Ahead of her film The Hard Stop (2015) screening at the new Windrush Caribbean Film Festival ALT speaks to the BAFTA and BIFA nominated filmmaker. The film is her last theatrically released feature project, as writer- lead producer, a critically acclaimed feature-length documentary. From early stages she perceived the subject crucial for independent cinema and secured funding from Bertha Foundation, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, British Film Institute and Doc Society. Dionne has also been involved with a number of documentary projects including The Fighting Spirit (2007), Black Voters Speak (2010) and The Cold Spell Last Winter (2018). She has been taking photographs and curating debate series for over 20 years. Her film Art Jamaica, A Collector’s Choice, dir. Dionne Walker (2012) will be showing at the festival also.
What advice would you give to new filmmakers?
1.For independent documentaries, you are often head cook and bottle washer, it was certainly the case for Black Voters’ Speak, One People and The Hard Stop. I would advise new filmmakers to find a subject, gain and sustain access by keep showing up. Do your due diligence. Start with a scattergun approach and interview as many people as possible. As you go along add footage to the timeline.
2. For your first no budget fiction, trust your imagination and what’s around you. Cast family and friends or yourself. Seek out one location stories and/or think about filming a monologue.
When shooting The Hard Stop what was the mood you wanted to convey?
Even though I shot a short scene that landed in the film I wasn’t one of the credited camerapersons we hired, however I was often two steps behind the camera. In shaping the story as the co-writer-producer, I was sensitive to the director, crew, editor, executive producers and contributors’ feedback. In terms of narrative drive and tone we went from fierce and menacing to thoughtful and humane.
What are the main challenges of documentary filmmaking?
When it comes to observational filming, it’s challenging to gain and maintain access, as it is to find funding for production and editing. The shaping of the story was, we had taxing edit consultations.
How much has Covid -19 impacted you professionally?
Hugely, working with contributors and/or actors means we have to take precautions that can go against authenticity. Hopefully we will be more prepared for the second wave. In March everything grounded to a halt and now producers are talking about risk assessments and getting insurance for Covid-19.
What do you think will be the biggest impact on the industry?
Closing down of productions and auditoriums because even though we have TV and streaming, without live and physical locations our storytelling becomes constrained.
How concerned are you that the theme of The Hard Stop rings loud in 2020?
The Black Lives Matter and Anti-racism movement relates. We need to sustain the message that opposes all forms of police brutality and deaths in custody.
Why is the Windrush Caribbean Film Festival an important festival?
It’s promoting the work of the Windrush generation and their children, lest we forget.
Do you think that they are limited platforms for Caribbean film in the UK?
I think mainstream platforms are waking up to a need to commission stories from everywhere and everyone to include Caribbean film. Of course, there is room to do more, let’s hope the Windrush Film Festival helps to expand that space.
Which doc filmmakers do you admire the most?
I think highly of George’s work, people should see, One plus One and The Fighting Spirit, another project I [associate] produced. In fact, I included One Plus One in the Changing The World series commissioned by the British Museum. Also included in that series is Ove’s Baldwin Nigger and a presentation showing African and Caribbean artists, Wanuri Kahiu, Chris Ofili and Ebony Patterson.
Art Jamaica, A Collector’s Choice, dir. Dionne Walker (2012) Art Jamaica short film is significant for many reasons, not least that the collector Theresa Roberts was part of a group that lobbied the government around the Windrush Scandal but importantly documentary reflects an active relationship between Jamaica, Africa and Britain, you will see this through the art pieces we decided to highlight, from the abstract, landscape and figurative paintings to the sculptures which negotiates a post-colonial timeline, from Eurocentrism to African Nationalism.
The Windrush Caribbean Film Festival runs October 17th – Nov 8, The Hard Stop screens on the 6th of November online:
Panel + Q&A
BLACK STORIES MATTER Panel: George Amponsah (director) and Dionne Walker (producer) discuss how they made the Hard Stop. To book tickets to the screening. of Hard Stop