Tag Archives: documentary

From Doc to Documentarian: Dr. James Knight

March 2014 movie madness mona short shirt film dr james knight James KnightI wrote this article back when the film debuted in 2013,  published in the local press but also with the intention of posting it here; don’t know why I didn’t post it before now. But better late than never. Pictures above top – screening of the film in Jamaica; bottom – Dr. James Knight.

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

That the man behind the new Short Shirt documentary is Dr. James Knight, a man primarily known for his work in public health, may have come as a surprise to some. That he’d been building his skills doing screenwriting, animation and related courses at U.S. institutions such as Fordham, New York Film Academy, and the New York Film Academy’s branch at Universal Studios in Hollywood in preparation for this role, a bigger surprise yet. It took some doing too; for one, Dr. Knight noted, “I couldn’t get study leave because the things I went to study had nothing to do with medicine”. There were hurdles but such was his determination that he found creative ways to make it happen.

To those who really know Dr. Knight, it likely seems a natural evolution for the boy who became enamored with documentary films while running the projector on films out of Africa and the diaspora for the African Caribbean Liberation Movement while yet in his teens.

“We used to go to different school rooms to show films about the struggle for liberation,” said Dr. Knight. “I got to appreciate the very effective medium that the documentary film can be for transmitting information (while entertaining).”

That appreciation and the theory and practice he’s acquired in recent years come together in the skilled storytelling that is his film, The Making of the Monarch. It can’t have been easy but he was driven by a keen appreciation for things local, his love of the medium, creativity enough to craft a two hour film with very limited archival footage to pull from, and a determination to do it right or not at all. His promise to himself: “it’s either going to be good or it’s not going to be seen.”

That his first subject was Short Shirt, a legend of the calypso game, who had done a fair job of scrapbooking his life, was a bonus. “He had material that surprised me,” said Dr. Knight, referencing the Monarch’s old performance footage. “He came to my house with a whole set of them. He was very cautious at first, but when he realized that I was serious, he began to open up his archives.”

Even with Short Shirt’s archives being unusually rich, he still had to scout for key interviews and additional footage – the Star Black footage for instance, that’s courtesy of Mayfield who has lots of vintage Antiguan scenes on reel. Dr. Knight commented on the fact that in general though, whether due to economics or mindset, we, culturally, tend not to hold on to things; old images, old paraphernalia. “Without that tradition, documentary production is a challenge in these parts,” he said.

Still, he made it work, although it wasn’t always certain that he would. “I did not know clearly how I would have done this until maybe a few years ago,” Dr. Knight said. His stints in film schools and internships programmes overseas helped make this much clear to him: it’s all about the story. “Here is where you situate the character early, who he is, where he came from, what triggered…” and so on.

The challenge in having a living subject as the subject of your documentary is of course the conflict between the story you’re trying to tell and the story of their life as they see it. Dr. Knight did a good job of bringing balance to the telling of the life of a complex man and artiste, and, in the end, satisfying the subject as well. “I think Short Shirt was satisfied, after a while, that he would have to live with some things he didn’t remember or wish to remember; and there are some skeletons that couldn’t be sealed away in the closet,” Dr. Knight said. That said, from all accounts, the Monarch is “extremely pleased; this is something that he is going to leave behind that he is extremely pleased with.”

The film is set for screenings has screened in other parts of the Caribbean and the U.S. All who’ve seen it already can agree that it’s only the beginning. From school teacher to journalism to cartooning to medicine to public health education to filmmaking, Dr. Knight has proven himself to be a man of many interests; and these days his interest is in continuing to use the documentary medium to tell stories of Antigua. “I have several ideas in mind,” he said. “Having done that (the Making of the Monarch), I hope I’ve established myself as someone who can do a documentary of some worth (and) I hope they’ll be able to receive other (films).” Health issues and political issues are some of the sub-topics that appeal to him; a documentary on the life of Leonard Tim Hector perhaps. It’s one of many ideas he’s mulling now that he’s announced his arrival as Antigua and Barbuda’s latest filmmaker.

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Kudos, Calvin

Black ‘n Black… Southwell Inc… Calvin S… Beautiful People… designer Calvin Southwell has been trending as a fashion icon since the late 1980s. A new documentary tracks his journey.

calvin s

If you could see Calvin’s facebook page, you would see how much love he’s receiving and if you get a chance to see the documentary, you’ll see why. For me, part of what I liked about the documentary apart from the insight to what shaped him, was that he is an example of someone stepping out on a limb, following an improbable dream. In a society, especially, where creative pursuits are seen as hobbies, the effort, the hard work, the cost not fully appreciated, that took some guts…and no doubt a fair amount of turning a deaf ear to the ones trapped in the box. That Calvin is still a cool, down to earth, friendly kind of guy makes it that much easier to join with others in celebrating him.

Beyond that, all I can say is, we need more of this kind of recording and celebration of the dreamers and doers in our society. I think of this, and before this the Short Shirt documentary, that serve as inspirational reminders of the talent birthed right here that can with determination imprint on society. Calvin S’s imprint on fashion in Antigua and the Caribbean is undeniable. Congrats to him. And let’s tell more of our stories!

Read coverage of his red carpet premiere here. And here are some highlights from Calvin S.’s remarkable career (a career still very much in progress) from the event programme:

  • Designs featured in magazines far and wide – including She Caribbean, Profiles, Panache, Island Wear, Elan, Shabeau, Business Focus, and the in-flight magazines of BWIA, LIAT, Caribbean Star, as well as several online fashion journals.
  • Designs shown on runways in London, New York, Paris, Miami, Toronto, and various Caribbean islands including at the prestigious Caribbean Fashion Week.
  • Awarded the Grand Order of Merit in 2003.

The documentary – Calvin S of Antigua, the Designed Life – was written, directed and produced by D. Channsin Berry, a Hollywood based producer of numerous documentaries including the acclaimed and thought provoking Dark Girls.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

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