By Diane De La Haye
In an industry dominated by men, I was thrilled and impressed to learn that Jamaican filmmaker Mary Wells had written, produced and directed her own movie, Kingston Paradise.
Curiosity piqued, I sought her out while she was in Toronto attending the CaribbeanTales Film Festival to learn more about her vision and process.
Who and/or what inspired you to pursue a career in film?
I was always aritstic, my mother is an artist and both parents were extremely supportive. I was destined. Plus, film is the most powerful medium ever and i saw it as a medium for change and it encompassed different areas I excelled in: Photography, Writing/Storytelling and Theatre. Three lethal areas that can transcend our worlds, that can uplift and inspire, that means so much to all of us. Human beings cannot survive without telling stories and all of our stories are visual, first. So here i am.
As a woman, did you overcome any bias/were you treated differently by the industry?
Yes, there are inequalities but this is changing now. There are alot of very powerful women in the indsutry especially in the Caribbean…. so it will all be balanced out. ‘Women run tings.’ Most of all, women have very distirnctive voices and bring great humanity to the medium. It is true that few people ‘rally around a creative woman’, over creative men, but we in the Caribbean have a great advantage. There are powerful women in both the Government and in the Corportate world, so basically, its not a big issue.
Compare your experience getting ahead in Jamaica versus finding success abroad.
I have had a lot of support and success in Jamaica as well as abroad in America. In the Caribbean its (maybe) more possible to start and get the ‘hands-on,’ but our region is small and we have to get mentors and not be afraid to get our hands wet and be vulnerable. I had the experience to work on quite a few movie shoots that were shot in Jamaica. Often Hollywood films using Jamaica as partly a back drop. So that, coupled with working with the a Government Production House to do educational films, gave me much great experience. If I had remained abroad, I would have done the same thing, but I guess, I would have been more job oriented and had to survive the 9-5 regime. While in Jamaica, I’ve mostly freelanced and comparing it, it’s much rougher, but there are minus and plus’ everywhere you go.
For “Kingston Paradise,” explain your decision to write about poverty and crime, rather than exploring other Jamaican subject matters
I am committed to social justice and I think it is important to show the lives of real people in Jamaica, not in asensational way but in a nuanced and sensituve way. I feel that this is my positive contribution to the world and to understanding myself and country. Jamaica has that tradition from Perry Henzel to Bob Marley. There is that commitment to alleviating poverty and the voices of those who do not have a voice, because we have a vast sea of very poor, ordinary working people who have the most amazing stories to tell. Often these are the real and true stories of a people…the everyday, ordinary ones. You live in that type of society and the minute you open your house doors you’re confronted with poverty all the time. So as an artist, I think we must find ways to respond to it. A lot of the ‘bread & butter’ video production work that I’ve done in the past in Jamaica, has allowed me to work with many inner-city youth and discover the most amazing talent and stories.
Describe the process (ease/difficulty) of raising funds while still maintaining full creative control as writer, producer and director?
I really feel blessed by all the support, financial and in kind, that I have received from everyone. especially CPTC (a Government Production House, The Creative Production Training Centre Ltd). They gave ‘in-kind’ with their equipment and crew and we also got small funding from a Dutch entity called Caribbean Creativity and a local cultural fund in Jamaica called, the CHASE fund, Jamaica. (Culture Health Arts Sport & Education Fund). These people helped me to shoot the film. The post-production, I got the full support of CaribbeanTales. Frances-anne is both an Executive Producer and Producer of the film. With her advice, guidance and help, I was able to come this far with it. It has been quite a journey and an incredible experience. I’m still fundraising to be able to master the film in other formats and seeking funds for marketing etc… so, the journey continues and its truly exciting!
Kingston Paradise tells the frantic survival story of small time hustler Rocksy (a taxi driver/ part-time pimp), and his roomie, Rosie ( a prostitute). They dream of something different, another life with a future. On the peeling walls of their tenement, Rosie prominently places a painting she owns that gives them both hope and something tangible to cling to. It’s an exotic beach view of another more peaceful world, but they exist miles apart. So with his friend and cohort Malt, Rocksy eyes a fancy sports car nearby and together they devise a plot to steal it to sell for parts, figuring the money could change their lives immediately. Not only is their plot risky and not well developed, Rosie is dead set against it and wants out of this entangled life. Her departure leaves Rocksy more desperate and devastated and he does the unthinkable.
Bravo Mary. Best wishes and continued success as you puruse the dream.
You can support Jamaican cinema and women in film by attending the World Premiere of Kingston Paradise on Friday Sept 13 at the Harbourfront Centre. Check HERE for details and ticket information.