Dylan Quesnel is the director and editor of Small Change (2016) [watch it, here], a 20-minute long documentary shot entirely in Trinidad and Tobago exploring the ways in which the local economy can move from a strong dependence on petroleum based energy/industries to a more sustainable environmental future.
Personally, I feel as if all environmental documentaries are the same though. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood (2016) that I watched last year had the same strident, prophetic tone that Small Change has and both do their job in stirring emotion, starting a conversation, but no conversation is sustainable without action to reinforce words. The truth is that the average man who recycles and cleans the beaches and doesn’t use plastic straws and prefers computer screens to paper etc. doesn’t have the same power that factories and conglomerate corporations have to create sustainable change and it’s good that Dylan understands that. He said of his work, “Small Change and Metiver (2017) served their purpose as conversation starters, a wake up. It connected environmentally minded people who thought they were alone.” I like that and films generally have that job, to connect people with the same ideas, and somehow that is powerful in its own way.
Dylan got started in film as an intern at the production house, The Art of Storytelling (AOS) in September 2012. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left secondary school so my decision was to do a number of internship programmes.” Not long afterwards, he fell in love with film and photography. Small Change was an official selection for most Caribbean film festivals including his very own: The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF) for 2016 but I didn’t really contact Dylan to talk about all that, I wanted to hear his outlook on the Caribbean film industry.
Young people nowadays have access to so many devices to create content now. Film is just another extension of ourselves, our culture, a way to write our own stories like we already do for the university plays and the poetry mic nights and the YouTube and Instagram stories. But I would love to see more young people producing actual films. Dylan said that for him, “Small Change was easy to make in terms of technicals, the difficult part was the timeline in which it had to be done. Small Change was shot and 1st draft edited within two weeks, and that’s when I was still working a 9-5 at AOS!” He even minimizes his techniques saying, “There isn’t much of it” but I don’t see all the faults that he does because the film’s message outshone all those things.
Beyond the cost of film lens, cameras and computers Dylan believes that we also don’t create more films because, “We also tend to value anything “foreign” as better and our potential seems to go unnoticed and underutilized.” And that is frustratingly true. I have observed that Jamaican Millennials would rather go see a US film at Carib Cinema this weekend rather than a CentreStage Production or we’d rather emulate the concept and topics of American YouTubers rather than create something new, something that is ours.
The other reality is that, “A lot of people from the Caribbean, including myself, can’t afford to go to film school, hence our dependence on knowledge transfer. There is not much knowledge transfer simply due to the lack of regional productions taking place.”
And lastly because, away from the passion projects which categorise 90% of Caribbean films, “Movie making inevitably has to make money to sustain itself as an industry. It’s very difficult to integrate our Caribbean regional content into foreign based markets due to cultural differences and interests.” However, Dylan sites Black Panther (2018) as the exception, the prototype if you will, “Black Panther marries African and American markets beautifully. Film is all about collaboration, we need to collaborate markets.” So there’s hope then.
And to end, we return to Dylan’s own pursuits. I asked him if he believed that Small Change was effective, if it did it’s job. “I do believe that progress has been made with regards to environmental degradation, but not enough,” he said. “It’s ever evolving.” And somehow that same sentiment applies to the Caribbean’s film industry, don’t you think? If you told me that a young Trinidadian would make a documentary feature that could be screened in his own country 10 years ago I would probably laugh in your face but look at us now. Beyond the technical equipment and our propensity to choose foreign films over home productions there is still those like Dylan Quesnel who are all for the passion projects. And just like he fell in love with film so easily and so young, many young’uns are experiencing that same reality right now in a more technologically advanced world. So yes, progress is being made indeed, we are evolving or as my mother would say, “we a come.” — Bless.
[cover image by: Dylan Quesnel]