5 questions with Storm Saulter
Many Jamaicans are familiar with film director Storm Saulter. Since the release of his politically charged and constantly revisited feature film Better Mus' Come, Saulter has enjoyed steady progression in his career, and is poised to break through into the presumably impenetrable Hollywood arena.
The director's newest feature film, Sprinter, has been making the rounds in the film festival market, sweeping up awards. At the American Black Film Festival Awards held in Miami, the film won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature; the Audience Award in the category Best Film; and Best Director.
Sprinter follows Akeem, a 17-year-old teenager on a track team, with a dream to qualify for the Penn Relays. He also has a dream of reuniting the family, but when he gets there he realises that perhaps the dream isn't a shared one.
Overbrook Entertainment co-founder Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Ne-Yo serve as producers for the film. Ne-Yo also has original music featured on the film's soundtrack. The film features the talents of local actors Dale Elliot, Shantol Jackson and Kadeem Wilson, along with American actors David Alan Grier and Bryshere Gray - best known for his role as Hakeem Lyon in the series Empire.
This week, The Gleaner caught up with Saulter to find out a bit more about the producer and his promising productions.
1. Congratulations on the awards from the American Black Film Festival. What can winning festival awards translate to?
Film festivals exist to celebrate film-makers and their work. This is where independent films have a chance to be seen, celebrated and awarded outside of the big-studio system. With Sprinter winning multiple awards, it gets the message out that this project is relevant, entertaining, and needs to be seen. Outside of the major-studio system, film festivals are essential communities within which film-maker can grow and connect.
2. How did you get David Alan Grier to sign on as the head coach on 'Sprinter'?
David was brought on to the project through Overbrook Entertainment. We spoke over Skype and reasoned about the character and just built an energy between us. He is great to work with, truly hilarious, and his energy kept the whole crew going, even when everybody was 'pop down' at 3 a.m., after 15 hours of shooting.
3. What's your take on Patois in Jamaican film? Should we keep it the Queen's, or keep it real?
I love to keep language as genuine as possible, and I appreciate when I see other films that don't compromise on language. Unfortunately for North American distributors, there is a fear that subtitles will turn off some viewers, so we have to walk a tightrope of keeping the language genuine, but not so deep that a non-Jamaican can't understand. Moving forward, I hope to not have to be concerned with anything except authenticity when it comes to how my characters speak.
4. We know lack of investment is a major drawback in the development of the local film industry. Besides that, what do you think is lacking by local film-makers?
We need more writers and better scripts. We need to be uncompromising when it comes to actors acting on the screen. There is a clear difference between theatre acting and screen acting. Not all actors or directors here seem to fully grasp this, and there ends up being way too many good-looking films with poor performances that seemed fit for stage more than the screen.
5. How is the planning going for a public screening of 'Sprinter' in Jamaica?
Working on that. No details yet.
Bonus: You were in the director's chair for Chronixx's recent music video release, 'Skankin' Sweet'. Was the concept yours, or his?
The concept evolved over time during conversations between Chronixx and I. He knew he wanted to see regular folks in their daily struggle, then showing what they do for release - what makes their soul dance. It grew from that initial concept, it took many forms, then ultimately settled on what you see. It's humbling and gratifying to see how many people feel a connection to the project and it is a testament to the power of that song. Classic.