Maria Govan: “quite a challenging place to be”

But the Bahamas is still home for award-winning filmmaker Maria Govan. She spoke to Jonathan Ali about her life and work there

Maria Govan (right, in white) behind the scenes directing her award-winning film. Photograph courtesy Maria Govan

I realised from very young that I wanted to make films. Being an only child, I played alone a lot, and I think that asks a great deal of one’s imagination and one’s ability, to inhabit many voices and characters. That is where the magic began for me – alone in my room.

When I graduated high school in Nassau I was only 15 and my parents felt that I was too young to go to college, so I went to a boarding school in the United States instead. Afterwards I took some time exploring before I moved to Los Angeles. I had worked in Nassau on several films, and so had made some connections along the way. In LA I worked as a production assistant on a number of films, and still [do so] today, to make money, when pictures come to the Bahamas to shoot.

I wrote a script that a producer was interested in, but the experience became toxic. I was feeling disillusioned and thought, after some four years in LA, it was time to return home. I remember my friends telling me that I would never make films if I left, particularly if I returned to little Nassau. They could not have been more wrong. It was the best decision I’ve made. Had I stayed in Los Angeles, I would have likely been an assistant director or something like that. I highly doubt that I would have a completed feature film under my belt, nor would I have the relationship with the Bahamas that I have cultivated over the years.

My first film, Junkanoo: the Heartbeat of a People, was a really special journey, as we were exploring the incredible festival, Junkanoo, which is a brilliant creative expression of music, sculpture and movement. My next film, Where I’m From: HIV and AIDS in the Bahamas, was life-changing in many ways. That film followed the lives of three Bahamian people living with HIV and AIDS over four years. For me, making those films was about listening – staying out of the way, and simply witnessing. It filled me with so much insight and inspired me to tell stories that show humanity and dignity, even in dark places where we wrongly assume there is none.

I always wanted to write and direct narrative work, so when I finished Where I’m From I knew it was time to do so. Rain, for me, is a tapestry of impressions that I have about home. I wanted to look at certain aspects of the society that I find problematic, but in a way that engages people at a heart-level rather than intellectually, and I feel compelling stories and characters do that most successfully.

Raising the money to make Rain was, oddly, the easiest part for me. My Bahamian people really came through with huge support. Almost all of the money came from within the country. The production itself was where all of the challenges were born. The whole shoot was riddled with a number of surprises.

Renel Brown, who played Rain, and I had an amazing collaboration. We were both doing this for the first time and were both a touch insecure, but I felt very safe giving her direction and she – I hope – felt safe trusting me.

I can say with confidence that ours is a film that touches people across race, culture, age and geography. It is a film that people over and over again have thanked me for, particularly for the fact that it has “heart”. I often listen at screenings for the tears at the end, and they come every time. My fear initially was that the audience that I am most concerned about, my fellow Bahamian people, would have a hard time with the material, as it shows a challenging part of our community. It simply was not the case. I have been so incredibly affirmed by them. When Rain opened the Bahamas International Film Festival, 700 seats were full!

Travelling the film-festival circuit has been such an incredible gift. I have made friends in France, Canada, Trinidad – so many places. When I was in Korea, Rain won an award juried by Korean youth. They got up on stage and explained why they chose Rain. Each of them said that they saw themselves in Rain, and that the film inspired them to remain positive even in the face of adversity. I cried, hearing that translated back to me from Korean. To think that these young people could source empathy and relate to someone from such a different place and culture – well, that’s the power of cinema, I suppose.

Now I am sitting with a blank page, and it is quite a challenging place to be. Writing requires stillness and I simply have not been still for a long time. I want to make a film in the Caribbean – most likely here in Nassau – about someone who is an outsider and disconnected from the Spirit. I want to make a film about reconnecting with the beauty that is ever-present in life. The experience of making Rain really built my confidence and I cannot wait to take all that I have received, start with a clean canvas, and create something beautiful once again.

To find out more about Rain, visit www.rainafilm.com.