Six may just be filmmaker Maharaki’s magic number.
That’s how many years it has taken the native of Barbados to bring her award-winning screenplay, “Vivre” — which means “to Live” in English — to the silver screen. During the time, Barbados-based, Maharaki continued working, developing freelance projects throughout the Caribbean, including directing music videos, advertisements and short TV formats. Regularly involved assisting overseas productions, Maharaki’s projects have led her to work with music stars such as Rihanna and Shontelle.
A lifelong dream to be a player in the cinematic world, Maharaki completed Vivre working in collaboration with Arts & Vision Productions (Guadeloupe), Rock Rose (Martinique), and Nomades Productions (Martinique). The film, according to production press, has received the support of several institutions such as The Regional Councils of Martinique and Guadeloupe, the Martinique Tourism Authority, the Ministry of Cultural and Communication, Le Centre National du Cinema et de l’image animée. The script won “Le Prix Lumina Sophie 2007” and was presented at the 2012 Cannes film festival. Vivre was officially released in September 2013 in London.
The wait seems to have been of benefit to Maharaki, who continues to rake in accolades, praise and more than a few awards in festivals worldwide, for this, her third short film. “I wanted to take my time,” she said. Undoubtedly the maturity the young filmmaker has gained since writing the story, has affected how the sweet yet provocative tale is told about how a precocious young boy replies when asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The 13-minute-long drama comedy that is subtitled in English from French, imagines and implicates modern society from the perspective and through eyes of Tom, a 10- year-old-youth who is mature beyond his years. Moreover, Vivre deals with the question of free will, responsibility and the consequences of the choices we make.
Produced and shot in Guadeloupe and Martinique, the film represents Caribbean storytelling at its best; however, it is set far from the usual tropical clichés and white-sand beaches picture post-cards often depict. Rather, the story unfolds in a contrasted urban and social realm in which the character travels through time. Imagining his adult self, in thinking up a response, Tom conjures up complex scenarios and elicits a response that is profound in its realism and innocence.
“I want to be an obstetrician!” calls out one. “I want to be a veterinarian,” reply still two others. While his classmates sound-off with the typical sort of “pie-in-the-sky” and aspirational responses, Tom keeps it real: “I won’t be an astronaut because you need a lot of money,” Tom says plainly. “My family is on welfare.” Tom leads us, the viewers, into and through the streets and alleyways of his world, revealing a future that is both thoughtful and down to earth, in more ways than one. What may remind some viewers of the biblical figure, “Doubting Tom,” the little school boy, Tom, explains with candor and disarmingly upbeat charm why for him, growing-up to be an astronaut would be impossible, if not improbable at best.
Through it all, Maharaki employs her signature humor, rich details, internal and external monologues to paint a brilliant picture of Tom’s reality. “It is the universality of the message of ‘Vivre’ that touches me and inspires me,” the filmmaker said. Vivid vignettes within the larger narrative tell the story and create rich flights of fancy. Maharaki does a masterful job of making Tom’s travails accessible to viewers, who in turn are able to become completely emerged in the little boy’s world.
“This film was an artistic and technical challenge, a gripping adventure made of great encounters and emotions, a revelation of natural talents found in children who deepened my sensitivity,” according to the filmmaker. Scenes set in the film’s fictional classroom are rife with ethnic and gender diversity, which serve as microcosms of the world and the rich universe to which Tom’s imagination belongs and at once escapes. It is a subculture that is not exempt from the realities of an omni-present drug-culture, and influence from American consumer culture. This is what creates in Tom a frank and earnest wisdom that is well beyond his years. Without dipping into the despair, Tom’ point of view is informed by his upbringing in poverty. Maharaki reveals hope in Tom’s final message: “I hope I make the right choices.”
You can see the entire “Vivre” short online here.