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Generation Now: Shari Petti – The Filmmaker

by Lou-Ann Jordan Mar 11, 2019

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Courageousness—undeniably, it is the most inspiring qualities among the people highlighted for our Generation Now series.

These young men and women have courageously carved career paths veering off the well-trodden paths of conventional professions.  Their boldness has led them to seek out untraditional careers oblivious of the limitations that might have halted previous generations.

More than the sun, sea and sand rhetoric, the Caribbean with its great linguistic, cultural and social diversity has a wealth of stories to be told. Fortunately, through film festivals such as our Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, we get to enjoy some of those stories.  These stories are told by talented filmmakers.

One such filmmaker is Shari Petti.  Striding daringly down a relatively unpopulated career path, Shari remains unperturbed.   Instead, this millennial skilfully juxtaposes, through film, experiences that are common from a Caribbean outlook, but specific to Trinidad and Tobago.

Though incredibly busy, Shari graciously spent some time sharing about her initial interest in filmmaking and the result of that interest, her acclaimed documentary film, Sorf Hair and other projects.

Here’s what she had to say:

What sparked your interest in your filmmaking?           

I was an actor before getting into filmmaking, mainly acting on stage with DMAD Company and in a few commercials. It was while being an extra on a set I asked a crew member if I could volunteer my services.  Since then, and I’ve been working on different productions, and doing my own. While working in the field production, I gained a lot of hands-on experience so I decided to pursue the academic knowledge, and gained a BA in Film Production and Film Studies.

From the Caribbean perspective, filmmaking may seem to be a daunting career to pursue.   What has helped you to remain unwavering and confident in your pursuit?

I’ve actually never thought too much about how daunting it might be to pursue film as a career. I’ve always been a very determined person, with ideas and dreams some might deem ‘unrealistic’.  However, I believe fiercely in the things I want.  I refuse to live unhappily with the knowledge that I’m not living to my fullest potential.  However, this doesn’t mean I’ve never doubted myself or felt hopeless.  In those times, I always seem to find the strength to persevere. Possibly, because I know there is nothing else I’d rather do.

Thankfully, for the past four years, I’ve been able to sustain myself financially from filmmaking.   And, with each new project I complete, more opportunities keep opening up for me.  So, I guess that has also motivated me to keep working and believing in myself. Also, I have a great support system of friends and mentors who keep me on the right track, and who volunteer their ear or whatever they can when things become a bit frustrating.

Often in the arts, topics seem to be addressed from a broader Caribbean viewpoint (presumably for a more shared experience), but in the works, you present a distinct Trinidadian perspective.  Is this deliberate?

I only know how to be myself, and a huge part of being me is being a young Afro-Caribbean woman. As a result, I think my work would automatically reflect some aspect of that reality. It’s always been important for me to remain self-aware, and to make work that represents my people and me in the truest form.

I’m not interested in ‘Americanising’ my work or striving for it to appeal to international audiences to the point where it loses its authenticity.  That wouldn’t make sense to me. I love my country, and culture, and the people who make it what it is, and I think I would be bored or pretentious to centre my work on a reality that I don’t live or have never experienced.

That being said, I do borrow stylistically or in form from many different film cultures.  However, my content and subject matter is most definitely pulled from Trinidad and Tobago.

What prompted the creation of Small Lime?

I spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos, specifically short documentaries, discussions—a lot of cool youth culture type of videos. However, I found that this type of content was lacking in the Caribbean, I could not find any videos on YouTube that showed me how the Caribbean youth thinks, or navigates their space, or even how the Caribbean looks outside of sun, sea, and sand.

My friends and I have intense discussions about many different topics, our discussions cover, race, politics, LGBT issues—anything really.  The idea to film these discussions began to marinate, and it did for a while.  Then one day, the first day I got my camera, my friends were talking about relationships while we were waiting for a bus, and I started recording them.

A couple months later, I came across the footage and realised that there was actually some quality discussion happening there. So I edited it, called it Small Lime, and released the first episode.  A lot of people took to it, and I decided to continue.

The goal was, and actually still is, to travel the Caribbean with Small Lime. Thus far I’ve only gone to Tobago and Barbados.  However, for season two I definitely would like to get sponsorship to continue the series on different islands examining how we think and the issues affecting us throughout the Caribbean.

To date, what has been the most rewarding experience for you since having completed Sorf Hair?

Being able to see the documentary travel across the globe and seeing how universal the themes in the documentary are, is super rewarding. I’m glad I was able to address my own insecurities through the documentary and help others deal with theirs as well.

I had the pleasure of going to Los Angeles to see the film at the Pan African Film Festival; PAFF had been my dream festival at the time.    First, just being there was a remarkable experience, and then having the opportunity to network with and see people whom I see all the time on television, that was amazing.

I’m really grateful for that experience and all the support I’ve been getting from friends, family and strangers alike.

JumpTT is one of the projects with which you were recently involved.  What is it?

JumpTT is a youth development programme put on jointly by the National Theatre of Scotland, Cut and Clear Productions and the British Council. I was the official documentary filmmaker for the project here. So I covered the process of the entire project and the final showcase at the end.

What prompted you to get involved in JumpTT?

I was approached by Wendell Manwarren.  He reached out to me about covering the programme.  It seemed really interesting and right down my alley.  And, for the most part, I had creative freedom to approach it however I wanted, even though he provided some guidance where the form was concerned.

At present, what are you focussed on achieving in your career as a filmmaker?

I’m not one to publicly share too much about what I’m up to and the things I plan to accomplish.  I prefer just to get it done and have people see it in the end.

But I do have some great content lined up for 2019 that I think will show Trinidad in a way it’s never been seen before, and I look forward to creating that. I’ve already started shooting for some of those projects.

Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by anyone who has had to work from the ground up to be successful and have actually achieved their dreams and goals.  That inspires me…and Beyoncé

What can we expect from you in the future?

A lot of web content, both narratives and documentaries.

 

To learn more about Shari and her various projects, check out her blog.  Yello wishes Shari great success in her future endeavours.

Stay tuned for our next instalment of Generation Now.