Tag Archives: Silent Music

Melissa G Wins/Tameka J Debuts

Okay, I’m a little late with this one. But bear with me; a lot of artistic Antiguans out there doing their thing and I just trying to keep up. This time I turn the spotlight again on Melissa Gomez.

Her first feature length documentary Silent Music won the Audience Choice Award at the Toronto Deaf International Film & Arts Festival in May. It had its US debut shortly after, in fact earlier this month, with a screening at the DC Caribbean Film Festival in Maryland.

Go on, Melissa!

And you, reader, go here to read my October 2012 exclusive Wadadli Pen interview with Melissa. And here and here for my previous coverage of the film’s movements on the festival circuit.

Now for a little six-or-less degrees of separation trivia. Melissa’s partner in work and life is Christopher Hodge, the director of Dinner, written by Tameka Jarvis-George who is mentioned all over this site as songwriter, poet, screenplay writer, actress, model, novelist…and now we can add fashion designer after she debuted her GenX 724 line at Caribbean Fashion Week. What first time designer debuts at the biggest fashion showcase in the region? Tameka J that’s who.

Go on, Tameka!

Read about Tameka’s adventures in Jamaica and the dreaming and daring it took to get there on her blog.

Ent ah tell you artistic Antiguans out there doing their thing and ah jus’ tryin’ to keep up?

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Melissa Gomez Exclusive

Antiguan and Barbudan filmmaker Melissa Gomez (recently featured in Canada’s largest ethnic paper and on this site) claimed the Caribbean Tales Film Fest prize for Best Documentary Feature (2012) up in Toronto recently. Much props to her! And for your reading pleasure, the transcript of an email interview I did with her for this Daily Observer article.

Me: What were your expectations when taking on this film project?

Melissa: My initial expectations were that I’d make a simple film about my deaf parents; I wanted to give them a “voice”. For as long as I can remember, people have been intrigued by the fact that I grew up with deaf parents. And almost always, when I’d explain what my parents are like, people respond with their stereotypes about the deaf – they’d say things like “Oh I thought they were dumb”.

So I thought, “why not make a film about my parents and show what they are really like?”. I worked on the film for some time on my own, then quickly realized that I needed to bring on an editor who could lend some objectivity to the story (I quickly discovered being objective about your family is incredibly difficult!). I found an amazing editor – Jay Prychidny, based in Toronto, Canada – who was willing to take on my project. When Jay came on board, he helped me realize that the most interesting thing about my parents was not the fact that they were deaf, but rather who they are as unique individuals, deafness aside. And I immediately fell in love with telling that story. It meant that the story became much more complex and that I had to dig a lot deeper into my family’s history than I was initially expecting, but the result has been completely worth it!

Me: What were your fears?

Melissa: The minute I realized I had to dig so deep into my family’s past I had a lot of fears. Would my family be willing to open up to me? What would they think about making themselves so vulnerable on film? I also worried about whether audiences would understand my reasons for making such a personal film… the last thing I wanted was for it to be interpreted as an impetuous child “airing dirty laundry”. My motivation was the exact opposite of that… I wanted to honor the the sacrifices that my parents have made in their lives and I wanted to show the beauty that comes from being honest with the people closest to you. I ended up inserting myself into the film, and making myself just as vulnerable as the rest of my family – I didn’t think it would be fair to just point the camera at everyone else!

Me: How does it compare to your previous projects?

Melissa: Silent Music is my first documentary feature and it took me 7 years to complete – so in a lot of ways, this is the project that started my career in film and television. It was a labour of love like no other, so it’s very hard to compare to any other project. The personal stakes were very high for me – I really wanted it to be a film my family would be proud of; I didn’t want it to disrespect them in any way; I remain very sensitive to their reactions. So I invested a huge amount of emotional energy trying to accomplish all of that.

My documentary short, Share and Share Alike, was another film that meant very much to me – for that project I challenged myself to complete the film in a very short space of time – 3 weeks of shooting; 6 weeks of editing. After working on Silent Music for so long I needed to prove to myself that I could actually finish a film within just a few months. So it was great to have accomplished that in the middle of making Silent Music.

I do think that making films about personal family stories can be one of the most difficult, but also the most rewarding things that one can do. It feels exhilarating to have finally finished Silent Music, but I have to admit – I’m looking forward to making a film about people that aren’t my relatives!

Me: Is it difficult to separate when taking on a project that involves your
family…do you need to separate…or is that inside perspective key to the
process?

Melissa: I do think objectivity is extremely important when telling any story… after all you have to make sure your story is interesting to people who aren’t your relatives. Objectivity helps you to tap into the universal themes that larger audiences can connect to.

But at the same time, the personal “inside” perspective allows you to tell a story like no one else can – which I believe is equally important. I keep asking myself “why should I be telling this story, vs. someone else?” And for me, the answer is my personal connection / what my personal experience can bring to the story. I definitely have to feel very passionate about a subject before I endeavour to make a film about it. Independent filmmaking can be very grueling – so sometimes passion and personal connection are the only things that prevent you from giving up!

For me, it’s definitely about maintaining a balance between using your personal connection to a story to make it unique, and also being able to take a step back and see the universal themes that make your story accessible to wider audiences.

Me: Given that it’s such a personal story what do you think makes it universal, makes others connect with it?

Melissa: Silent Music is about the things that are never spoken about in families; it’s about the complex nature of long-term relationships; the sacrifices that parents make for their children and how these things ultimately define the people that we become. It’s also about acceptance. I have yet to meet a family that has perfect communication, or a person who hasn’t wished they understood a particular family member better. So I’d like to think that anyone who has ever wished for more open and honest communication in their families can relate to my family’s story in Silent Music.

Me: What’s been your favourite response to date?

Melissa: That’s a hard one – I have a few! One of my favourites was after the World Premiere at CaribbeanTales, when the credits rolled and Frances-Anne Solomon, Founder of CaribbeanTales, invited me to come up to the stage for the Q&A. She was completely choked up and overcome with emotion that she could barely say my name. That said to me that she connected with the story on a deep level and that meant the world to me, especially knowing what a talented and accomplished filmmaker she is herself. It was incredibly humbling.

Then of course, there was the person who came up to me after the film who said, “You NEED to get your father to star in all of your films! I LOVE him!”.

And during the screening, there was so much laughter in the audience – I was surprised at how comical certain moments in the film were. I loved discovering that the film can make people laugh and cry at the same time.

Me: Why’d you want to tell this story?

Melissa: There are so many stereotypes about what it means to be deaf, and growing up in Antigua I was always painfully aware of that. There is a surprisingly prevalent assumption that “deaf equals dumb”. I can’t tell you how many times people have said that to me, and I needed to do something to illustrate the falseness that assumption.

People often get intimidated by my parents’ voices, since they don’t sound like most people. I made a very conscious choice to use subtitles instead of “dubbing” over their voices. I intentionally highlighted my parents’ deaf voices in Silent Music – to show how proud I am of them, of the challenges they’ve overcome, of what they’ve accomplished in their lives and how much they mean to me.

It was really important to me that by the end of the film, audiences see that my deaf parents and my family are actually not that different from any hearing family. We have the same joys and sorrows, ups and downs. My parents just sound a little different!

Me: Tell me your awards/accomplishments to date for this film or others? and also your future plans for the film?

Melissa: I’m ecstatic that Silent Music won the award for Best Documentary when it World Premiered at the 2012 CaribbeanTales Film Festival. It was completely unexpected and very humbling.

My documentary short, Share and Share Alike, won the award for Best Documentary Video Production at the 2010 Black International Cinema Festival in Berlin, Germany; and was also nominated for Best Documentary Short at the 2010 Pan African Film Festival in California.

In the short term, my plan for Silent Music is to get it into as many film festivals as I can, and once it finishes the festival circuit, to get distribution.

Me: Will it ever screen in Antigua?

Melissa: That’s a very good question! At this point the honest answer is I’m not sure. The personal nature of the film makes it tricky. I’m so grateful for my family’s generosity in allowing me to tell their story that I feel like the choice to show it in Antigua needs to be made by them – it’s the least I can do! I’m very protective of them and it’s very important to me that they are 100% comfortable before I take that step. My family is incredibly supportive and excited about all the positive responses that the film got at the CaribbeanTales World Premiere – so I suspect that the more those positive responses continue, the stronger the chances are that it may one day be shown in Antigua!

Me: What made the Caribbean Tales experience so meaningful to you?

Melissa: The CaribbeanTales experience was so meaningful because for some time I was a bit fearful about how people would react to my film. I reached out to Frances-Anne Solomon for advice and she immediately encouraged me to take part in the CaribbeanTales Market Incubator program and to screen the film at her festival. She pushed me to let go of this labour of love, and in doing so I made connections with an amazing group of incredibly supportive Caribbean filmmakers from across the region who genuinely want to see each other succeed. That sense of community and support is incredibly important to me as a filmmaker, especially in an industry where Caribbean stories are so underrepresented.

Me: What’s your advice to other young people dreaming of making their own films?

Melissa: My advice would be to go for it! Do as much research as you can – there are many books (Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger is one of my favourites) and courses out there, but your best teacher is experience. Figure out what role suits you best (Producer, Director, Editor?), but don’t forget that filmmaking is inherently a collaborative process – so be open to getting help and feedback from others. I’d recommend starting with making a short film and a simple story to test the waters and see how you like the process. And most importantly – don’t stop dreaming!

As for what I’m up to now, I currently work with AMC (American Movie Classics) Networks, in their Digital Video department where I produce and production manage behind-the-scenes content for AMC’s original series. I recently returned from Detroit where I interviewed the main cast and crew for one of AMC’s new Pilots. It’s fantastic experience as it allows me to stay on top of the same skills that I need for making my own films. I’m in the process of determining what my next documentary will be and am aiming to be in development before the end of the year. Stay tuned!

Indeed we will, Melissa. Full disclosure, I’ve worked with Melissa Gomez on projects a few times and her success with this project doesn’t surprise me, especially as I am one of the folks at home here in Antigua who has seen (and loved) both Silent Music and Share and Share Alike. Heartfelt congratulations to a talented young Antiguan and Barbudan sister.

As with all content 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 Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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‘Silent Music’ Participates in Market Incubator @ CaribbeanTales 2012

UPDATE! UPDATE! Melissa Gomez, the Antiguan and Barbudan producer of the documentary film Silent Music, reports that not only did her film debut to a full house, it also walked away with the award for Best Documentary at Caribbean Tales 2012. Of the response to the film, she said, “Instead of misunderstanding my motivations for telling such a personal story (one of my fears) – it appears that the audience fell in love with my parents, the main characters of the film. What more could I ask for??” Of receiving the award, she said, “Words can’t explain how amazing it feels for the first response to this labor of love to have been so positive.”

This September 12th 2012 update comes courtesty producer Melissa Gomez:

Last week was a busy one for Silent Music at CaribbeanTales in
Toronto! The week began with an introduction to the CaribbeanTales Maket
Incubator program with a focus on the importance of telling Caribbean stories
and on perfecting the art of “TIFF’ing” (who knew “to TIFF” was a verb??) at
the Toronto International Film Festival, which is taking place concurrently
with the CaribbeanTales Film Festival.

Then followed three intense days of the CaribbeanTales Market Incubator
where I honed the “perfect pitch” for the film, pairing up with mentors in the
film industry and finessing the business plan for marketing and distribution.
Wednesday’s highlights included the opening launch gala of the 2012
CaribbeanTales Film Festival with the screening of the British-Barbadian
documentary, “The Story of Lovers Rock”. Next up were two intense days of
TIFF’ing with Sales & Industry pass in hand, while the culmination of the
incubator happened on Sunday: the ultimate pitch to a panel of industry
professionals at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The guest list included
representatives from Berlinale, NFB (National Film Board of Canada), Telefilm Canada,
CBC, and Ventana Sur – no pressure there!

To put the icing on the cake, in the midst of the incubator and TIFF
networking awesomeness, and in anticipation of the September 15th
World Premiere, Silent Music was featured in an interview on CHYR (Toronto)
radio and in this week’s edition of “Share”, a local Toronto newspaper
aimed at the Caribbean Diaspora (yep – that’s me on the front cover!) –
http://sharenews.com/antiguan-filmmakers-silent-music-a-very-personal-journey/

All in all – many new friends and several amazing films and experiences
later – I can’t think of a better way to have kicked off the countdown to the
World Premiere of Silent Music: just 4 days left!

CaribbeanTales is just starting to heat up, so be sure to check out the full
calendar of CaribbeanTales 2012 events at: http://caribbeantales-events.com/

Tickets to the World Premiere of Silent Music are available (but not for
long!) at: http://tickets.harbourfrontcentre.com/calendar/view.aspx?id=18889

WORLD PREMIERE SCREENING DETAILS:

6:00PM on Saturday 15th September 2012 (Q&A with Director to
follow)
Harbourfront Center
Toronto, Ontario

Silent Music is the first feature-length documentary
directed and produced by Melissa A. Gomez. The film follows Melissa, a hearing
daughter of deaf parents, on a very personal journey as she investigates the
silence and lack of communication that define her Antiguan family. Through
difficult confrontations and unexpected revelations, the film celebrates the
love of family while also forcing both Melissa and the audience to answer a
difficult question for themselves: ‘Are some secrets best left hidden?’

“Characterised by a disarming balance of the coy and a commitment
to honesty and openness, Silent Music, seemingly effortlessly, but with great
determination and compassion, walks a well judged line between the universal
and the particular, the ordinary and the extraordinary, the filmmaker’s own
life and that of her subjects.”

– Christopher Laird, CEO of Gayelle: The Channel

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Antiguan Documentary ‘Silent Music’ to World Premiere at CaribbeanTales 2012

Silent Music, the first feature-length documentary by Antiguan filmmaker Melissa A. Gomez, will have its World Premiere on September 15th at the 2012 CaribbeanTales Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. The documentaryfollows Melissa, a hearing daughter of deaf parents, on a personal journey as she investigates the silence and communication breakdown that define her Antiguan family. What results is a story that, “with a mixture of humor and compassion… uncovers something universal about the intricate and profound nature of long term relationships,” says A.C.E film editor, Plummy Tucker.

Read more on what will surely be Melissa’s breakthrough film (yeah, it’s that good!) here.

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