Class 15: An Interview with Dean Leon Anderson

By Marsha Pearce Friday, September 22nd, 2017 Categories: Features, Festivals, Film, Interview, TTFF, Updates
 

Marsha Pearce interviews Dean Leon Anderson, a British-born director and writer of Caribbean parentage, whose 2016 short film ‘Class 15′ makes its Caribbean premiere at the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) 2017 with screenings on Thursday, September 21 at 3:30 pm at MovieTowne San Fernando and Sunday, September 24 at 11:00 am at MovieTowne Port-of-Spain, Screen 8. Read more about the film’s themes and how it relates to audiences in the UK, US, the Caribbean and its diaspora in the interview below:

Writer and Director Dean Leon Anderson. All images courtesy Dean Leon Anderson.

Writer and Director Dean Leon Anderson. All images courtesy Dean Leon Anderson.

Why make short films? With the rise of the low-budget feature, is the short film “dead in the water,” as North American producer and screenwriter James Cullen Bressack believes? Or rather, is the format still a space of freedom as Swiss filmmaker Ursula Meier describes it? – “a laboratory” or “place to put yourself in danger [and] to gain experience”? The short film genre remains part of the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) lineup, and while the 2017 tagline calls for audiences to get “high on film,” there are sobering questions to consider in terms of film production and promotion, including the relevance of certain formats, budgets, market testing and creative risk-taking. This year’s festival selection includes the short entitled Class 15 by Dean Leon Anderson, a British-born director and writer of Caribbean parentage. In my interview with Anderson, he defines what his new screen project means for him and gives insight into some of its themes.

Marsha Pearce: On what themes does Class 15 put a spotlight?

Dean Leon Anderson: Class 15 spotlights themes often seen in my shorts, which are family, identity and race. In the film, we explore the relationship between the mother Zahra (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) and her daughter Alicia (Sophia Hall). Tensions created by a situation that happened 10 years prior to the story, seem to make it into a classroom during parents evening. What starts off cordial, eventually takes a turn for the worse, and we learn more about these characters.

A still from the short film Class 15 by Dean Leon Anderson.

A still from the short film Class 15 by Dean Leon Anderson.

MP: How has the film been received in the US and UK? Have these audiences brought different perspectives to the work?

DLA: My first US screening was the day before the UK premiere, so I haven’t been in the same room as a US audience so far. I’ve noticed festival audiences in the UK have reacted differently to certain scenes in the film. Some audiences react to the tension in that room, others laugh at the comic relief. Some audiences have just sat in silence. The reception has been positive so far though, mainly in praise of the performances of the three lead actors. It’s not easy to hold the attention of an audience for 10 minutes in one location, so the casting was vital. UK audiences are familiar with Sharon’s work, as she was featured prominently in the British Drama series Top Boy, and was also seen recently in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. We held auditions for the other actors, and were lucky to find Sophia Hall and Anthony Houghton for the other two leads. It will be interesting to see it abroad in the near future to gauge reactions, as it’s never the same.

MP: Why was it important to submit your work to the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff)? In other words, what are the goals for your film and how do you think the ttff might help you reach them?

DLA: I wanted the film to reach a more diverse audience outside the UK, and I’ve heard lots of great things about the festival.  I’m a filmmaker of Caribbean heritage, so it’s great to have this type of platform to share my work with a Caribbean audience. I also have family living in Trinidad, and I wanted my work to be accessible to them.

A still from the short film Class 15 by Dean Leon Anderson.

A still from the short film Class 15 by Dean Leon Anderson.

MP: In what ways might the film expand the way Caribbean audiences see themselves and the world in which they live?

DLA: That’s an interesting question. This film is primarily about the experiences of a British-Caribbean family. Though, I think those with a similar background or relationship to their parents, or teenagers, as these characters will identify with the story. It isn’t limited to a Caribbean audience. At the heart of the story is the mother/daughter relationship, and the mother’s journey. What’s exciting about this short is it’s a “proof of concept” towards a feature film I’ve already written. So the feature will allow us to go into more details about these characters and their story.

MP: Why does the Class 15 story matter now – in the world today? 

DLA: Without dropping spoilers of the short, there are several subjects in the story worth discussing and debating today, such as single-mother parenting, the school system, racial tensions and family issues. The feature film version, which I’m currently developing, has four characters’ stories interwoven. Each story has a different issue about today’s society, including immigration and identity. The short is just the beginning of a much bigger story, and I look forward to sharing it.

View ttff/17 show times for Class 15 here.

Class 15 – Teaser Trailer from Dean Leon Anderson
 

References:

- Meucci, Gaia, “The Untamed Space: Ursula Meier on the Value of Short Cinema.” Bfi.org.uk. 27 June 2017. Accessed September 18, 2017. (http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/interviews/ursula-meier-value-short-cinema)

- Short Films are No Longer Calling Cards for A Film Career by James Cullen Bressack. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTXEbaOFyFw)

 

Marsha Pearce
Marsha Pearce

Marsha Pearce is ARC’s Senior Arts Writer and Editor. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus, Trinidad. She lectures in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI and is also a freelance arts writer for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper. Pearce is the 2006 Rhodes Trust Rex Nettleford Cultural Studies Fellow.