Wednesday, 29 June 2016

EMERGING VOICES: Local filmmakers go behind the camera to explore children’s issues with UNICEF

SHARP FOCUS: Blackwood's body of work includes short films like Bully (above), filmed for the UNICEF campaign.

Ras Kassa was a no-show (due to unforeseen circumstances), but the remaining two filmmakers put on a stellar presentation that more than made up for his absence. Inside the Spanish Court Hotel’s Valencia Suite on Thursday evening, a sizeable audience of film buffs and KOTE devotees (occupying every available seat) gathered for Director’s Cut: A Filmmaker’s Perspective that provided a splendid showcase for the blossoming talents of Kurt Wright and Gabrielle Blackwood, two standouts in the contemporary Jamaican film world.

The three filmmakers (Ras Kassa included) took part in this year’s UNICEF/Keep Children Safe campaign, turning in terrific short films that examine the theme of child abuse from the classroom to the domestic space to the wider community. While Ras Kassa opted to look at the gang violence angle (his film was, unfortunately, not screened), Wright and Blackwood struck a nerve with projects that delved into sexual abuse (Unspoken) and bullying/peer pressure (Bully) respectively.

Wright’s work in particular elicited strong reactions from viewers for its visceral take on manipulation and rape (there’s a telling shower scene), while Blackwood’s short, inspired by the real-life story of a Kingston-based high-school girl at the mercy of her cruel peers, was an even tougher watch. They say high school can be torture, and Blackwood’s work vividly shows evidence.

Since the films’ release in May (for Child Month), UNICEF has been hard at work getting them shown in primary and secondary schools across the island. And what better way to accomplish this than to partner with the Office of the Children’s Advocate? “We will be doing a film-in-schools tour to get these films seen in as many institutions as possible,” says UNICEF rep Allison Mitchell, who spoke at Thursday’s screening. “We really hope to further broaden the audience that sees these films and enter them in some competitions.”

In the meantime, Kurt Wright and Gabrielle Blackwood are two names that seem destined to remain on the local filmmaking radar for years to come. Blackwood, a 29-year-old CARIMAC grad, shot a thought-provoking feature called Denis (also previewed on Thursday) about a 46-year-old man’s battle with ALS. It’s still a work-in-progress.

Wright, a New York Institute of Technology alum (now in his early 30s) who has collaborated with everyone from Jay Will to Phase 3 Production’s dynamic team, is into edgier stuff (witness his Refn-esque The Pick Up) and got his feet wet behind the camera shooting music videos for local entertainers – his most recent efforts including Chris Martin’s breezy romantic jam “Is It Love” and the Franklin Town-set “Shotta” for NoMaddz.

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