and dress, a man­u­al about the way Jamaican peo­ple rolled in that par­tic­u­lar peri­od.

Martens: How do you see your role in the future devel­op­ment and direc­tion of Caribbean cin­e­ma? What do you aspire to achieve with your films?

Saulter: Maybe this sounds com­pet­i­tive, but I want to make the films that epit­o­mize Caribbean cin­e­ma. I want to make the films that intro­duce a new way, a new aes­thet­ic. I want to devel­op a style. I want to be as great as the film­mak­ers I look up to. I want to have an impact on cin­e­ma like Hitch­cock, Scors­ese, or Kubrick. I want my work to be seen by all film lovers. Although I am mak­ing films that are very Caribbean, my aim is to get on the radar of peo­ple who, for exam­ple, watch the films of Michael Haneke--that’s where I want to go. I am very aware of the fact that my most imme­di­ate audi­ences, and the audi­ences that can allow the film to trav­el, are the local and dias­poric audi­ences. They are pay­ing atten­tion to what’s hap­pen­ing on the island. When an arti­cle comes out in the Jamaica Glean­er, peo­ple here and in the dias­po­ra are see­ing it. They are plugged in already. So I see the val­ue of these audi­ences, as a source of sup­port and a gate­way to a larg­er glob­al audi­ence, but I want as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to see my films. I want mil­lions. At the end of the day, I want to have a big pres­ence in the world of cin­e­ma.


Copy­right Emiel Martens and Storm Saulter. This arti­cle is licensed under a Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.