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Varuna is set to be filming in St. Kitts; Director Jonathan Perry talks local film industry

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The live-action short film Varuna by filmmaker Jonathan Perry will begin filming this weekend (June11-12) and will be using the Caribbean waters to replicate the poaching culture in the Andaman Sea.

The filmmaker shared that Varuna is just a pseudonym for now, and the specific details of the film will be communicated later, but Perry provided a brief synopsis of the film.

“The details of what the film as far as that goes is still, at least 50 percent of it is under wraps. We get 50 percent that covers poaching in the Andaman Sea. We cover Indian nationality, Thai nationality and Burmese nationality, the poaching/fishing slave industry over there, and what goes on in international waters. So we’re framings St. Kitts and the waters around it as such.”

Varuna will be filmed on a 102-foot vessel; scenes from Frigate Bay, Sandy Point and Dieppe Bay are expected to make it into the film to capture the savagery of the poaching and slave-labour culture on the opposite side of the world in the northeastern Indian Ocean bounded by the coastlines of Myanmar and Thailand wrapped in an action/thriller.

“We’re an independent film, but we’re on a large-scale size, and that’s something interesting to compare to, let’s say large-scale films with large-scale budgets coming to your island, and that operate differently, but I don’t think Independent film has hit St. Kitts yet and it would be interesting to see, you know, how this film plays out and its positive effects to the island because it’s a different perspective with film than anyone has seen.”

Perry said he and the crew are hoping to finish the filming in 10 days, which he said is longer than his typical shoot time.

Why poaching and enslaved person labour for this project?

“Really just a topic that I think needs to be covered. I mean, it’s something to where they’re taking, let’s say [people of] Thai nationality, Burmese nationality, on vessels over there at 15, 16, 17[-years-old], taking their passports, throwing them on a boat, and you don’t see him again for four to five years. That’s if they don’t get shot and killed thrown in international waters. I mean, with the amount of research I’ve had to do in this film, videos that I’ve had to watch, whether it be from poaching connections and things over there, it’s unreal, and I think something that needs to be shown on screen and something, not a documentary could capture in a safe manner or has an all… there’s a couple of aspects of the film that has never been done before on screen at all, regarding a couple of other subject matters and we’re very excited to see how that turns out.”

Perry is no stranger to film. The 20-year-old is best known for his 2019 film Subnivean, which garnered critical acclaim and was subsequently acquired by Amazon Prime Video for international distribution, making him the youngest director on any major streaming service at 17.

Following his award-winning film Subnivean and critically-acclaimed film Crookery, Perry has decided to shift gears and climates with Varuna in the Caribbean.

Last year, while on a gap year from the University of Montana, Perry worked in California with Simple Films and Activision Blizzard as a lead writer and director of the popular video game “Call Of Duty,” a best-selling first-person shooter.

The Varuna director said 100 people (cast and crew) are involved in the filming process here in St. Kitts, most of whom are local talents.

He spoke emphatically about the Independent film industry in comparison with blockbusters and the importance of indie films as an inspiration to people who want to get into the film industry without comparison to films with larger budgets.

“It’s very exciting with what your islands have right now with the infancy of film because there’s a lot of potential for it. But ours will be different from, let’s say, MSR and things coming in because Independent film is non-union. For instance, we should have a production value way higher than what, let’s say, our budget or logistics should show, and that’s what’s really special about independent film… We can do things on [a] large scale to compete with things like MSR, but we don’t have to spend millions and millions of dollars to do that. We just got to do it right and have some extremely talented, whether it be locals and individuals working remotely. Finding locals, the talent is immense, and I can’t wait to see what this film as far as portfolio pieces for individuals or seeing like other films coming into that pull from this film learning aspect.”

Indie films are about the art form rather than the monetary gain, explained Perry, who further shared that if the story does not mean something to the people involved in the making of the story, working on an indie film may be unfulfilling and that film would also suffer from that lack of connection.

Making a film is no easy task, though. Varuna, a product of Perry’s production company Muybridge Inc., founded a year and a half ago, came with its challenges, including securing a local crew for the filming.

Perry reported that it took him a few months to gather the crew needed on St. Kitts, a process that would have been accomplished in a week in the U.S.

Other challenges included the logistics of filming on a moving vessel, the fragility of camera gear and “We’re gonna be filming at 102 foot moving vessel around the iland, which logistics every day for outset is something that should challenge any film on the market when it comes down to distribution with the large-scale aspect of your island and the shores around it.”

Perry continued, “one of the challenges, I broke my kneecap like three months ago on an electric skateboard at 1 a.m. coming home from studying, and a skunk went underneath my right wheel, and I just launched off it. Luckily I don’t need surgery. So much work went into the film. So I was like, it was very tough days of like, how on earth am I going to get myself in healthy condition to actually pull this off? Because it can be very rough on set. It’s a heavy workload. We’re movie magic. You know, it takes quite a bit of work, as far as my end, of course, and every crew that’s going into it.”

Despite the challenges, which could be explained by the Federation’s infant-phase film industry, the filmmaker spoke about the budding potential of the film industry in St. Kitts and Nevis and said he was able to secure what he described as talented people to work within the Federation.

“It’s awesome to see locals, like grow and learn with me, and especially since they’re interested in [film]. I would like to come back someday and do a much even like Blockbuster kind of science thing. But I’m really enjoying the island time right now, and I can’t wait to see where the island is going in, let’s say, ten years.”

Varuna presents another door that can open for developing the film and entertainment industry and local talent by adding film credits to the people of St. Kitts and Nevis’ portfolios. A win-win for locals in the industry and foreigners interested in filming movies in the Caribbean; more cost-effective to have the talent already at the local level than to have to bring in talent.

“When these really, really blockbuster films come on the island, to how a credit to your name of a film and have it just right there in front, who else are they going to go to? I mean, you’re an exclusive set few. So it’s something that I hope that locals take advantage of… because it does get back to the communities and it should make the island proud and of course, on a larger scale… there’s revenue to be made by the islands and [there are] things that neighbouring islands are prime examples of, and I hope that St. Kitts evolves and really harnesses that and right now it looks to be that they’re in the early stages, but they’re doing excellent for what they’re doing right now.”

When asked who or what inspired him, he found it hard to single out specific influences and shared that he gained inspiration from multiple sources throughout his life and all the movies he has watched. He also indicated that he is still searching for his voice as a filmmaker and hopes that Varuna will help add to his developing vision as a storyteller.

Listen to the full interview with the young director here:

https://soundcloud.com/winn-fm-989/varuna-director-jonathan-perry-talks-local-film-industry-and-more?utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing.

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