This week, Maharaki’s film, “Vivre!,” was launched on Studio Anansi. The award-winning short has been invited to over 20 film festivals and has won 8 awards. It has been screened all over the world, from the Caribbean, to Brooklyn, to Tahiti, and audiences fall in love with it, everytime. We asked Maharaki to share with us what the experience of making the film was like for her – check out the Q+A:
CaFA: You are from Martinique, you live in Barbados and the film was shot in Guadeloupe & Martinique – how were you able to put all the pieces together? What were some of the challenges you faced production-wise?
Maharaki: To be able to put the pieces together, we had to be extremely well prepared and funded. Aside from gathering a budget big enough to allow me both freedom of creativity and production value, we had to save enough to be able to travel between islands for about a year.
The production of VIVRE was an amazing human challenge. My producer Nina VILUS and I had to communicate nearly everyday by phone, Skype, Viber, social medias… you name it. Nina and I actually met 6 months after we first talked over the phone and signed contracts. It was in Guadeloupe, on our first casting call for Tom. The first time we met was intense; it was like we knew each other from before. There was a strong connection between us. I will never forget the day we said goodbye at the airport, we both knew we were embarking on an amazing journey together. 3 years later, our film made the official selection of over 40 film festivals and won 11 awards in 9 months. Journalists have qualified us as the perfect team producer/director. I am simply glad to have found a producer who believes in me!
CaFA: How did you and Nina connect? Why did you decide to work with her and not with someone in Barbados or Martinique?
Maharaki: During the 2011 Caribbean Tales Film Festival in Barbados, a Barbadian production company, I was under contract with, had organized a public reading of my comedy short film script called “Carnival Begins”. The audience was in tears laughing their head off. After the reading, Mr. Tony Coco Viloin, member of the Guadeloupe film commission, walked to me, congratulated me for the writing, asked if I had any other script in stock that I wanted to produce and gave me Nina’s contact. After taking a look at Nina’s previous production, I emailed her the script of VIVRE and in a matter of 48 hours, she replied with a big YES! She immediately understood where I was going with VIVRE and how high I wanted to put the bar. She was looking for something challenging to produce; I was looking for a producer ready to take on the challenge. It was the perfect match!
CaFA: We know you used a Red camera for the production – why did you decide to use that camera? What were some of the challenges you faced using it? After making the film – do you think it was a good choice? Would you use it again? What was editing footage from the camera like?
Maharaki: We had to bring the equipment from Paris to Guadeloupe for the first part of the shoot in November 2012 and send it back, then bring it back again, but this time, from Paris to Martinique, at the end of January 2013, for the second part the shoot. When we contacted Panavision France, the RED EPIC seemed to be the best option for us. From my side, there was no challenge specifically related to the camera.
Using it again? Why not! But to be honest, I believe more in good lighting, set design, great acting, costumes, make up, location, props, storyboarding, production, post-production… To me, that’s what really makes a good film.
CaFA: The actor you cast as young Tom, seemed like a perfect fit for the role. How did you go about casting for the film? Share that experience with us and how you ultimately settled on that actor.
Maharaki: Ydriss Bonalair, who interprets Tom, came to the first casting call in Guadeloupe. He was 8 years old. Although, he was super cute and strangely looking like the boy I had drew in my storyboard, production thought he was too young. They were also very concerned about his slight stutter. We saw about 50 kids that day and although we found kids to play Tom’s classmates, there was no Tom.
A few weeks later we had our second casting call in Martinique and still no sign of Tom. When we decided to settle on the Lycée Gerville Réache in Guadeloupe as our location for the school, we decided to have another casting call in Guadeloupe. Going over the audition videos with my mother, who insisted that we bring back Ydriss, I asked production to give him another chance. So, we sent him a couple new passages of the text so he could really get into character and Ydriss nailed the audition. That’s when I turned to Nina and said “ I told you so” – laughs.
Ydriss was 9 when we shot the film. He turned 10 a month before our premiere in Martinique. There were about 400 people in the room and I remember him taking the microphone with tears in his eyes and thanking us, both production and crew, for the amazing adventure he lived we us. No stutter, no fear. VIVRE had changed him for the best, so he said. After our premiere in Guadeloupe, his grandmother came to me and said “you have no idea, how much joy you brought to our family”. What to ask more? Ydriss was the one from the beginning and I knew it in my heart. 3 years later, we are still in contact. We call each other regularly. We became family.
CaFA: Several of the scenes were shot in different locations – were they all shot in the same country? How were you able to pull that off? Share with us the challenges you experienced shooting in that many locations and scouting for locations.
Maharaki: All the scenes with Ydriss were shot in Guadeloupe, the others with Vincent Vermignon, interpreting Tom as an adult were shot in Martinique. The biggest challenge was to keep unity throughout the film. But we were very well prepared. The entire film was storyboarded. There was hardly any room for mistakes.
CaFA: Were there elements in the environment that made it difficult to film or capture sound?
Maharaki: Laugh – I remember our first day on set in Guadeloupe, the school bell kept ringing every hour. David our sound engineering must have had a good time!
More seriously, sound wise everything went well on VIVRE on set and in post-production. The original sound track is beautiful, Brice J. Chandler did an amazing job, especially on the astronaut scene; we have had several requested from people who want to buy the song “Life is so”, that you can hear during the end credit, so we are currently working on making it available for purchase online, the sound mixing was a great experience in studio in Paris.
Again, everything was prepared and well planned… Well, except the school bell!
CaFA: Did you use any visual references during preproduction? What was that process like? What did you choose from?
Maharaki: There is a strong reference to Spike Lee’s famous dolly tracking shot when Tom gets in the school bus. I have decided to use this dolly tracking shot not only because I have been admiring Spike Lee’s work since I was young, but truly because it totally made sense in the directing. At this point of the film, Tom is no longer in reality. He has embarks on a journey, he is floating above ground toward his dream.
CaFA: How were you able to create the plane crash scene? How long did it take?
Maharaki: The plane crash is CGI. It did not take long as we shot the scene as any other scene. The fun part was at the ECLAIR studios in Paris when the team started showing me different options of planes and debris. I really enjoyed that process.
CaFA: Describe some your best experiences while making the film and some of your worst. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything?
Maharaki: Best experiences: the Cannes film festival where Nina and I presented the script during a conference at the Film France both in the festival village. Meeting Ydriss and keeping in touch is another great element. I remember on the first rehearsal day, when the kids discovered their costumes and realized the uniforms included ties for both boys and girls, they instantly loved it! The first day on set, when they first walked in the classroom, it was like they just entered an amusement park.
The entire shoot, both in Guadeloupe and Martinique, was amazing. I have met great people and I now have a dream team that I would work with again. We also had an amazing wrap party in Martinique, at a club that was booked especially for us. We finished the night on the beach, watching the stars and a massive half moon setting behind the tour where we shot the crash.
Worst experience: in Martinique, the airline company we had a contract with to shoot in one of their jumbo jets, parked in a hanger for months. On the day of the shoot, I had 30 technicians and as much cast and extras waiting on their lawn to give us authorization to access the tarmac. Several hours later, we are denied access based on some misunderstanding. We could not postpone the scene as most of the crew and equipment was flying back to Guadeloupe and France on the following day. So we had to find a solution, in a matter of seconds. So we did! A few days later we also sued the company. We won! Obviously!
CaFA: Currently, there is a sort of awakening in the Caribbean to filmmaking as a form of artistic expression … you are a part of this “new wave”… can you share with us your thoughts on what is currently happening and where you see this energy leading filmmakers? Is there much of a difference between what’s happening in the French Caribbean as opposed to the English and Spanish Caribbean?
Maharaki: Filmmaking is much more affordable than it was 30 or even 20 years ago. Although it is not cheap, it has become easier for us to access equipment. Caribbean teenagers and young adults attend film school nowadays. We even have film programs in the French English and Spanish Caribbean. Cuba has had an amazing program for years and they have been producing quality work for decades. There are more and more film festivals in the region. I was fortunate to be invited at the Bahamas International film festival where VIVRE received the Grand Jury Prize for Best short film and where I spent 3 days with Danny Glover and his amazing wife.
At Cine Global, in the Dominican Republic, I met Carlo Cuarón (brother of the famous Alfonso Cuarón). Mr. Cuaron loved VIVRE which opened for his film “Besos de Azucar”… The Prix de Court VIVRE won in Martinique led me to a masterclass with writer, director and producer Luc Besson at la Cité du Cinéma in Paris… What are the odds for a Caribbean girl, whose family is not in the business, to live experience like these? We can now create ourselves a real professional network, aim for co-production… We can dream big and make it happen.
The energy, you referring to, is leading us to great achievements as long as long as we keep producing quality work and work hard. The major difference between the French and English Caribbean, not sure how the film commissions work in the Spanish islands – it is the relationship we have with France and the new agreement we have with the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image animé (CNC). This makes funding more accessible but also puts us in the big arena with the big productions and big names.
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CaFA: Do you think there is a “Caribbean film aesthetic” being created as more and more films are being made? If so, can you describe what you’re seeing as that aesthetic?
Maharaki: To me, the aesthetic of film depends on the director. I am the sum of my culture, my upbringing, my encounters, my trips… I feel deeply Caribbean and I am also a citizen of the world. My films, paintings, stories, all I create is the reflection of all these influences and of all that makes me.
CaFA: And then some completely random questions: What is your fav film (or 2 or 3) all time? What did you enjoy about it the most?
Maharaki: Very hard question! It really depends on my mood. There are films I watch over and over others I have watched a only few times but I cherish a lot. Examples? To me, “Pride and Prejudice” by Joe Wright is so far the best adaptation of the Jane Austen’s book. If you love romance and period films, it’s a must have! I love “Departure” by Yojiro Takita, such a beautiful film! The emotion is grand and uplifting. The lighting and color correction of “Amelie” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet is amazing. The music of Terence Blanchard for “She hate me” by Spike Lee, is fantastic. I love the VFX in “The day after tomorrow” by Roland Emmerich. And how about the ones in “Avatar”? James Cameron is a genius! I love 40’s and 50’s films. There is this scene in “Holiday Affair” by Don Hartman with Robert Mitchum and Wendell Corey standing by a fire place, that makes me laugh every time! Simple writing, great acting!
CaFA: What is your fav Caribbean film? What did you enjoy about it the most?
Maharaki: Another hard question, as we don’t have that many. I guess I could say “Sugar cane Alley” shot in Martinique and “A Dry white season” with Marlon Brando and Donald Sutherland both by Martinican director Euzhan Palcy… It may sound patriotic, but one has to admit that these two films are really powerful and the anecdotes behind “A Dry white season” are unbelievable. Last year, I have watched a Cuban film called “Conducta” by Ernesto Darana. A pure jewel!
CaFA: Is there a particular director’s work you admire? If so, who is that and what is it about their work you admire?
Maharaki: Steven Spielberg! In 3 words: grand spectacle, constancy and aesthetics. But I could also say: Spike Lee, Mathiew Kassovitz, Luc Besson, JeanJacques Annaud, Nancy Meyers, Gary Marshall, James Cameron, Robert Redford, Alfred Hitchcock, Clint Eastwood, Charlie Chaplin, Wong Kar Wai… the list could go on and on. There are obviously mostly European and American, as I “grew up” with those guys. I have a video library of over 2000 films and buy or rent films every week. I just love it !
Thank you for hanging with us. Check back for our next Q+A.