LIFE & DEBT
Ms. Stephanie Black made a film H2 WORKER in 1990 that won a lot of awards, including recognition at Sundance and Cannes. H2 WORKER brought her to Jamaica the first time and educated her about this temporary work visa. As a result of her research for that film, she gained a lot of insight into the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank through the eyes of the Jamaican people. She describes how much of the style for LIFE AND DEBT "was me questioning myself and my own culpability in this and my own lack of knowledge. Let's say, for example, that the tourists may not know what's going on outside their hotel gate. We as Americans are not appropriately informed about the impact that our policies have abroad."
(Kamala) How long did it take you to do this film?
S. Black: In the early nineties, the idea first came into my head. And at that time also, the anti-globalization movement and all the protests were not happening at the time... There had been protests in the developing nations, but the consciousness in the United States was not there. So I was thinking about it and then I started to research it and I started to fund raise for it... It took a long time because I was really approaching this from a very, pure investigation, like a pure study; all relying on my own findings, in a certain way and having the story be told from the bottom up, and having the story be told from the people's lives whose these policies were suppose to benefit, but were not. But also doing enough research so that everything was actually correct to show how the causality was directly related to specific policies. We also researched a lot of other information that did not make it into the film because the line was not so direct... anyone watching the film can see that we start out with A, but end up with Z; the line is very clear.
So during that time period, any job that I could, I would do as much work as I could in Jamaica. SESAME STREET was very nice, they let me do programs for them in Jamaica. And then I did a lot of music videos (a lot of the music featured on the LIFE AND DEBT soundtrack). All of this kept building up to the experience that became this film... It was a ten year process from inception to the screen... but full time I would say about five years. The film was shot quite recently. Quite often with documentaries they take a long time. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, doing research and fund raising; that is what took time. The film was shot in '99 and 2000.
(Kamala) How long were you fund raising for that?
S. Black: Four or five years.
Ms. Black explained how a lot of the funders for H2 WORKER came through and funded LIFE AND DEBT. Her track record allowed her to get money without any dailies or a trailer. The only footage shot before the fund raising was complete was the interview with Michael Manley, the man who entered Jamaica into the IMF agreement.
S. Black: ITVS came through with a big chunk of money at the end that allowed me to get going... I wanted to raise all the money before I started shooting. I made the other film (H2 WORKER) like that- stop and start, and I really wasn't interested in doing that. I wanted to be able to control the stop and start. I didn't want money to be the reason.
(Kamala) How open were your subjects?
S. Black: I'll start with the farmers first. It was amazing because they were... for every one person I would have on camera, I would have fifty others saying the same thing... Everyone I went to speak to, it was almost like before I could even ask them, they were ready and willing. It was almost like they were expecting me before I got there because they were so interested to have the opportunity to share with the American people what was happening. Because they are very understanding and under the knowledge that these policies are not coming from the American people but from institutions. .. And the farmers really had an identification with the small farmers (in the US), and feeling that they were being put out of business was a similar plight.
And then Michael Manley, that was great because... he was very pleased with that interview. He asked for a copy of it because he was going to teach and he wanted to use that interview to teach with (before he became ill and died)... For him to say that it was the worse decision he made in his life in that interview was great... Everyone was forthcoming and I think that is clear in the film.
(Kamala) Sometimes though it takes some time to harvest the relationships and establish the trust.
S. Black: I think what helped me out a lot was the research process because people saw that I was committed to the subject and committed to understanding.
She also explains how much she learned about economics while working on this film and hopes that this film will inspire others to educate themselves about macroeconomic theory and the global impact.
(Kamala) What are some of your hopes for this film?
S. Black: The challenge of the film was making something that exposes the impact of our (U.S.) policies. The goal of this film is making a consensus... making these policies less transparent, making it clear that this is what we are imposing. And questioning is this working? I think it will increase public awareness. Also the way protests are covered in the media, there really is not a context. So maybe this film will make people question- 'why haven't I seen this on my television and why haven't I seen a story?'... So that is our hope for the film, to help shed light as to why these people are out on the streets.
(Kamala) How has the film been received in Jamaica?
S. Black: It has sold out every night... It will then air on television.
(Kamala) What about in other countries?
S. Black: England will probably be the next
country [because of the historical ties with Jamaica.
(at a film festival in March)].
(Kamala) Have you been able to affect policy at all yet?
S. Black: No (major) impact yet. Policy-makers may adopt new language, but not really change anything.
(Kamala) What would you like to say about some of the challenges you faced making this film?
S. Black: At the film level not a content level... a lot of time and thought was put into the crafting of the film and the use of color and the soundtrack and the voice over; integrating traditional documentary methods: talking heads, archival footage, with less traditional methods with a kind of music video influence because I make music videos; and a voice over running through it like a narrative thread. So I can feel proud of the film because I made visual a non visual subject matter without it being straight talking heads, and that was a challenge, and I think the film succeeded on that level. So people can see the challenges and see how they were done... You never know when you are working on something, if it is going to work.
(Kamala) What advice would you give to a young filmmaker?
S. Black: I am going to sound like a Nike commercial, but I really would have to say- 'just do it!' because, let's say you're thinking about making a film, it's almost like a lake because you have to get to that other side and get wet. There is no turning back because once you get into that lake and get wet, you have to swim to that other side. So I think by starting the film... if someone has a vision... they have to make a sacrifice... but it's worth it. It's like going to film school... it's not just that you learn something there, because you do learn something, but you become someone more than someone just walking around the street wanting to make a film, to someone who has a homework assignment. You have to do it, you actually have to do it, you have to start shooting something. It's not an art form that you can just do it. It costs money. But with small cameras that are available now, you can.
(Kamala) What you would you say to a film enthusiast to get them to see your film as opposed to another opening/running at the same time?
S. Black: It's hard for me to be a commercial... The biggest compliment that I have gotten about this film, repeatedly, it seems that the film catalyzes a lot of discussion afterwards; and I think that that is a very rewarding film experience. You go to it and you come away with your mind in a new territory. A lot of people have said to me that they loved the film and they stayed up all night talking about with the people they saw it with, just talking and talking about the issues at hand. I think that if a film makes me think, I appreciate that.
This film will educate and move you, especially some of the footage of wasted milk and interviews with female factory workers. Ms. Black does a fine job of delving into the issues surrounding a global economy and its impact on the lives of people in Jamaica. The low budget will inspire other filmmakers who do not have access to big budgets. LIFE AND DEBT starts its platform release on January 18th. There will be a benefit concert, featuring Jamaican Reggae artists Yami Bolo, Mutabaruka, and Lutan Fyah, at StudioZ in San Francisco on January 18th from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
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