A Paradise Pulse Exclusive: Meet the people behind The Cutlass
  Vedesh Nath
COLUMNS-REVIEWS
July 2017

by Vedesh Nath

 

Brace yourself.

The landscape of cinema in Trinidad and Tobago is about to change.

After winning the top prize at Trinidad and Tobago’s 2016 Film Festival, The Cutlass finally opens in local cinemas following a long-anticipated wait.

The film afforded young local talent the opportunity to showcase their abilities in an admirable formula and has been harvesting rave reviews.

Based on a true story, The Cutlass was written by Teneille Newallo and directed by Darisha Beresford. It stars renowned actor Arnold Goindhan and newcomer Lisa-Bel Hirschmann in the principal roles. Hollywood actor Kirk Baltz (Face Off, Reservoir Dogs) also stars in the film alongside Rebecca Foster, Michael de Souza, Conrad Parris, Gary Moore and others.

With the release of The Cutlass in local cinemas on August 2nd, Paradise Pulse had the privilege of getting up close and personal with the lead actors, writer and director and they are just as excited about the release of the film as we are!

Teneille Newallo (Writer/Producer)

All screenplays/stories start with the writer and a blank page before him/her. The writer can write about anything. About a trip to the market to get crab for Sunday lunch. Or about a jog around the Savannah. Or about the emptiness he/she felt when he/she learnt that his/her partner was sleeping with someone else.

Whatever the picture, the writer paints the story with importance and beauty.

So why did Teneille Newallo decide to tell the story of The Cutlass?

“Upon hearing the real story from the actual victim, my instincts immediately told me that this story needed to be told for multiple reasons,” Newallo says. She admits that it was one of the most valiant stories she had ever heard and grasped at the opportunity to use the story to reinstill hope to our country which is currently being besieged by so much crime.

In The Cutlass, we find Joanna (played by Lisa-Bel Hirschmann) kidnapped and dragged into the deep wilderness of a Trinidad forest. Joanna is forced to find the courage within herself to battle the severely disconcerted mind of her kidnapper Al (played by Arnold Goindhan). Newallo declares that the story is a profound one “that shows the possible results of two victims of circumstance.” She says the film “addresses true bravery and asks the question: do we allow the world to victimize us or do we take responsibility for our own actions?”   The film also addresses issues of wealth, social status and power, and places the culture of passing on preconceived judgement on others on a pedestal, inviting self-reflection and introspection.

Newallo used the opportunity in telling the story of The Cutlass to create a strong female character who “used her intelligence and emotional understanding of human beings to mentally battle the unsettled mind of (her) kidnapper.”

In writing the antagonist, Newallo did not only see him as a villain, but also as a victim of circumstance inflicting his built up passive aggression onto another human being for the sake of improving his own life.

Having herself had acting experience, Newallo said she felt it necessary to give actors good, challenging material to work with.

Being in the film industry for over 15 years, Newallo graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater Performance, hence her justification for wanting to provide solid material for actors. Newallo herself has done a number of roles on screen and on stage locally and internationally – appearing in Akon’s music video Don’t Matter and hosting local TV shows T Zone and Bmobile Dance Off.  She had supporting roles in the short films DuBois and Noka: Keeper of the Worlds, the Machel Montano commercial hit Bazodee and a small cameo in Play The Devil.

Having been shown to sold out audiences at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival last year, Newallo says it wasn’t the least bit difficult in getting local cinemas to screen The Cutlass. “When hard work is put in, you get a product of quality,” she boasts.

She argues that The Cutlass is in fact a step in the right direction, and, as evidence of this, points out that it is the second film (the other being Bazodee) in recent times to be distributed in the Caribbean on a large scale.

She contends that any film that can draw the interest of audiences is a step in the right direction because it encourages exhibitors to want to show the film. “When the film shows, there is potential for money to be made and that is how we get local investors interested.”

She adds, “We need this sort of public acceptance of film first before anything else. With the exception of a detailed business plan, investors can’t see how many people are really interested in local film unless it’s in the media and in their faces. We need to show them who want local content made: us. Cinemas will always be willing to screen a film that is of quality and selling out to audiences. If we want an industry, we need to make movies that audiences want to see.”

Darisha Beresford (Director)

Having always had an innate passion for filmmaking, it came as no surprise that Darisha Beresford agreed to direct The Cutlass.

With more than 12 years experience as a writer, producer and director, Beresford has worked on award winning Caribbean and American films, commercials and television series. She is the founder of Blue Basin Films and serves as a director at Zaftik Studios in South Florida. She has worked with networks such as MTV, ESPN, Discovery, A&E and Food Network. But she finds gratification in writing and directing culturally diverse films and this is what perhaps drew her to The Cutlass.

She admits that the narrative of the film – whereby the story was told from both the real life victim and the abductor - fascinated her. She reveals, however, that it was a challenge for her as director.

“My team and I saw the potential to make a film that would not only tell a true story of kidnapping, but would also explore the complexities associated with human behaviour, social disparities and the will to survive,” she says. “(The) story lays out the choices that we have as individuals – some paths we decide to embark on while other paths we are forced to travel.”

She reveals that in the film, despite Joanna being kidnapped and held captive in the forest by Al, there are moments when you begin to empathise and trust him, just as Joanna did.

“There are many emotional and truthful layers (in the film) that can hopefully raise important questions within our society,” she says. “Most of the film takes place deep in the jungles of Trinidad with breathtaking views and amongst precarious terrain. But for the sake of authenticity and ‘getting the shot’ I had to make a convincing case to assure my cast and crew that these locations were imperative to telling the story. We had to view all the challenges that presented themselves as opportunities to create. Above all, The Cutlass is a labour of love by a group of filmmakers and actors inspired by Joanna’s incredible story.”

Beresford shares the same views as Newallo, saying that The Cutlass is a step in the right direction for local cinema as it represents quality cinema by stirring emotions and leaving its audiences with a lasting impression.

 Arnold Goindhan (Lead Actor – Al)

Arnold Goindhan is no stranger to the performance industry. Having a large amount of work under his belt, Goindhan can certainly be called a veteran at his still very young age.

The actor can be seen as the antagonist or the “bad man” in The Cutlass and Goindhan explains that it was extremely difficult playing the film’s villain.

“You have to go to places within yourself that are very disturbing and be convincing at doing it,” he says. “For instance, how do you get to the point where you have no regard for life? Getting there is only part of it, getting back is another issue.”

Goindhan elucidates that what made him sign on to do the film was simply the plot as the film not only deals with kidnappings but enlightens as to how two lives intertwine, creating tragedy for one and hope for another. He also found delight in the passion Teneille and Darisha brought to the table as he enjoys working with people who love what they do.

He describes his character, Al, as a victim of circumstance who is troubled and an opportunist. “He can’t seem to catch a break,” Goindhan relays. “He is self-taught and cunning. He uses knowledge to get what he wants and will sometimes go to extremes to prove his point.”

Filming was hectic for Goindhan and he describes it as “taxing” because of all the ins and outs involved in shooting. He admits it was worth it in the end as everyone gave 110 percent, proof being evident in the end product.

He considers The Cutlass as being only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to local films.

“There is a plethora of stories we have here that we can relay to the rest of the world. Given the means, I am sure we can tell them all.”

 

Lisa-Bel Hirschmann (Lead Actress – Joanna)

A relativly newcomer to local cinema, Lisa-Bel Hirschmann asserts that playing Joanna in The Cutlass has left an impression on her. 

“The personal growth that took place within me from understanding this character was immeasurable,” she elaborates. “This may seem over the top to many people, but I'm always happy when I can walk away from a project with new insights on myself or others. I was always intrigued by characters, stories or roles that have more meaning than just existing for entertainment. The Cutlass had so much potential to me at the time, for a local film, for the people of Trinidad and Tobago and for me personally, that it was something I definitely wanted to be a part of. Not only that, but the people involved in the production were just as, (if not more), excited about it than me.”

In simplest terms, Hirschmann describes Joanna as a “complex woman.”

“She's not easy to please, that's for sure. Not because she's being difficult, more so because her father is an intelligent man, so she inherited a healthy dosage of questioning in the world around her. It takes a while for her to fully trust someone, but when she does, the trust is real. If that trust is broken though, she can very quickly shut you out. Writing is her absolute therapy. It's incredibly difficult for her to share certain parts of herself with the world, and writing about them helps herself reflect. One thing you can always expect from her is the truth. She is an honest person even if the honesty is sometimes too brutal.”

Hirschman paints her experience of working on The Cutlass as a rollercoaster ride.  “Off camera, I have never had so much fun on set, but the actual work for the film was not a walk in the park,” she recalls. “There were long nights, it got cold in the bush, and if you've seen Joanna's attire you can probably imagine just how cold. There were days where the reality of what we were creating set in, where we reflected on the fact that this was an actual thing that happened. Those days were difficult. But any hardship that we endured, it felt like, was met by a set of truly incredible people. Someone was always in a good mood and dragged everyone along with them.”

In the end, Hirschmann said filming brought everyone close together.

“People underestimate the importance of working together, but in fact most things work out well not because one person tried, but because many people tried together.”

“The teamwork was a great experience and without it, I don't think this production would have gotten as far as it did.”

The Cutlass opens August 2nd at Movie Towne multiplexes, Digicel IMAX and Caribbean Cinemas in Trinidad and Tobago. For more info, visit the film’s website http://www.thecutlassmovie.com/ or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thecutlassmovie/

 

Official Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30ujAATYC-Y

By: Vedesh Nath | COLUMNS-REVIEWS | July 2017


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