Global Cinema 6: Antigua and Barbuda – Dadli (2018)

A lack of film output, along with rather patchy online availability, means my film choice for the tiny island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is a short film, albeit one with a great facility for the image. It’s hardly a wealthy nation, though, especially after recent hurricanes, but it has natural beauty, and that much has attracted a healthy tourist industry.

Antiguan flagAntigua and Barbuda
population 96,000 | capital St John’s (23k) | largest cities St John’s, All Saints (3.4k), Liberta (2.2k), Potter’s Village (2.1k), Bolans (1.8k) | area 440 km2 | religion Christianity (77%) | official language English | major ethnicity Black African (91%) | currency East Caribbean dollar ($) [XCD] | internet .ag

An island nation in the middle of the Leeward Islands, made up of the two major islands in the country’s name along with a number of smaller ones, though the vast majority of the population is on Antigua (especially since a 2017 hurricane which destroyed much of Barbuda’s buildings). The island was settled around 3000 BCE by the Ciboney Amerindians, succeeded by the Saladoid people from the Orinoco, then the Caribs. The English came in the mid-17th century, and slaves were imported to work the tobacco and sugar plantations. It gained partial independence from the UK in 1967, followed by full independence on 1 November 1981. It retains the British monarch as head of state, with its own Prime Minister as head of government.

The first feature film made by the island nation was in 2001, so it’s fair to say it hasn’t had a huge history of film production.

Dadli (2018)

I think sometimes short films can be perfect — in the sense of taking an idea and completing it, doing everything that can be done — but others are like fragments of a longer experience, and this feels like the latter. It’s gorgeously evocative (directed and photographed by the cinematographer who did Skate Kitchen amongst others), starting and ending with ravishing sunsets over his native island nation, and features a number of voices, whether the young kid seen wrangling a donkey, or an older man reflecting on his life. However, these feel like miniatures from what should be a full-length piece. Still, even as it is, it’s a fleeting elegy for a lost way of life (and I gather from the director’s notes that this area, almost a shanty town, was bulldozed), with a brief glimpse of a cruise ship looming ominously, portentously.

Directors Shabier Kirchner and Elise Tyler; Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner; Length 14 minutes.
Seen at home (Vimeo streaming), London, Saturday 9 May 2020.

Skate Kitchen (2018)

Crystal Moselle is a New York filmmaker whose debut was a few years ago, so quite some time after the heyday of no-budget filmmaking in the 2000s, though her films have a similar observational, improvised quality (moving more into a documentary feeling). Certainly many of the filmmakers of that era and the stories they tell can be very white and middle-class, so it’s been good to see a new generation telling more diverse stories. Moselle’s first film was The Wolfpack (2015), a documentary which blurred the lines between real life and reenactments of movies, and one that was compelling although I didn’t love it. However, her first fiction feature is one I do unreservedly love, being a fictional narrative but which uses real people in a very unforced depiction of their lives, and which could probably be programmed together with the same year’s Minding the Gap. Moselle has a TV series now out on HBO called Betty which follows some of the same characters, and I’m certainly interested in tracking that down.

One of the things I hate in art/literature/journalism is when someone seizes on [thing the young people do now that we didn’t used to do] and makes it into some kind of big metaphor about how all of society is in decline and we should all just give up now, because how can we even function as humans anymore when things have come to this. I’ve seen a lot of that kind of hand-wringing about social media, and it’s tiresome. Anyway, I’m not even sure that little mini-rant is entirely justified, but yeah there are kids on their phones in this film (we only really see them on Instagram), and it’s just… not a big problem? Like, it’s how they meet up, and it’s fine and there’s no Weighty Statement being made.

I like the way this film approaches its story in an almost documentary-like way. Indeed, it feels like more of a documentary than a “real” one such as All This Panic (also about New York City girls), not to mention this director’s own first film, which has an archness to its choice of documentary subjects. The central drama here, such as it is, comes out as a sort of background detail, which is just as well because it’s pretty rote (overdemanding mother at home, friendship group interrelationships being stretched to breaking point by a boy). Instead what we get are lots of scenes of kids just hanging out, having a good time, sometimes getting into tussles, but it’s cool, they’re just down, doing their skating thing.

It’s really quite delightful. I love its sense of space, of the city as a character here, and the almost thrown-off haphazard way it takes in scenes. Also, the actors — who clearly are real skaters — have an unforced quality to them, and positively glow in the NYC light.

Director Crystal Moselle; Writers Aslıhan Ünaldı, Moselle and Jennifer Silverman; Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner; Starring Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith; Length 105 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Soho, London, Friday 28 September 2018.

Only You (2018)

Josh O’Connor already starred in probably the most celebrated British romantic drama of 2017, God’s Own Country, but whether playing gay or straight it turns out he seems to be suited to difficult, bruising romances far better than the light and fluffy kinds which are released on Netflix every other week. This film, directed by a woman (don’t be confused by her name), is built around pregnancy just like in, say, Alice Lowe’s Prevenge (2016), but takes a somewhat different approach.

This is a very romantic film, distilled down to something very elemental; you could call it a two-hankie weepie even. Jake (Josh O’Connor) and Elena (Laia Costa, who was in Victoria) are two young people (though she’s a little older than he is) who meet cute in Glasgow. Neither of them are Scottish (he’s English, she’s Spanish), and it becomes clear that this is set before Brexit as the film progresses, otherwise her resistance to marriage might seem somewhat self-defeating. Nevertheless, they hit it off and pretty soon there’s a sex scene where he suggests having a baby, which feels like a stretch to assume after such a short time that she’d want to conceive, but pretty soon that becomes an obsession for her, and thereafter everything starts to unravel. There’s coordinating their sex with her fertility cycles, then the IVF and the injections (which all entails money), and the constant pregnancy tests followed by crying jags in the bathroom, and their strained relationship as a result of all this. We talk a lot in our current culture about “toxic masculinity” — that set of codes that defines and limits how men are supposed to act in the world — but this film seems to be about whatever women’s equivalent to that is: a slightly insidious idea that to be doing womanhood correctly you need to have a baby (which even if you’re only thinking about cis womanhood, is deeply problematic). And so Elena gets the little nags from those around her, finding that all her friends are starting to have kids, and she starts to feel excluded from gatherings and become desperate to be part of the in-group. It should really be a lot more painful a film than it is (and I don’t doubt it will be to some people), but the director manages to get her actors to find the humanity and the warmth underneath all this, so that it’s never quite as bleak as it could be.

Film posterCREDITS
Director Harry Wootliff; Writers Wootliff and Matthieu de Braconier; Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner; Starring Laia Costa, Josh O’Connor; Length 119 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Saturday 13 July 2019.