Posted On August 3, 2015 By In Blog, CaFA, CaFA News, caribbean, caribbean film, Filmmaker Focus And 1877 Views

CaFA Q+A with Emilie Upczak

writer-director-producer-photo_knockabout-ERU-1024x768Emilie Upczak
Filmmaker
US/Trinidad & Tobago
Studio Anansi Profile
Watch “Knockabout

Emilie has made several experimental films, Knockabout is her first narrative film.  Described as a Trinidad-style neo noir film, Knockabout premiered at the 2013 Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival.

CineCaribés:
In your own words, tell us what this film is about and why you chose to tell this story.
EU:
On the surface, knockabout, is about a time in T&T when kidnappings were an everyday happening. But really the film reflects a moment – the actors are all people I know, many of the scenes were shot in my house, I drove that 1980 Ford Cortina for many years (without air conditioning or seat belts) and my dog is featured in one scene. I see it as a historical document, a story with some structure, but more vignettes, a cut out of an idea.

CineCaribés:
Did the film turn out the way you envisioned?  If yes, in what ways.  If no, why not?
EU:
In making knockabout, I wanted to free myself up from the idea my films reflect my identity. Most of my previous work was ethnographic and focused on how the body informs culture. With this film I wanted to have fun and learn the narrative form.

CineCaribés:
What was the most challenging aspect of making the film and why was that so?
EU:
The post production process was difficult because I hadn’t work out all of the story structure issues in the script and I had no experience directing actors. I have a performance art and theory background, and I used all non-actors, so I thought we could improvise, but I have since learned it is important to cast non-actors that match the attitude of the character, so that they can more or less play themselves.

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?
EU:
I like directing. There is something about directing which demands presence and you really feel in the moment when you are shooting a film. Directing also cultivates instinct and you begin to know if a scene is coming together through a feeling you have about it. Film is so collaborative that every aspect needs to work in each scene to make the movie gel. I suppose directing is about empowering each player to bring themselves into that moment so together you can make a film.

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)
EU:
I like having the confines of a budget and I think low budget filmmaking has a lot to offer. Of course, without the confines of a budget, I would still make the next film I am in pre-production on, a story about a Chinese woman who is smuggled into Trinidad – and if I had the money, I would probably cast Wei Tang, from Lust Caution.

wei tanWei Tang

CineCaribés:
What do you want the audience to take away from this film?
EU:
Maybe a memory of a moment from a scene.

CineCaribés:
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a filmmaker.
EU:
I began making films when I moved to Trinidad from Colorado. My BA is in comparative religious studies and I was attending Orisha feasts, when one of the lead drummers asked me to come film the rituals. That was the beginning for me.

CineCaribés:
Currently, there is a sort of awakening in the Caribbean to filmmaking as a form of artistic expression … 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?
EU:
There does seem to be a Caribbean film movement and there are shared qualities amongst all the language groups in the Caribbean. However, independent films from Cuba for example differ from films supported by ICAIC in Cuba so it depends on where the money is coming from, how free the creatives are to express themselves, the motivation and experience of the filmmaker and the story that the writer and director want to tell.

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?
EU:
I think a Caribbean film aesthetic may be emerging, but I don’t know I could identify what it is. Much like the beginning of the South African film industry, many of the films made in the Caribbean are dealing with social issues, there are a lot less comedies and romantic dramas being made for example. I do see a lot of films that mimic other voices from the global south, including influences of films and filmmakers from Africa, Latin America and India, which I think is a good thing.

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?
EU:
Its really hard for me to name my favourite film. My paying job is working at a festival and I am a cinephile as well so I watch hundreds of films every year. Three films I have watched recently 1. classic – 400 Blows (Truffaut) , 2. at Sundance – Slow West (MacLean) 3. foreign – Le Promesse (Dardenne Brothers).

the-400-blows     la promesse     slow west

         The 400 Blows                              La Promesse                                     Slow West

CineCaribés:
What is your fav Caribbean film? What did you enjoy about it the most?
EU:
Eat for this is My Body” directed by Michaelange Quay. The director’s vision resonates with me, particularly his experimental aesthetic where he tackles post colonialism in Haiti through a lens that is emotive and abstract, which leaves the viewer on his/her own to piece together the meaning.

eat-for-this-is-my-body

 

CineCaribés:
Is there a particular director’s work you admire? If so, who is that and what is it about their work you admire?
EU:
Claire Denis is one of my favourite director’s right now. She is brave, provocative and her voice is clear. I particularly admire White Material, 35 Shots of Rum and Bastards.

white_material01  A scene from Claire Denis' 35 SHOTS OF RUM, playing at the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 23 - May 7, 2009.  Bastards-2013-2
        White Material                        35 Shots of Rum                            Bastards

Thank you, Emilie for taking the time out to share with us.

One Love!!

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