Filmmakers Immersion participant Ryan Khan addresses the audience at recent filmmakers meetings.

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Filmmakers Immersion

Topics ranging from Alzheimer’s to genetically modified genocide will take centre stage this year as regional storytellers gather to discuss their films during the RBC Focus: Filmmakers Immersion programme.

Anna-Maria Kurbanali, RBC spokesperson for brand management, said the programme — which is now in its third year — is a collaborative effort with the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (ttff) and allows for the intensive development of ten emerging filmmakers from the Caribbean and its diaspora. The participants were selected by ttff based on their concept for a feature-length film, from which they are expected to develop a detailed treatment. 

This year the spotlight is on narrative filmmaking and according to several of the participants it’s more than just a chance to win $20,000.

“This is a really great opportunity being given by RBC,” says Ryan Khan. “We are getting a chance to work with world renowned Argentinian filmmaker Julia Solomonoff who is probably best known for her film The Last Summer of la Boyita, but just being around other filmmakers and bouncing ideas off of them is something to treasure.”

Khan, who resides in Trinidad and Tobago, pitched the idea of a comedic twist on the Zombie genre called TRINI 2 DE BONEZ. 

“All I did was say the name aloud and think: ‘I’m going to need a fireplace so I can have a mantle for my shiny new Oscar’. It amazes me that no one else in the English-speaking Caribbean is doing this (pirating off American-Zombie films), seeing as the whole genre wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for our Caribbean brethren Haiti. We got reversed pirated. So now I’m jumping on board the Zombie bandwagon with Brad Pitt and the rest of Hollywood,” he said.

Focusing on a more serious topic is Gabrielle Blackwood of Jamaica whose feature indirectly addresses genetically modified genocide through a Caribbean perspective. It documents the paths crossed by a struggling farmer, his daughter, a village villain, an ambitious foreign businessman and a disillusioned financial reporter. For most of the story the scene is set against the backdrop of a rural farming community in Jamaica and highlights imbalanced trade relations and exploitation between the Caribbean and North America.

“The complete idea came when I read an online health magazine article issuing warnings on the effects of genetically modified foods. I did further research on the topic and found out about what’s been termed the ‘GM Genocide’. In addition to which I’ve always wanted to shoot a story on a farm,” she said.

Blackwood, who studied film at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, says she plans to play around with as much natural lighting as she can for the village scenes similar to something five time Academy Award nominated Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki would do. 

“Normally I would have shot the portion of the story that takes place in Jamaica, as gritty specifically because of the nature of the events that take place and the types of conflicts involved; in which case I‘d go handheld for the personal moments. However I want to capture the quaintness of the untouched land, farm and people and juxtapose that with the hustle bustle of overseas; so I’d shoot wide and panoramic. In part I want to emphasise the invasion of space when the two worlds collide,” she said.

Barbadian filmmaker Shakirah Bourne, who pitched an idea for an action-drama called One Way Ticket which exposes the lengths six people would go for love, revenge and survival, says she came up with the idea while waiting to purchase biscuits at the supermarket.  

“Currently I’m working on marketing and distribution for my first feature film, PAYDAY, which premiered in Barbados on September 4. It is also a part of the ttff programme this year, and is a comedy written by me and directed by Selwyne Browne. But I’m hoping that production for One Way Ticket can start next year,” she added.

A writer by profession, Bourne is in love with the techniques used by directors like Paul Haggis in the movie Crash and Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction, and says she would love to shoot her film the same way but is keeping an open mind.

“I might have an idea as to what I want to see but with so many other talented filmmakers scheduled to be at the Immersion programme I am sure to learn a lot…after all, I have only been a filmmaker for five months,” she said.

At the end of RBC Focus five participants, as decided by Solomonoff, will be chosen to pitch their project to a jury at a public event on September 28. The participant with the best project and pitch, as determined by the jury, wins.

Nneka Luke, external relations director at ttff said all the participants selected have shown an ability to craft compelling, character-driven stories that touch on themes relevant to contemporary Caribbean society. 

“These stories are as diverse in content and genre as the participants themselves—projects range from drama to comedy to even horror. The TT$20,000 cash award at the end of Focus—which is what the value of the award has been since the inception of the initiative in 2011—is merely one element of what winning Focus could potentially mean for a filmmaker and his or her project,” she said. 

Luke recalled last year’s winner, Michelle Serieux of Jamaica, who went on after Focus to be awarded a significant grant from the prestigious Tribeca Film Institute in New York to work on her film and says that would not have happened were it not for the visibility the project gained from first winning the immersion.

“Every year we are encouraged by the number of applications and the creativity of the selected participating filmmakers,” said Kurbanali. “The Immersion itself has become a significant offering in the development of the Caribbean film industry and RBC is pleased to be able to continue to support the emerging filmmakers in the region.”

Kurbanali added that RBC’s belief in the power of the arts to enrich lives and enhance our communities is what motivates them to support ventures like this. 

“We are committed to the development of emerging talent in the markets in which we serve and so we want to create opportunities and enhance prospects that can take their careers to the next level,” she said.

Focus takes place from September 24–27. The ttff, now in its eighth year, runs from September 17–October 1. 

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