Filmmaker Q&A with Jayisha Patel of A PARADISE
Director Jayisha Patel travels to Granma, Cuba, where she encounters a family mourning the loss of their 12-year-old son. This young boy, like many others in this small village, committed suicide. A PARADISE follows several families as they grieve for their loved ones and ponder who is at fault in these tragic deaths
Introduce yourself.
Jayisha Patel is an award winning British filmmaker. Born in London in 1987 she studied Economics at the University of Nottingham. Her first short film, GENTLE MEN went on to win numerous international awards. After working as an associate producer on documentaries productions in France, India and the UK, she moved to Cuba to study filmmaking at the International Film and Television school of San Antonio de los Baños, (EICTV). Her time there included living in the Sierra Maestra Mountains where she filmed  A PARADISE, nominated for the shorts Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.
She is attracted to stories that explore uncomfortable human emotions and to the life of those who live on the fringes of society. She is currently developing her first feature documentary,GHOST OF BUEY ARRIBA, winner of the new Visions development lab at the Havana international Film Festival andselected as one of the 25 most financeable Iberoamerican projects at the 10th Ibero – American Co -Production Meeting in Guadalajara International Film Festival.  
 
What inspired this film? How did you find your subjects?
My inspiration largely came from wanting to explore a story that is very much hidden and a taboo in Cuba and in other parts of the world. I am drawn to such topics because I feel it is important that they are exposed and dealt with so as to challenge people’s perceptions of the world in which we live in. 
I feel there is often a very romanticized view of the country, especially in the media. Having lived there for three years, I wanted to explore some of its many contradictions. Granma, the place where A PARADISE was filmed, was the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution. Its Socialist foundations were based on free education and healthcare for all. Yet it is also the place that has the highest rate of child suicide in the country. It is something that is vehemently denied by the government and many Cubans themselves do not know that it is occurring. Whilst the impetus was political, I wanted to show a more human side to the story. Hence the film focuses on the human condition of suffering and a search for affirmation in life for those affected by this devastating phenomenon.
Given the delicate nature of the subject and the fact that it is something very difficult to investigate in a country government with a Regime, it was a long and slow process to find my subjects. However, once I began to gain the trust of adults within the community who had been affected by the issue of suicide, I then came to know of other families and by getting to know as many of these families as possible I came upon Damaris and Alberto, the protagonists of the film. 
 
What were some of the biggest challenges/surprises?
The biggest challenge was exploring this story in Cuba. It was hard to find families who had been affected and hard to get permission from the authorities to film there. It was perhaps a miracle that we managed to get this film made. The community resides in a remote mountainous region and is generally very pro – Revolutionary. Understandably, they are very wary of outsiders. So, it took many months to gain their trust. It was also a challenge to gain distance emotionally from the subjects of the film given the delicate nature of the subject matter. I grew very close to them so it was always hard to have the distance necessary to be able to film with them.
The biggest surprise for me was that many of the victims are so young. Whilst filming, we found out that there was a girl as young as nine you had taken her life. It was hard to see that in a community we grew very close to, this was happening and that there were no real measures being taken to help such families grieve and come to terms with their traumas. Initially I wanted to explore the impact of adult suicide in the community, but as I got to know more families, I realized that more and more children were also taking their lives. That is why the film is structured the way it is. I wanted to lead the audience into one direction and then to deliberately change the course of that direction to reflect the constant surprises I had whilst filming.
I was also taken aback by the natural way in which children and adults alike talked about death in the community. On the streets outside, it was seen as a big taboo to mention the suicide phenomenon that was talking hold of the community, but once inside people’s homes, they would speak about it as if they were talking about the local baseball game. Perhaps part of it comes from the fact that it is a rural community, so there is often a lot of contact with animals and nature and hence they are aware of the natural life and death circle from a very young age. I think part of it also comes from the fact that there is negation from the Cuban government about what is occurring. Hence, the community accept what is happening as if it is normal because there aren’t the necessary preventative measures taking place at present.
With Damaris and Alberto, the protagonists of A PARADISE, I think the biggest surprise came with Alberto’s revelation that he too, had tried to commit suicide after the death of his son, but didn’t have the strength to do so, in the way his son had. I was taken aback not only by his confession but with the realization that he like many in his community saw suicide as almost a courageous thing to do. When I first met Alberto he was this silent man who channeled his pain into his work as a farmer. Hence, his revelation was such a shock to me. I would never have expected that. Another surprise came when it was revealed through filming that Ramon, their son, had confessed to his young cousin that he was going to take his life. Emotionally it was hard to hear such revelations and it was a constant challenge to separate myself emotionally from their lives whilst having the camera in my hand. 
 
What is your proudest professional moment?
Having the film nominated for best short film at the Berlinale.
 
Why did you become a filmmaker?
I think that making documentaries, on a very deep level, is something that goes well with my personality. I could not imagine doing anything else. When I was 18, I decided to travel alone and live with the Hoaorani community in the depths of the Ecuadorian Amazon for three months (mainly because they were known to be violent and I wanted to find out by myself if this was really true.) The people and stories I found there were something that I could never have imagined. This is how I have since travelled, off the beaten track and always trying to be as close to the communities in which I find myself as possible. What I was essentially doing in my travels was investigating for stories without realizing. A year after I returned, one of the communities I spent time in was on the BBC’s TRIBAL WIVES series. I felt that the show had somehow misinterpreted the community. That was the point when I realized that I too could tell stories but in a way that was sincere to me. 
 
What was the first film you saw in a movie theater?
BAMBI!
 
Who is the most memorable documentary character?
There are so many but I think the ones that still stick out are the Edith Beale’s from GREY GARDENS by the Maysle brothers.
 
Which documentary do you consider the most cinematic?
THE ACT OF KILLING
 
What documentary do you find the most original and imaginative in its construction?
STORIES WE TELL 
 
Which documentary has had the most profound impact on society?
THE DYING ROOMS
 
What has been the most unexpected thing to happen since taking the film on the festival circuit? 
A well-known psychologist in Cuba saw the film and was very moved by it. She had no idea that the suicide phenomenon was happening on such a large scale in the east of the island. This has inspired her to challenge the Cuban authorities and she has now been granted permission to give psychodrama therapy to those in the community affected by the problem. She then plans to train local psychologists to continue their treatment. It has been inspiring to see how such a small film is starting to make an impact on a local level, especially given that there really was no type of help readily offered to those affected within the community before.
 
SCREENINGS:
Thursday, June 19, 1:15 p.m.
AFI Silver
(click HERE for tickets)

Sunday, June 22, 11:00 a.m.  
Goethe-Institute
(click HERE for tickets)

 


Filmmaker Q&A with Jayisha Patel of A PARADISE

Director Jayisha Patel travels to Granma, Cuba, where she encounters a family mourning the loss of their 12-year-old son. This young boy, like many others in this small village, committed suicide. A PARADISE follows several families as they grieve for their loved ones and ponder who is at fault in these tragic deaths

Introduce yourself.

Jayisha Patel is an award winning British filmmaker. Born in London in 1987 she studied Economics at the University of Nottingham. Her first short film, GENTLE MEN went on to win numerous international awards. After working as an associate producer on documentaries productions in France, India and the UK, she moved to Cuba to study filmmaking at the International Film and Television school of San Antonio de los Baños, (EICTV). Her time there included living in the Sierra Maestra Mountains where she filmed  A PARADISE, nominated for the shorts Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

She is attracted to stories that explore uncomfortable human emotions and to the life of those who live on the fringes of society. She is currently developing her first feature documentary,GHOST OF BUEY ARRIBA, winner of the new Visions development lab at the Havana international Film Festival andselected as one of the 25 most financeable Iberoamerican projects at the 10th Ibero – American Co -Production Meeting in Guadalajara International Film Festival. 

 

What inspired this film? How did you find your subjects?

My inspiration largely came from wanting to explore a story that is very much hidden and a taboo in Cuba and in other parts of the world. I am drawn to such topics because I feel it is important that they are exposed and dealt with so as to challenge people’s perceptions of the world in which we live in.

I feel there is often a very romanticized view of the country, especially in the media. Having lived there for three years, I wanted to explore some of its many contradictions. Granma, the place where A PARADISE was filmed, was the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution. Its Socialist foundations were based on free education and healthcare for all. Yet it is also the place that has the highest rate of child suicide in the country. It is something that is vehemently denied by the government and many Cubans themselves do not know that it is occurring. Whilst the impetus was political, I wanted to show a more human side to the story. Hence the film focuses on the human condition of suffering and a search for affirmation in life for those affected by this devastating phenomenon.

Given the delicate nature of the subject and the fact that it is something very difficult to investigate in a country government with a Regime, it was a long and slow process to find my subjects. However, once I began to gain the trust of adults within the community who had been affected by the issue of suicide, I then came to know of other families and by getting to know as many of these families as possible I came upon Damaris and Alberto, the protagonists of the film.

 

What were some of the biggest challenges/surprises?

The biggest challenge was exploring this story in Cuba. It was hard to find families who had been affected and hard to get permission from the authorities to film there. It was perhaps a miracle that we managed to get this film made. The community resides in a remote mountainous region and is generally very pro – Revolutionary. Understandably, they are very wary of outsiders. So, it took many months to gain their trust. It was also a challenge to gain distance emotionally from the subjects of the film given the delicate nature of the subject matter. I grew very close to them so it was always hard to have the distance necessary to be able to film with them.

The biggest surprise for me was that many of the victims are so young. Whilst filming, we found out that there was a girl as young as nine you had taken her life. It was hard to see that in a community we grew very close to, this was happening and that there were no real measures being taken to help such families grieve and come to terms with their traumas. Initially I wanted to explore the impact of adult suicide in the community, but as I got to know more families, I realized that more and more children were also taking their lives. That is why the film is structured the way it is. I wanted to lead the audience into one direction and then to deliberately change the course of that direction to reflect the constant surprises I had whilst filming.

I was also taken aback by the natural way in which children and adults alike talked about death in the community. On the streets outside, it was seen as a big taboo to mention the suicide phenomenon that was talking hold of the community, but once inside people’s homes, they would speak about it as if they were talking about the local baseball game. Perhaps part of it comes from the fact that it is a rural community, so there is often a lot of contact with animals and nature and hence they are aware of the natural life and death circle from a very young age. I think part of it also comes from the fact that there is negation from the Cuban government about what is occurring. Hence, the community accept what is happening as if it is normal because there aren’t the necessary preventative measures taking place at present.

With Damaris and Alberto, the protagonists of A PARADISE, I think the biggest surprise came with Alberto’s revelation that he too, had tried to commit suicide after the death of his son, but didn’t have the strength to do so, in the way his son had. I was taken aback not only by his confession but with the realization that he like many in his community saw suicide as almost a courageous thing to do. When I first met Alberto he was this silent man who channeled his pain into his work as a farmer. Hence, his revelation was such a shock to me. I would never have expected that. Another surprise came when it was revealed through filming that Ramon, their son, had confessed to his young cousin that he was going to take his life. Emotionally it was hard to hear such revelations and it was a constant challenge to separate myself emotionally from their lives whilst having the camera in my hand.

 

What is your proudest professional moment?

Having the film nominated for best short film at the Berlinale.

 

Why did you become a filmmaker?

I think that making documentaries, on a very deep level, is something that goes well with my personality. I could not imagine doing anything else. When I was 18, I decided to travel alone and live with the Hoaorani community in the depths of the Ecuadorian Amazon for three months (mainly because they were known to be violent and I wanted to find out by myself if this was really true.) The people and stories I found there were something that I could never have imagined. This is how I have since travelled, off the beaten track and always trying to be as close to the communities in which I find myself as possible. What I was essentially doing in my travels was investigating for stories without realizing. A year after I returned, one of the communities I spent time in was on the BBC’s TRIBAL WIVES series. I felt that the show had somehow misinterpreted the community. That was the point when I realized that I too could tell stories but in a way that was sincere to me.

 

What was the first film you saw in a movie theater?

BAMBI!

 

Who is the most memorable documentary character?

There are so many but I think the ones that still stick out are the Edith Beale’s from GREY GARDENS by the Maysle brothers.

 

Which documentary do you consider the most cinematic?

THE ACT OF KILLING

 

What documentary do you find the most original and imaginative in its construction?

STORIES WE TELL

 

Which documentary has had the most profound impact on society?

THE DYING ROOMS

 

What has been the most unexpected thing to happen since taking the film on the festival circuit?

A well-known psychologist in Cuba saw the film and was very moved by it. She had no idea that the suicide phenomenon was happening on such a large scale in the east of the island. This has inspired her to challenge the Cuban authorities and she has now been granted permission to give psychodrama therapy to those in the community affected by the problem. She then plans to train local psychologists to continue their treatment. It has been inspiring to see how such a small film is starting to make an impact on a local level, especially given that there really was no type of help readily offered to those affected within the community before.

 

SCREENINGS:

Thursday, June 19, 1:15 p.m.
AFI Silver
(click HERE for tickets)
Sunday, June 22, 11:00 a.m.  
Goethe-Institute
(click HERE for tickets)

 

Filmmaker Q&A with Damian Kocur of 21 DAYS
When a shy, young bus driver becomes desperate to find his soul mate, he takes a 21-day seminar on how to successfully interact with women and applies himself with vigor to his training. But will he acquire the skills and confidence he needs to win the woman of his dreams?

 
Introduce yourself.
Damian Kocur is a student of cinematography. For the past couple of years I’ve been trying to direct my movies as well. 21 DAYS is my first documentary.
 
What inspired this film? How did you find your subjects?
I look for subjects in my own life, daily situations. I think our own experiences are the best inspirations for the movies.
 
What were some of the biggest challenges/surprises?
The worst thing was the temperature. We shot mostly during winter, which was very bad  in Warsaw that year.
 
What is your proudest professional moment?
Until now my first documentary project. 
 
Why did you become a filmmaker?
Because I haven’t any other idea what to do, besides I enjoy telling stories.
 
What was the first film you saw in a movie theater?
KES by Ken Loach
 
Who is the most memorable documentary character?
Werner Herzog
 
What documentary do you find the most original and imaginative in its construction?
CANE MONDO by Paolo Cavara
 
If there were one documentary moment in history that you could experience as a filmmaker, what would it be?
The impact of communism on eastern European countries.
 
What song do you love this summer? 
“Champagne Coast” –Blood Orange 
 
SCREENINGS
Thursday, June 19, 1:45 p.m.
(click HERE for tickets)

Friday, June 20, 12:00 p.m.
(click HERE for tickets)

Filmmaker Q&A with Damian Kocur of 21 DAYS

When a shy, young bus driver becomes desperate to find his soul mate, he takes a 21-day seminar on how to successfully interact with women and applies himself with vigor to his training. But will he acquire the skills and confidence he needs to win the woman of his dreams?

 

Introduce yourself.

Damian Kocur is a student of cinematography. For the past couple of years I’ve been trying to direct my movies as well. 21 DAYS is my first documentary.

 

What inspired this film? How did you find your subjects?

I look for subjects in my own life, daily situations. I think our own experiences are the best inspirations for the movies.

 

What were some of the biggest challenges/surprises?

The worst thing was the temperature. We shot mostly during winter, which was very bad  in Warsaw that year.

 

What is your proudest professional moment?

Until now my first documentary project.

 

Why did you become a filmmaker?

Because I haven’t any other idea what to do, besides I enjoy telling stories.

 

What was the first film you saw in a movie theater?

KES by Ken Loach

 

Who is the most memorable documentary character?

Werner Herzog

 

What documentary do you find the most original and imaginative in its construction?

CANE MONDO by Paolo Cavara

 

If there were one documentary moment in history that you could experience as a filmmaker, what would it be?

The impact of communism on eastern European countries.

 

What song do you love this summer?

“Champagne Coast” –Blood Orange

 

SCREENINGS

Thursday, June 19, 1:45 p.m.
(click HERE for tickets)
Friday, June 20, 12:00 p.m.
(click HERE for tickets)

AFI DOCS 2014 will open with the world premiere of HOLBROOK/TWAIN: AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY (top) and close with the Roger Ebert-focused doc LIFE ITSELF (bottom).

This year’s Guggenheim Honoree at AFI DOCS. ow.ly/wnh8W 

This year’s Guggenheim Honoree at AFI DOCS. 

meaty-chunks-of-life:

Ghostbusters

meaty-chunks-of-life:

Ghostbusters

 

 

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