Handful of hard work
THE?MEN of the Redman family – father, grandfather and son – will try desperately to break with the past to pursue their dreams on their own terms.
Soon though, it will be made painfully clear that their lives are inextricably linked and that the past exerts an inescapable grip on their future.
This could very well be a true life story of a Barbadian family, but it is actually a synopsis of writer, director, editor, Barbadian Russell Watson’s first feature length film that is to premiere in Barbados next week at the CaribbeanTales Film Festival.
It was a project too long in the making, but rewarding nonetheless, as Watson, a visual artist, actor and photographer, and therefore intimately familiar with working in the arts in Barbados, understood from the start that there was and would be very little finance to take the film through pre-production, post-production and distribution.
The movie started out as a student production in 2005 when Watson was enrolled in the MFA programme at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Originally intended to be a documentary about Caribbean tourism economies, the final fictional story is based on many hours of interviews with people from the region who were involved in agriculture and tourism.
However, the almost five years it took from start to finish has finally reached this point of being screened in the place where the film is set. He spoke to WE Magazine about how challenging it was to make A Handful Of Dirt.
“Making art of any kind challenges the soul, the intellect and the heart. From when I began researching the story, to the isolation of writing it, to working with cast and crew, to cutting the piece together, to working with post production service providers, to festival participation … all of it takes massive amounts of determination.
“But that is life in general. Nothing comes easy. So it was indeed very challenging,” he said, adding that the most significant challenge was financing each stage of the project.
His process of making the film was very “guerrilla style”, as he began researching and writing the script when he was an art student, and work on it happened only when he could fit it into his class schedule or in any spare time.
Shooting in Barbados began in December 2005 and ran for 15 days. Among the cast is Barbados’ own Cynthia Wilson, Luther Bourne, Kay Foster, Algie Yearwood, Samud Ali, Sheron Trotman and Marcia Burrowes, with actors from the Caribbean diaspora, including Alwin Bully and Nigel Scotland.
Production crew included cinematographer Mahmood Patel, make-up artiste Lia Gajadhar, Melanie Springer, Ian Smith, Michael Edwards and Jeffrey Bishop.
“When I decided to do it, there still was no money devoted to the project so it went into pre-production on sweat and pennies. Nigel Scotland who plays one of the leads was a student with me in Chicago at the time, and he was instrumental in guiding me through the pre-production process.
“He then went on to act in the film and do some of the camera work. All the people who came on at that time were on provisional payment contracts so we all worked for no pay,” Watson reminisced.
Producer Lisa Harewood joined HH production when Watson moved it to Barbados.
“We shot at a time when The Film Group was very active with production and running the Bridgetown film fest and the NCF was offering the Cultural Action Fund. These three elements: local grant funding for production, a local production crew committed to the experiment of Barbadian cinema and a producer willing to throw her full weight behind the project allowed me to focus on my role as director and allowed the production to be able to plan more succinctly.
“Lisa and I considered the limitations of where our industry was at the time and where we thought it was going and we budgeted to suit. We came in on budget for production but the fund shut down before we could re-apply for post-production financing. This meant that Lisa and I had to operate on a much looser structure during post because our money was coming from other work. This work of course took priority time-wise so the project was quite a few stops and starts during this time,” Watson said.
Now, at this point of distribution, the Handful Of Dirt team finds itself in the midst of a recession, but has received some support from both Invest Barbados and the Ministry of Culture, which has been used to tour a few film festivals.
“This has been excellent in allowing us to test the work in the market and it had been doing extremely well with audiences so we are now looking for an investor to support our full distribution plan,” Watson disclosed.
He should be justifiably proud since A Handful Of Dirt has been an official selection of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, the African Diaspora Film Festival of New York, the Pan African Film Festival of Los Angeles, and will now be screened on the opening night of the Caribbean Tales Film Festival at the Frank Collymore Hall next Wednesday.