Shakirah –– Bajan storytelling in film

Today's-FutureName: Shakirah Bourne.

Age: 29.

Education: Queen Margaret University, Scotland; UWI Continuing Studies; UWI, Cave Hill; Queen’s College.

Qualifications: MA in arts and cultural management; postgraduate certificate in marketing, PR and advertising; BSc in management with psychology (Honours).

Occupation: writer, film-maker, entrepreneur.

If you opened a magazine and saw a short paragraph summarizing who Shakirah Bourne is, what would it say?

Shakirah Bourne is a writer/film-maker, lover of bacon and mangoes. She believes most ailments can be cured by sleeping on the beach at least twice a week –– but who’s counting?

Winners of the Governor General Award For Literary Excellence: Shakirah Bourne (In Time Of Need) and Winston Farrell  (Barefoot On Ice).
Winners of the Governor General Award For Literary Excellence: Shakirah Bourne (In Time Of Need) and Winston Farrell (Barefoot On Ice).

What drives you and keeps you motivated? What is always at the forefront of your mind?

Almost every time I’m asked this question I have a different answer, and that’s because different things motivate me at different times. Right now, my motivation is my desire to see Bajan stories told and documented –– for us to be aware of our history and culture, and to share these stories with the younger generation.

Why did you choose sixth form instead of an Associate degree course? Explain your subject choices and combination for CAPE.

At 16 I still had no idea what career I wanted to pursue; so I chose subjects I liked: art, Spanish and business. I was the only student in the year with that combination. Unfortunately, the first module in the business course was accounts, which I did not fancy; so I dropped business and took up English literature, hoping my new subject combination would point to some obvious career choice. I was still the only student in the year with the combination of Art, Spanish and English literature.

I chose sixth form because it was the one and only plan I had: sixth form and then UWI. With the rest of my life so uncertain, I did not want to complicate matters by trying to figure out what to do at BCC.

When did your love for writing start?

My love for writing started with a love for reading. I joined the Public Library when I was nine years old, and had read all the books in the children’s section in a few months. I moved on to the adult section, and my small hands happened upon a Mills & Boon novel –– the start of a beautiful partnership. When I had read enough, my mind started to create its own stories, and I had to get them out of my head.

Research has revealed that most great writers are avid readers. Did you love reading from small or was it something you picked up later, and what do you enjoy reading?

I started with everything Enid Blyton, Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Mills & Boon, and then graduated to any book that had a muscled white man on the cover. As I grew older, thankfully, my reading choices expanded into Caribbean literature, mainstream fiction, fantasy and mystery novels.

Tell us about getWrite! and Bajans in Motion, and what inspired their creation.

getWrite! was created out of my need to invite struggling writers like myself along on my writing journey, and to share any writing advice and resources I found along the way. I have not blogged in a while, but I hope to start back soon. In the meantime, it is still a good resource site for writers.

Bajans In Motion is a film company created by Ricky Redman, Selwyne Browne and myself, fuelled by our desire to bring Bajan content to the screen, and to a global audience. We have a great team (special shout-out to Rasheed Singh and Stephanie Chase), and so far we have produced three feature films: Payday, Two Smart and Next Payday.

In 2013, you were a TEDxBridgetown speaker and your presentation was titled The Curse Of The Starving Artist. Were you excited or scared, and how did the speech go and was received?

The TEDx speech was by far the scariest thing I have ever done. I was in the middle of filming Two Smart, and had little time to prepare. I actually had to borrow the Bajan Bus Stop shirt from my leading man (which he was wearing at the time) because we went over schedule, and I had no time to go home to change.

Luckily, my struggle to remember the speech came across as dramatic tension, and my fear as passion. At that point, I was getting a lot of attention from the media due to the movies, and people kept congratulating me on my success. I found this very hard to accept because I was still broke and struggling to live.

I had to come to terms with the fact that the amount on your bank account was not the only determining factor in success, and in case (God forbid) my career choice never made me rich, I would find satisfaction in other ways by changing my perception of what it meant to be successful.

Many aspects of that speech still ring true, especially this line: “There is wealth in attitude. There is a great value in the ability to work with several types of idiot.”

I’m very proud to see that the talk has been shared on some inspirational websites.

You are credited as the writer of the Payday movie. What motivated this piece?

Payday was the brainchild of director, producer Selwyne Browne. It was his idea to approach me to write a feature film that was cheap and easy to make, funny, and set in one location.

I did some research “on the block” and created a story from the characters I observed. It was my first time trying to deliberately write in a comedic manner, and I was not even convinced the movie was funny until our sell-out opening night.

Each year, over the past four years, you released a movie: Payday (2013), Two Smart (2014), Next Payday (2015) and A Caribbean Dream (2016). Are you working on something for later this year and 2017?

A Caribbean Dream should premiere this year, and I have a play –– Tales Of An Obeah Man –– which is being produced by The Gap Theatre. The show opens at The Cove (previously Reggae Lounge) in St Lawrence Gap on April 29.

I’ve also been commissioned to write a musical for the 50th Anniversary Independence Celebrations this year. Between now and next year, I’ll be focused on finishing
my second book.

With your success in writing books, short stories, proses and journals, you could have settled there. Why the need to study cinematic screenwriting at BCC and script development with the University of Edinburgh?

I wish I could give you an inspiring and motivational answer why I pursued screenwriting, but I found my path to film writing through uncertainty and laziness. I wanted to sign up for a short fiction course to improve my writing, but the only fiction class available started at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings.

After having to wake up early every other day of the week, I was not going to do so on Saturday as well. Instead, I signed up for the only writing course at 1 p.m,, and lucky for me, it was screenwriting. I immediately realized it was a form of writing I was good at and wanted to pursue, and I took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the craft.

You are currently a part-time lecturer with the Youth Mainstreaming Programme of the Barbados Community College and a past lecturer at UWI, Cave Hill. What is the experience like working with and sharing your knowledge, success and failures with upcoming practitioners of the film and writing industry?

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved teaching. Some students were so enthusiastic, they complained whenever I wanted to finish class early, or did not give homework. I was even more surprised at how much I loved teaching students who disliked writing.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a student trying to be bored and apprehensive, and then can’t help but engage in the sessions. I use a lot of visual elements, and clips from Caribbean films, popular American blockbusters, and I always preach the value of putting Bajan culture on screen.

Some of the kids are really creative, and have amazing ideas. I often find myself wishing I had the funds to bring some of their fantastic scripts to life. These up-and-coming film-makers just need more people and institutions to invest in their talent.

Each writer has his or her own style and process of writing. Some lock themselves in a room, others take retreats outside their countries, and some just go to the beach or park. What have you tried and what works for you?

Some writers are unable to write without playing music. Whenever I put on music and attempt to write, I end up dancing and singing. Through the process of elimination, I’ve realized I am most productive either in dead silence, or listening to the sound of waves.

This is why most of my stories originate on a beach in Oistins or at Foul Bay.

Fictional writing is a strong area for you, and there is a huge global market for superhero movies. If you had to write a script for a movie staring a Bajan superhero, what would the superhero’s name be and what powers would you give him?

My superhero would not be the kind you see in Hollywood movies. It would probably be a madman/woman or vagrant called Duh with the power to speak the blatant truth to anyone’s face, without suffering any consequences.

Fun fact! We already have Bajan superheroes. Check out the Beyond Publishing Team on Facebook.

If you had to be an animal, which would you be and why?

I could tell you that I would be a bird –– a free spirit that is able to fly to any destination. However, that bird could be shot down by a hunter. So if I had to be an animal, I would be a human, because we’re at the top of the food chain –– unless that human is trapped in the ocean with a hungry shark. Then I would choose to be the shark.

Your educational history is very broad; from the social sciences at UWI to business at the postgraduate level; then to culture at the Master’s level. Take us through this journey.

Trial and error. I’ve only ever attempted to study subjects that I liked and thought I had an interest in. Sometimes I was wrong, but I learned a lot and got a diverse set of skills in the process.

I had never thought to pursue a degree in writing because it took me a while to see it as a viable career. On the bright side, I am able to look at art with a business eye, and take advantage of marketing theories and strategies.

You were one of the successful receivers of a National Development Scholarship and decided to pursue a MA in arts and cultural management. What was the experience like living in Scotland, and what opportunities did that experience provide?

I went to Scotland to pursue a degree, but I did not anticipate the huge emotional and mental development, along with necessary expansion of mindset and perception. I was one of two Caribbean students on the entire campus, and the only native English speaker in my circle of friends. I learned the importance of knowing a foreign language; several times I felt handicapped because I could only speak English.

In studying Edinburgh Festivals, one of the biggest festival stages in the world, the main revelation was that Edinburgh’s cultural success was not due to something unique to the city, but to the importance placed on culture at every level of its society –– from infants to government.

This value is ingrained in everyone, and their confidence in their culture is linked to the success of the festivals. This is not something Barbados cannot achieve. All we need is a change in perception. This revelation was enlightening and devastating at the same time.

On a positive note, having so many European friends and access to low-budget airlines meant I was able to cheaply travel all over Europe. I ate my way through Europe, and in that year I visited several cities in England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Ireland –– all in the name of cultural research! I think my love of travel was born in this period.

As one actively involved in the creative and cultural industry in Barbados, what is needed to fuel its growth and sustain its development, making it financially viable for current and future practitioners?

Investment. Not only financially, but for every Bajan to create a demand for local stories. The Government and private institutions will not ignore the collective cry of the people.

Some may not know you were a competent track and field athlete, had entered two pageants and was a member of the Barbados National Youth Steel Orchestra. Is it a possibility we may see you returning to any of these in the future?

I think the only place you would see me running is on a treadmill (maybe). Those athletic days are over, and the trophies on the shelf will continue to represent my bragging rights.

At one point, I couldn’t imagine not playing the steel pan.
I think in another life I would be very happy with a career as a pan player. I would need a lot of practice and training to be able to return to it – my main challenge was my inability to read music, and this really stunted my growth as a player.  One day I may return, but right now my heart would break to know how bad a player I would be after years of neglecting the instrument.

Fun fact! I was a member of the band that played at the closing ceremony of the Cricket World Cup. We were forced to wear these huge dreadlock wigs (think Goku Super-Saiyan ultimate level).

A British tourist later stopped me and asked: “What tribe are you from?”

I still have that wig.

A little birdie informed us you love experimenting with hair. Tell us about this new hair colour each month.

My hair chronicles began in 2013 when I shaved one side of my dreadlocked head. Hair will grow back; so I would encourage anyone to go ahead and do that cool, funky style they’ve always wanted to try. I’ve had dreadlocks, dreadlocks with cornrows on one side, and dyed my hair several bright and unconventional colours.

Last month my hair was emerald green, and right now it is lavender-gone-wrong . . . . I’m probably going to try pink next . . . .

Who has contributed to your success?

My family, and a small circle of close friends. I fear disappointing them more than disappointing myself. Also, all those people around the world who found some enjoyment in my films and stories, and felt the urge to share them . . . .

(If you are a young Barbadian professional or know of any worthy of being highlighted for their amazing contribution,
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