We sat down with filmmaker, Shari Petti, to discuss her recent Studio Anansi Tv release, Sorf Hair, a film that explores the natural hair experience in Trinidad & Tobago as people from all walks of life and with different hair textures reveal their stories and challenges.
Watch Sorf Hair now and check out our talk below:
caribbeanfilm: In your own words, tell us what this film is about and why you chose to tell this story.
sp: Sorf hair explores the natural hair experience in Trinidad and Tobago via intimate first hand accounts from people who’ve experienced natural hair discrimination. I chose to tell this story because growing up I was always insecure about my hair and was often bullied because of its texture, often from people who had my same hair texture. I found this was a prevalent issue in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean. So I pretty much used the film as a sort of healing proccess for myself, and also to bring awareness to how ridiculous it is to judge someone based on how their hair naturally grows out of their scalp.
caribbeanfilm: Did the film turn out the way you envisioned? If yes, in what ways. If no, why not?
sp: The film surpassed my expectations. I had a plan, I knew what I wanted it to look like, it looked better than I thought I was capable of creating, and it also was received in a way I didn’t plan or expect. I was really grateful for a successful festival run, and that so many people connected with it. I planned to speak in the documentary and appear on screen much more than I did, but the participants said everything I wanted to say anyway so I cut myself out.
caribbeanfilm: How did you go about casting the film? Can you give us some background on the main participants in the doc?
sp: The sole male in the film actually reached out to me and told me about his girlfriend who broke up with him because her father did not like his hair, and told me I should explore that topic in a documentary, not knowing I was already in the process of doing a documentary like that, so he was my first participant. The other participants kind of fell into place really organically, through conversations with them we’d end up on the topic of natural hair (and I did some probing too when speaking to people), and I found their stories to be interesting and invited them for interviews (this was pretty much how I secured interviews with Athalia and Shinelle who appear in the documentary). I also asked some people who they thought would be fit to speak on a topic like natural hair in Trinidad and Tobago, and someone mentioned Attillah Springer, who I did not know at the time, and Shanice Smith who was doing a project for school on the same topic. I happened to meet Attillah at a meeting about a week after hearing about her, and I approached her and asked her if she would like to be interviewed and she agreed.
caribbeanfilm: What was the most challenging aspect of making the film and why was that so?
sp: The most challenging aspect for me at the time was transport. I made the film with basically no money (just about TT300-500), and out of that money my mentor who also ended up being an associate producer on the film, Leslie Ann Caton, sponsored money for transport on some days, and I pretty much used the rest of the money to buy water and snacks for my very small crew of classmates and friends. Other friends offered to transport me on some days as well.
caribbeanfilm: What do you want the audience to take away from the film?
sp: I want people to appreciate the beauty and versatility of kinky and curly hair, and I also want those who don’t see value in natural hair to learn about what causes them to think that way, and hopefully have a change in mindset,
caribbeanfilm: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a filmmaker.
sp: I was an actor before getting into filmmaking, mainly acting on stage with DMAD Company, Trinidad Theatre Workshop and in commercials. It was while being an extra on a set I asked a crew member if I could volunteer my services. Since then, and I’ve been working on different productions, and doing my own. Working in the field, I gained a lot of hands-on experience so I decided to pursue the academic knowledge, and gained a BA in Film Production and Film Studies.
caribbeanfilm: 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?
sp: I would choose cinematography, because it feels like second nature to me, I enjoy capturing images and finding creative ways to make mundane things look beautiful. It never feels like a task (unless I reallyyyy don’t like the project, and I rarely ever take on projects I don’t care about). I hate editing the most, it takes up way too much time, and I also hate sitting still for too long, I need to be active.
caribbeanfilm: 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?
sp: I think currently, a lot more can be done for less. Cameras are cheaper, editing software is more easily accessible, social media is a free and easy marketing tool. People can make entire films on their phones now. I hope with these new developments, people become more resourceful, and hungry to make work so that we can have more content coming out of the region.
caribbeanfilm: 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?
sp: I love that we’re getting to see more work from the region of very high quality, from some insanely talented directors, actors producers etc. I can be wrong, but it’s too early for me to tell what the current “Caribbean Film Aesthetic” is. I think more work needs to be produced in order for me to make a more informed opinion.
caribbeanfilm: 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?
sp: My favourite film for sure is Sugarcane Alley by Euzhan Palcy. I think that film was absolutely phenomenal, well written, well directed, the acting was convincing, you can tell a lot of thought and research went into the creation of the film and representing a time in Caribbean history most people have not seen on screen before. Even though it was set in Martinique, I think most Caribbean people are able to connect to it. It’s not only my favourite film, but also in my opinion one of the best Caribbean films ever made.
sp: There isn’t one particular director I admire, but I do love Ava DuVernay and Issa Rae. I’ve been obsessed with Issa since I was 14 or 15 years old watching her content on Youtube. I love that she makes really relatable content about black people and our experiences.
caribbeanfilm: Please share with us some of the work you’ve done since making the film, and what is up next for you.
sp: Since making the film, I’ve travelled to Sharjah UAE, where I shot Chris Cozier’s installation, along with Maya Cozier, for this year’s Sharjah Biennial. I was recently the youth delegate for Trinidad and Tobago at the International Youth Forum on Creativity and Heritage in China. I’ve been doing come cool creative work with The Lost Tribe, it’s always a pleasure collaborating with them and having creative freedom to make magic with them. I’ve also been collaborating with organisations in St. Lucia, Martinique and Antigua on some really cool projects. In terms of my personal work, I don’t usually reveal what I’m working on before it’s done, but I will say I’ve been doing lots of writing and shooting & ground work for some really exciting projects, so I’m looking forward to bringing my ideas to life.
Shari Petti is a 22yr old Film student at the University of the West Indies Trinidad. She has worked as an actress, production assistant and camera assistant on numerous film productions in her country. She directs, shoots and edits the Youtube Docu-series “Small Lime” which features young Caribbean natives as they explore social issues affecting their society. Her film Sorf Hair, which explores the natural hair experience in Trinidad and Tobago, has screened at several film festivals including the Caribbean Tales International Film Festival in Canada, The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, the Barbados Independent Film Festival and is carded to screen at the Nouveaux Regards Film Festival in Guadeloupe and the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.