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Filmmaker Lisa’s a reel winner

Natanga Smith

Filmmaker Lisa’s a reel winner

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Forget Hollywood and its big name lists of filmmakers, many of whom have won Oscars and Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Director. Barbados has its own emerging talent who is making a name for herself and garnering awards. Film producer Lisa Harewood was chosen last year as one of Reelworld Foundation’s Emerging 20 Filmmakers – the only non-Canadian on the programme.
A past student of Harrison College, Lisa has a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication from the University of the West Indies and a Masters of Arts from the University of Warwick, London, in creative and media enterprises and has her own company, Gate House Films.
Lisa explained that while she didn’t know where in the film industry she would end up, she knew she wanted a career in it.
“I got a lot of encouragement along the way. So many people saw me heading down this path long before I did and they tried to help me to get started but I didn’t think it was possible. I couldn’t see it. It took me until I was in my 30s to find the confidence”, said the oldest sister of Ria and Trina, adding that much support came from her family.
“My dad is deceased, so I am one of those many Caribbean people raised by a female tribe. My very awesome mother, Mignel, is always very supportive of me, even if she wishes I had some more job security. My aunt Chrystolene made sure I got discipline and a wide vocabulary; and my 97-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Young, gave me her sense of humour and a real old school Bajan mentality,” she said laughing.
Lisa’s got her feet wet in corporate video and advertising in 1996, soon after leaving UWI. Three years later, she got the opportunity to script, produce and direct a commercial for the then Barbados National Bank.
“I had developed the slogan “Strong Roots. Wide Reach” and we were shooting the first commercial featuring that concept under a massive mahogany tree in St George, getting eaten by sand flies and I felt completely in my element,” she said chuckling. In 2001, Lisa moved to London to further her studies and also get some film experience.
“My first job there was at Black Filmmaker Magazine. After that, I worked in a post-production facility and then for a company that made programmes for National Geographic. I took any job I could get, no matter how menial. I made tea; I buttered toast,” she stated, but it was tough, and Lisa returned home in 2004.
Back home, she reconnected with Russell Watson, an old pal from UWI who did theatre. He asked her to come on board as producer on his debut film project, A Hand Full Of Dirt. Making the full length film was challenging and Lisa said it “took longer than we expected, but we were tenacious and made a film about serious, mature subjects for very little money. We ended up with something of I am incredibly proud. He’s an amazing writer and director. I learned so much on that film and it still ranks as one of the best experiences I have ever had.”
A Hand Full Of Dirt was given a gala screening in Trinidad and Tobago, played to a full house at Frank Collymore Hall and Russell got nominated for Best First Feature Narrative Director at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. The film also won the Audience Award at Reelworld Film Festival in Toronto. Lisa was able to travel with the film and network on the festival circuit, leading to more opportunities for projects.
Bitten by the filmmaking bug, Lisa approached the Cultural Action Fund, which helped with A Hand Full Of Dirt and went off on a four-month course of study at the Met Film School in London in Producing for Independent Film.
Her company, Gate House Media, alternates between film and corporate/NGO videos, doing ads for CIBC First Caribbean, work on the HIV/AIDS programme for USAID and produced material for the National Initiative for Service Excellence. She has worked as a communications consultant with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for a few years, handling videos about the programmes they run in the region. But Lisa couldn’t be more pleased with how her filmmaking career is shaping up.
“The thing I am proudest of is that I was the recipient of one of the Commonwealth Foundation’s Short Film Awards. It’s the first film I’ve ever written or directed and I just entered on a whim at the last minute to push myself out of my comfort zone. Out of entries from 54 countries, I was one of five people to receive funding to make a short film.”
The film, Auntie, is 13 minutes long. Starring Marcia Burrowes and Che-Annika Mayers, it’s about a woman who is taking care of a child whose mother has emigrated, the barrel syndrome and what happens when the mother decides to send for the child after several years.
The film was shown as part of the Commonwealth Shorts launch in Auckland, New Zealand, in February.
Lisa is attracted to a project “with a story I care about, that no one else is telling and that I won’t get tired of working on,” and is already on to the next one, working with Canadian director Dawn Wilkinson, whose father is Bajan, which will be shot in Canada and Barbados.
“I’m really excited about the story, which I think is really compelling and will showcase interesting aspects of Barbados. Dawn is a well-respected director in Canada. I am also working on adapting a Caribbean novel for the screen and I have a documentary project as well as another short [film] in the early stages of development. I started my film career late, so I guess I’m trying to make up for lost time,” she stated.
Twenty years from now, Lisa says she wants a sustainable career.
“I want to be doing this for as long as I can and to be able to make a decent living at it. Being well-known or being rich has never been a goal of mine. It’s all about the work. I want my films to stand the test of time and to be respected and to mean something to people. I’m committed to stories about subjects that aren’t being talked about. I’m committed to this island and this region.”
Lisa tells local filmmakers to forget the Hollywood model.
“The average Hollywood film now costs the equivalent of the GDP of a small nation. We have to look at our circumstances and make films to suit the resources we have at our disposal. We have to be creative, not just in front of the camera, but behind the scenes in how we get these films made.
“When we write stories, we shouldn’t just be trying to make what Hollywood makes. It will just be a cheaper, poorer version of those stories. They are the best in the world at what they do but they tend to do the same thing over and over. Leave them to it. Let’s look for what we’re best at, what makes us unique – which is our culture – and be the best at that.”
Lisa said sadly, more people have seen A Hand Full Of Dirt outside of Barbados than in Barbados because it is very costly to hire a venue to put on a screening.
“We also have to find ways to get our films seen at home and in the region. So many talented people on this island are making great work that is not getting seen. The industry is only sustainable if we create a system that allows people to make a profit and reinvest in more filmmaking.”
So she has one bit of advice for future filmmakers: “You don’t need anyone’s permission to make a film. If it’s what you love, go for it. Make sure you invest the time in learning the craft. Watch films from all over the world. Be a film fan as well as a filmmaker. Respect the process but don’t be overawed or intimidated by it.”