By Coretta Joe
Barbadian filmmaker Vonley Smith continues his journey of putting Barbados on the map through storytelling and film. Smith recently won the Overall Jury Award at the Green Screen Environmental Film Festival’s Very Short Shorts Mobile Film Competition in Trinidad. For this feat, he walked away with a cash prize of TT $12, 000 (BBD $3, 570) for making the one-minute film titled 1%.
In an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY, the film practitioner revealed that the idea for the film came to him as he was exploring ways to do minimal filmmaking in a sustainable way.
“The idea was to challenge myself further to create a piece of work using natural light and the elements of the sea, sun and rain to create a story. So I accepted Green Screen’s Very Short Shorts challenge to make a cellphone film. This year’s theme was Transition, so by using the sun and imagination as power, I aimed to display a strong technique of transitions alongside a thought-provoking voiceover — one mobile camera, one shot, one minute, one per cent,” he explained.
The film was shown during the in-person opening night event of the Green Screen Environmental Film Festival, which was held in Trinidad and Tobago on November 3rd. Additionally, 1% was also screened online and aired on television during the festival. The film later had its first ever digital release in the metaverse on November 8.
Smith explained that the digital release was revolutionary in that everyone came together and came up with a Dyson sphere theme for the film’s release – a Dyson sphere is a mega-structure that fourth/fifth world civilisations could hypothetically use to harness the power of the sun – to create a virtual movie theatre to stream the film. Persons got the opportunity to see the film and learn more about the world and environmental film sustainability. He credited fellow creative, Olivia Stephens, for helping film one important shot of the sea film footage and the use of her grow tower, an integral part of the short film.
He told Barbados TODAY that his award-winning 1% film has been able to gather creatives, including Jaryd Niles-Morris, Xavier Jhon-Clair, Danny Reid, Olivia Stephens and Nickolaus Hurley. They gathered online to curate the digital release of the film and, by partnering with XR-Lab (Barbados), the 1% Isle community was formed.
Smith, who views storytelling as king, has been in the film industry for more than a decade and currently has his eyes set on securing funding to produce and debut his first feature film, Voice of the Ocean (VOTO).
Currently based in Trinidad and Tobago, he shared that he is exploring opportunities there and networking with the vast community of creative industry professionals.
He told Barbados TODAY that his goal is to assist in developing the growing film scene in Barbados. But to do this, he realised that he needed to step out of the island and make stronger relationships regionally.
In January/February, the young filmmaker successfully represented Barbados at Berlinale’s European Film Market -one of the top three meeting places of the international film and media industry – where film professionals come together to network, exchange ideas, learn about what is new in the global industry and do business. Smith’s participation in the EFM Documentary Toolbox Programme endowed him with market intelligence, connections and a host of transferable business know-how. As one of the world’s top three film markets, the experience put his name and project on the international stage. He gained valuable insight into shaping his film career and bringing a global model to the regional scene.
After participating in the programme virtually from the United States. Smith then travelled to St Vincent and the Grenadines, and was involved in the third edition of the Hairouna Film Festival. He later represented Barbados in France at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, after which he headed to Trinidad to participate in the various workshops offered during this year’s Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.
“I see all of my short films that I’ve done before as part of my process. Now it’s time to take a shot at my first feature. Now that I’ve spent the entire year equipping myself on the world stage, it’s now time to take my experience from the international scene and work it into the regional film scene,” he shared.
Fully embracing his mixed CARICOM heritage (his mother is Trinidadian and his father is Vincentian), he asserted that as a working practitioner, Trinidad is where he wants to explore and get his feature film off the ground. He aims to have a co-production in Barbados, and hopefully, St Vincent and the Grenadines as well. Passionate about telling authentic Barbadian stories, Smith declared that our stories and accent are just as relatable as international stories.
One of the most important lessons, however, that he has had to learn this year was putting together a budget for his work. “When I participated in the EFM Documentary Toolbox Programme, the major advice I kept receiving was that my budget was too low. At the time, I felt it was sufficient, and I believed I could get it done -I come from making films from nothing,” he said matter-of-factly.
He continued: “The plan is to finance my feature film through crowdfunding, as well as applying for grants and gaining support from key partners in the industry. It’s kind of a chicken before the egg type of situation where people will only give a filmmaker the money to create the film if they know what they can do it. But how do you know what I can do if my film doesn’t get funded? So there is a risk to betting on a filmmaker and trusting them to deliver. I believe I’m the one who will deliver. So the plan is to work towards that goal and do my utmost best to create a story that is universal and inspiring.”
Nevertheless, the filmmaker remains with his eyes on the prize and is willing to continue to put in the work.
Smith dedicated his Overall Jury Award for the short film 1% to his late grandfather, who was Barbadian-born and lived in Trinidad.
“He passed away in 2020 during the pandemic. He always believed in my abilities, so I want to dedicate winning an award in Trinidad to him. He would have been proud,” Smith said.