Kristof West is a born storyteller. So it was no wonder when one of his assignments for a documentary filmmaking course at university turned into something that highlighted an often neglected area of the culture there – queer identity.
West, 21, is doing a bachelor's degree with a focus in media and performance at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.
“As part of this course we were instructed to form ‘crews’ for the purpose of filming and editing our own documentary. I joined a group with seven students, of which a few identify as queer. But collectively we were interested in highlighting queer culture on a whole.”
He and his team – Julius Mosseray, Nia Alexieva, Lucas Areal-Coulombe, Ivan Ryan, Defne Filiz Epikmen, Anne Jasmijn Steneker – worked hard on the assignment and the result was Stargazing, a 27-minute-long documentary that explores queer expressions through the lives of five artists living in the Netherlands.
“From a spectrum of diverse backgrounds, ages, and sexual and gender orientation, these individuals share their experiences and insights as to how their queer identities influences their work.
“From poets, to dancers, to teachers, they all exude immense talent and vulnerability in sharing their passions and visions for the future. As an extension of the needed representation in the performing and fine arts, these artists also wish to extend this affirmation throughout society as a whole… They are all stars in their respective disciplines and as a viewer we are gazing at them in amazement.” West told Newsday.
Now, the students plan to develop Stargazing into a full-length feature that can be screened at various film festivals. The BFI London festival , BRIFF Brussels international festival, European festival, and TT film festival are among the list at which they hope to screen.
Because it started off as a student project, they were allowed to borrow equipment such as cameras, lighting equipment and microphones through university resources. But with plans to develop the film, they will have to source funding for other expenses, and have turned to crowdfunding.
“My team and I need your support so we can allow this documentary to reach its full potential and to get it viewed across the world,” West said. “We believe that these artists’ message is important and will be an inspiration to many.
"But this requires money, as many festivals have a submission fee, and as students, we will need assistance with this. We ask that you share our story and donate what you can. A little can go a long way.”
He said queer identity is a part of mainstream culture in many parts of the world, and many people who identify with it have faced opposition by various religious and political sects.
“There seems to be a lack of representation,” which West said he and his team hope their film will highlight.
West, from St Joseph, left Trinidad and Tobago at 17 to attend a United World College in Hong Kong – a global network of schools and educational programmes – where he completed two years of the international baccalaureate.
“It was here where my interest in film really began to take form as I wanted a way to best document my experience abroad to share with my family and friends scattered across the globe. Film was a no-brainer.” He subsequently moved to the Netherlands to explore more film options.
He said because he and his “crew” are majoring in different disciplines, it made the filming process more interesting because there were many perspectives to take into account.
The first edit was privately premièred to an online audience mostly comprising students from the university on June 24.
“We received an extremely positive response. Students, teachers as well as parents who attended where all in awe with the quality of work that we produced in just under a month. We received an A+ for the practical assignment, which was the film production,” West said.
They plan to continue collecting footage and carrying out interviews to broaden the scope of the documentary to feature length, providing their subjects with the space to develop their ideas and thoughts. Mosseray, who is from Belgium, told Newsday there were a number of challenges in the initial process, one of which was trying to find a narrative.
“We’ve met diverse artists with widely different stories and experiences within the relation between art and queer identity. Finding a common thread was at times challenging, because these experiences are widely different. We had to adapt in some way, and find a way that would allow for both the diversity of experience to be included, but also to find common grounds that would speak truthfully to the community. As I’ve quickly realised, there isn’t really any common grounds in it, which also makes it a wild and interesting topic to investigate, and is even more representative of itself in that weird eclectic, eccentric way.”
He said because it was a university assignment and they only had about a month to complete it, they were forced to push through and make it happen.
“I think being able to produce the results we had at the end of a month was a triumph. Here are seven students who’ve never really met before, or only briefly, and within a month, managed to work together, travel around Holland, carry out interviews, managed editing, contacted artists, etc…I think all of that is already mind-boggling.”
He said although the documentary still needs considerable work, he and his team are proud of what they were able to accomplish and plan to do more work on it for the benefit of queer artists.
And once that project is completed, a homesick West said he has a keen interest in shooting something in or about TT.
“This is a dream of mine…I believe that Trinbagonians tell good stories and there is great potential for meaningful stories to be shared with the world, one where we represent ourselves.”
Anyone wanting to contribute to the development of Stargazing can do so via