Exclusive Interview: Jamaican Film Maker Storm @BetterMusCome


Storm  Saulter is one of Jamaica’s most prominent young film-makers . With the panoptic gaze of interchangeable dancehall djs staring down from Digicell and Lime Tv advertisements, the hype cycle of radio and the frantic rotation of fashion and dance moves you couldn’t  be blamed for not realizing that Kingston has a thriving if limited independent arts scene. The best and brightest all seem linked to  Edna Manley – but Storm actually finished up film school in the states. After seeing his latest video for Tarrus Riley, and sitting in on a press screening of his full length Better Mus Come I sent over some questions about Jamaican politics, the challenges of independent film making and what drove Storm to leave behind the opportunity and infrastructure of Los Angeles.

T: You were born in Jamaica, but went to film school and worked in Los Angeles, given how limited the Jamaican film industry is, why return to the island to work?

S: It seems better to start a movement and build it from the beginning than to be just another person trying to make a statement in the same space as thousands of others trying to do the same thing.  We are defining new Caribbean cinema with the work we are doing now. Lots of young people (and a few older ones) in Jamaica and the region are seeing filmmaking as a real and exciting possibility for them right now. Better Mus’ Come is the beginning of a real movement.

T: The space you work in is shared by a bunch of other young filmmakers- can you tell me a bit about the space,  who is there and how you all came to work together. What is the ethos and purpose of New Caribbean?

S: I share an office with my brother Nile Saulter, Joel Burke, and Michelle Serieux. We are all filmmakers and we collaborate on all our projects together in different capacities. Directing, Producing, Cinematography, Editing, Writing. Our office is at 10a West Kings House Road, Perry Henzell’s home and production office during the creation of “The Harder They Come”. We share the property with a number of Directors and Producers. Ras Kassa, Ras Tingle, Jay Will. It is unquestionably the home of Jamaican filmmaking.
For more on New Caribbean Cinema go to www.newcaribbeancinema.com

T: Both the Tarrus video and Better Mus Come seem to deal with a similar type of historical amnesia- the way that systems of power attempt to limit certain types of information and stories in order to be able to continue propegating themselves. How do you see your work in creating new historical narratives or re-examining power?

S: Better Mus Come has had such an explosive impact in Jamaica because it is telling a story that we all know of, but we never knew the details. We would hear our parents speak of the 1970’s, The Cold War era, when Kissinger came to Jamaica and threatened Michael Manley and Jamaica with annihilation if we didn’t step away from Cuba. The beginning of this gang war tradition. There is a reason we were not taught this in school, so that events like the Tivoli massacre would seem like a new development that needed to be solved using brutal force by the Police and Military. But this is not new, it has only evolved from the same source. I guarantee you that many more of these ‘hidden’ stories will be told by this generation of filmmakers. And to be able to do so is empowering to the artists and the people.
T: Both Better Mus Come and The Harder They Come find inspiration in the Green Bay Massacre of  78. How do you see the 2010 state of emergency as relating to a history of state sponsored violence in Jamaica? The last number that I heard was 54 extra-judicial killings by the police and military- in ’78 only five people were killed and we remember it as a massacre. How would you like the events in Tivoli to be understood?

S: The Tivoli Massacre is the evolution of the Green Bay Massacre. Members of the government empower these people to be violent on their behalf. Their power grows until they start to compete with their patrons. And when they start causing too many problems, the security forces are sent in to fix the situation. Same circumstances, but Tivoli was on a much larger scale. Which means to me that things have only gotten worse, and evolved. The ‘official’ death toll during the 2010 State of Emergency was 75-79 persons. They can’t seem to get this figure exact.

T: You shot the Tarrus video in one day. Can you talk about how changing technology and costs are enabling young film-makers like yourself to create international quality works at a fraction of the costs of big studio budgets. How do you see the lowered barriers to entry in film-making shaping a new film industry?

S: Equipment and budget are no longer the main determining factors. It’s all about ideas and execution.

T: Finally- film, like music, is no longer content that consumer expect to pay for. What avenues are open for monetizing feature film work and what are you and your peers understanding as the business model for being a sustainable production company? What other contemporary film-makers do you look up to for how to sucede in this brave new world?

S: Creating a world of products around the film. Partnering with like minded brands and companies to get your message to the market. There are many clever means of promoting a film nowadays, and once your film has enough attention and excitement surrounding it, you will always be able to monetize. Marketing is as important to success as the content itself.  I don’t know of one director that really has a unique way of monetizing on their films. I do know of many great directors whose work I admire though.  I feel in my culture, in my region, that we are the ones really testing the waters for the first time.