LIFE STORY: Jamaica's Alwyn Bully stars in the Bajan filmmaker's gripping debut.
"I'm very fascinated by silence," says filmmaker Russell Watson, speaking about the making of his soundtrack-free debut film, A Hand Full of Dirt, a miniscule-budget but very well-acted production that recently formed part of the National Gallery of Jamaica's ongoing film series.
Filmed in Chicago and Watson's native Barbados, it's a quietly powerful family saga centred on fractious relationships across generations, power dynamics and struggle, domestic abuse and a sense of Caribbean history and identity. As with films of this nature, Dirt doesn't always steer clear of melodrama, but the emotions and balanced performances ring consistently authentic.
Heading the cast, Alwyn Bully portrays a down-on-his-luck businessman grappling with a failing business, an ailing father and a marriage on the rocks. Out of frustration, he hits his wife. His fresh-out-of-college son, Jay, is also struggling to find his footing in the world of work but finds solace in his mother's thoughtfulness and his relationship with his white girlfriend, who can be overly demanding on occasion. How these easily relatable characters strive to overcome their hurdles will determine whether they rise or stay down.
In short, A Hand Full of Dirt is about people facing crises of epic proportions and the lengths they'll go to liberate themselves from their trying circumstances. Watson, who wrote, co-produced and directed the film, is not the most eloquent storyteller among contemporary Caribbean filmmakers, but to his credit Dirt beautifully engages with important and timeless themes of personal independence and hope in the face of great odds. And while the small-scale production robs the film of some of its power, what it loses in that regard is somewhat restored by the strong and believable performances from Bully and co.
If only for his courage, Watson deserves kudos. "This film was really an experiment," he admits. "We were really trying to see it we could do it without any international funding." Mission accomplished. Tyrone's Verdict: B+
>> The film, first released in 2010, is soon to be out on DVD.