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A Caribbean Tale: Talking to award-winning filmmaker Mary Wells ahead of Kingston Paradise Screening with WCFF

A Caribbean Tale: Talking to award-winning filmmaker Mary Wells ahead of Kingston Paradise Screening with WCFF

“…I wanted to recreate a tiny world that reflected not only how I’ve felt about living there, but also, a very beautiful and adventurous space that’s warm, tumultuous, and even bizarre”.

Wells is an award-winning independent film Director/ Writer and Producer with roots in the Caribbean and the USA. She is the first woman from Jamaica to do a feature narrative, with her debut film Kingston Paradise. Thirty years of experience in the film and television industry Wells has combined working across Government Broadcasting, US Cable TV, and a private production company. Kingston Paradise was awarded ‘Best Diaspora Feature’ in the Africa Movie Academy Awards 2014. Her work consists of documentary and drama making. This included the recent animated mini-series for young adults and children for mostly the Caribbean region. In 1999, her short, Now Jimmy! was awarded “Outstanding Documentary from the Caribbean” in the Sheryl Lee Ralph Film & Music Festival and was screened later at Toronto Int’l Film Festival in 2002. Her professional training includes Television Production and the Theatre Arts in Washington DC, USA. Ahead of The Windrush Caribbean Film Festival (WCFF) Presents: Jamaica Independence Celebration with Kingston Paradise and Talkback Session which will be followed by a Q&A with Wells and Film Programmer June Givanni, hosted by Juliet Alexander on 6 August, Alt spoke to the Director/Writer. Book tickets here all details below.

Q. What inspired Kingston Paradise: what is its main story?
Over the years I have worked on many film projects which involved working with very talented inner-city youth in Kingston and so was inspired by various personalities I met who had simple, yet complex life stories. And whatever feature films to date have been made from Jamaica, they have often reflected this colourful urban grit, that is very much a part of Jamaica’s iconic popular culture, tone, and style, seen particularly through our famous contemporary music. As a result, I too, was fascinated by it socially, historically, and visually. It’s an old Caribbean city, decaying that’s been thrust into an endless vicious cycle of survival of the fittest. As a result, I wanted to recreate a tiny world that reflected not only how I’ve felt about living there, but also, a very beautiful and adventurous space that’s warm, tumultuous, and even bizarre. Kingston Paradise is an art film and more about an Experience than story. But if you must, its ‘main story’ is seen in the title, which is a pun – much of Kingston isn’t a paradise. And it follows two Character studies, a woman who knows what she has to do to get out and better her life and a man, who plays the field by committing a small crime and doesn’t learn the straight and narrow, until it’s too late.

Q. When did you know that directing was a career path?
Many years ago, as a child and particularly when I was in high school, because I was a very creative person in drama, writing and loved photography.

Q. Which Jamaican directors inspire you?
I respect Perry Henzell’s film ‘the Harder they come’ from Jamaica. But in the rest of the Caribbean, I deeply respect many of the French Caribbean filmmakers, I like very much Haitian film Director Raoul Peck.

Q. The film industry in the Caribbean appears to be having a rebirth, what do you think of how the industry is growing and what help it needs?
It’s not having a ‘rebirth’, it’s having a Birth. While the Caribbean region as a whole has a very small film history, in the English-speaking Caribbean Islands there is no ‘industry’, but it has just now begun to see the possibilities. This is mostly due to the technology (equipment and the internet) that has afforded the independent filmmaker, particularly in the developing world, a voice, and a platform. In the case of Jamaica, I can’t speak for ‘the Caribbean’ we are having some nice ‘rumblings’ where the Government film office has taken on the mantle of trying to put certain things in place, (small funding ops, motivated a proper sector association, training opportunities, a national film fund is on the horizon etc, etc with more to come)… but is the nation rallying around full throttle for The Film Arts and pulling out all its stoppers to begin to develop a serious (industry)? Not yet. Will it ever? I believe things will continue to unfold and many amazing young people will continue to do amazing things. But I’m not sure of its future. For now, it will still be based on an individual few who will attempt to break the ‘glass ceiling’ …for many reasons. And much further help is needed for its development…

Q. What were the ups and downs of making Kingston Paradise?
It wasn’t (at all) perfect. That’s a whole film story in itself… unfortunately, I am not able to (really) go there. But I will say this: It was a riveting learning curve and a kind of ‘christening.’ Making Kingston Paradise, a no budget film, with little to no support, was an incredible ‘Eye Opener’ and a very important experience. And it finally had a nice ending, I got incredible post-production and distribution help from CaribbeanTales and California Pictures, who were the two Co-Executive Producers who came onboard after shooting. The film won some nice international awards and you can now stream it on many streaming platforms worldwide including and the USA’s Amazon Prime which is accessible in over 200 countries. Screening rights are also had in parts of Africa, the Middle East and China. The film was repped at many major film markets including the Marche du film, at Cannes, the American Film Market in Los Angeles etc, which is unprecedented for such a film.

Q. What did you take away from making your first feature?
That your networks and the people you surround yourself with are more important than the project itself.

Q. Does the government in Jamaica support filmmakers?
As mentioned, they are now trying, but they still have a long road ahead.

Q. What makes a good director?
Understanding how to EMOTIONALLY engage your audience no matter what kind of film.

And I say this with trepidation, because I’m still very much a student, learning. The learning (never) stops. This emotional engagement includes how you tell the story structurally, how you guide and help to deliver actor performances and cinematically the visual experience of tone and style… and so much more. Kingston Paradise has begun to do some of these and while its delivery is not perfect, there have been people who loved it and responded well. Because of its journey, it was amazing I got what I got. As a result, my next feature film, which is now on the horizon in development, will be even better in these areas, and I look forward to it with much excitement!!

See Also

Film Synopsis:
In an off- beat nuanced film, Rocksy, a small-time hustler, journeys into chaos to steal a car while his lady friend Rosie hangs a watercolor painting in their modest room and dreams of peace. The fight to survive their broken dreams and aspirations forces them to commit a crime that changes their lives forever. Shot on the streets of Kingston where poverty, beauty and desperation collide, this Jamaican story transcends its Island locale to become a universal story of people whose poverty seems to trap them in a life where reckless acts appear the only road to an elusive better life.

Kingston Paradise A film by Mary Wells 83 mins
Written, Directed & Produced by Mary Wells
Shot entirely in Jamaica
An all Jamaican cast:
Veteran actors from Jamaican theatre: Chris ‘Johnny’ Daley, Munair Zacca
First time actors Camille Small, Greggory Nelson , Paul Shoucair
The event:

When: 6th August 2020 Time: 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM BST


More about the Windrush Caribbean Film Festival here