Five questions with Nile Saulter
Jamaican cinematographer Nile Saulter takes comfort in the fact that the local film industry is generally heading in what he calls “a beautiful direction”. The 34-year-old director, editor, and founding member of New Caribbean Cinema is on the cusp of making his feature film directorial debut with Escape to Last Man Peak, and he is justifiably excited.
The Jean Da’Costa adventure novel is a classic that is close to Saulter’s heart. “When I first read Escape to Last Man Peak in high school, I remember it jumping off the page. This literary treasure was always destined for the big screen,” he told The Gleaner.
Saulter, whose brother Storm has directed movies such as Sprinter and Better Mus’ Come, gives credit to his “creative family background”, and he too has his own growing list of accolades. In 2011, his short film, Coast, won Best Cinematography at the Portobello Film Festival, and in 2012 he contributed to the filming of the One People documentary, which commemorated Jamaica’s 50th anniversary. In 2013, Saulter was selected to participate in the National Gallery of Jamaica’s exhibition, New Roots: 10 Emerging Artists.
His short films have been exhibited at the British Museum in London and the Michael Werner Gallery in New York. He has also enjoyed screenings at festivals in Toronto, Nigeria, Trinidad, Barbados, Cuba, St Lucia, Jamaica, and London. His other films include Pillowman, Everblessed, The Young Sea and Fever Dream.
What was your drive behind making films, and what roadblocks did you face when you were starting out?
The drive came from my environment and a creative family background. I remember how certain films would affect me at formative times growing up, to the point where some of my earliest memories had to do with being invested in a character. I always felt like I wanted to see Jamaica represented in a certain way on screen. Exploring our nuances and quieter moments as opposed to what is more widely known and consumed, I find that important. My roadblocks starting out had to with having the confidence to try things my way and knowing it could work. Otherwise, the classic problems like lack of finance and infrastructure.
Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute to become a successful film-maker?
It definitely isn’t essential. My only formal schooling for film was an intensive course in London for four months, in the dead of winter. It was very helpful for learning some practical skills and as an introduction to several aspects of the craft all at once. More importantly, though, it gave me an early glimpse into the resilience and drive needed for set life. You can learn all you need by simply being observant and wanting it enough. The real institute is the film set itself.
Which book would you love to make a film out of one day?
Thankfully I’m making it! Escape to Last Man Peak will be my feature film debut, and it’s a story I’ve appreciated for a long time. I first read it in high school and remember having discussions about how powerful it would be on screen. I’m really looking forward to the journey of bringing it to life. Another book which needs to be adapted is A Fraction Of The Whole by Steve Toltz. It’s a wild Australian story.
Which particular film-maker has influenced you the most, and why?
That’s a difficult one because I naturally rate so many different film-makers for their individual masteries. Steven Soderbergh perhaps stands out the most. This bredren has made every type of film regardless of genre or budget while maintaining a style that’s all his own. A huge studio production with legendary actors followed by a micro-budget indie shot on an iPhone with non-actors, for example. Ava Duvernay’s work is also beautiful, and she’s kicked down doors which should have never been closed. Iñárritu is also a boss. Sorry, I can’t just name one!
How would you, as a film-maker, document the year 2020?
I’d have to make a documentary exploring all these world events and how they will undoubtedly shape our future. You would have to cut across genre lines, and in any case, you couldn’t write this year and have it be believable anyway. The story arc of 2020 is relentlessly shifting and the year doh even done yet. Truth truly is stranger than fiction.
How do you relax and unwind?
Leave the city, get to nature quickly. I like driving to the hills for an immediate change of vibe. I also feel very grounded being cliffside in Negril where I’m from. A nice red wine or mezcal are good additions.