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12 Questions with Rhian Vialva

—Published on 22nd Mar, 2023.

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Rhian Vialva freelanced in the film industry for 10 years, working on the production of documentary and fiction films as well as in television. Simultaneously, she also worked on eight editions at the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff), the most recognised film festival in the region. At the 2015 edition, she coordinated the inaugural Caribbean Film Mart.

Since 2016, Rhian has worked on films such as: ‘The Mercy of the Jungle’ (2018) winner of the FESPACO 2019; ‘Tantas Almas’ (2019) which premiered at Busan International Film Festival and won the Etoile d’Or at Marrakech International Film Festival; ‘En Route pour le Milliard’ (2020) Cannes Official Selection 2020, Cinema Sabaya (2021) Israel’s submission to the Oscars 2023 and others.

Rhian is the founder of Pitch Black Productions, a production company that facilitates co-productions between Europe and the Caribbean. She is currently developing ‘The Roaring 70s’, a co-production between Trinidad & Tobago, Belgium and Rwanda.

FILMCO: What first attracted you to filmmaking?

Rhian Vialva: Somewhere between being a model and a makeup artist, I became attracted to and curious about what was happening behind the camera. It seemed exciting, technical, enriching, empowering and I wanted a taste of it. As soon as I got in, I became obsessed with telling our stories.

FILMCO: What inspires your creativity?
RV: Very simple things, people-watching, taxi conversations, the idiosyncratic nature of being Trinbagonian and to a greater extent, Caribbean, and how witty and vibrant we are. 

FILMCO: You’ve worked on documentaries, fiction films and television. Which type of production are you drawn to more and why?
RV: They all excite me in different ways. I’ve become very discerning about the content and context, rather than the medium. Each medium unravels in its own unique way and each project assumes a personality of its own. However, I’ll admit that I enjoy the process of fiction the most. It’s always like being on a team obstacle course. 

FILMCO: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received on pursuing a career in filmmaking?
RV: I think the best advice I’ve been given came from two African filmmakers. The first was “develop your project and everything will fall into place.”The second was in response to me attempting to find a co-director (for the Roaring 70s), I was told “co-directing is not easy, your story is personal and you know it like the back of your hand. Have confidence in yourself and your team, you’ll get it done if you trust the process”. 

Posters from films Rhian has worked on

FILMCO: You work not only in Trinidad but within Europe and recently Rwanda. Can you describe your experience filming in the Caribbean, Europe and Africa?
RV: As you might expect, there are stark differences: even though you face challenges everywhere, working in Europe is a lot easier because there is an industry, the success rate of projects is so much higher because there are support systems and subsidies to ensure this; in the Caribbean, it can seem like we have more means than most African countries, but there are more funding and collaboration opportunities for most African territories. But there are some similarities that the Caribbean and Africa share, for example, in general post production is outsourced, in partner territories (like Europe). Nonetheless, in these territories there is no shortage of enthusiasm, creativity, talent and the desire to tell stories. 

FILMCO: What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your creative projects and how did you overcome them? 
RV: Satisfying the established model for bringing feature films to market, in my case having to do a short with the goal of proving myself to funders. The challenge is in working through the steps that are well laid out but beginning from a place where I have ideas but no budget, I must creatively find solutions to justify the value of the project in a substantive way, and what it brings to the table creatively and uniquely. What potential it brings to investors, that the message is universal even though I’m telling very Trinbagonian stories.

Rhian with fellow Caribbean filmmakers at the European Film Market, 2023.

FILMCO: You worked with the trinidad+tobago film festival and coordinated the inaugural Caribbean Film Market. Can you describe what that experience was like and tell us how it has informed and shaped your career since then?
RV: Everything I did at the trinidad+tobago film festival informed my career. The access to professionals and students from Trinbago, and professionals from the Caribbean and internationally. The candid talks were always very enlightening. The ttff gave me an expansive contact list, but more importantly a global film community. Coordinating the film market in particular could have been considered like putting the carriage before the horse, because at that time, I’d never been to a film market, but because I’d learnt so much from previous years, we managed to turn the wheel effectively, and we were praised for a job well done, so that was rewarding. At least two films from that year were made, a testament of what an impact it had. What’s also noteworthy is that it was at that point that I realised how much of a disadvantage the English-speaking Caribbean was as it pertained to access to funding, but more particularly Trinidad & Tobago. Since then, I’d been making enquiries and explaining our unique situation to industry players, however, I’ve realised that FILMCO is stepping in and making an impact where that’s concerned. 

Concept art for ‘The roaring 70s’

FILMCO: Your film ‘The roaring 70s’ was recently selected for the European Film Market (EFM) Toolbox Programme. Can you give us a sneak peek into what your film is about and how you came up with the storyline?
RV: It was in a conversation with Zeno Constance that propelled me to make this film, it’s inspired by his stage play. It was a real challenge initially. Zeno’s work seems unassuming, but it’s very profound. This is an ode to him. I hope to make him proud. 

FILMCO: While in Germany for the EFM, how did you capitalise on the opportunity to further your film’s development?
RV: It’s important for me to absorb as much information as possible to implement them into the short-, mid- and long-term strategy of this project, and future projects, paying close attention to the development and funding stages. The online sessions in preparation for the EFM taught me to be flexible and open-minded about my strategy. This experience will enhance both my film community and professional development. 

FILMCO: What would you say has been the most rewarding thing you have experienced so far on your journey as a filmmaker?
RV: I’d say the positive feedback that I’ve gotten from international funds about the project gave valuable insight into how a prospective audience can potentially feel about my work. That was wood in the fire.

FILMCO: Since entering the film industry, what have you learned and what advice would you give someone venturing into their first project?
RV: Research, research, research, Hone your authentic voice. Everything will fall into place. Re-writing is writing.

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?
RV: We have talent, stories, technicians, a film school, the most reputable film festival in the Caribbean is hosted here. The powers that be need to kindle within them a general interest and understanding of the viability of telling our stories, that we can be understood and represented and build a burgeoning industry: we would need what other industries have: quotas, subsidies and coproduction treaties, these will allow us to retain our rights.

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