Karen Martinez talks about ‘After Mas’

After Mas will be screened at the Voodoo Rooms at 7pm on 8th June.

After Mas

After Mas is a romance set during a carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, Could you tell us a little about filming the opening sequence – a colourful evocation of the carnival night – and any special challenges that presented?

The opening scene of After Mas is set during the pre-dawn festival of J’ouvert that marks the official start of Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago (the word J’ouvert comes from the French ‘jour ouvert’ meaning day break). Thousands of revellers dance on the streets covered in mud and paint, disguised as devils and other traditional characters. This is the wild and dirty part of carnival that has an edgy, electric charge. It is a world away from the glittery ‘pretty’ carnival images that people might be used to seeing from the daytime Mas (masquerade).
Because of the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of J’ouvert I initially thought I would film the opening scene as a reconstruction with a 100 or so extras and shoot it quite tight. However, slowly I came to realise that I had to shoot the whole scene during the actual festival, documentary style. People thought this was a bit crazy and it was – we couldn’t cue the actors properly, walkie-talkies were useless, the mega sound systems on the back of trucks drowned out any communication, the main camera was on the tray of a pickup truck that was serving drinks and there was ice water swilling around our feet. As well, I wanted to film everything at night, so the action had to be shot in the space of an hour and a half before the light came up. So yes it was very challenging and there was stuff that I wanted to film but didn’t get, but I know I made the right decision because what I did get was magic and I think it captured the raw spontaneous energy of the night.

The film depicts two very different Caribbean lifestyles, can you tell us more about how the film depicts life in Trinidad and Tobago?

I wanted to explore a love story that is very real for Trinidad & Tobago but could be equally relevant to other societies: what happens when people drawn together in a levelling experience like Carnival, where they are ‘blind’ to their differences, meet outside of that situation? Will they buckle to peer pressure and stay within their boxes, or be brave enough to shake off societal constraints.
In Trinidad & Tobago I feel there are still issues of race and class that constrict people, issues that we may not be that comfortable discussing, and I liked the idea of bringing these to the fore through a romance that people could believe in and root for while at the same time questioning their positions or those of the characters.

AfterMas1

How has the film been received locally and internationally and what are your hopes and ambitions for the film?

After Mas has been very well received in the Caribbean and abroad. It premiered at the Trinidad & Tobago film Festival to full cinemas and really lively discussions after the screenings (that carried on in the bar afterwards). It was also awarded the jury prize for best local short and that was a great bonus. It has since been screened at the London Short Film Festival, ReelWorld in Toronto, FEMI in Guadeloupe, and a number of smaller public screenings. There are a few more festival screenings on the way… including Edinburgh Short Film Festival of course!
After Mas is my first short drama (having previously made documentaries) and it was a hugely exciting experience. I’m really happy with what the film has done so far, I want it to be seen by a wide variety of people and communities, the same as all filmmakers want I imagine. But something else that After Mas has done is make me realise I want to do more narrative fiction both short and long form – I love the process. Actually, I’ve recently written the treatment for a feature film and it was selected for a pitch panel. Now I’ve got to write the script!

What is particularly different about film-making in the Caribbean?

Well, making films in the Caribbean, I guess you have to take into account that the days are short (gets dark by 6pm); if you want to film outdoors then you have to shoot during the dry season (January – May) etc… but in terms of and profound differences of filmmaking in the Caribbean I don’t really know. People from different places tell the stories that are relevant to them and draw on the characters, language and landscapes they have a connection with. So films from the Caribbean will probably have a Caribbean feel.
There is a vibrant and growing community of filmmakers throughout the Caribbean who are being brought together to see and discuss each other’s work and are making connections outside the region via things like the film festival in Trinidad & Tobago that attracts and international audience. It feels very dynamic. Also, Caribbean people have travelled far and wide and the diaspora is particularly well represented in the UK, Canada and USA. So there are a lot diaspora filmmakers in the cities of New York, London and Toronto, for example, and they are telling stories from these places too.

How much co-operation do you get from the local authorities?

The Trinidad & Tobago Film Company were responsible for getting After Mas off the ground – they gave me a grant to produce the film that amounted to over half of the budget. The other co-production partner was the Print Room in Notting Hill, London. In fact (partly due to the success of After Mas) I have recently been awarded another grant from TTFC to produce my next film. It’s been great to have that support.

What other film-making projects are you planning?

I have just returned from shooting the Trinidad leg of my next film, ‘Dreams in Transit’ and I still have a bit to shoot in London. Dreams in Transit is an essay-style film about a migrant’s imagining of ‘home’, set in Trinidad and the UK. The film journeys into the psyche of a modern migrant, exploring how memory and a sense of place might help construct identity for trans-global citizens and cultural nomads. I’m mixing dream-like fictional sequences with actuality and the poet Vahni Capildeo is writing a lyrical narration to underlay the dream sequences. I’ll be editing this throughout the summer.

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