By Shamonique Murray
And we’re off! The 14th annual CaribbeanTales International Film Festival’s opening night started off with a bang on September 4th. With a street party to commence the festivities, and moving onto the Royal Cinema big screen, the resonant theme of ‘stage to film’ was distinct throughout the sold-out event.
There was a buzzing anticipation in the air for the feature film of the evening, Rattlesnakes,and the neo-noir production did not disappoint. Originally a dramatic stage play written by Graham Farrow, alongsidedirector and screenwriter Julius Amedume, centres on the relationships whichtransformed the short play into a provocative psychological thriller. The film features long time Haitian actor and cast member of the science fiction series, Heroes, Jimmy Jean-Louis who also stars in the film as Robert McQueen – a family man and therapist who is caught having multiple affairs with his clients, unleashing the fury of their respective husbands, who capture and torture him.
Jean-Louis is not the only star of the film. Viewers may recognize a few familiar faces, including, Robinne Lee (Fifty Shades Darker, Deliver Us From Eva), who plays Robert McQueen’s wife, and Jack Coleman(Dynasty, Heroes), who plays the leader of the husband trio that capture McQueen. The cinematography executed by Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, along with the relatively slow character development, gave an heir of mystery that shifted the audiencesfocus to significant yet subtle symbolic frames. Hints of ‘what could be,’ were often teased but never fully delved in depth about who any of the characters were, until the final climax and resolve of the story. Was this accidental? About as accidental as a rattlesnake’s attack.
Rattlesnakenot only explores the predatory nature of the animal species regardless of class, race, or phylum, but it also highlights the karmic debt of secrecy. Just like the elusive journey of the rattlesnake, there were many dynamics being challenged and highlighted in this film. It is not everyday we see a predominantly Caucasian cast, star in a film directed and produced by Black men, nor is it a common genre to be portrayed on film by the Caribbean or Black community.
When asked about what the most exciting part for Jean-Louis about screening the film at CTFF’19 is he said: “Showing the audience that Black filmmakers can produce all kinds of movies, where there is still a cultural touch but still able to look at ourselves as the main protagonists.” Venturing outside of social prejudices and expected stereotypes, where Black men are portrayed as thugs or jesting for social approval, was refreshing and applauded.
With only 12 days to shoot, and an assortment of challenges, including the Los Angeles wildfires, Rattlessnakes was created by a very small team,but has the aesthetic of a large production. This will be Jean-Louis’ first production that he has put together from beginning to end and he is not stopping there. Further exploring the psychological thriller genre, Jean- Louis and Amedume have teamed up again to present Mother Water, for the CaribbeanTales Film Incubator also occurring in Toronto this month. Who said little snakes can only grow in hiding?
*Editor’s note: This film was originally screened at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival ‘19