By Paula Henriquez
HAVANA TIMES – Mitzi and Howard Allen are the creators of HaMaFilms Antigua (Independent Caribbean Film Producers) a film and television producer based on the Caribbean island of Antigua and Barbuda. Together they created a way to show their work and that of other independent film and TV producers, especially those from the Caribbean diaspora.
That’s why the director and the producer make up a team that is distinguished, above all, by Howards´ innovative approach to filmmaking in a developing country, according to the Ithaca College Department of Film and Photography of New York.
Meanwhile, Mitzi is an award-winning journalist and producer who has received the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership award on the HIV / AIDS for her work on the Show LIVE UP, which she hosted for five years. She is a mentor to many budding young filmmakers and journalists.
Mitzi and Howard are also closely linked to the Traveling Caribbean Film Showcase that belongs to the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC), which they represent on the Caribbean island where they reside. Their work in this regard, consists of coordinating the presentations of the Showcase in that territory.
Two of their films, The Sweetest Mango (2001) and The Skin (2011) have been appreciated in Cuba and other Caribbean countries when they were selected to form part of the first and third edition official programs en 2010 y 2012, respectively. The Sweetest Mango is considered to be the first locally made feature film in the Eastern Caribbean.
In this interview, the couple tell us about HaMaFilms Antigua and their most recent film production Deep Blue and also gives us their opinion on issues related to film and television, while protecting themselves on their island of origin from the current pandemic that is plaguing the world.
Who are Mitzi and Howard Allen and how did HaMaFilms come about?
MITZI: I am a broadcast journalist by training. I studied Broadcast Journalism in Toronto, Canada. I am also a producer and media consultant. I have more than 30 years experience in the field of communications.
HOWARD: I studied Electrical Engineering at the Antigua State College. After that, I got further training from the Caribbean Broadcast Union in Barbados, with Sony Engineers. I have been working for the TV for more than 30 years. I come from a family of artists.
We both come from the television originally, but we are artists, creators and storytellers, not only in this field, but also in cinema. That’s why both worlds are our means to share these ideas with our fellow Antiguans and Barbudans and the Caribbean diaspora. HaMa is the collaboration of both our skills. When Howard decided to become an independent producer in 1992 we became a team in work and marriage.
HaMaFilms is a film and TV producer. Are these two fields very different? What are the main differences?
They’re not very different but we do feel like we get to be far more creative with films.
HOWARD: For me the main difference is that television productions don’t usually require as much resources as film productions do.
MITZI: I would say that from a business point of view the return on our investment in productions is quicker with television projects.
In which of the two fields do you think you perform better and which do you prefer?
HOWARD: Although I’m very comfortable working in television, my preference is film. I enjoy the filmmaking process. I enjoy screen writing, working with actors and just helping to make a story come to life.
MITZI: I enjoy the challenge that comes with producing a feature film. I’m constantly learning and it puts us in a position to work along with and learn from other industry professionals.
Is there a film and TV school in Antigua? Do you think there will be a school in the future?
MITZI: It doesn’t exist, but HaMa has tried to instill love for cinema in young and not young people. For example, we have developed workshops with children and youth during vacation periods that have been funded by UNICEF. Likewise, we have taught introductory classes to film and TV production for beginners and interested people. Surely in the future there will be a school in Antigua. We have to build it!
At this moment you are working on your most recent film Deep Blue. What inspired this project?
The inspiration for Deep Blue came from working on a series of environmental documentaries and learning so much about nature’s ecosystems, mangroves and coral reefs etc. It occurred to us that there are probably a lot of people like ourselves who don’t truly understand and appreciate how all of nature is interconnected and interdependent.
Is there a trailer that can show us a preview of what will be Deep Blue? Where can we see your films, including those that were part of the Showcase?
We don’t have an official trailer yet, but moviegoers can check out the site: http://www.hamafilms.com/deep-blue/ and get an idea of what the story will tell. As for our films, they can be appreciated on http://studioanansi.tv/ an online platform that was created specifically so that Caribbean cinema was available for everyone.
Also, here is a film teaser of Deep Blue:
Who are the protagonists of the film and how was the casting process?
The protagonists are Maya Bazelin, a marine biologist and David, an architect. As it’s been in the past, most of the principal cast was made up of actors we had selected even before the script was written. Local casting can be a challenge sometimes because there isn’t a large pool of professional and experienced actors to choose from but it’s also very exciting when we’re able to discover some previously unknown talent.
When will the film be ready and what do you think will be the scope of it?
Our plan is to have the film ready for summer 2020, however the COVID-19 Pandemic will likely mean that it won’t be screened until 2021. We plan to tour the Caribbean with our film and also submit it to film festivals. We are hoping that we will get a distribution deal with one of the major online platforms like Netfilx, Amazon Prime etc
How has the work been so far taking into account the current situation the world is experiencing with the COVID-19?
Production has slowed considerably because of the pandemic. Although we are able to complete simple shoots but most of the work is in postproduction.
Satisfied with the work done so far at Deep Blue?
HOWARD: I don’t know if I can say that I’m one hundred percent satisfied with we’ve done so far but I never really expect everything to go exactly as planned. I try my best to be adaptable and resourceful and make even the most challenging situation work worthwhile.
MITZI: Speaking as the producer what is missing is the type of financial support through investments that could greatly speed up the work that we do. As it relates to Deep Blue this film is our largest film project to date and because we are self-financed it takes a while to amass the capital we need. There is never enough to do the things you would truly like to do but we make it work.
What would you do better?
HOWARD: I think I would like to include more rehearsal time not just for the benefit of the actors but the entire production crew.
What are the challenges of making cinema in the Caribbean, based on your experience with films like The Skin, The Sweetest Mango, No Seed, Diablesse & Paradise View and now Deep Blue?
HOWARD: There is very little support. Especially with funding. There is no government agency that is specifically pushing for the development of indigenous film production. There needs to be a structured approach to development of a film industry.
Would you say you have managed to overcome them? How?
MITZI: We have managed to get things done because we are multi-skilled…and we are resourcefull. We have a model for making films in the Caribbean that works for us…and we are passionate, determined and focused.
What is missing in the Caribbean cinema to position itself in the world as cinema from other latitudes has positioned itself? Why?
HOWARD: The governments of the English speaking Caribbean need to truly understand the value of indigenous films and the importance of telling our own stories. Right now most of our governments are happy with the islands being a “backdrop” or location for Hollywood films.
Tell us about future projects of HaMaFilms.
We are currently writing another season of Paradise View ten episodes. Paradise View is a dramatic series for television.