12 Questions with Andrei Pierre
—Published on 23rd Jun, 2023.
Andrei Pierre has a broad range of experience having worked in photography, content development, video production and film production. He has directed a number of short films which include ‘Lime of the dead’ (2013); Please see attached (2018) which was the end result of participating in a programme executed with the Canadian High Commission ‘Human Rights on Film’ in collaboration with trinidad+tobago film festival; My Maxi (2021) which won ‘Best Trinidad and Tobago Film People’s Choice’ at the 18th edition of the trinidad+tobago film festival in 2022.
Andrei is currently developing his first feature length film ‘Grand Rising.’
FILMCO: What attracted you to filmmaking?
Andrei Pierre (AP): I decided pretty early in my teens that I wanted to be a professional artist, fulfilled by a project based career far away from cubicles, water-coolers and TPS reports (see the film ‘Office Space’ (1999) to get the film reference). My love for film started with my love for music, comedy and witty ad campaigns, and it naturally progressed to a love for Cinema. I wanted to be a renaissance man, and I was electrified by the idea that film is a medium that would allow me to amalgamate different things I like such as – philosophy & ideology, storytelling, humour, science, history and art.
FILMCO: You have used the term ‘creative anxiety’ to describe what has stopped you from creating in the past. If so, can you explain what is meant by creative anxiety and how you have pushed past this to create your films?
AP: Creative anxiety is a constant, however I’ve learned to deal with it through accepting that for some people expression is absolutely natural – you put something on a page or out in the world and you feel good about it or not and move on. For others it is an act of vulnerability. When I make something it feels like I’m exposing myself to you and that is what can make one feel apprehensive – but it doesn’t stop me from doing it. It’s the price of admission for choosing to make art and create beauty in the world.
FILMCO: Your films pay especially close attention to your West-Indian heritage. Why is this important in your storytelling?
AP: I think that every writer references things that matter to them most. I take a lot of pride in where I come from and I’m obsessed with mapping the history and all the facets that coalesced to make the West Indian exist here and now; in this place and time – and I like sharing that. It’s how I express my individuality in a global context. If you look at every island that makes up this region you’d see how similar we are than our differences would have us believe. In my films I want to let people know who we are, how we sound, and to normalize our way of living. I want the world to understand us – not just through one country in particular, but through our diversity. Some people say nationalism is dead but I believe that fostering this unified, yet assorted identity is a path to making us great and generating influence. I’m working on how my artistic contribution will achieve that, but that’s an ideology that influences the way my stories are written.
FILMCO: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in pursuing a career in filmmaking?
AP: ‘Flim (yes FLIM) is a long game.’ That’s the one thing that keeps ringing in my ears as I progress. It’s an echo down the hall as I walk through this career wondering where it will continue to lead me and a reminder to be patient.
FILMCO: What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your creative projects and how did you overcome them?
AP: Every creative project is a challenge, however, being a filmmaker means being a problem solver. The two roles are inherently inseparable. And I like busting my brains to figure problems out, so I consider this career a form of professional masochism. That said I’ve been lucky that outside of projects for clients, my biggest challenge is getting stuck in my head. Sometimes you forget that this is an expressive medium, and that producing the idea is more important than getting it perfect. In recent times I’ve been dealing with that by putting myself in situations where I have had no choice but to deliver what I’m obligated to, because of the looming deadline or the expectation that I will provide what I’ve promised. I do not like to disappoint, and I take giving my word very seriously.
FILMCO: You participated in the Canadian High Commission ‘Human Rights on Film’ in collaboration with trinidad+tobago film festival in 2017. Can you tell us about this experience and the film you produced after participating in this project?
AP: Yes and it was 2018. I remember at that time I was working in a government office in the marketing department and feeling so disconnected from ‘Flim’ and disenchanted with civilian life. That workshop was a re-introduction for me, and winning the grant to produce my short ‘Please See attached‘ was just what I needed to get moving. The energy around it was so positive, it convinced me to leave my office job and start freelancing. That short also gave me the chance to make ‘My Maxi‘ a few years later because the executive producers loved the humour and humanity in dealing with such a touchy subject and wanted something similarly commissioned for themselves. I’ll forever be grateful for that opportunity.
FILMCO: Your short film “My Maxi” won the ‘People’s Choice’ award at the trinidad+tobago film festival in 2022. Can you describe what it meant to you that the audience voted for your film and how this shaped your motivation to brainstorm more stories?
AP: People’s Choice was such an unexpected blessing. I was already satisfied with just the warm reception and positive response the film received. The belly laughs while it was on screen and the warm feelings the audience said it made them feel. So winning the award was a Lagniappe. It was validation – Knowing you not only have an impact, but the people feel moved enough to give you the nod too.
FILMCO: Your film “Grand Rising” was recently selected for the European Film Market (EFM). Can you give us a sneak peak into what your film is about and how you came up with the storyline?
AP: Grand Rising is an off-beat, comedic tale about loyalty, lineage and longing. It references Pan-Africanism and the Black Power Movement and focuses on the calamity that one young protege of a forgotten political cult faces, after his father (the cults elderly leader) dies. He struggles to claim his place and take charge of the family while his grieving and manipulative mother forces her own agenda of crime and deviance, hoping to get them back to Africa by any means necessary and fulfilling the dream she and her husband set out on 50 years ago. I said before that I’m moved by history, and nationhood, and I love absurd ideas and characters with existential dread – and this inspired the premise of someone becoming a reluctant cult leader, I built this tale from scratch.
FILMCO: You recently returned from Germany for the EFM, a FILMCO membership benefit. How did you capitalize on the opportunity to further your film’s development?
AP: In Berlin I connected with so many people. Through the table side conversations alone I learned so many new things and got advice on avenues for funding & support I had never considered – it gave me a better understanding of where I am and what I need to put in place to get this film produced. I’ve so far leveraged those relationships to continue to develop ‘Grand Rising’ before moving on to the fundraising stage.
FILMCO: What would you say has been the most rewarding thing you have experienced so far on your journey as a filmmaker?
AP: Hard to say. It could be the random zealous calls and affirmations I get from people who saw ‘My Maxi’ and loved it, wanting to screen it at their event, or see it again. Maybe the distance that the film has travelled, appearing in so many countries; four so far and counting. But it might really be having veteran talent on my set and it was such an honour to meet and work with them. I feel like nothing beats the gratification you get from knowing your team enjoyed their time with you as a director – and for me that has repeatedly translated into films, the audience enjoys just as much. It’s like they have fun knowing we had fun.
FILMCO: Since entering the film industry, what have you learned and what advice would you give someone venturing into their first project?
AP: Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission – not even yourself – just start making and don’t stop – when the time comes; all the other things will follow – you will attract the audience and the company you need to help you keep making. Also, try to take every opportunity that shows up because you need to be out there, on the ground, networking, learning, making and growing.
FILMCO: What do you think are the three things we need to be able to build a sustainable film and television industry here in Trinidad and Tobago?
AP: I’d say outright that people working in the creative industries in Trinidad and Tobago need security and the certainty that they’ll be able to earn a living doing this work that brings joy to thousands. There’s a constant struggle to be taken seriously and to exist in an enabling environment that fosters creative productivity. Everyone who works in film knows this and has those conversations, but that’s something that has to be fostered at the legislative level. The government made a big initial push to invest in the film industry years ago and while individual agents continue to put in the work, there always needs to be more of a follow up from the decision makers and those who allocate or can invest capital.
I think there is also still quite a gap between the institutions that people get qualified at (UWI, SBCS and the others) and the field. I’ve seen a lot of very talented people drop-out, or leave the industry prematurely and fail to get immediate field experience. That’s not because of a lack of interest or potential but because they didn’t have the opportunity to get on to sets, shadow and grow their network, or the combination of resources to build their own film businesses from the ground up.