Have you seen Get Out? For a week, I avoided reviews, articles and social media posts about how “deep” and “good” the movie was. Why? Because of spoilers! But attempting to dodge social media posts and comments on my timeline was enough motivation to purchase tickets for an 8:15 PM showing on a Saturday night. I believe Get Out lived up to the hype surrounding it. It was layered and nuanced in its dealing with the current climate of race relations in America. It is the type of movie you must really pay attention to in order to connect all of the dots.
On the ride home my sister and I discussed the film and read those articles I initially avoided. The comment sections were filled with strangers who gathered to dissect, share theories, and seek clarity on the film’s theme. I love films that make you think and then think some more; films that challenge you to engage them long after the credits have rolled–like psychological thrillers for instance. That’s what makes a good film. What makes a film good for you? What makes a film good in general?
Bronx native Harri “Indio” Ramkishun says, “it’s about communication. As long as you are able to communicate in a clear way, the message gets across. Obviously some people might not like the message but if you're true in your commitment to communicate a story and you did your best trying to convey it, you’ve done your job and hopefully people understand it.” As a filmmaker, director, editor, producer, teacher of film production at BronxNet, founding member of The Bronx Filmmakers Collective, and owner and operator of GuyaRican Productions, Indio, has plenty of insight on filmmaking and the importance of honestly and effectively communicating a story.
For the GuyaRican–a moniker created by combining Guyanese and Puerto Rican, his cultural backgrounds–the road to becoming a filmmaker was unconventional. He transitioned from the music industry to TV film a little over ten years ago when he was a contestant on a reality show on the YES Network.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I was in the music industry. When things weren’t going well with the transition of mechanical (physical products such as CDs, records, etc) to digital, I took an opportunity to be on a sports reality show about die hard Yankee fans competing in challenges to win tickets to Yankee games. [I was] born and raised in The Bronx, and played across the street from Yankee stadium, so why not? I knew that was going to be my transition into TV film. I auditioned and after about a 20 minute talk with producers they said they wanted me.
On challenges learning to be a filmmaker by apprenticeship:
I think there are at least two different routes to get to the same destination. While mine may have been unconventional, the common denominator is networking. Oftentimes you’ll see people who went to NYU, for example, their team is basically built from classmates they were working with. It’s the same thing for me and trying to build a community of filmmakers. The resources may not be there but as with anything if you’re really passionate about what you do you’ll find ways to make it happen. I wrote, produced and directed my first short film. Rather than have the opportunity to go to film school I created a film to learn. That was my learning curve. A lot of my colleagues helped with the project, they bought in the cameras and the lights and we shot it in my apartment in Riverdale. The results weren’t the best but it was an experience. From then I continued to learn about operating the cameras and would soon become the Director of Photography on various short films.
Do you think that is why a lot of people in the Bronx don’t pursue film?
Filmmaking is a long journey some people may see it as attainable but it takes too long. There have been great filmmakers that have come out of The Bronx but you have a generation gap from Penny and Garry Marshall (1960s) who grew up on East Tremont to Rashaad Ernesto Green who directed the film Gun Hill Road (2011). He was able to cross over to hollywood and direct shows. But we are a community of 1.4 million people [as of 2013] and growing so I think the numbers will only go up from there. Being a part of The Bronx Filmmakers Collective (TBxC) I get to know the other filmmakers of the bronx and we help each other out. Bronx filmmakers are out there, we’re just a little scattered.
How did The Bronx Filmmakers Collective start?
In September 2012 I heard about a meeting reaching out to Bronx Filmmakers at the Bronx Documentary Center. Hannah Leshaw, (co-founder of The Bronx Filmmakers) asked Michael Kamber, (the co-founder of Bronx Documentary Center), to meet there. I went and said [to Leshaw], “this is what I’ve been looking for, I want to help you make this happen.” We banded together. We’re in our 5th year now. We recently filed the paperwork to become a non profit. Soon we’ll be able to seek grants to potentially offer scholarships to members so they can create their own projects.
What types of themes does TBxC write about?
We tend to avoid the themes that people most often connect to The Bronx: gang violence, ghetto, gritty, The Bronx is burning, abandoned buildings scenarios. We capture real stories. We hear and see stories of perseverance and trying to make it. Many people can relate to that, not just Bronxites, those type of stories are the ones members gravitate to.
The process of joining TBFC?
There is an application process and we require that you have a film, whether you submitted it to a festival or created it on your own.
Any films that have really inspired you?
I love all kinds of stories but I've always been compelled to look at Ang Lee movies both cinematically and storytelling wise. He has such a way with directing these stories from Crouching Tiger to Life of Pie. On the flip side I love movies like The Best Man, Brown Sugar, and Love and Basketball by Gina Bythewood; her husband Reggie Rock is a Bronxite. I got a chance to talk to him, I told him when he comes back to the Bronx look [The Bronx Film Collective] up and talk to us.
We can record films on iPhones now, do you feel that filmmaking is still valued?
At the end of the day, whether it’s an Arri Alexa or an iPhone if you're not telling a story cohesively, it’s just images and audio scrambled together. So while there has been an influx of “filmmakers” it still takes a level of passion, training and practicing on your own. I think the doors are open to many people especially in communities where you don't have as much money to go to film school, the NYUs and the USCs, so you can just learn by doing and practice. The best examples are those that are already out, find your favorite movies and watch them. Have a sketch pad and write down what you liked best about the movie–try to replicate that on your own and put your spin to it. I have a Moleskine book where I do that and refer back to it.
How do you view streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube as a filmmaker?
I think it can be a double-edged sword, because of the amount of content that is being produced it does make it hard to stand out. [And] I know many of those outlets will take products that aren’t refined but completed.
In an era of “alternative facts” and “fake news” jargon, how important is it to control our narratives especially as one pursuing film?
The truth is being bent in certain ways but honestly speaking… this is no different from how it was 30 to 40 years ago. Filmmaking is the same, the technology has changed but the main thing hasn’t changed and it’s that you have to tell a story that is compelling and true at least in that world. It’s about communication as long as you are able to communicate in a clear way, the message gets across, obviously some people might not like the message but if you're true in your commitment to communicate a story and you did your best trying to convey it, you’ve done your job and hopefully people understand it.
What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a feature film–it’s been a slow process. Hopefully when it’s done people will see the story, get it and be moved by it. It’s a coming of age story about a 17 year old kid who just graduated high school and all the circumstances that happen that may cause him not to go to college. You can be on the right path and a brick wall goes up in your face in no time. It’s something that I’ve seen in my own life and with my friends and family. I wanted to put that in a narrative. The responsibility of a filmmaker is to be able to convey a story in a clear and concise manner so that your audience will get what you’re trying to say.
While talking to Indio I was reminded that as we move through this world, we enjoy things most when we are able to connect, understand, and see ourselves in them, especially films. With technological advancement and the newer, more accessible means for us to pursue our passions, I’m looking forward to watching more films written and directed by Bronxites passionate about perfecting their skills and telling honest stories. I’m waiting for more films that will help us to grapple with the issues of our communities and our time and will incite us to action. Films that make us laugh, cry, but most importantly think and then think some more. May I suggest psychological thriller?
For more information on Harri "Indio" Ramkishun, check out his website: www.guyarican.com