Young, rising stars Alexandra Warner and Maya Cozier tell our stories from behind the camera
For a small twin-Island, Trinidad and Tobago is punching beyond its weight in the film industry. Although the dominance of Hollywood films has made it difficult for the Caribbean to break through, annual events like The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF) and The Trinidad and Tobago Green Screen Environmental Film Festival (GSEFF) have helped spring-board rising talent.
Founder of TTFF, Bruce Paddington had a clear vision for the festival, he wanted to create a space to screen films from the Caribbean and the Diaspora to the public that otherwise would have never been exposed to their “own” talent. Paddington also saw it as a way to facilitate the growth of the Caribbean film industry with workshops aimed at helping aspiring filmmakers. From its inception to the present day, the TTFF has had an increase in both the scope and quantity of submissions. These festivals have helped Trinidadian filmmakers break down industry barriers and biases. Instead of having a limited Caribbean audience, films such as ‘The Cutlass’ (Darisha Beresford), ‘Moving Parts’ and (Emilie Upczak), ‘Unfinished Sentences’ (Mariel Brown) have been screened at The Cannes Film Market. In the last decade, there has been a definite trend towards more women behind the camera. Trinidad has also seen a significant increase in female directors, like Maya Cozier and Alexandra Warner, who have produced critically acclaimed films that explore the diversity of the Trinidadian experience.
Cozier is a 29-year-old filmmaker and former dancer who pursued a degree in film studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her thesis film, Short Drop, won the NYWFIT student award and has been shown at over 20 film festivals worldwide, winning Best Short film at The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and Best Caribbean Short Film at The Curacao Film Festival. ‘She Paradise’, her first feature, premiered at the virtual AFI Fest in 2020. Cozier has since worked with Etienne Charles, an acclaimed jazz trumpeter and composer from Trinidad, who was commissioned to compose a piece for the re-opening of the newly refurbished David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center. Charles engaged with various creatives to execute his idea of an immersive multi-media live performance titled ‘San Juan Hill: A New York Story’. His piece reimagined the cultural and musical heritage of the former San Juan Hill community, home to icons like Thelonius Monk and Benny Carter, which was razed to build the arts centre. In October 2022, Cozier worked with the creative team developing visuals for the live performance that captured the nostalgia and history of the community. In an interview for Ins and Outs, she admitted that although it was an exciting project, she faced a few challenges.
“Having to take my artform into the space of a live performance was new but I really enjoyed collaborating with a musician on a performance where I got to see my film interact with music in front of a live audience.”
Cozier plans to create a short documentary of the same title, ‘San Juan Hill: A New York Story’, using the footage from the performance. Although Cozier believes that we have come a long way in our film industry she acknowledges that there are still limitations regarding the reliance on foreign investors to distribute local film. Her hope is that “we can eventually entice local investors to promote this industry”.
29-year-old filmmaker, Alexandra Warner, shared a similar perspective.
“The storytelling component has always existed in the Caribbean and there is no shortage of talented creatives in the industry. I believe that the more organisations and distribution companies that exist to assist filmmakers, the better it will be to hone the talent that already exists.”
Warner graduated from the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Studies with a BA in Documentary Production and International Relations. Her pilot episode ‘The Forgotten Boys’ in her ‘Untold Docuseries’ was partly inspired by her own experiences with crime in Trinidad. Warner mastered the art of storytelling in the documentary by challenging stigmas and misconceptions of the incarcerated. The piece focused on the restorative justice system which helps provide prisoners with an opportunity to gain skills to reintegrate into society. Her aim is to produce a nuanced narrative that opposes the superficial depictions of crime that are often relayed in mainstream media:
“My objective with film is always to tap into our shared humanity. How can film be used as a tool for social impact? My work focuses on the lesser explored stories focusing on giving a platform to underrepresented communities and individuals.”
Warner currently works as a video producer at the Brooklyn Museum and has recently developed a docuseries titled ‘Reclaimed’ which can be viewed on the Museum’s Instagram and YouTube. Like ‘Untold’, the objective of this series is to tell the story of a marginalised and misrepresented group of different artists “whose work focuses on reclaiming narratives of lived experiences”. Fair representation in media is an integral part of defeating stereotypes, what we see on the screen should reflect the multifaceted, complex nature of societies and cultures. The only way to move towards this goal is with greater diversity with the stories on the screen and our storytellers. The film industry may still be a male dominated space, but young, rising stars like Warner and Cozier are fighting for a place in that room.