Exclusive – Ian Harnarine Presents Caroni at TIFF

As a filmmaker there will be a time when you’ll want to step outside your wheelhouse. Most of the great writer/directors have taken the leap and explored other avenues of their genres for various reasons. As an established filmmaker, the last thing you want to be is predictable. I always applaud when a well known writer/director dares to flip it and reverse it.

Ian Harnarine is one such writer/director that has dared to extend his artistic expression with his short film Caroni. It’s about a young West Indian nanny that lives in New York City and wants to reunite with her daughter that she left behind in Trinidad. It’s her daughter’s upcoming birthday party and she’s trying to find a way to rejoin her. I spoke with Ian about the 11 min 30 sec. film that is soon to make its world premiere at TIFF.


“What was the inspiration behind this film?”

“I live in Toronto and the Caribbean community is quite large. A lot of them are working in low paying jobs, whereas a lot of the caregivers in New York are West Indian. If you go into the middle to upper middle class neighborhoods in New York you’ll find baby strollers with white children being pushed by black or brown nannies. That struck a chord with me because I started to think about whom these women are and the people they left behind and the stories they have.


“When did you shoot the film?”

“We shot it a year ago in August in a swamp in Trinidad where this particular bird lives and the other half in New York City.”


“How did you finance the film?”

“It was actually supported by an organization called Lodocind. They are interested in pushing the boundaries where art and science come together.”


“What does this film represent?”

“I’m interested in the audience feeling something and having an emotional response to it. I hoping to making people feel what family means to them and the sacrifices people make, in terms of immigration.”


“When did you write it?”

“In the spring of 2017. I also had a cowriter on it. There is a lot of natural realism in it. I also did much research on that group of people and what their lives are like?”


“Is this the first time you’ve co-written on a project?”

“No, by the way my cowriter is also my editor Doug Lennox. The biggest project I’ve ever co-written on was with Spike Lee called Time Travellers. He also executive produced my previous award winning short film, Doubles With Slight Pepper.”


“Was it difficult travelling to Trinidad and bringing a crew along?”

“It was a very small crew consisting of myself and the cinematographer. Essentially, three people made this film. Trinidad was difficult particularly in terms of where we wanted to shoot to capture this particular bird which is the national bird of Trinidad. We had to get special permission from the government to shoot it. We also had to make a bunch of promises and vows that we would tell anyone where we found it in fear of poachers hunting it for sport and its feathers. The swamp was incredibly hot and sweaty which also made it difficult.”


“Did you edit the film yourself?”

“No, my editor is Doug Lenox.”


“Have you worked with this cinematographer before?”

“Yes I have, I actually do a lot of work in New York on Sesame Street and she’s one of the cinematographers on the show. We are shooting season 49.”


“It’s interesting that Sesame Street has gone through much adversity since it’s inception.  It seems to really be much more inclusive.”

“I’ve been working with them for 5 or 6 years now and I see how much they really champion diversity in all forms. It’s very remarkable; I’m convinced there’s no other show like it.”


“What kind of camera did you shoot this film on?”

“We used a Canon C300.”


“Was it difficult to secure permits to film in New York?”

“Not at all. They make it quite easy at the mayor’s office. If you have a small crew they call it limited print essentially. As long as you’re not blocking the subway, the sidewalk or parking, you don’t need a permit.”


“What happens once the film premieres at TIFF?”

“From there it will go to the Trinidad and Tobago Festival and afterwards it will screen at a festival in Miami devoted to Caribbean Cinema. From there it will stream online at Labocine.com in October.”


“Are you quite pleased with how the film turned out?”

“Yes, absolutely. The entire film was meant to be an experiment and inform in terms of trying to make something that is part documentary and part drama. I’m not sure if the film can be qualified as documentary but there is a lot of beautiful documentary footage in it that I was grateful to get. It’s one of the things that make the film stand out. I’m a former scientist as well, so I’m really interested in the process of experimentation and seeing what the outcome is. I studied Physical Astronomy at York in Toronto. The way I was taught was through a very rigorous scientific method and I try to bring that same type of thinking to filmmaking in that it is very rigorous and in what I’m trying to achieve. I do have a hypothesis as to how I think the films going to work out but during the experiment things don’t always work out the way you expect them to be. At the same time it’s still a result that should be celebrated. A result that you’re not expecting is just as useful as proving something you were expecting all along.”


“Is there music attached to the film?”

“Yes there is. The music attached is primarily a style of drumming called Tassa. It’s very common amongst the Indo Caribbean culture in Trinidad. That music is used throughout the film to heighten the drama but also to give it a place of belonging.”


“Was it difficult to find a drummer?”

“Not at all. It was surprisingly easy. I went online on Youtube and contacted a few musicians and they were incredibly giving in welcoming the chance for me to use their music.”     


Ian Harnarine is definitely one to watch and I can’t wait to see what he creates next.

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