Posted On June 8, 2016 By In Blog, CaFA News, caribbean, caribbean film, Interviews And 1352 Views

CaFA Q+A with Mariel Brown

This June, Mariel’s short film, Smallman: The World My Father Made, was released on Studio Anansi Tv.  In connection with the release, we talked with Mariel about the making of the film and her thoughts on Caribbean filmmaking in general.  Mariel is currently working on finishing her latest project, a full-length documentary on her own father’s work, “Unfinished Sentences.”

mariel-brownMariel Brown
Filmmaker
“SMALLMAN: THE WORLD MY FATHER MADE”
Trinidad & Tobago

Watch “SMALLMAN: THE WORLD MY FATHER MADE” now!

SYNOPSIS:  John Ambrose Kenwyn Rawlins was an ordinary man of modest means. He was a great father, grandfather and husband; an obedient public servant. Yet the most vivid part of his life was lived in was a small workshop beneath his house. In there, at the end of his workday, he made things. From simple push toys to elaborate 1/16th scale waterline battle ship models and dockyards, miniature furniture and dolls houses, he painstakingly constructed everything from scratch, sometimes spending upwards of a year on a single model. Smallman is an exploration of the worlds both real and imagined that Kenwyn Rawlins made, as told by his son Richard.

 

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

MB:
When my now-husband, Richard, and I were first seeing each other, he shared with me an e-book he had produced about his father, ‘Small Man: The World My Father Made’.  I was completely stunned by Kenwyn’s toys and models, and I wanted to learn more about him as a person (he died three years before Richard and I met).  So, over time, I convinced Richard to let me start filming in his Dad’s workshop, and I referenced Richard’s e-book, as well as my many conversations with him, when writing the script.  I believe the made object, or the written word or the piece of music are all things with the potential to transcend time and space and connect generations.  It is this and the more poignant idea of failed dreams not defeating the human spirit, which are at the heart of Smallman.


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

MB:
Yes, I had quite a clear vision for the film from the get-go, and it is what I had hoped it would be.  That being said, I could not have predicted the kind of lovely passage through the world it’s been having.  Smallman is my little engine that could.

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

MB:
I had been quite mesmerised by two films produced by Ray and Charles Eames – one about spinning tops and one about toy trains called “Toccata for toy trains”.  I watched them over and over and started to consider the way in which the objects we make might be seen as representations of ourselves and ways for others to gain an understanding of who we are.


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

MB:
We spent a lot of time filming in Kenwyn’s workshop. Because of the nature of the pieces and how I wanted them presented, we closed the windows, blocked out all natural light and lit everything with tungsten. It made the filming process airless and hot! I was also shocked by how long we ended up filming for. In my mind I had an idea that a short film meant a couple of days of shooting. Not so! We filmed for something like 14 days over a period of a year.


CaribbeanFilm:
Describe some your best experiences while making the film.

MB:
I really enjoyed putting on our macro lens and really peering into Kenwyn’s miniature worlds. In some cases, there were details included in, say, the doll’s house, that could only be seen with a magnifying glass and I was incredibly impressed with his sheer determination to create a complete world, regardless of who would or would not see it.

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

MB:
Smallman, is a simple story about the love of a son for his father, and the way life can surprise you sometimes. I suppose I just hope to remind audiences to be open to the surprises life can offer up and not get wedded to one idea of the way things should be.


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?

MB:
I like almost all of the filmmaking process – perhaps that’s why I chose to become a director, because it’s a role that legitimately encompasses almost all the elements of the process.  And I appreciate being able to take a project from the nascent stages of concept, right through to actualising a completed film.  I enjoy the solitary pursuit of writing, and the collaborative effort of production – in particular working with other creative people who are committed to helping you realise your vision.  My least favourite part of the process is fundraising.  It’s hard and exhausting, and absolutely necessary.

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CaribbeanFilm:
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)

MB:
I actually think films with endless budgets can suffer terribly from having no limitations placed on them. Constraints require creativity and discipline, both of which are essential in creating something that will reach audiences. In my dream film, I’d have a proper budget of a few hundred thousand US dollars and a strong team of advisors to help me get it out into the world. Oh, and it would probably be a documentary rather than a narrative film!


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? To your knowledge, is there much of a difference between what’s happening in the French Caribbean as opposed to the English and Spanish Caribbean?

MB:
This is a very exciting time to be a filmmaker in the Caribbean. With the advent of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, combined with social media, we’re going through an incredibly fecund period in the region. While more films by Caribbean directors are being made now than likely at any other time, we need to work harder to develop stronger scripts and stories, a greater spirit of collaboration, and a cadre of critics who can provide critical responses to work we’re making. We also need to spend a lot more time studying the business of filmmaking and working on marketing and distribution of our work.

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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?

MB:
I can’t yet see a unifying aesthetic coming out of the Caribbean.


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?

MB:
Favourite documentaries: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, When We Were Kings, Elena, The Fog of War, Tarnation, Stories We Tell
Favourite narratives: Apocalypse Now, 12 Years a Slave, Hunger, Dogville, Revolution Road, Kramer vs Kramer, I Am love.


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

MB:
This is a difficult question to answer. I will speak specifically to the films of the English-speaking Caribbean. I am looking for a very particular type of experience when I am watching a Caribbean film, in that it must reveal to me the complexities and nuances of the human condition in a way that is compelling. Films that follow stereotypical tropes don’t interest me. The feature-length narrative films that come closest to the experience I want to have are “Rain,” by Maria Govan, and “Children of God” by Kareem Mortimer. In terms of narrative shorts, I very much admire the work of Lisa Harewood and Juliette McCawley. I think the best documentary I have seen is Miquel Galofre’s, “Songs of Redemption” – it’s a beautifully constructed film which tells the story of a group of Jamaican prison inmates without judgement and with a kind of gentleness that allows the film’s subjects to hold on to their dignity even while they acknowledge the awful crimes they committed.


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

MB:
I have been looking very closely at the work of a young Brazilian filmmaker, Petra Costa. Her two most recent films, ‘Olmo and the Seagull’ and ‘Elena’ were both revelations to me in that they were intimate and layered explorations of the lives of women.

One Response

  1. Pingback: Mariel Brown interviewed by CAFA | SAVANT Ltd

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