LisaHarewood2_bySophiaWallace2012-copy-239x300Lisa Harewood
Filmmaker
Barbados
Studio Anansi Profile
Watch “Auntie” 

AUNTIE,” a short film by Barbadian filmmaker, Lisa Harewood, was developed through the Commonwealth Shorts Program, a Commonwealth capacity building scheme, designed to give emerging writers/directors the opportunity to make a film which highlights issues affecting them and their communities.

Lisa chose the issue of migration from the Region and the resultant development of “barrel children,” using “Auntie’s” story, to share one way migration affects the lives of those left behind.  She has since developed the Barrel Stories Project, a creative oral history project and an extension of “Auntie’s,” story, where real people share real stories of the effect of migration on their lives.

The film has been screened at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival, and at several film festivals across the world.  It also premiered as part of the AfroPop series, by the National Black Programming Consortium.  We asked Lisa to share with us some of her experiences making the film and her thoughts on filmmaking in the Caribbean.

CineCaribés:
In your own words, tell us what this film is about and why you chose to tell this story.

LH:
The film tells the story of a respected older woman – an “auntie” – in a Barbadian community, who is dealing with the impending departure of a beloved child. The child, Kera, was left in Auntie’s care by her mother, who migrated to the UK several years before and is now ready to have Kera join her.

This situation is very typical in the Caribbean.  Migration is very common and these aunties, both biological and non-biological – along with grandmothers and sometimes older siblings, step in to fill the parental role when parents can’t take their children with them.  The resulting bonds formed with the child are deep but they are sort of invisible when we talk about migration. The film is a tribute to that bond and a way to make them visible.

auntie-thinking-in-chairImage from “Auntie”


CineCaribés:
Did the film turn out the way you envisioned?  If yes, in what ways.  If no, why not?

LH:
I’m new to this side of filmmaking and I see directing as a craft I am now learning and honing. ​I’m happy with and proud of the film.  I set out to tell a very still, very sparse kind of story to convey a certain intimacy between Auntie and Kera – one leaving the audience feeling the loss when it comes.  I think I achieved that even though I think no film turns out exactly as planned.  All the planning in the world can’t account for ​a tropical storm, running out of daylight, or malfunctioning equipment, all of which were ​things we had to battle during our 3 days of filming.


CineCaribés:
What was the most challenging aspect of making the film and why was that so?

LH:
T​he ​main challenge for me was in being a first time director. I have been making commercials and PSAs for years so I wasn’t a complete newbie, but directing actors and being on top of the technical aspects of the production was a big task.  As I am more experienced as a producer, it was a challenge to let go of the producing role and focus on directing.  Ian Smith who stepped in to produce, really did have to pry the coordination from my hands! … lol. I’d definitely prepare differently next time.


CineCaribés:
If you were to pick an aspect of filmmaking – writing, directing, cinematography, editing – which would be your favorite?  Why is that? Which do you dislike the most – and why is that?

LH:
Now see? You didn’t mention producing, and being a creative producer is what I love – but there is an invisibility that comes with it, even though I have a lot of input into the film from script right through edit and release. Part of the reason why I tackled writing and directing for the first time was so I could have a greater voice and realise more of my vision especially when I think there is a subject I might be more passionate about than someone else.


CineCaribés:
If you did not have to think about a budget, what film would you make and who would you cast as the lead actors?  [Ideal world question].

LH:
I’m a Virgo and a producer so I am ALWAYS thinking about budget. That said, there is a feature-length exploration of the same barrel child concept I have wanted to do for many years now. The short film was a way to start finding the audience for it.

In terms of actors, in Caribbean films, a lot of our performers are untrained unknowns because we don’t have an industry to sustain a professional class. But under the right direction with the right material, they can give these incredible naturalistic, unaffected performances, which I love and want to continue to support.

But going outside of the amateurs, I would love to work with someone like Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who was incredible in Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies and who is of Caribbean heritage.

marianne_2577215bMarianne Jean-Baptiste
www.telegraph.co.uk


CineCaribés:
What do you want the audience to take away from this film?

LH:
I want ​a Caribbean audience to feel like I have accurately and portrayed an aspect of our lives we haven’t seen before on screen and that it’s been done with sensitivity. Judging from the response and feedback we get when the film is screened, I feel satisfied that’s been achieved.

For everyone else, it’s a window into an issue they may not know anything about, but hopefully on a human level they can appreciate the universal themes of love and loss.

kera-hanging-clothesImage from “Auntie”


CineCaribés:
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a filmmaker.

LH:
I ​grew up in Barbados and was always obsessed with TV and movies. I was deaf to the world once I was in front of that box. CBC TV, our local station, used to show a Sunday matinee and it was generally a classic Hollywood film. I saw quite a few classics without ever knowing it. I just devoured film and video.

I guess deep down I always wanted to be a filmmaker but it just wasn’t even in the realm of possibility when I was growing up so I did the next best thing and studied Mass Communications at UWI, Mona. More than one of my teachers at the time encouraged me to go to film school, but financially that was not an option so I went back to Barbados to work in advertising, writing and making commercials, and in the NGO sector, planning and executing development support communication products. I still got to tell stories and make images.

I moved to London for a few years and while there I did a stint at a black film publication and later went on to enroll in the MA in Creative and Media Enterprises at Warwick University so I could craft a more flexible and sustainable creative career.

As time passed, technology got cheaper and the barrier to entry into the industry got lower, I accepted the challenge of producing a film, Russell Watson’s, A Hand Full of Dirt​, and after that there was no turning back. I knew while I was working on that film, I had waited long enough and it was time to pursue my passion.  So, I went back to London and did a short course in producing at MetFilm School and have been developing film projects ever since.   Living in Barbados, I obviously still have to do other work to pay the bills, ​but not a day goes by that I don’t do something in furtherance of a film-related goal. ​

A big milestone for me came about 3 years ago when I was lucky enough to be selected by Commonwealth Foundation to develop my short. This coincided with my passport renewal and I finally had the courage to list my occupation as filmmaker.  A passport is good for ten years so I have to live up to the title for at least that long.

Lisa-Harewood-PortraitLisa Harewood
(taken from ARC Magazine)


CineCaribés:
Did you use any visual references during preproduction? What was that process like? What did you choose from?

LH:
Visually​, I liked the hypersaturation of a film like Amelie. I wanted the bright colours to be an ironic counterpoint to the sadness of the story. People perceive the Caribbean to be a happy, carefree place and I wanted to fulfill that expectation and then undermine it.

A lot of what I worked on fell under the category of production design. I assigned colours for both characters and the presence of the blue barrel as a constant interference was something I really wanted to focus on.

There were lots of other things I wanted to do where lighting and tone were concerned but we simply didn’t have the money for lots of lights in the end. It’s always a question of adapting to the budget and the crew size and the shooting environment without completely compromising your vision.

Amelie-0619Image from “Amelie”


CineCaribés:
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?

LH:
I would have to say finding and working with Ian Smith, has been the best part of the process. ​

​Ian had volunteered to help out in any way he could and as it turns out, he had to step in and produce at the last minute when my then producer had competing commitments. ​I’d known him for a while but not very well and here I was trusting him with my baby. But he was amazing, not just as a producer, but really as a cheerleader and a constant voice of reassurance when I would get anxious or flustered.  And he has remained committed to the film and the outreach project since that time. It’s a working relationship that I treasure, having someone there to say “We got this!”

Ian-Smith-Headshot-216x300Ian Smith

And it was in general a great experience of working with almost all new people, who came on board and gave their all on what was a very short and intense shoot. The cinematographer, Ricardo Diaz, came in from Toronto the day before we started and had to get familiar with a camera and kit he has never worked on. People just pulled together to get it done. Russell Watson, who edited the film, put Ricardo up in his spare room. The actors came with their own clothes and some of the props. Linda, the homeowner who allowed us to repaint the inside of her living room. It was a real team effort.

The worst experience? Being behind schedule and desperately trying to catch up on Day 2, then at about 4pm phones start buzzing and people are checking messages and looking distracted. Ian finally comes over and rests a hand on my shoulder and gently breaks the news that a weather advisory has been issued and a tropical storm is bearing down. We had to break everything down and then cover all the equipment with tarps, get everyone to their homes and then go get supplies to wait out the storm. The whole night I was so anxious about whether the house was weatherproof and fearful that we would lose everything but in the end the storm was all bark and no bite. We did lose the next day of shooting though.


CineCaribés:
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?

LH:
More than anyone else in the world, I believe Caribbean people are natural storytellers. I think it’s wonderful there’s a cadre of filmmakers finding their voice and translating our rich heritage of oral storytelling into a visual culture, stepping out onto the world stage to present us in all our diversity. We have often been badly served by films others have made about us and it’s important for us to redress this. Caribbean culture has been used and appropriated all over the world and we must not let others profit from what is ours.

If you look at the history of filmmaking, there are always regional/national movements, where the world turns its attention to a specific locale because of the critical mass of work coming from there. I think the Caribbean is about to have its moment. While it’s exciting, we should never lose sight of the need to educate and cultivate our local/diasporic audiences. The attention of the rest of the world is wonderful but can be fleeting. If we make work that resonates with our own people, if we put structures in place to develop the local talent pool, if we create our own system of value that places an emphasis not just on box office but on film as a social and cultural good, as a preserver of history, we will have ​done something truly amazing.


CineCaribés:
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?

LH:
I can’t say I have picked up an aesthetic as yet, but I am definitely seeing films tending more towards serious themes and dealing with subjects a bit darker than what people might be expect from the Region.


CineCaribés:
And now some completely random questions: What is your fav film (or 2 or 3) all time? What did you enjoy about it/them the most?

LH:
Of all time…probably The Piano by Jane Campion. I remember seeing it as a student in the cinema in Jamaica in the early 90’s and after the final credits rolled I felt like I had been holding my breath the entire time. It is just a breathtakingly beautiful film with a strong and unusual female character at the centre. And knowing the director was a woman made it was so inspiring. An old friend from Mona reminded me just this last week how evangelical I was about it! I bought the soundtrack, I watched and re-watched it. I made all my friends watch it and am still recommending it to people to this day.

Two years ago I went to New Zealand for the release of the Commonwealth Short films and I made a pilgrimage to Karekare Beach where the film was partly shot. Standing there looking out at the Pacific Ocean nearly two decades after that film first inspired me was one of those really poetic moments of my life.

dVDdABRCmQglgXod01GMHgtkS8k

Image from “The Piano”


CineCaribés:
What is your fav Caribbean film? What did you enjoy about it the most?

LH:
Hands down it would be Sugar Cane Alley by Euzhan Palcy. She’s from Martinique and long before I was even able to see the film I was just inspired by the fact of its existence. A friend gifted me the poster and I keep it over my desk as inspiration that a Black Caribbean woman achieved such an amazing feat in 1983, sweeping a host of international film awards and becoming the first black woman to helm a Hollywood studio pic when she made A Dry Whtie Season.

It’s a deceptively simple film but with so much to say about Caribbean family and society, race and politics. Watching the film, seeing the relationship between the boy and his grandmother, the familiar landscapes, it’s a Caribbean masterpiece.

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CineCaribés:
Is there a particular director’s work you admire? If so, who is that and what is it about their work you admire?

LH:
I admire a lot of people. ​It’s too hard to choose one but I like directors who bring a lot of nuance to the way they draw characters and shape the narrative, who don’t necessarily take you where you expect, who employ less artifice, who make films that are quieter, that use silence as a sound and are more naturalistic – Charles Burnett, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun​, Mike Leigh, to name just a few.

Thank you, Lisa for taking the time out to so candidly share with us.

One Love!!