Member Post: An Insight Into The Caribbean Industry
Lisa Harewood is a producer, writer and director in Barbados. She was one of five filmmakers chosen from around the world to receive funding and support from the Commonwealth Foundation for her short film 'Auntie' (http://www.auntieshortfilm.com). Lisa's production company Gate House Media, is dedicated to making work that accurately reflects the Caribbean experience.
We met at a Commonwealth Writer’s workshop in New Zealand where I remember you being shocked at a filmmaker talking about how the national film commission ‘only’ funds up to $90,000 for short film. In a place like Barbados, is there any kind of infrastructure to help filmmakers?
Yes, I remember that. I still haven’t recovered from the shock. I spent a few weeks looking at New Zealand’s Immigration rules! I had just made my short for USD$11,000 so I was thinking about how many shorts I could make if someone gave me that kind of money, but I’ve learned in talking to my colleagues in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the US, that no-one is ever satisfied with the available resources.
Over the years in Barbados, we have had a few funds of different kinds for arts in general and also one that was shared with sports, so you’re competing with a lot of other people for a small pot of money. You were also having your project judged by people who didn’t necessarily have specialist film experience or expertise, so there was also the challenge of educating the people who are judging your application about the industry and how it works. You really have to sort of just have to pull it together from lots of places.
But film in Barbados is quite young. I don’t think 15 features have been made in our history as yet so infrastructure is being built. A Cultural Industries Bill was just passed after many, many years in development, which will set up a fund, but again, it’s not solely a film fund. We may also be getting our first Film Commissioner soon, so fingers crossed.
As a female filmmaker, have you found any difficulties in the industry in Barbados because of your gender? Are there many female directors and producers?
I feel lucky to be Barbadian because gender has never felt like any kind of deterrent. I was raised by my mum, aunt and grandmother and there are a lot of women in prominent positions in all kinds of sectors here so I have never felt like my aspirations would be limited by being female. I can think of another three or four female directors and while we don’t have a lot of producers, the other one I can think of is also a woman. I feel pretty confident in saying that we have equal access and that gender is not a factor.
What is the usual reception to films made outside of the mainstream filmmaking countries? What are the advantages?
The feeling I get is that people are pleasantly surprised by the quality of the storytelling even though we might be challenged in terms of reaching full production value. And the stories resonate.
I think our films find a natural home amongst our very large Caribbean Diaspora in the UK, US and Canada. I saw some study that said two-thirds of Caribbean people live outside the region. They are always thrilled to get a glimpse of home. After screenings of our feature, A Hand Full of Dirt, which was written and directed by my friend Russell Watson, people would hold him hostage for hours, making comments and asking a bunch of questions. They’ve had to kick us out of a few venues. So that audience is super engaged.
After that, we do find synergies with wider black audiences, African-American and African. Our movements, the cadence of our speech, it feels familiar.
When my short was screened in New Zealand, I got a lot of great feedback from the Pacific Islander community. The story of migration and split families was relevant. The setting might be a bit more exotic but at the end of the day, I am trying to tell stories that transcend nationality, colour or geography.
You studied in the UK, live in Barbados and premiered your first directed film Auntie (2013) in New Zealand. What are your thoughts about pan-global collaborations? Would you like to see something like that in Barbados?
I’m all for working across borders, so long as the story means something to me. Barbados unfortunately does not yet have any co-production deals so we’re limited in what we can bring to the table, but hopefully that will be sorted soon. What we do have however, through an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU, is access to European markets in order to collaborate, receive training, go to festivals, and work on a production for a short period. I would love us to get some agreements in place with Brazil and Mexico.
I’m attached as a producer to a Canadian film written and directed by Dawn Wilkinson that will be shot in Canada and Barbados. Last year, I was in Toronto for TIFF and the Reelworld Emerging Filmmaker programme and did script supervision for my friend’s short for 2 days. We help each other out and keep each other motivated by whatever means we can – Skype, Facebook, email, phone – whatever. I can feel quite isolated here and it’s great to tap into that when I need it.
What are you working on now?
Well, right now, I’m back at a 9-5 job at the UN (needs must!) and working on the festival plan for my short film Auntie, which is a story about a woman looking after a child whose mother has migrated. You can read more about it at www.auntieshortfilm.com. I just got word about the world premiere in the UK and I’ll be heading there with the other 4 filmmakers in the shorts programme, so that’s exciting and we’re awaiting word from a few more festivals. I am also developing a feature length version of that. I’m working on an LGBT documentary and as I mentioned, Dawn Wilkinson’s feature, Revealing Rachel, is at script development stage.
Because there is no industry here and no clear career path, you always have to stay self-motivated and constantly create your own projects and find ways around the lack of money.
What advice would you give to other filmmakers who also live outside of the usual big filmmaking countries?
Give yourself permission to be a filmmaker even if it’s not a readily accessible aspiration. I always wanted to do this but didn’t allow myself to believe it was possible because I was from a tiny speck in the Caribbean sea. When I renewed my passport a year ago and listed filmmaker as my occupation, I nearly didn’t hand in the form. One I did it and claimed it, I wanted to smack my younger self upside the head as ask her whose permission she was waiting for.
The other thing I would say is that you can formulate stories that fit the resources you have available. Think beyond the cash and look at traditional ways of working and getting things done. For example, in Barbados we have these cook-shops all over every community. You can get a large, fresh, homemade meal at a very good price. That’s our version of craft services. Don’t try to mimic the industrialized model.
See your situation as an advantage, a chance to invent your own way of telling stories. Don’t feel that gravitating towards the usual filmmaking centres and leaving your cultural viewpoint behind is a good thing. Even if you’re working elsewhere, the thing you have to bring to the world is your unique cultural perspective. Be proud of where you’re from and let your stories be rooted in that.