Fri | Jan 18, 2019

For the Reckord | Film-maker Serieux turns to experimentation

Published:Friday | December 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
St Lucian filmmaker Michelle Serieux.
Both Karen Harriott (left) and Carol Lawes appeared in Serieux's film Sugar.
Actress Shantol Jackson
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After walking the straight, safe road of orthodoxy for the past decade, St Lucian film-maker Michelle Serieux has swerved towards the cliff of idealism and experimentation. Will the turn take her to the fame and fortune that most in her profession desire?

Her audience in the After Dark Theatre at the Edna Manley College School of Drama may get some inkling of an answer tonight as she presents her latest project - a short film that is yet to be made and is to be called Victorine. Essentially, the audience will be asked to discuss the 11-page screenplay and some of the scenes that have been shot.

When I put the question to Serieux after a presentation she made late November, she declared that she was not interested in making films just for money. It would be nice, however, she added, if she did make money while pursuing her real goal.

Showing her idealism, she said, "I see myself as a Caribbean storyteller, a Pan-African Caribbean storyteller, because I believe that all the work I'm doing fits in this space that is occupied by other (Caribbean) storytellers and other narratives. But at the same time, as an individual film-maker, I don't get to speak for an entire region. I think I can contribute to the development of a Caribbean aesthetic, to the different forms that we can identify as Caribbean."

Victorine, she told me, is about an old woman who, caught up in the Windrush scandal, has been deported from England back to Jamaica to a decaying plantation at Sugar Grove in Duckenfield, St Thomas. There, she faces animosity from her son, and when her beloved grandson takes her to Kingston to seek medical help, she meets even more adversity.

Serieux said she was excited about the format of tonight's presentation, which should include live music accompanying the reading. Victorine is to be part of a larger project, which could possibly turn out to be a feature-length film. A part will come from the response of the viewers to the film.

"A very big part of my process is experimenting with form. It's not going to take the form of my other films," Serieux promised.

Serieux's academic work so far, includes a bachelor's degree (Hons) in media and communication from The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona; a masters in film and cinema studies from Columbia University School of Arts in New York; and a professional producing certificate from New York University.

In 2013, she was awarded by the prestigious Tribeca Film Institute for her documentary Swimming on Dry Land, and two years later, she became a Chicken and Egg Pictures fellow. She is a film-maker-in-residence at The UWI; a lecturer in audiovisual Histories there, and an artist-in-residence at the Edna Manley College of Visual and Perfroming Arts.

She has already achieved quite a bit of fame as her cinematic work has been screened in Europe, the United States of America, Canada, and the Caribbean at various film festivals. Jamaicans know her best as the director of Sugar - one of the winners in the 2016 Jamaica Film and Television Association's PROPELLA initiative.

Written by Sharon Leach, it stars Shantol Jackson and features several well-known stage actors, including Karen Harriott, Carol Lawes, Jean-Paul Menou, and Maylynne Lowe. Like Victorine, it is a short film about a woman facing problems at home and in society, and Serieux must be hoping that Victorine will be as well-received as Sugar.

I asked Serieux about her primary audience. "I'm making films for Caribbean, specifically Afri-Caribbean, people. That identity most clearly resonates with me," she said. She continued, "Of course, we generally are, including myself, comprised of other ethnicities, but because of the level of erasure, because of the way we were separated from that (African) part of our identify, my personal mission is to be able to reclaim it and gift it to other people who are looking for it."