Caribbean stars bringing home Chee$e.

Caribbean film enthusiasts can expect a sumptuous treat of original Caribbean creativity when Chee$e, the movie opens the  Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival at the IMAX Cinema, Roxy Roundabout, St James, from September 21-28 after a two-year hiatus. 

He might have been first seen as a 32-year old Caribbean-island novice newly-arrived in California to pursue an acting career. 

But  an early response posted on Face Book after learning that “Chee$e” would receive the attention of  industry movers and shakers at the South-by-South West Film Festival in Texas next month, has shown him in a different light.

In fact, Akil Williams now comes over  as one of those special individuals who – having come through a  game-changing experience since taking up his acting career – is now well poised to welcome and handle success in an industry where “many are called but few are chosen”. 

Listen to how Akil opens his post which first appeared on  February 2: 

After seven years of being quietly committed and investing  everything into this production, I can finally announce that the Feature Film “Chee$e” would be making its international debut at the “South by South West Film Festival”.

Words can’t express how grateful I am for such an opportunity.

In an earlier issue of ttinsider.com, Akil thanks “big bro” Damian Marcano and others for their support. The man who portrays the lead character Skimma in the fully original Caribbean work humbly says to all:

Thanks for believing in me.

Julien Neaves, Caribbean Head Writer of Red Mango Reviews, who saw the “pilot”, connects with Chee$e following  “a young man named Skimma (Akil Williams) who makes and delivers cheese in his coastal community of Turtle Village, Trinidad. 

But his ambitions to see the world are not feasible with his small income, so he cooks up a scheme to start trafficking marijuana in blocks of cheese”.

For Neaves, “What stands out immediately about this show is the high production quality. Chee$e looks very polished and I could easily watch it on major streaming platforms like Netflix (picking it up). 

There are also subtitles for the Trinidadian dialect which adds to the international marketability of the show. The pilot opens with a cold open of a police raid on a beach with a helicopter, slo mo shots and some haunting music”.

This could have easily been the start of a feature film. We then see Skimma running into a room of men with marijuana and telling them they have to hide everything now (with some green verbs added for emphasis).

Among the supporting actors in the film is Roland “Julio Prince” Harry, an old friend of Akil.

The narrative then jumps back to Skimma and his pre-marijuana trafficking life in Turtle Village. He is an intelligent and philosophical if somewhat wayward young man and Williams infuses him with a lot of likeability” Neaves added. 

Producer/Director Damian Marcano who grew up in one of T+T’s  “crime hot spots” known as Morvant, after which he named his production company, also received high praise from Neaves.

“Am I high, or is that a tiger in my room? It’s a tiger, isn’t it?

About Marcano, Neaves says: I had previously seen his work in another pilot, The Fire Queen, and I am again impressed by his confidence and competence as a director. 

He notes that Marcano also did triple duty as cinematographer “and delivers some truly gorgeous shots”. The original score by Cheah Meng (real name Lou Lyons and founding member of Trinidadian Urban Contemporary band – Freetown Collective) “is quite good and provided a most entertaining soundtrack to Skimma’s misadventure”.

The publication Filmmaker in Focus notes that:

“As a boy growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Damian Marcano often spent his days at play in the streets of his community of Morvant/Laventille, in east Port-of-Spain.”

“That’s where all of my influences came from”, Marcano revealed. “Morvant wasn’t the place that it was—well, I suppose it always had the stigma it has now, but as a person living there I always saw the beauty of my community. I left, I went to the US, and when I began to start travelling back here on my own again, as an adult, I started venturing into the community and just meeting people”.

He migrated to the US at the age of 12, and later enrolled at Ohio State University, intending to study medicine. Instead he moved to New York and became a web design programmer, then entered the world of filmmaking”.

Currently based in Los Angeles, Marcano made his first film, the charming short The Little Boy and the Ball, in 2011.

“One of the problems that I see is that in our community of the hills, if you will, or just East Port-of-Spain, there’s so many territories a young man can’t go, and I didn’t grow up that way”, he said. 

“So it was very important for me as a young man from there to team up with other young people from the same community”, he added.

Meanwhile, Damian Marcano  has been lately  snapping up a number of big assignments with reputable companies as a Director in the USA. He is strongly supported by his Jamaican-born wife Alexa who is a key part of their Movant Production team.

In his Profile, Akil Williams describes himself as “an experienced actor who had the opportunity to further my skills after studying in seven different acting schools in Hollywood LA”.

Apart from playing the lead role in the pilot episode of “Chee$e.” , Akil says he “played the role of and I am one of the producers and writers for  (my own) The Legend of Black Lee video series”

Using the theme Believe in yourself  as one of his motivational behaviour guideposts, Akil “had the pleasure of traveling to LA/Hollywood where I got the chance to meet some like minded creative’s as well as attend various film shoots, music videos, plays and acting schools to enhance my craft”

He was born and grew up in Flagstaff, St James, Port of Spain – the capital city of the tiny twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago  (Population 1.6 million approximately) which is well known for its wealth of talent which is spread all over the world.

It was here that he met the aspiring film-maker Damian who was vacationing for the Summer at the home of his uncle who lived nearby.

This is where Damian first talked to Akil about the story of Cheese which he was working on, starting a five-year conversation that would result in the pilot being secretly filmed on a low budget on Trinidad’s scenic north west coast with Akil as the unknown star.

About two year later, Akil hitched his wagon to Damian’s star and jetted off to LA with full faith that, as the Mighty Stalin sang: We can make it if we try

The rest is an exciting journey of what is possible with vision and determination, resulting in Chee$e being featured in the South By South West Film  Festival 2022

And, most recently, in New York. Chee$e is now among a number of Caribbean productions that are making a name for themselves on the international circuit.

Chee$e will be featured in London next month (October).

For instance, the anticipated reopening of David Geffen Hall kicks off on October 8 with a pair of concerts featuring Trinidad and Tobago’s Etienne Charles’ new work, San Juan Hill: A New York Story—performed by  Charles & Creole Soul, and the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Music Director Jaap van Zweden.

An immersive multimedia work, San Juan Hill: A New York Story transports the audience via music, visuals, and original first-person accounts of the history of the San Juan Hill, Trinidad  neighborhood and the indigenous and immigrant communities that populated the land in and around where Lincoln Center resides. 

A multitude of musical elements—from Ragtime, Jazz, Stride piano, Swing, Blues, Mambo, Paseo, Antillean Waltz, Calypso, Funk, Disco, and Hip Hop—are woven together with historical film and present-day interviews to showcase the myriad musical styles and culture that were brought to New York by migrants from the south and the Caribbean. In addition to his band, Etienne Charles & Creole Soul, Charles is working with a range of artists and academics on this commission, including special guests Carl Hancock Rux, Elena Pinderhughes, DJ Logic, and collaborating with playwright Eljon Wardally, video artist Maya Cozier, graffiti/visual artist Wicked GF (Gary Fritz), visual artist Bayete Ross Smith, and historian Julia Foulkes, among others.

San Juan Hill: A New York Story combines the past with the present, laying the foundation for our community to build a new future for Lincoln Center.

As regards  public service, Akil served as a Board Member of the Trinidad and Tobago Association for the Hearing Impaired (TTAHI) from June 2015 – April 2018.

In the course of pursuing his career at home, Akil Williams has met his fair share of push back in a country where violent youth take no prisoners.

Two of his friends were shot to death by their bretheren and Akil himself was a victim of Attempted Murder (to use the term used by the investigating police officer) by a young man who took offence to Akil  daring to check out his chile mudder residing in a crime hot spot area called Patna in North West Trinidad. 

Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, the South By Southwest Film Conference And Festival (SXSW) is reputed to present “the best in new independent films and provides informative panels, workshops, mentor sessions, parties and an industry trade show”.

According to Wikipedia, “the event has grown from 700 registrants in 1987 , the first year of the conference, to  161,000 attendees in 2018.

Their web site:  “SXSW is at the forefront of discovery, creativity, and innovation in film at a time when it is increasingly important that business and entrepreneurial savvy partner with artistry and aesthetic sensibility. SXSW attracts true film lovers — press, filmmakers, industry leaders and die-hard fans alike – while boldly tackling the evolution of all aspects of today’s “film,” right down to its very definition”.  

It adds: “From conversations with today’s most talented creators, to one-on-one mentor sessions with industry experts, the SXSW Film Conference brings together the best and the brightest from all spectrums of the Film industry into one vibrant community. SXSW Film Festival programming ranges from independent films by striking new filmmakers to Hollywood comedies and genre standouts that blow the roof off the theatre”

With promising new T+T players like Akil Williams, Damian Marcano and Lou Lyons now fast emerging on the big screen therefore, we the people  should be able to  

Make the world a better place for you and me

 as Michael Jackson sang so beautifully.

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