Posted On April 4, 2016 By In Blog, CaFA, CaFA News, caribbean, caribbean film, Filmmaker Focus, Interviews And 1744 Views

CaFA Q+A with Sonja Dumas

Sonja - CaFA siteSonja Dumas
Filmmaker
“TICKLE ME RICH”
Trinidad + Tobago

Watch “TICKLE ME RICH” now!

“TICKLE ME RICH,” which was released last week on Studio Anansi Tv, tells the story of Lizzie, a bride-to-be, who just found out her fiancewas having an affair.  Her friends come to her support and together, they plot Lizzie’s revenge.  On the occasion of the film’s release, we interviewed Sonja about one of her creative loves – filmmaking.

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

SD:
This film is a humorous look at how one could react to infidelity. Lizzie has recently found out her beloved fiancé whom she was on the cusp of marrying has been cheating on her.  Her friends come to her rescue.


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

SD:
It most certainly did.  I had this vision of “talking bodies”; since I’m a choreographer, the moving, dancing body presents countless opportunities for great drama and communication. I aimed to frame the story around the movement of these bodies, without the animation of the face.


blog post picScene from “Tickle Me Rich”


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

SD:
Most of the pre-production process was actually a series of workshops with my dancers of Continuum Dance Project (my dance company in Trinidad and Tobago). I gave them the premise of the story and they sat on a bench in the dance studio, all lined up in a row in front of a mirror, and improvised the scenario through speech and gesture. With their help, I developed the script and the movement until I had a written screenplay.


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

SD:
The funding is always, always the problem. To date, I have been blessed with really professional, seasoned, invested people both in front of and behind the camera, so that is a very solid resource.  But I can never pay them their worth (if I can pay them anything at all). One day I hope to pay all the people on my production according to what they are truly worth.  Including me!


CaribbeanFilm:
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?

SD:
We shot “Tickle Me Rich” in one day. We only had enough funds to use the location for 12 consecutive hours (inclusive of set-up time and breaks). There was no money for an assistant director. Although I had one production assistant who was great, she couldn’t be in all places at once, so I ended up making runs for food (because, of course, there was no money for catering). To boot, the entire film was a single shot. That might sound easy but trust me when I say that it doesn’t get much more challenging than that.  But it was a lot of fun because we enjoyed each other’s company. The one thing I would definitely change is that I would get an assistant director and at least one other production assistant!


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

SD:
Life goes on after a broken heart; friends are always important; laughter is often the best way to emerge from the depths of sadness; Trinidadian women are exceptionally happy with their own brand of bombastic behaviour.


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

SD:
I was always interested in the moving image as a way to express myself even though my arts background is more rooted in the area of dance.  To me, film was another way of choreographing. In fact, I often say that I “choreograph” films. I began hosting a Trinidad and Tobago magazine show on television after attending a summer video production class at New York University after graduate school, and from there I began making short experimental dance films. I still have a keen interest in combining dance or movement with film. I’ve done several other experimental shorts and one documentary about two major dance figures in Trinidad and Tobago. My more recent works are in comedy and in children’s films – and they both use ensembles of dancers as the main actors.


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?

SD:
I love writing and directing. I’m accustomed wearing the creative cap as a choreographer, so directing a film, while substantially different from directing a dance, also has a lot of communalities, so it comes more naturally to me.  And I love to write – not only screenplays, but short stories, reflections and the occasional poem. Writing a short story is vastly different from writing a script, but it’s that challenge that I like.  I’m currently thinking about adapting one of my short stories for another short, experimental film. And my children’s film is an adaptation of a story that I wrote for my “Once Upon a Caribbean Time” CD many years ago, which is a series of Caribbean children’s stories.

I really don’t dislike any aspects of film; the problem comes when I have be almost all things to all people on a set – it’s just exhausting.  But at least I always have good technical people on set who are highly skilled, so I don’t usually worry about elements such as sound, lights and cinematography – especially since those are not my areas of expertise.


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)

SD:
What a dream question! That’s easy. I’m currently working on a screenplay called “The Tunapuna Angel Boyz” (previously called “Angels Live in Tunapuna”) about two seventy-something-year-old estranged buddies who die within minutes of each other and who meet again in Limbo.  The Heaven Officials inform them that they have to repair their fractured friendship before they’re allowed to enter Heaven.  I’m framing the story in the ribald rum shop humour of Trinidad and Tobago and setting it against some of our Carnival traditions. It’s very different from my usual fare, but that’s part of why I like it.

Currently, I would probably cast Lou Ferguson (who expressed interest in the film via another actor friend, Michael Rogers) and Gerry Bednob as the lead actors, with Romany Malco and Alfonso Ribeiro in two other pivotal roles (in order of appearance). I’m identifying mainly Caribbean-heritage actors since much of the parlance is so specifically Trinidadian.

MV5BOTI0ODA2NzY1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjEyNzQwMzE@._V1_UX214_CR0,0,214,317_AL_  gerry bednobromany malcoNew York premiere of 'After Earth' held at the Ziegfeld Theatre Featuring: Alfonso Ribeiro Where: New York City, NY, United States When: 29 May 2013 Credit: Dan Jackman/WENN.com


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?  Is there much of a difference between what’s happening in the French Caribbean as opposed to the English and Spanish Caribbean?

SD:
I think that the advent of more accessible technology and more institutional funding has helped filmmaking to grow in the English-speaking Caribbean.  Perhaps the French- and Spanish-speaking Caribbean had access to more funding before, but now there is more regional and intra-country dialogue. With various Caribbean economies aiming to be more diversified, and with so many stories to tell that have not yet been told (as cliché as it sounds, it is true), there is a creative energy for film in the region that did not exist fifteen years ago.  May it thrive!


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?

SD:
I think the Caribbean film aesthetic emerges from our thematic choices; for instance, I’ve noticed that the stories where we re-imagine of our folklore in contemporary circumstances or where we reference our festivals (like Trinidad and Tobago Carnival) tend to have a harsh, hyper-realism associated with them. We also have films like the very ambitious and provocative “God Loves the Fighter” which have their own special brand of bouncing rhythm, invoked by the “rapso” poetry and beat of the film’s narrator, and heightened by the high contrast colour of each scene. I think that our Caribbean environment, which is often awash with blazes of colour and layers of polyrhythm in our music, informs our aesthetics in a profound way.


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?

SD:
french_4p_black_orpheus_JC09780_L“Black Orpheus” – for me, this is a brilliant interpretation of a Greek myth using Black Brazilian carnival and religious culture. The imagery and the chemistry of the people on screen must have been groundbreaking in 1959, when it was released and is still stunning today;

la-et-artistintro-photo“The Artist” – the use of the silent film to format to make a contemporary film about the death of the silent film era is an engaging construct; in addition, the acting, editing and plot development using romance and drama were superb.

julie-dash-daughters-of-the-dust-hair_37“Daughters of the Dust” – I read this like a “choreo-poem” not just as a film; it is a movement-driven set of emotions layered on top of a compelling narrative. Embedding itself in little-known aspects of African-American and Native American culture, its story and its treatment draw the viewer into a fascinating world;

“Ran” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” are up there too.


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

SD:
It’s hard to choose – I like many.  I would have to say “The Harder They Come“, “The Man on the Shore“, “Bim“, and “Ava and Gabriel” and “Sugar Cane Alley”. I can’t decide which is my favourite, but what they all share is a distinctively Caribbean ethos – something that one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.  They are Caribbean classics for a reason – they resonate with Caribbean history and consciousness through their characters and situations in a way that is accessible to all Caribbean people regardless of race, class or colour.  By extension, non-Caribbean people get a true sense of some of our struggles. They universality is the key.


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

SD:
I like a lot of what I see Storm Saulter, from Jamaica doing, as well as Christopher Guinness, of Trinidad and Tobago. Again, their work seeks to develop a Caribbean-driven visual and situational consciousness rather than trying to imitate what we see from outside of region.  That said, outside of the Caribbean, I am drawn to some of the shot choices of Akira Kurosawa – they are epic, graphic and emotional.


We hope you enjoyed reading the interview as much as we enjoyed sharing it. Visit Studio Anansi Tv, to watch this and other great Caribbean films.

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