Bobi Morgan Wood
Shorts Block, Female Cinematographers played at the Bushwick Film Festival on Saturday, October 13, at Light Space Studios.
The event allows viewers to watch seven very different short pictures showcasing the work of women cinematographers, with a filmmaker question and answer session to follow.
The scarlet ibis, the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago, features prominently in the emotionally powerful “Caroni” shot by Brooklyn resident Elizabeth Wentling. Filmed partially on the island of Trinidad and Tobago and partially in Queens, “Caroni” tells the story of Rajni, played by Brooklyn-based actress Radha Singh, a nanny for an upper-middle class white couple’s baby.
Rajni is separated from her own daughter, who was of necessity left behind on the island. The mother and daughter stay in touch over Skype, and Rajni watches video of the scarlet ibis on her cell phone while riding the subway to bolster her spirits as she hopes for a better future for herself and her daughter, one in which they will be reunited.
Cinematographer Elizabeth Wentling made the film with her husband, Ian Harnarine, with whom she has worked on “Sesame Street” and other shared projects.
“We were actually making films together long before we were married. I worked on one of his student films long before we were married,” Wentling said of the process of making films with Harnarine. “At this point, it’s really easy… we work together on so many things, it’s just natural, at this point.”
Harnarine, who co-wrote the script for the story, said, “Whenever I was in lower Manhattan, I saw white babies being pushed by black and brown women, and a lot of these women are West Indian or Caribbean. I would argue that every Caribbean person in New York knows a nanny or a caregiver. And so, I began to wonder about the stories about these women and the choices that they’ve made, and the people that they’ve left behind in their home countries. And that became the starting point for the film.”
Caroni is the fourth project Wentling has worked on in Trinidad. Filming on the island had to happen in a short window of time, based upon the migration habits of the ibis. The vivid colors and textures of the natural setting of the island contrast vividly with the man made world of New York in the film, pointing out the unsettling disparity between the two worlds of the protagonist.
“The light is so different there,” Wentling said in a phone interview. “As soon as you step out in the airport, you’re hit by the heat and the humidity and the sun. It transforms the way I see things.”
The ending, which Wentling calls “bittersweet,” is open to the interpretation of the viewer.
“The actress, Arianna Ruben, was so amazing,” said Wentling of the young actress who plays Mosaic, Rajni’s daughter.
Ruben, in her screen debut, is the focus of the final scene of the picture, which takes place on the island of Trinidad.
“I definitely have my interpretation of what the ending is meant to be,” said Harnarine, “But it’s purposefully not spelled out for the audience.” Harnarine says he wants the audience “to posit their own ideas of exactly what happened at the end. I’m kind of asking the audience to fill in some blanks which would be seen, and continue on the story in the timeline.”
Caroni shows alongside six other selections in the showcase to offer up powerful and diverse visions from very different cinematographers—all of whom are women.
As for women achieving equal representation in the film industry, Wentling said, “I think it’s definitely probably better now than it’s been in the past, but nowhere near where it should be.” Explaining that she is fortunate to not have to depend on her work as a cinematographer to make a living.
“I’m sure that we have a lot of work to be done,” she said.
Photos courtesy of Ian Harnarine