Russell WatsonRussell Watson
Filmmaker
Barbados
Studio Anansi Profile
Watch “A Hand Full of Dirt

A HAND FULL OF DIRT,” a feature length film by Barbadian filmmaker, Russell Watson, was recently launched on Studio Anansi Tv, today. The film premiered at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival in Barbados, 2011.  It was the winner of the Winner – Reelchoice Audience Award at the Reelworld Film Festival 2011, Toronto, and was nominated for Best First Feature Narrative Director at the Pan African Film Festival 2011, Los Angeles.  We asked Russell to share with us some of his experiences making the film and his thoughts on filmmaking in the Caribbean, and this very intense and enlightening exchange ensued.


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

RW:
I have always felt the story to be an allegory of Caribbean independence, in the sense that independence ideologies were largely about self-sufficiency, autonomy, self reliance, etc.   But that has all dissolved now, and what we are left with are successive Caribbean governments who in their desperation, are totally invested in individual/personal benefit. The life of the family around which the story is centered goes through the same evolution.

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

RW:
Filmmaking is difficult in every aspect and at every stage of a project’s development, but I think that the writing stage is the most arduous.  Most of the time it is an extremely insular experience and there is less control over the elements you are working with.  You can tell a cinematographer to allow for more shadows or to change a focal length, but characters in your head will go their own way.  They seldom adhere to sound narrative structure and forcing them into this mode always feels like you are diminishing their power.  Writing is a long process and is very emotional. It can bring great levity and luminous insight but it can also break your heart.

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

RW:
Although I function in many areas of the process, I am a director at heart. Dealing with actors, story and emotional rhythm are the most natural for me.  It was the thing that attracted me to story telling when I was starting this journey and is the thing that drives most of my creative impulses to this day.

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)

RW:
There are so many adaptations I would love to do for the screen– “Branch of the Blue Nile,” “Six in the Rain,” and “Last Carnival,” by Walcott; “Your Handsome Captain,” by Schwarz-Bart; “I Marcus Garvey,” by White; “Children of the Sea,” by Danticat; “Let Them Call It Jazz,” by Rhys … I could go on forever.  But recently, I have been very curious about the period considered as the era of the Radical Caribbean.  Those decades marked the transition from colonial Caribbean to independent Caribbean, from colonial to socialist.  This was a period of such inspired ideas, action and people.  It saw the collapse of Federation and the formation of Caricom, the rise and fall of figures like Burnham, Carter, Rodney, Bishop. Successions of Adams, Birds and Duvaliers. It was a very heady and heavy time for us and an exploration of this period – these transitions and losses would allow me/us to understand why it all failed.

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

RW:
I think the most important thing I want the audience to take away for the picture is, we are not in control. We are caught in a cycle, which we do not govern.  We are not in control of our economies and therefore, not in control of our societies, in spite of the preponderance of national anthems, flags, flowers, etc. There is so much left to be done in this Region.

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

RW:
I started off in sculpture and theatre and was moving towards design, costume and spectacle.  While at Drama School in Jamaica, I became more aware of modern Caribbean history and thereby more invested in our literary tradition.  This led to my own writing and a deeper interest in directing.  After Jamaica I went to an art school in the US,to explore performance art, as I had become disenchanted with linear story telling.  I moved towards camera based work largely as an adventure not so much a career choice.  One thing led to another and here I am.  Still, I seldom call my self a filmmaker but more often call myself an artist (this is what is on my passport).

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?

RW:
There are so many creative trajectories and networks evolving in camera arts in the Caribbean right now that I am reluctant to impose any singular perspective on what it is.

What I will say is this – we should look at it through the same lens we look at our other cultural platforms and not be mystified by its seeming novelty.  The Mac Book Pro is the Underwood Universal Portable. Davinci Resolve is Windsor Newton.  The conversation, conflicts, cooperatives and constructs that are working in Caribbean cinema now are the same that Caribbean writers, painters and theatre practitioners were dealing with a half century ago when those art forms were seen as the zeitgeist of cultural liberation.  There is nothing really new here and that is ok.

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?

RW:
I am interested in this question only as an ongoing evaluation considered in concert with other theories of Caribbean aesthetics.   The writers, painters, and sculptors especially have been working this out for some time and we would do well to see our art form as part of that work.  If we were to consider the specificity of cinema in Caribbean art and aesthetics I would say it is too soon to weigh it down with such restriction. We are way to young a practice to start seeking and adhering to such conclusive diatribes.

CineCaribés:
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?

RW:
I get this question a lot but I don’t have a favorite.  I can list a few that I really like such as “Killer of Sheep,” “Daughters of the Dust,” “The Life Aquatic,” “Downfall,” “Lumumba,” “Touki Bouki,” “Dead Calm,” “Crooklyn,” “Children of Men,” “Dark City,” “Fire in Babylon,” “Otomo” …

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

RW:
Once again, so many, but I really loved “Doubles with Slight Pepper,” by Ian Harnarine.  A very honest and beautiful short film with a lot of heart.

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

RW:
Once again, so many, but to name a few, I really like Wes Andersons’ work-  an unwavering commitment to such a simple visual aesthetic.  I also like John Akomfrah, who I discovered in school and whose recent piece “Vertigo Sea,” had a very intense effect on me. Chris Marker, Julie Dash, Martin Scorsese, Gordon Parks, Terry Gilliam, Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima …

CineCaribés:
What is next for you?

RW:
The Light Bill.

CineCaribés: lol!  Thank you, Russell.  This was actually a great learning experience for us, and a great example of why we do this work.  Thank you for putting filmmaking in the Caribbean in the proper context, as it relates to the other art forms long existing in the Caribbean – writing, sculpting, theater – this will definitely impact how we conduct these interviews.  You are also among a growing number of “filmmakers” we meet, who do not necessarily call themselves filmmakers, but artists, using film as their current medium of expression, for the particular experience they’re exploring at the moment.  Again, something to be sensitive to when speaking with creatives.  Thanks, and I hope to be able to sit and vibe one day.

One Love!!