Barbadian filmmaker Vonley Smith is making his mark in the Caribbean film industry. His work is inspired by many things and has focused thus far on highlighting the human perspective in social issues.
“I want to create a feeling of grandeur through my work,” Smith told Bajan Vibes. “I want people to be able to relate to situations even if they themselves have never experienced it.”
Film was not always at the forefront for the 26 year old creative who initially set out to pursue a career related to information technology. “I applied for Computer Studies at Barbados Community College and I absolutely hated it,” he said.
“It was really a transitory time for me because, in my spare time, I was on YouTube. I was part of one of the best online studios called Re-evolution. I was creating art online and it was getting a lot of YouTube views
and I just considered making a living out of it,” Smith added, explaining how he got into film-making.
Instead of going on to the University of West Indies to further his education in computer studies, he opted to enroll in the fine arts programme majoring in film at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI) at the Cave Hill campus.
“The experience there was eye-opening. It was there that I became more of an artist-like filmmaker and instead of creating typical Hollywood narratives. The course challenges you to tell stories in different ways,” he said.
The three year degree programme took Vonley five years to complete as he juggled work and school. However, he never allowed setbacks to discourage him. In fact, when he broke his arm last year in a vehicular accident mere months before he was to submit his thesis, he decided to shoot with a broken arm.
“I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t finish in time but I gathered a team, we went, we shot and we produced my biggest film to date entitled Dreamshire and that experience in itself cast out all doubt and solidified for me that there was nothing else I want to do but film,” Smith said. Dreamshire was a pivotal work of art for me.”
After finishing his degree, Smith decided to fly around the Caribbean where he spent several months shooting carnivals, beginning right here at home with Crop Over before going to Jamaica and Trinidad and then St Vincent.
“I love shooting carnivals because I love to capture people having the time of their lives. That’s the common ground in all the carnival, people – happy,” he said.
Smith recently returned from Trinidad where he participated in the prestigious Trinidad Film Festival. It was an “awe inspiring experience”, he said, as three pieces of his work — Reforget, Mermaid and Dreamshire — made it to the finals of the competition.
“Originally I was going to pay, go Trinidad and watch films but then I decided to enter my films and I got in for free. From there it was all about networking, getting feedback and learning as much as I can and just seeing what my other Caribbean brethren were doing. What was really amazing was how interested they were in my work and how my mind worked as I created,” he said.
When Smith was asked about his plans for the future, a broad smile came across his face before he replied simply: “Teaching!” “I want to give back. I want to develop the film industry in Barbados which is in its infancy. We are at a point in the film industry where if my peers and myself make the right steps, we can be the forefathers of film and help pave the way for younger generations,” Smith said.
While he may not reap the benefits of his career, Smith said hopefully the next generation can and will have opportunities to make a livelihood from film.
“I am blessed because my mom was very understanding when I decided to just do film. The reality is that many young persons who may want to get into acting, film and the industry may be discouraged because there is no market or they may not have the resources but limitations lead to creativity and sometimes you have to create your own opportunities,” he said.
The young filmmaker who is becoming very well known across the Caribbean, wants to encourage Bajans to support Bajan film, third cinema, and Third World countries telling their stories. “It is important that stories of our Bajan heritage and culture are told and captured for generations to come, our folklore,” Smith said.