RBC Focus Reflections with Mariel Brown

By Dr. Leanne Haynes Friday, December 7th, 2012 Categories: Features, RBC: Reflections, Updates

RBC Focus: Filmmakers’ Immersion at the ttff/12, which took place from September 19 to October 2nd. In 2011, RBC Focus was introduced to the festival as part of the bank’s commitment to developing emerging artists in the region. This talent lab returns in 2012 and will engage promising Caribbean filmmakers in an intensive 4-day development programme. They will be exposed to group discussions and exercises on a range of documentary filmmaking techniques geared to enhancing their creative voice.

ARC Magazine is partnering with RBC to present a series of weekly interviews with past and current candidates from the Focus Immersion Filmmakers’ programme. It is our hope that their stories, trajectories and elucidation opens up a way for emerging filmmakers to understand the infrastructure being created to support the film industry across the Caribbean. This week we continue with Mariel Brown.

Mariel Brown. Photograph by Michele Jorsling

Leanne Haynes: How did you hear about the RBC Focus Filmmakers Immersion project and what prompted you to apply? 

Mariel Brown: I heard about the RBC Focus Filmmakers Immersion during the 2011 installment of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival – that session was designed for narrative filmmakers.  I was interested in the programme from the get-go, as i believe we very much need access to those kinds of sessions here in the Caribbean, so I decided that if there were to be a documentary immersion, I would apply.

LH: What project did you submit and why did you choose to submit this? 

MB: I have been working on a documentary feature, Kingston Shottas, which looks at the life and work of three young Jamaican artists – Mavin Bartley, O’Neil Lawrence and Ebony Patterson.  I wanted the opportunity to workshop this particular project, because I felt I would benefit from a collective response to the idea.  It’s the first time I was attempting to make a film that essentially had three protagonists, and I was looking to find a narrative form that would connect the three characters in an interesting and meaningful way.

LH: How specifically has the workshop helped your practice as a filmmaker? 

MB: Primarily (and importantly) I got a much clearer understanding of what is required to write a proper funding proposal.  While it’s great that we in Trinidad can apply to the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company for grants and rebates, these represent only a small part of what should ultimately form the funding arrangements for one’s projects – for our projects to improve and to gain access to international markets we have first to be able to attract the participation of international partners and funders. This is a major concern for me, and the immersion made the murkiness of that international funding scene much clearer.  It also reinforced the idea that it’s important to have a clear vision of your film from the outset (even if it changes as you go along).  I also thoroughly enjoyed sharing ideas and thoughts about story-telling and directing with my fellow filmmakers.

LH: You won the award for the best local feature – how did that feel? Tell us more! 

MB: Inward Hunger was a scary project to work on; grappling with a man that means so much to the Trinidadian and Caribbean contexts as Eric Williams does, was daunting and extremely exciting.  And to have it win Best Local Feature Film was a lovely kind of icing on the cake, which I wasn’t expecting.  However, while the award is very gratifying, it’s not enough for me to have produced the Beat Local Feature – I have my sights set on Best Feature (local or otherwise)!

Promotion from Inward Hunger

LH: How did you first become involved in film? What’s your background with regards to film? 

MB: I started my ‘career’ (not really a word I use very often, as that seems far more planned and deliberate than the evolution of my working life ever was) as a reporter on what was our national television station, TTT.  It quickly became clear to me that although I loved working in television, I hated doing the news.  So after two years as a reporter, I quit my job and drifted around doing odd jobs and writing for the next fours years.  In 2003, I developed a series of coking television programmes called, Sancoche, which I produced six seasons of.  During that time, I produced a documentary series called, Makin’ Mas with Brian Mc Farlane – a six part television series which took a fly on the wall look at the making of a carnival band.  I loved the story-telling aspect of that project, discovering that factual programming too requires a typical narrative structure and arc.  That series was real pressure but such a joy to work on, and from there I decided to try my best to make narrative-style documentary films.  It seems to me that I followed a path and determined, all along that journey, to do better and learn more.  It’s what I love about what I do – I am learning all the time, never thinking for a second that I have arrived at anything like a destination.  And I am lucky that this is the kind of work that can keep a curious mind engaged.

LH: What’s you opinion of the film industry in T & T compared to the rest of the Caribbean?

MB: I think that film industries around the Caribbean are all in nascent stages, what makes Trinidad slightly different, is that we have had the benefit of a small amount of government funding for the past five or six years, and we have a rapidly evolving and growing film festival.  This has made all sorts of things possible, which before would have been very difficult to imagine.  With small budgets, people have been able to make movies: shorts and features, both narrative and documentary, with the knowledge that their projects have a good chance of being seen.  Prior to the film festival, people made content for broadcast on television, which might never have seen the light of day – depending on the programmers at the various stations, and whether content producers had the money to pay for air time.  Now, in the past few years, the film festival has acted as an engine for the screening of films, and also, indirectly, as a driver of production, as people finally have an opportunity to show their work.  But we mustn’t become complacent in Trinidad.  These things are always in danger of government money being pulled, so we have to remain involved in the process.

Kingston Shottas

LH: What advice would you give for emerging Caribbean filmmakers? 

MB: Make films that tell our stories – and they don’t have to be big stories about big people.  We need small stories about regular people – people like us.  Learn to tell a good story first and foremost, and be prepared to work very very hard.

LH: What is next for you? 

MB: I have lots of things that I am working on.  I just secured a paying job which will see me through a fair amount of 2013, and hopefully will allow me to focus on my passion projects, for which I will be fund-raising and shooting.  I’ll also be continuing with my promotion of Inward Hunger.



Mariel Brown is the director of the creative and production company SAVANT, and has been working in television and print since 1997. Mariel has written features for various Caribbean magazines.  In particular, she has written about writers and artists including: Edwidge Danticat and Rachel Manley. In 2007, her first documentary film, “The Insatiable Season”, was awarded the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. “The Insatiable Season” went on to be screened at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival and the Harbourfront Festival, both in Toronto, Canada.  Mariel produced, directed and edited the documentary feature, “The Solitary Alchemist” (a revealing and intimate profile of Trinidadian jeweller, Barbara Jardine).  “The Solitary Alchemist” was screened at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and was awarded the jury prize for Best Locally Produced Film.  It has also been screened in Jamaica, at the Best of Caribbean Tales Film Festival in Barbados at the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and Real Art Ways in Hartford Connecticut. Mariel’s three-part documentary series on Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister, Eric Williams, “Inward Hunger: The Story of Eric Williams” recently won the Best Local Feature Film jury prize at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, and has been screened in London, England; Kingston, Jamaica; Florida, USA and Port of Spain, Trinidad.  “Inward Hunger” will soon be screened at the Havana Film Festival in Cuba.

Dr. Leanne Haynes
Dr. Leanne Haynes

Leanne Haynes has recently finished a PhD at the University of Essex, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her thesis focused on St. Lucian literature and mapped out the island’s rich literary landscape. She also completed her MA (Postcolonial Studies) and BA (Literature) at the University of Essex. Haynes has presented material at conferences in the UK and Europe. She is a keen creative writer and amateur photographer, with publications in the UK and US.