BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO
For decades, female filmmakers have been storming the industry, offering a fresh new perspective on the art and direction of filmmaking. These elaborate and well-written storylines have captured the attention of film critics and have demanded that more and more women be recognized for the trails they are blazing in the industry.
Trinidadian-American writer/director Vashti Anderson has always carried a deep passion for the art of filmmaking. Vashti grew up in the U.S., Trinidad, England, and India and her background has had a profound impact on her work and has resulted in her passion for telling stories that examine the complex and ever-changing themes of cultural identity. She holds an MFA in Film from New York University and has won grants, recognition and awards at national and international film festivals.
“Growing up I wanted to be a dancer or an actor,” Anderson shares.
“My high school had an amazing drama program, but I wasn’t being cast in any plays. One day my teacher offered me the opportunity to student direct a play, and I fell in love with the process.”
Vashti considered how the arts were involved in filmmaking, the movement, theatre, photography, and music encompassed all of the things that she enjoyed most, and so she dedicated her studies to become a filmmaker. She was naturally drawn to filmmaking. Her vivid imagination allowed her to see a story unfold, and share those ideas with actors so they could articulate that vision on camera.
From August 3rd – August 6th the National Bank Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF) took place and launched a controversial and cutting-edge program for its 6th year with a record 14 feature films, 4 documentaries, and 15 shorts. Showcasing stories spanning the globe from South Africa to Bangladesh, Trinidad to the USA, and the UK to Canadian and Indigenous films. Women’s and LGBT stories lead the way with love stories, investigations of domestic violence, comedies on complex relationships, and explorations of art and ancestry.
Mostly dabbling in short films, Vashti’s first feature film Moko Jumbie had its Canadian Premiere at the opening gala at MISAFF.
With strong performances and a sense of wonder that blurs the lines between real and fantastic, superstition and truth, living and dead, Vashti Anderson’s directorial debut is a love story that pays tribute to the rich culture of a changing Trinidad.
The film’s story follows Asha, a young woman raised abroad and interested in reconnecting to her West Indian roots, who returns to her family home on a rural coconut plantation in Trinidad. Despite racial taboos, her aunt’s dissuasion, political turmoil and mysterious hauntings from ancestral spirits, Asha embarks on a forbidden relationship with Roger, a young fisherman who shares her desire to look beyond the physical world.
Moko Jumbie is a narrative fiction, a gothic Caribbean love story that touches on themes involving race and class, with elements of Trinidadian folklore, music, and the linguistic culture of the island.
“I felt the responsibility to not just tell a love story, but also incorporate all of these cultural elements that are unique to Trinidad,” Anderson says.
For many that grow up in the West Indians, or are raised by West Indian parents, this film is definitely something they can relate to.
“Although it is a love story about forbidden love, I wanted to showcase Trinidad in an atypical way that wasn’t just sunshine and beaches.” Anderson shares her thoughts behind the making of the film.
“There is beauty there, incorporating the environmental elements of the island, but I also wanted to show a moodiness and a gloominess you know that we as teenagers in our adolescents feel, when we are searching for ourselves, and I wanted to capture that in the gothic elements of the film.”
The film also addresses the issues of racial tension between people of African descent and people of Indian descent in Trinidad as well as the difference in higher class, oppose to working class people that reside across the island.
This is the first film that Vashti has both written and directed, and the film received the award for Best Screen at MISAFF17. The inspiration behind the film comes from Vashti’s own grandmother a woman known for bringing her family together and sharing with Vashti the stories of folklore and her own Trinidadian cultural heritage.
Vashti shares that it feels like this film is just the beginning for her, and plans on continuing her filmmaking journey, with hopes that more of her films will be screened at film festivals across the world.
“Those moments when I’m on set directing actors, I’m so happy; seeing the thing I created in my head come to life in a concrete way is always an incredible moment for me.”