Lisa Harewood, Cinema, and the Caribbean Experience

Lisa-Harewood-Portrait-210x210Ghazaleh Golbakhsh (Women of Cinematic Arts) interviews Lisa Harewood—a producer, writer and director in Barbados. [Also see previous post Lisa Harewood Chosen as One of the ReelWorld Emerging 20.]  As Golbakhsh explains, she was one of five filmmakers chosen from around the world to receive funding and support from the Commonwealth Foundation for her short film ‘Auntie’ and her production company, Gate House Media, is dedicated to creating “work that accurately reflects the Caribbean experience.” See Part One of Golbakhsh’s interview below:

We met at a Commonwealth Writer’s workshop in New Zealand where I remember you being shocked at a filmmaker talking about how the national film commission ‘only’ funds up to $90,000 for short film. In a place like Barbados, is there any kind of infrastructure to help filmmakers?

Yes, I remember that. I still haven’t recovered from the shock. I spent a few weeks looking at New Zealand’s Immigration rules! I had just made my short for USD$11,000 so I was thinking about how many shorts I could make if someone gave me that kind of money, but I’ve learned in talking to my colleagues in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the US, that no-one is ever satisfied with the available resources.

Over the years in Barbados, we have had a few funds of different kinds for arts in general and also one that was shared with sports, so you’re competing with a lot of other people for a small pot of money. You were also having your project judged by people who didn’t necessarily have specialist film experience or expertise, so there was also the challenge of educating the people who are judging your application about the industry and how it works. You really have to sort of just have to pull it together from lots of places. But film in Barbados is quite young. I don’t think 15 features have been made in our history as yet so infrastructure is being built. A Cultural Industries Bill was just passed after many, many years in development, which will set up a fund, but again, it’s not solely a film fund. We may also be getting our first Film Commissioner soon, so fingers crossed.

As a female filmmaker, have you found any difficulties in the industry in Barbados because of your gender? Are there many female directors and producers?

I feel lucky to be Barbadian because gender has never felt like any kind of deterrent. I was raised by my mum, aunt and grandmother and there are a lot of women in prominent positions in all kinds of sectors here so I have never felt like my aspirations would be limited by being female. I can think of another three or four female directors and while we don’t have a lot of producers, the other one I can think of is also a woman. I feel pretty confident in saying that we have equal access and that gender is not a factor.

What is the usual reception to films made outside of the mainstream filmmaking countries? What are the advantages?

The feeling I get is that people are pleasantly surprised by the quality of the storytelling even though we might be challenged in terms of reaching full production value. And the stories resonate. I think our films find a natural home amongst our very large Caribbean Diaspora in the UK, US and Canada. I saw some study that said two-thirds of Caribbean people live outside the region. They are always thrilled to get a glimpse of home. After screenings of our feature, A Hand Full of Dirt, which was written and directed by my friend Russell Watson, people would hold him hostage for hours, making comments and asking a bunch of questions. They’ve had to kick us out of a few venues. So that audience is super engaged. After that, we do find synergies with wider black audiences, African-American and African. Our movements, the cadence of our speech, it feels familiar.

When my short was screened in New Zealand, I got a lot of great feedback from the Pacific Islander community. The story of migration and split families was relevant. The setting might be a bit more exotic but at the end of the day, I am trying to tell stories that transcend nationality, colour or geography.

For original interview, see http://uscwca.org/the-wca-blog/13857051

For more information on “Auntie” see http://www.auntieshortfilm.com

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