Young filmmaker premieres ‘Yellow Girl and Me’
This year opened with affirmation that the local film industry is ripe with talent, and its players are steady on the mission to be seen on international screens, by their audiences. It also affirmed that the future is female. Last Wednesday, in company of inimitable producers like Justine Henzell, Natalie Thompson and film commissioner Renee Robinson, the next of them – writer and director Isabella Issa – hosted the Jamaican premiere screening of her award-winning short film, Yellow Girl and Me.
Inspired by Issa’s real-life friend, Yellow Girl and Me tells the tale of young Nicole, played by Dior Wilson, whose hardships were compounded with her guardian sister being involved in illicit trade, her sister’s lecherous partner ‘JaVoy’ and her own irreparable ailment. “I’ve written the feature-length script, and I’ve met with some producers who came to the Los Angeles premiere who were very interested in it,” Issa told The Gleaner.
In addition to being premiered in Los Angeles in October 2019, Yellow Girl and Me has also enjoyed accolades. At the Black Film Festival of New Orleans, the short film won Best Director, Best Writer, Best Film and Best Actress. The film has also been selected for the Toronto Black Film Festival. Yellow Girl And Me’s feature-length screenplay made it to the second round (of two) of the Sundance Screenwriters’ Development Lab. Issa’s script was not the only Jamaican script reviewed. The screenplay for Escape To Last Man Peak (with film rights optioned by Have A Bawl Productions’ Analisa Chapman and Tanya Batson-Savage) was also reviewed at the prestigious lab, in both rounds. “I got good notes from them. Now I’m just working on making that draft ‘good’,” Issa said.
The biggest challenge with Yellow Girl and Me was casting. The short film was developed as a thesis project to complete Issa’s Master of Fine Arts in Directing at the American Film Institute (AFI), so it was a requirement to hire people in the Los Angeles area. “We went searching for young girls, and we found one actual Jamaican young girl, who was seven. But she was very shy,” the director shared. Luckily, the receptionist at AFI was a Jamaican – with a backup plan. “I was talking to her through the whole process and she was like, ‘I have a granddaughter, but she’s American. We can keep her as a backup.’ Then I met her and I fell in love with her.”
Dior Wilson has a captivating countenance. “Just her willingness to try anything, and her face, her expressions … . She had never acted before,” Issa shared – a fact buried in a skilful, emotive performance. Still, most of the young actress’ lines had to be cut.
“Originally, the script had more dialogue. I just cut it out after hearing the struggle with the accent. When I think of all of my films, I just want it to be as authentic as possible. I cringe when I watch a movie and something feels fake. Especially Jamaican movies, when I feel like they’re twanging when they shouldn’t be. If I make it and I’m trying to get around how Jamaicans speak, then I don’t think anyone else can really enjoy it. That’s why I cut so much dialogue from Dior. Hearing her try to do the accent was tough,” Issa said.
But now that she has graduated from the MFA programme, there are no limits to where Issa can film or who she should cast – and she has big plans to accommodate her new creative freedom. And so, Issa is working on a second feature script, a coming-of-age drama about Jamaican schoolgirls.
“I pitched that to a few producers [abroad], and they really like it, but they couldn’t imagine that world. I think that’s because we keep seeing the same things in Jamaica movies. So I tried to shoot a little mood piece at Immaculate High School, where I went. It made me that much more excited to write this script. I think the more specific something is, the more universal it is. So if I make this and it is specific for Jamaica, then the rest of the world will love it,” she said.
Yellow Girl and Me also stars Trishauna Clarke, and dancer-cum-recording artiste Blacka.