Welcome to She Paradise

A scene from the film She Paradise.
A scene from the film She Paradise.

THE RARELY explored world of the female dance scene is the setting of Maya Cozier's short film She Paradise which premiered on Tuesday at a night of local shorts held at Grundlos Kollectiv, Cipriani Boulevard in Port of Spain.

The film was featured together with Salty Dog by Oliver Milne, Caroni by Ian Harnarine and The Deliverer by Paul Pryce. Attending the premiere were She Paradise stars Onessa Nestor, who plays the shy aspiring dancer Sparkle, and Cheneka Clifford who plays professional dancer Mica.

Cozier told the gathering the film is a proof of concept meant to get people excited for the feature which will be released later this year.

She said it was a long process in developing the idea. She recalled when she was away at art school she had a friend who toured with Universal Circus which hires Trinidadian limbo dancers.

"So there's a bunch of Trinidadian girls who tour the US doing this. And Cheneka was a part of that tour."

A behind the scenes photo from the film She Paradise.

Cozier recalled spending a lot of time with the dancers in dressing rooms and getting to know them. When she returned home she began interviewing dancers and recording the interviews on her phone.

"So everything that happened in this film sort of happened in my life to some extent."

She co-wrote the script with Melina Brown, a screenwriter from New York, and recalled after they wrote the dialogue the actors they put their own take on it.

"It was such a collaborative process."

She said the feature is about adolescence and young teenage girls who are trying to find themselves and come out of their shell.

"(Sparkle) really finds herself through sisterhood. And that's in the short but we really get into that in the feature. And it's also about women owning their sexuality and how to be in their own skin. As Trinidadian women for Carnival when we're dancing we try to carry most of it. So the themes of sexuality comes out in the feature as well."

Filmmaker Maya Cozier at the premiere of her short film She Paradise at Grundlos Kollectiv, Ciprinani Boulevard.

Nestor said she did not have to act as she was playing herself and she knew Clifford before the two were cast. Clifford said she had issues with her first time acting and she always felt like she was not doing enough as the role was so natural, but Cozier told her she was doing fine.

One attendee asked why Cozier chose the type of dancing for the film ­– the characters dance to soca music and do a lot of "wining" – as it did not seem like "Trinidadian" dance.

Cozier said as a teenager she was very timid and her experience as a dancer was going on television for hip-hop shows and dancing for soca band Kes.

"So that was the style I was familiar with as a performer so that is the style I wanted to portray. So in one film you can't hit every style of dance."

She added: "Dance evolves over time. When you look at dancers for (soca artiste) Machel Montano they are incorporating hip-hop, African styles, modern styles. So I feel like the art form is evolving as time progresses."

Grundlos Kollectiv founder Johanna Nahous congratulated Cozier and everyone involved in the production "for showing us people who you don't usually see on stage and we don't even think about their stories. And I think their stories are really important in terms of our culture and different strata."

Maya Cozier, left front, at the launch of her short film She Paradise at Cipriani Boulevard.

She added: "So I think it is wonderful that you took this group of girls with a genre of dance that they are comfortable with."

Producer Marie Elena Joseph said Cozier has a vision and tends to take things from reality and project into her own aesthetic.

"But what I admire most and why I really wanted to come on board was that it felt real. And it was telling a story I don't think anybody thought needed to be told until you watch it. And then you are like 'yeah, I would like to know a little bit more about this.'"

She said there was a lot of research that went into the project. She added there are many challenges with film productions in Trinidad but they did a lot of networking.

"I think we took a lot of jumps and risks that worked to our advantage."

She said for the casting they had great dancers but did not know how the acting would be.

"And we just lucked out."

Joseph said there was a lot of female representation on the film while a lot of men helped.

"We didn't want to leave them out. Be sexist, whatever," she joked.

She added: "But Maya really wanted to have a very female-oriented cast and crew and to let not only Trinidad know but the Caribbean and the world know women could do this too you know."

She said soca artiste Olatunji Yearwood gave them the rights to his music for the film. Joseph also said the film is being done with the help of a Take One Feature Film Grant from the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts and is also looking for sponsors.

Joseph asked people to support the film by following She Paradise on Instagram and Facebook.

The She Paradise short will next appear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Caribbean Diaspora Shorts Program tomorrow. The film starts shooting in April and the director's cut of the film will be premiering at Carifesta XIV in August.


"Welcome to She Paradise"

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