What inspired you to make this piece?
I want to explore the complex relationship between a guard and a
Tell us a little about the process involved in making this work.
| From COMPAÑERA.
It started off as a story set in Latin America about a male
guard and a female political prisoner. Then I got scared about falling
into traps of Latin stereotypes, and since I don't speak any Spanish that
was that. So I decided to do something about an American political
prisoner not really knowing if there were any, but then finding that
there are 300 in prison at this time.
I was mesmerized by Assata Shakur, the former Black Panther and member
of the Black Liberation Army, after reading her autobiography, and
decided to base the character on her. I also interviewed Pat Levasseur, who
was a member of the Ohio Seven. Both women were imprisoned because of
their political activities and charged for crimes ranging from murder to
armed robbery. I continued to explore the characters and shape the story during a two-month intense rehearsal period with the actors. So in some sense, I collaborated with the actors in creating the story. I would re-write after rehearsals; however, by the time we got to shooting, the story was pretty much engraved in stone.
Do you have any interesting and/or amusing behind-the-scenes stories about the making of this particular work?
| From COMPAÑERA.
It was pretty hellish. The movie was shot in three different locations.
The exterior of the prison was shot in Fishkill, New York. The interior
cell was shot on a soundstage. The exterior cell was shot in an
abandoned precinct in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. We shot the film
in the winter of '93; crime was rampant. There had been over 300 murders
in that precinct the year before. It was like the Wild West.
I wanted to spend as much money in the neighborhood as possible. We had
the neigborhood Dominican diner do the catering. We paid the
hairdressing place next door to use their electricity. We bought
everything else we needed from a bodega run by a guy who seemed to
command respect from everybody.
The other goal was to make everybody who was not financially benefitting
from our being there feel comfortable about having us around. Things
started off badly when people thought I was Dominican and were offended
that I didn't speak to them in Spanish. I'm from Bermuda, where English
is spoken, but get mistaken for Dominican all the time. The actress who
played the prison guard, Sandra Rodriguez, who is Puerto Rican, explained
the situation to everybody and became our ambassador. There was also a
fear that our presence would interfere with trade. Crack was king, and
it seemed as though it was the local cottage industry. So I forewent
police protection for me and my crew despite their protestations,
although secretly I think they were happy to move on to bigger and
better things. However, this made me and the crew vulnerable.
The first incident was when I was almost attacked by a band of teenage
boys. I was by myself, getting into the beat-up old production station
wagon that I rented for $15 a day after having just done the craft
service shopping. These guys in a car reversed, blocking in my car so my
only way out was the sidewalk. As they got out of their car and started
to circle my car, I somehow managed to power lock the doors. I leaned on
the horn until they went away.
The second was I had hired this guy Victor and his friends, who had all
been Chilean ex-political prisoners, to help clear and clean up the
police precinct which had been abandoned for 10 years and was derelict.
It was used mainly at that time as a crackhouse or as place to get out
of the elements. When we arrived, to prepare for the shoot the police
had to flush out all the people. The building was condemned as soon as
we finished shooting. Victor was telling me how the place was rat-infested and that they were very large. He could tell by their feces.
Victor had been tortured with rats in Chile and knew all there was to know
about rodents. I told him my biggest phobia was rats and I would die if
I saw one. Anyway, the next day, my producer, Selina, and I returned by
ourselves to finish painting. We had to padlock ourselves into the
building with a huge piece of chain, because the building was so big
there was no way we could hear anybody coming in. We had been working
for about two hours when we heard a thud. Selina suggested that we take
a look to see what was going on. When we finally got up the courage to
do so, someone had placed freshly killed rats in front of all the
places where we were shooting. Some one must of overheard my
conversation with Victor and decided to send a message that we were not
wanted. My efforts to keep the peace had not worked as well as I had
hoped. Needless to say, we dropped our paint buckets and ran out of
there. The next time we came back it was in the strength in numbers of
Not that 15 people milling around prevented theft, but by the time
we turned our backs for five seconds to find $800 of cable stolen, we
were pretty seasoned. When I went to the police station to file a report
for the insurance company, I felt pretty lucky sitting there with the
victims of a long drawn out war. At least I could leave. The East
Village seemed so nice and safe and cozy. The officer, whose help I had
turned down before the shoot, told me I was lucky to be alive.
Did I mention that it was 15 degrees while we were shooting? All we had
for heat in this cavernous four-story building were two small space
heaters. The actresses had to suck on ice just before a take so you
couldn't see their breath.
Is there a relationship between your work as a video/filmmaker and life in the New York metropolitan area?
I truly consider myself a New York filmmaker even though I'm from
Bermuda. I've made three shorts and a feature film here. I have a real
love affair with New York. For me, New York does not just belong to
America. It belongs to the world. It's an entity and a country unto
itself. I hate to see the malling of New York that is happening right
now. It is detracting from its uniqueness.
How has the burgeoning independent movement affected your life and work as a video/filmmaker?
I think the "independent film movement" is no longer burgeoning. I
think it has arrived and been co-opted by the establishment. I've never
felt part of the "independent film movement," but then again, I've always
had distrust of movements.