“I hope it offers a new perspective on everyday situations.” – A Conversation with Jamaican filmmaker Danielle Russell

Danielle Russell is a Jamaican filmmaker who has written, directed and produced several short films and documentaries that have been screened locally and internationally at places such as the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, the Africa International Film Festival and the Caribbean Film Festival in China.

She has also participated in several developmental programs such as the 2017 Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA) Propella program, a competitive Script to Screen development program and the British Council’s Film Lab.

Danielle holds an M.F.A in Film & TV Production from the Communication University of China in Beijing and lives in Kingston, Jamaica where she is currently developing her first feature-length screenplay.

Tell us about your background and how did you get started in filmmaking?
I got started in filmmaking when I was 15 years old. It was the summer holiday between 5th and 6th form and there was a 6-week mini-dv workshop being put on at UTECH. I had the option to either volunteer at the Jamaica Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA) that summer or attend the workshop and I chose to attend the workshop because I wanted to try something new. I remember it like it was yesterday because that split second decision changed my life. Since then, I always found myself pushing to learn more about filmmaking and constantly searching for communities of filmmakers. Then one day I found myself doing a Masters in Film & TV Production and at that point I said to myself, “Danielle, I think you might be a filmmaker”

What are the some of the short films you have releases and which other film makers have you worked with?
My latest short film “This City of Mine” was done as a part of the Jamaica Film and TV Association (JAFTA) Propella program. That film will be available for online streaming soon and has screened at various festivals. I worked with some very talented people on the film like Analisa Chapman, Chris Browne, Gabrielle Blackwood. I also had so many other talented filmmakers, actors, artists and technical on that set that I felt really blessed to have such talent dedicate their time to the film.

I also have a couple short films online such as “How to Kill a Fish” and “The Odd Ones Out”. For “How to Kill a Fish” I worked with filmmakers like Kevin Jackson, Joshua Paul, Tristan Alleyne, Adrian Campbell. Artist Oneika Russell did the titles, Musician and filmmaker Gay Magnus did the music, Marlon Walker and Rashelle Muir acted in the film and equipment was from Robin Chin.

You are crowding funding for a new film This City is Mine.  What were some of the other reasons you wanted to focus on this short film to make it a feature film?
The short film I mentioned previously “This City fo Mine” is about Julia, a young woman who must brave the Kingston public transportation system in order to make it to her first day of work on time. I decided to develop a feature film based on the short film after receiving some petty good feedback because of the issues that it dealt with regarding transportation in Kingston and issues surrounding women in the city. So I am currently crowdfunding to assist with this initial stage of development which will include scriptwriting and research.

I want to develop Julia some more and show her background in the Jamaican countryside before she moves to Kingston, this gritty, soulful urban capital. Once in Kingston, I want to explore how she deals with reaching fro her goals of becoming a chef and I will definitely use the opportunity to showcase Jamaican dishes. Unlike the short which really focussed on Julia discovering the difficulty of the public transportation system, I want the feature to show the different sides to Julia and to the city.

The campaign can be found at igg.me/at/thiscityofmine and there is a range of interesting perks that people can choose from US $10 – $500, or persons can just give a donation of as little as US $1.

What are some of the thing you have learned since you started the film This City is Mine ?
These are some of the lessons learned over the last few years of doing exactly what I advise against:

Don’t rush a production (I don’t know if this is possible), do lots planning before hand to avoid this stress.

Don’t plan unreasonable shoot times for yourself, you’ll just end up having to drop shots or entire scenes on the fly

Buy way more water than you think you need, you’ll probably need it.

Make a storyboard

If you’re making a short film, edit it to 30 minutes or less. Or just make it 45 or longer. That murky section between 30 – 40 minutes makes it hard to get into festivals

I’ve also learned that there is a huge support in the Jamaican film community ready to support you and who is excited about film and who really, really want your project to get off the ground.

What was your biggest challenge in making short films and not going to a full feature film?
My biggest challenge making short films was firstly, myself and secondly, funding. Myself, because if I push myself enough, any short film is possible. So sometimes generating that push can be difficult. Funding, because I do want to pay anyone who helps with my films even if the payment is delicious food, but at times, it’s just not possible.

What you want the audiences to say after leaving your films?
When audiences walk away after watching my films, I hope they can’t stop thinking about it and it drives them to discuss the characters, situations, stories or issues in the film. I hope it offers a new perspective on everyday situations.

What is your next project?
My next project is “This City of Mine” the feature film. I’ve already received so much love and support for the development of this project since announcing the crowdfunding campaign. I’m especially warmed by and grateful for those persons who have backed the campaign because they didn’t have to, but they believed in the project so much that they did. This film is now no longer my film, it belongs to all of us and I’m actually way more excited than I’ve ever been to do this with everyone.

What advice do you have for young filmmakers?
Make films, do internships and get work experience as often as possible. Making your own films helps you to find your voice as a filmmaker, working on other sets helps you to network, get a better understanding of how to run your own set, gives you an experience of the various roles and many other things that I’m probably not thinking of right now. Experience is also something I wish I got more of when I was in school.

Your favorite Jamaican food is…?
If I were forced to choose (because of course nobody has just one favourite food), I’d probably say curry anything and roti/rice and peas.

Seven days, six night, all-expense paid, my vacation destination is…
Seeing the Northern Lights is on my bucket list, so I’d love to go to Iceland. I’ve also seen pictures and I think it’s beautiful. It looks like a great place to explore.

Thanks for the interview any closing thoughts for visitors to Jamaicans.com?
The Jamaican film industry is at a great place right now. The country and the diaspora is abuzz with activity and the support of Jamaicans at home and overseas helps to keep the activity going. So when a Jamaican film like “Sprinter” comes out, go out and see it, sell out the theatre and over time we will see more and more of ourselves on screen.

I also want to remind persons to check out the campaign for “This City of Mine” the feature film at igg.me/at/thiscityofmine to support the development of this film.

Follow and communicate with Danielle Russell Films: