In advance of CaribbeanTales Film Festival’s CineFAM: Building Bridges Event, we spoke with Lu Asfaha and JL Whitecrow, winners of this year’s Short Film Challenge whose films Paladin and Dreams Untold will have their world premiere at the festival.
Lu Asfaha is a Toronto storyteller. Her films often explore identity, black love, queerness and how things fall apart. In 2017 she wrote and directed the CBC short documentary Freedom Summer and edited the supernatural thriller Queen of Hearts which premiered at InsideOut 2018. She is currently working on the supernatural comedy web series Debtera and the dark fantasy film Paladin.
JL Whitecrow is an emerging multidisciplinary artist from Seine River First Nation, Treaty #3 and lives in Toronto. Her practice includes writing, filmmaking, visual art, music, comedy, and performance. JL has completed a few short films in the narrative and documentary style.
What is your film about?
Lu Asfaha: Paladin is a beautiful and fierce warrior who shows no fear in the face of danger, representing a means of escape for the young conflicted Sam. As Sam is bombarded with traumatic memories, and unable to run from her life anymore, she faces her greatest villain. Herself.
JL Whitecrow: Dreams Untold is the story of a distressed woman who is urged by an encounter with a sleep paralysis demon to confront her deepest horror. Triggered by an argument with her sister, she turns to sleep only to find the Mare waiting at her bedside. Driven deep into her subconscious and stalked by the Mare, she must choose to save herself or be eaten.
What inspired you to tell this story?
LA: I’ve been writing and rewriting this story for a few years now and more than anything it’s been a form of catharsis for me. While I wouldn’t call it autobiographical by any means it was very much inspired by my own experiences growing up and learning to accept who I am in a world that was committed to me conforming to what was expected of me. I grew up in a very religious immigrant community and I think that’s something a lot of young people who are socialized as women in these communities can relate to regardless of identity. You grow up being told ‘this is who you are, this is who you’re expected to be’ and the truth is very few people actually fit into that box. So how do you reconcile who you actually are and who the world tells you you’re supposed to be? I don’t think there’s one answer to that question but that’s why I wrote this story.
JL: Dreams and Nightmares. The question of why we dream, and what we can learn from them. Dreams Untold was inspired by a nightmare that I had last summer while travelling in Greece.
The dream came as a premonition of a very bad situation to which I found myself a week later. It warned me to be weary of a person that I thought was a friend. I had rented a small independent theatre as home-base, and it was wild, the bed was positioned on the stage facing an auditorium. I fell asleep while watching the back of the auditorium, and then appeared this black shadow from the far end and it crept along onto the stage.
This shadow creature pursued me through a blue monochromatic world. It wanted my energy.
Generally, a dream shadow creature or demon is usually called a Mare or Mara, and it’s a sleep paralysis demon that drains human beings of their life energy. This nightmare type is a cross-cultural phenomenon, which I find so interesting–only it may be called different things in different areas of the world.
In my dream, my sister saved me from the demon. I thought that was really powerful, because I think we forget that we know love and goodness in our nightmares.
Can you describe some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
LA: Well it rained on our shoot. We had two shoot nights back to back in July and it rained both days so we had to contend with protecting equipment and keeping continuity while trying to shoot the film. We had to cut our shot list a lot and because of scheduling conflicts weren’t able to do a pick up shoot so I had to work with what we were able to get. I think it came out pretty well considering we hacked and slashed the shot list to the bare necessities. That’s also to the credit of the amazing crew we had on set. Our entire production crew was made up of women of colour, many of whom also identify as queer, and we absolutely killed it. From shooting until the sun came up to doing camera set ups in the rain, these women really went above and beyond and this film wouldn’t be as good as it is if we didn’t have such a dependable and talented crew.
JL: You cannot control the weather or the natural environment. I had originally wanted to shoot the underwater scenes at Cherry Beach, but a few days before the shoot the City of Toronto issued a public health warning of toxic algae in the Lake. We had to relocate to Toronto island where the water quality was a bit better. I remember bringing the Bolex camera and underwater casing from my house to the ferry docks at 7 AM so that we could get shots of the beach. That little guy is heavy.
We shot the underwater scenes with the Bolex and a GoPro on a cold day, and we were in the water for a couple of hours. My AC had blue lips because she was so cold by the end of it! It also took a lot of planning and practicing for the underwater scenes. We had done a couple of tests before the shooting date, and then had to do a pick-up day of the scene in case the film processing didn’t turn out.
What’s the core message that you wanted to convey to your audience through this film?
LA: The film is about your identity being made up of many intersecting parts and how defining moments of your life affect each other. I hope that audiences take away that identity is more complex than the labels we use to describe them and that it takes real work to accept who you are when those identities exist outside of what society deems acceptable.
JL: I’m a bit elusive when it comes to messaging, but because this is a dreamworld that I’ve shared, I would hope that people can connect to the dreaming archetype of the Mare —it’s one that unites cultures. I would also like to encourage people to remember their dreams.
CaribbeanTales International Film Festival is a registered Canadian charity that creates, markets and distributes educational programs and products intended to promote racial equality in Canada and abroad. Our mandate is to foster and encourage intercultural understanding and citizen participation through the creation and distribution of educational films, videos, theatre as well as new media programs, products and resource materials that reflect the diversity and creativity of Caribbean-Canadian heritage culture.
CineFAM is a Haitian-Creole word meaning ‘films by women’. CTFF is a proud supporter of women of colour creators, highlighting films by international female filmmakers each year.