Filmmakers express themselves at Toronto festival
October 29, 2018
Being an independent filmmaker could be extremely challenging.
With just $1,200 in his pocket, Paul Pryce went to Trinidad & Tobago not knowing what would be the outcome of a project he conceived in 2008.
A year later, his series -- ‘Serpent’s Mouth’ -- was awarded the top prize at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival (CTFF) Big Pitch breakfast at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Bell Lightbox.
In its ninth year, the incubator offers filmmakers from Canada, the Caribbean and other parts of the world the opportunity to pitch to working entertainment professionals, including acquisition & distribution executives, producers and directors who are actively seeking new content.
After six to eight weeks of online training, the participants come to Toronto for a week of intensive workshops that culminate with a three-minute pitch to industry professionals.
Pitching a project for the first time was very satisfying for Pryce who also won the Audience Award.
“It is challenging to get someone to read your work much less give you insightful feedback,” he said. “This incubator was like having moms, dads, aunts and uncles investing their time in you. It was like a family excited about your work and very willing to offer ideas. I got so much love here.”
‘Serpent’s Mouth’ is an 11-kilometre marine channel between Icacos Point in southwest Trinidad and Venezuela’s north coast.
Written and produced by Pryce and directed by his longtime collaborator Ron Morales, the television series follows a righteous-minded Trinidadian fisherman on a hunger strike as he protests a corrupt government forcing his village off ancestral land to make way for an oil refinery. When the fisherman loses the support of his community, he brokers a deal with a mysterious drug dealer to raise a hefty bribe to pay off a power-mongering government official.
Pryce’s idea when he started out a decade ago was to produce a biopic chronicling the life and times of Dole Chadee, a notorious Caribbean drug baron and convicted murderer who was executed in 1999.
When university lecturer and environmental activist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh went on a 21-day hunger strike in late 2012 to protest the state building a highway in the Debe to Mon Desir area in south Trinidad, Pryce changed course.
“When that happened, I started to re-think my project,” he said. “Then, there was the collapse of the political and economic system in Venezuela and I thought it was the perfect time to write about what was taking place in Venezuela and Trinidad & Tobago.”
Graduating from the University of the West Indies with a business degree, Pryce worked in marketing and communications in T & T before moving to New York 12 years ago to pursue modelling.
In 1999, he won the ‘Sexiest Island Man” contest in the Bahamas hosted by Oprah Winfrey who, with model and actor Tyson Beckford, were the judges.
His debut film, ‘Come Out, Come Out’, is a suspense thriller that was screened at the Cannes Short Film Corner last year.
Pryce, the son of Jamaican criminologist Ken Pryce who died in September 1987 and Martinique-born University of the West Indies lecturer Nicole Taylor, said making the transition from acting to filmmaking was easy.
“As an actor, you rarely get an opportunity to choose a lot of the things you want to do,” he said. “Being a writer and filmmaker, you get to control the narrative and lens the story through your point of view. It is a platform to talk about things that are inspiring me and questions that I have while deciding on the stories I want to explore.”
Pryce impressed Chris Laird, the incubator projects chief judge.
“Paul made a very powerful pitch and the presentation was well put together,” he said. “He was also very clear about how the story progresses as a series.”
His most recent film, ‘The Deliverer’, premiered on September 15 at the CTFF short film presentation.
First-time Toronto visitors and business partners Bisi Daniels and Gustavius Renwick captured the runner-up award for their project, ‘Woody Stone’, that tells the story of an investigative reporter using the pen to fight injustice.
“This is a concept that has a lot of life,” noted Laird who has produced over 300 documentaries, dramas and other video productions in the last four decades with Banyan Ltd., and has been an incubator mentor since 2014. “Because of the investigative reporting, current topics like women’s rights, freedom of the press and trafficking are explored. It lends itself to being carried from episode to episode to see how the investigation goes on.”
Born in Guyana, Daniels migrated to the United States in 1991 where she obtained a political science degree from Rutgers and a Master of Science in risk management from St. John’s University Peter J. Tobin College of Business.
“The incubator is a platform to express yourself and it also helps you to craft your vision for your project,” she said.
New York-based Renwick, who studied theatre at Florida A & M University and was a staff reporter at ‘The Tribune’ in the Bahamas, introduced Daniels -- who moved to England in 2016 -- to film production just over a decade ago.
“Filmmaking is not a medium I saw myself in,” she added. “I am an activist, but he kept nudging me saying, ‘this is where you need to be’. I am really embracing it now.”
Fifteen years ago, Daniels provided Renwick with a $50 investment for his first short film.
“Ever since, Bisi has been receptive to my work,” he said. “Just to have someone who believes in you and is supportive of what you are doing is very motivational. When I decided to write a story about a woman reporter who is willing to put herself on the line to fight for the truth, I knew this was a story Bisi would connect with. I also knew I needed a woman who was similar to the character to help me bring this vision to life.”
The other incubator participants were Canadian Michael Jervis (Soldier), Cuban Emmanuel Martin (Ultimo Inning), Jamaican Imani Wilmot (Savannah) and South African Layla Swart (The Summit Club).
There were 17 projects in the 2017 incubator.
“That was way too much,” said program facilitator and manager Nicole Brooks. “While it was exciting to have all of that content, it was a bit overwhelming and we decided to pair it down to six this year.”
Out of the incubator, the projects are reviewed by Flow – the CTFF and incubator lead sponsor -- for pilot production funding.
Three pilots – ‘Lexo Street’, ‘The Agency’ and ‘Inframundo’ – screened at last year’s festival and are now available for viewing throughout the Caribbean on Flow1 and throughout the world on Caribbeantales-tv.com.
CTFF also runs accelerator incubator programs in Cuba, Belize, Barbados and South Africa.
Caribbean Tales Media Group (CTMG) and the Durban FilmMart (DFM) collaborate to support the development of original, serialized television content and films created by women from Africa and the African Diaspora.
For the second straight year, Brooks facilitated the two-day program during the DFM in late July.
“We are encouraging filmmakers to not only think film, but series because that is where the money is at,” said Brooks. “It is also important, we think, to build relationships with Black female filmmakers in South Africa and link them with Black and diverse filmmakers here.”
Nicole Mendes, the executive in charge of production for CBC drama, and Gosia Kamela, Bell Media’s drama & feature film production executive, accompanied Brooks to Durban in late July.