Tivoli speaks on The Incursion
Lewis intends to develop The Incursion into feature documentary
"I just keep remembering that it is my little sister and because she was black, we use to curse her and tell her that is because she black she give so much problem. I don't know what I wouldn't do to get her back, if I had the opportunity, if I had the opportunity, if I had the opportunity. It not easy to talk about. "
- Annette, The Incursion.
"It really should not have gone the way it did because my two boys are not wrongdoers. The majority of the people who lost their children and their loved ones weren't wrongdoers, because wrongdoers not going to sit down and wait on soldiers and police to come take them out. They gone and leave the law-abiding citizen and they just came in and worked on the law-abiding citizen like we are bird without feathers just like that."
- Joan, The Incursion
It took Sasha-Gay Lewis four months, from coming to Jamaica in June 2016 to having a first cut of her short documentary, The Incursion, ready in September to graduate from the New York Film Academy - Los Angeles, to begin fulfilling her seven-year commitment to making a film about the Tivoli Incursion of May 2010.
"I grew up in the 'country', but I lived in Tel Aviv (downtown Kingston) for a little bit of my life," Lewis told The Sunday Gleaner. "My mother is a higgler, so downtown Kingston is a place I always go to. My mother has friends in West Kingston." Her father, also a higgler, lived in West Kingston.
So when "it happened", Lewis said, "the story never add up. I made a commitment in 2010 to do it (the film)." It was not only in her mind, as when she started attending film school in 2014, Lewis made a list of the stories she wanted to tell. It is told through the pain-filled voices of survivors.
With The Incursion having satisfied the thesis requirements for school, by February this year, Lewis had adjusted it to 26 minutes and the short was ready for the festival circuit, which she sees as a stage towards her goal of developing the work into a feature documentary. So far, it has earned an Award of Recognition at the Impact Docs Awards, it was an official selection at the Pembroke Tapparelli Arts and Film Festival, and it was slated to be screened last night as a special selection at the DOC LA event in Los Angeles, California.
Lewis hopes to show the film on the 2018 anniversary of the Tivoli Incursion or, failing that, in the summer.
Having been away from Jamaica for well over a year, Lewis had no access to the community when she landed in Jamaica last June. She had a file with newspaper clippings about the incursion and its aftermath, plus memories of the televised inquiry forming the story's background, but did not know if anyone would tell her their story.
"I came to Jamaica not knowing if I could get access to Tivoli or anybody," she said. Lewis took the direct approach; she took a bus and then went to the school. "I had a friend who has a sister who was a teacher over there," she said.
"She wanted me to tell the story. The story being told in Jamaica is not the story."
And that was the beginning of about two months in Tivoli Gardens, a lot of that time spent earning the trust of people like Annette and Chris, who speak about their pain - including guilt about surviving the incursion. The tears - Sasha-Gay's included - began early.
"The women were more open to talking than the men," Lewis said, so she organised a focus group with three women, including Annette (who Lewis describes as "a powerhouse") and Rosie. "There was not a dry eye on my crew," Lewis said. And despite her being prepared for the emotion, as in her film work she had dealt with intense topics like suicide previously, Lewis said it took a few days for her to come to grips with the stories - that time also spent doing transcription.
Using an all-Jamaican crew, with Gabrielle Blackwood as director of photography (DP), Lewis started filming from the outset, to have content in case the interviewees did not want to go further with the project.
"They got so comfortable, I got to shadow them outside of the focus group,"
That included going to homes where the memories run deep.
"Annette actually heard when Joan's boys were being killed," Lewis said. And there is Chris, who was living in Central Village and called his nephew, who was visiting from the US, during the operation and someone else answered asking where in the community Chris was. As it is a short, not all the stories Lewis was told could be shown because of time constraints.
Where Lewis did not get access was with the State representatives. She tried repeatedly to contact the filmmaker saying she knows the question will arise and she did her due diligence. And some of her friends were opposed to the project, concerned for Lewis.
She was undeterred.
"I want to show that it does not end. It is like a cycle," the former St Jago High School and Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), UWI, Mona, student said.
Having done so with The Incursion, funding it herself and exhausting her savings, Lewis said, "I am very proud of it."