Tuesday, 18 April 2017

TEMPTATION ISLAND: Three J’can short films capture a heady mix of choices and consequences

HEAD HIGH: Challenges aside, Sugar has big dreams for her future.

A headstrong young girl (Shantol Jackson) working to support her family dreams of going back to school. A free-spirited White couple (Jean-Paul Menou and Maylynne Lowe) finds her irresistible and wants her to join them in their ‘playground.’ What happens next? Will she accept their very tempting offer, given her desperate situation? Or will she take the high road and continue living within her humble means?

Meet Sugar (convincingly portrayed by Jackson), the 20-year-old heroine of the film of the same title (written by Sharon Leah and directed by Michelle Serieux), who must choose wisely, as she seeks to make a better life for herself. 

You feel her pain. At home, her unemployed, ghetto-fabulous mother Adele (Karen Harriott) steals her money, and food is a scarce commodity. At her job (she’s on the cleaning staff at the tourist-friendly hotel where she meets the couple), her friend and co-worker Delphine has just been fired, so her only confidante is Miss Maizie (Carol Lawes), her superior who acts as a mother figure, occasionally imparting wisdom. Sugar is a smart girl who knows what she wants but, as she learns, sometimes life throws you unexpected curveballs. 

With this well-made 15-minute adaptation of Leach’s short story, we get a realistic glimpse at the kind of hard-knock life many face in some of Jamaica’s rough-and-tumble communities, where people have to make tough, uncomfortable choices every day just to survive. But what makes Sugar’s case all the more heartfelt is that she’s a likeable and ambitious young lady who might ultimately have to step outside her moral parameters to get ahead. 

The element of surprise (you never know who is going to pop up next) is a huge part of the appeal of Origins, Kurt Wright’s noirish valentine to Jamaican folklore and some of the most intriguing characters that reside in that realm. I’m talking about Nanny of the Maroons (Julene Robinson), creepy Doctor Hutchinson (Tony Hendricks), Quashie (Chris Daley) and, of course, Annie Palmer, who is just as fiery and frightening (as compellingly portrayed by Jodi-Ann Whittaker) as history as recorded. 

That’s why Jack (Kevoy Burton), though a skilful thief, has to muster up enormous conviction to set foot inside Annie’s great house to steal a mysterious object called ‘the well.’ Consequently, a torrent of fury straight out of your worst nightmare is unleashed on him. Wright, working with co-producer and frequent collaborator Noelle Kerr, is obviously an innovative filmmaker and storyteller, and what he has created is a laudable mix of magical realism, film noir influences, historical facts blended with fictional liberties, and a hefty dose of humour. 

Filmmaker Janet Morrison is the first to admit that her short film Silent Hearts is a tough watch. And indeed it is. Brutal, tragic and unforgettable, it weaves an unflinching, interconnecting narrative, vividly showing how a singular occurrence affects many different lives. What’s more, it calls into sharp focus the tendency of many Jamaicans to look the other way upon witnessing serious criminal activity. 

When a schoolgirl (Nardia Scott) on her way home, innocently steps into what she thinks is a regular route taxi, she is unprepared for what happens next: an abduction and vicious assault that ends in bloodshed. But could the tragic turn of events have been thwarted? Why didn’t the fruit vendor who caught a glimpse of what was unfolding in the back seat of the car raise an alarm? What about the businessman who found his newspaper much more important?

Morrison neither glorifies the violence nor sugarcoats it, opting instead to tell her story with a slice of sobering reality and bare-bones honesty. Thankfully, some breathtaking vistas and camera angles (showcasing Mount Rosser and its environs) provide a stunning and refreshing contrast to the ugliness playing out at the film’s core. 

In the end, Silent Hearts speaks volumes about dark human nature and what happens when we turn a blind eye to the crime wreaking havoc in our country – and the predators targeting the young and the vulnerable.

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