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The hardest working filmmaker in T&T?

Yao Ramesar makes films with skeleton crews
Published: 
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Yao Ramesar directing on location.

Veteran filmmaker Yao Ramesar has begun work on his sixth feature film in eight years. It examines an individual’s struggle with adversity, a familiar theme for Ramesar.

The Last Dance of the Karaoke King will star singer/actor Chris Garcia and is about a chutney singer who tries to survive by performing karaoke as he struggles to save a fading career. It’s scheduled for release in 2017 or 2018.

Haiti Bride, a film about a Haitian woman who loses her groom in the 2010 earthquake, is set to premiere next year. Ramesar began working on the film in 2010 after the devastation.

Ramesar recently returned from South Africa, where he is shooting his latest film, Shade. It will be the first feature film shot in Africa by a T&T filmmaker and tackles an unusual subject—a young albino woman who aims to be an R&B singer.

The other notable aspect of the film is that the crew will be made up of only Ramesar. He’s screenwriter, producer, director and cinematographer. This makes it only a little more challenging than Haiti Bride, which Ramesar worked on with just one other person, Edmund Attong. The two were also the only crew on Ramesar’s previous film, Her Second Coming, a follow-up to his debut, Sistagod.

With Her Second Coming, they matched the world record for the smallest crew to finish a professional feature film.

“It comes especially with the ultra-low budget recipe,” said Ramesar about working alone or with one other person.

“I can’t even afford to take on volunteers. It costs money to provide food and transport, etc. Working alone means that I have to fulfil about a dozen technical roles—which, fortunately, I can.

“The physical stress is another matter entirely,” he continued.

“Working in post-earthquake Haiti was incredibly tough, as was the one-man crew experiment in South Africa. Though day-to-day injury is real, it’s not as noticeable when you are consumed by the filmmaking.

“The morning after shooting wraps, though, is like the day after a prize fight, I imagine. It takes weeks and sometimes months to recover,” he said.

Ramesar, who in 2006 won one of the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence for his contribution to arts and letters, is also the head of (and a lecturer in) the UWI Film Programme.

Besides the six feature films, he’s worked on more than 120 films and TV productions.

“Making films contributes significantly to my functions as co-ordinator of the UWI Film Programme,” he said about the challenge of being a filmmaker while running the programme.

“Filmmaking under the conditions that I work in forces me to be resourceful, innovative and disciplined. It’s always about astute management and precise budgeting, which is indispensable to my work at UWI.

“Making films for me is also all about continuous learning, so I become a better teacher.”

Ramesar met Mathapelo Ditshego, the young South African star of Shade, through a world albino network he formed with Crystal Felix, the lead in Her Second Coming.

Ramesar said in some ways, it’s actually easier to film abroad than at home.

“They have all been very demanding, but frankly much less stressful than the films I’ve made here,” he said of his last three films, which were shot outside T&T.

“Partly because I’m removed from day-to-day dramas and commitments. But it also takes a village to raise a film, and I guess I get much more support from the global village than at home,” he added.

“There really hasn’t been a home field advantage for me making films.”

Many local films are in different stages of production this year. The Sunday Arts Section will be looking at some of them over the coming weeks.