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Shooting for 'Paradise': Mary Wells on Her Debut Film

Mary Wells writer and director of Kingston Paradise

When filmmaker Mary Wells started the journey toward her first feature film, Kingston Paradise, she had no delusions that it would be an easy road, but she hadn’t expected it to be as arduous or as long. Finally, six years after the start of the film, Kingston Paradise is set to meet audiences with a world premiere in Toronto on 13 September, during the Caribbean Tales Showcase and its Caribbean premiere just a few days later at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.

Kingston Paradise is a playful film, dealing with serious issues, says the filmmaker. It features the experienced actors Chris ‘Johnny’ Daley and Munair Zacca, as well as debut performances from Camille Small, Gregory Nelson, Paul Shoucair.  

Chris 'Johnny' Daley takes has his first feature lead role in Kingston ParadiseFor Wells the making of the film was a six year intensive workshop.

“It’s hard work and it’s a very beautiful process,” she admits. “I had to break a lot of rules in making this film.”

The award-winning filmmaker explained that due to the film’s modest budget almost every one crew member, other than herself, was part-time and so she had to wear multiple hats. These hats including writing and directing as well as being one of the producers and executive producers of the film.

“Two weeks before the end, we had no money,” she confesses, explaining that at toward the close of the five week shoot, they were down to surviving on food and drinks from brand sponsors Lucozade and Burger King. She laughing says she would challenge all Jamaican filmmakers to make this kind of low to no-budget film.

“You test your own skills. You get to know yourself better,” she says.For many in Kingston, paradise is only on a brochure: a stillshot from Kingston Paradise

Despite the challenges, and the time it has taken, Wells argues that filmmaking in the Caribbean is burgeoning.

“Some of the littlest islands that you’ve never ever heard about, they’re churning out stories,” Wells said, admitting that quality and distribution remain major hurdles.

“Small films like Kingston Paradise, they don’t make a vast amount of money,” she says. “I’m not saying that the next big thing couldn’t come out of the Caribbean. It could explode. But generally, it doesn’t make a lot of money, but it can still be a viable opportunity,” she said.

Yet for Wells, creation of small films is the route she believes the Caribbean film industry should follow.

“We should think of small projects, grab opportunity, get gold,” Wells says. She explains that even though there have been a few films made in the Caribbean that with budgets of US$1 million, a minuscule budget in film terms, the Caribbean is not yet at the stage to be making those kinds of films.

Wells explains that Kingston Paradise is set in the ghetto but it's not a ghetto storyKingston Paradise had a modest budget of approximately US$250,000.00, of which only about US$30,000.00 was in cash. Wells reveals that much of her ability to keep the post production costs low while getting highly skilled practitioners to work on the film came through the Caribbean Tales network. Frances Ann Solomon, creator of Caribbean Tales, is one of the executive producers and producers of Kingston Paradise. Wells and the late Sajoya Alcott are the other producers.

“The film is very beautiful,” Wells says, and her affection for the project shows. “It’s about these young people who have this dream and can’t meet their aspirations,” she says.

Like most of the films coming out of Jamaica, Kingston Paradise is set in the heart of Kingston’s ghettoes, in this case South Kingston. However, Wells maintains that it is distinctly different from its predecessors. She places the strength and solidity of the story, the absence of cliches and stereotypes as among the distinguishing factors.

“It’s set in the ghetto, but it’s not a ghetto story,” she says. “There’s no real violence in it. There’s only a police chase; there's some some gunfire exchange but there’s no real violence. You’re wrapped up in the passion and intensity of the characters.”

“It focuses on the chaos of Jamaican society,” she says. She explains that for her characters the simple act of going to the beach is something to which they have to aspire.

“And that has nothing to do with the ghetto, I feel like that. You look at the magazines in the pharmacy, and you say ‘where is this Jamaica that they advertise?’”.

Wells explains that the film may not make its Jamaican debut until 2014, and she intends to try and get it placed in three or four major festivals, and she is still in the process of raising venture capital to make the film ready for in cinema screenings.

“I do hope it makes a bit of commercial success,” Wells confesses. She explains that at the end Kingston Paradise she hopes that people will be entertained by it and come out thinking it was good Caribbean film.

“I hope I told a good story that people like,” the filmmaker says.

“I just had to make the film I liked and that I believed in,” Wells says.