Filmmaker Danielle Dieffenthaller has been a staple of the T&T TV landscape for a generation with her series Westwood Park and The Reef. Now, her production company Diefferent Style Flims?yes, it’s ?flims?, not films?has a new show in the works. She talked to the Sunday Arts Section about it.
You’ve been posting clips of your upcoming drama Plain Sight on the Internet for a couple of weeks. What has the response been?
Hmmm….well we got your attention so I guess it has been good!
Seriously though, the response has been beyond our expectations. We have had tremendous enthusiasm from the public since we started showing the clips and it makes us really certain that there is a hunger out there for an indigenous series. People want to see themselves on television; that is really clear to the Plain Sight Team.
Plain Sight seems to be a different kind of project, both in content and format, than the soap operas you?re so well known for. What are the points of convergence and divergence between Plain Sight and, say, Westwood Park?
Westwood Park was not meant to be a soap opera?it was designed for a broad audience of adult men and women for night-time viewing. It was no more a soap than House of Cards or Empire or Friends?but what they do all have in common is the format of several concurrent story lines being presented to audiences, That gives us depth and the texture of real life which translates into relatability for our audiences. That said about similarities?yes, Plain Sight is a different beast, quite set apart from anything we have seen coming out of the region to date. The stories that we are telling are inspired by real events, believe it or not. Plain Sight is certainly grittier, more political, very much rooted in the ?in plain sight? realities of Caribbean life. It caters to a sophisticated adult audience with a taste for exciting, potent drama. There is a great deal of high-tension drama in Plain Sight.
How has the recession affected Plain Sight?s production, if at all?
The recession has in fact created a vacuum of available financial partners for us. We have found people are quite gun shy about investing in the film business. It?s a process that we must perfect in terms of educating potential investors about the tremendous returns that are available from investment in the television business. It is not one of the more traditional investment vehicles in the Caribbean but we are working with stakeholders to ensure that the perception and awareness levels of film investment change for the better.
What is your hope for Plain Sight? When can audiences look forward to seeing it on air?
We want Plain Sight to kick down some doors and reveal opportunities otherwise not available to Trinidadian television and filmmakers. We are going to be part of the new wave of international entertainment providers that are sweeping the world thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. We expect Plain Sight to be on your television and computer screens in 2018.
What is Plain Sight about?
Plain Sight is a story about crime, politics, corruption, life and love in T&T. We hope to offer some insight into what motivates people to do what they do; Plain Sight will reveal the story behind the story. The plot begins with a seemingly random murder that would have been reported as a shooting in any one of the high crime areas in T&T. But when the dust settles we discover that the murder was not so random and its effects have consequences reaching far beyond the locale of the crime and beyond those who committed it, to places our audience would never expect!
The murder and its far reaching tentacles takes us on a whirlwind tour through Trinidad, with visits to Canada, Venezuela and Grenada. The Plain Sight calendar is marked by local festivals?whereas in US and other Northern shows mark the passage of time with the seasons (winter/spring etc)?our seasons are marked by our festivals: Christmas, Carnival, Phagwa, Hosay, Emancipation, Divali etc.
As an industry veteran, what?s your take on the current assertions that T&T leads the Caribbean in film production? What have we done right, and what are we still getting wrong?
What we have done right: my generation?Gen X?was lucky enough to have grown up with images of ourselves constantly thrown at us. We were exposed to an appreciation for our country thanks to the ONE TV station (TTT) that told us, every single day, this is where we are, this is who we are and this is what were famous for.
We had to watch Scouting for Talent, Rikki Tikki, Mastana Bahar, Know Your Country, Play of the Month, Meditation (every religion had a slot), Mainly for Woman; Teen Talent etc. We had Turn of the Tide, No Boundaries, Sugar Cane Arrows, Calabash Alley, Gayelle.
We had actors, writers, producers, directors who took the responsibility to show us ourselves.
Fast forward 20-30 years. We have all the choices in the world but almost none of them are home-grown. We import culture and images wholesale from other markets, to the point where we may have forgotten our reality and fused with American/foreign realities.
What we did wrong: we did not continue to build on the foundation that was laid down for us. Instead, like many of our heritage buildings, we thought it best to tear down and discard the old and replace/ by buying completely into American cultural colonisation.
Instead of truly investing in our own television and film industry?like we did with oil and gas and agriculture and manufacturing?at some point we relegated those of us in this industry to hobbyists and crazy artists. The industry has been given minimal support. We now have to compete with world where one in a million low-budget films or series ever find real success. We are sardines (not salmon) swimming against the tide constantly being pulled back by trawlers. On the bright side, as we can see from the interest in recent and diverse presentations like Santana: The Movie, Bazodee and Play the Devil, there is still a want and a need for what Trinidadian and Tobagonian film and television makers can bring to the table. There is a ready market for us…not only here, but internationally.