Arriving at the airport in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, my wife Jane and I were pretty much island novices. So our first view of the shoreline – while riding a cab from the airport to the ferry – took our breath away. If not paradise, at least pretty close.
After a short ferry ride, we arrived mid-afternoon in Cruz Bay, St. John, checked into our “boutique” hotel (the white building with the flower boxes) and we went for a walk around town.
That evening, Andrea Leland, founder of the St. John Film Society, joined us for dinner. She gave us some insights into St. John’s geography, culture and community – and some tips for spending our free time during the days prior to the screening. For the most part, that time was spent face down in the water. Neither Jane and I had snorkeled much, but we took to it easily and quickly on St. John reef lined beaches.
On Tuesday afternoon, I went to Andrea’s lovely hillside home to watch the latest cut of her new film – about the surviving elements of Garifuna culture on the island of St. Vincent. Andrea has been documenting West Indian culture since the 1980s and her new film will add one more piece to a compelling story of resistance and resilience.
By Wednesday, Jane (whose mural work is featured in Concrete, Steel & Paint) and I were relaxed and eager for the film screening and some engagement with the St. John community. That evening about 50 people arrived at the St. John School of the Arts to watch the film and talk about prison, justice and the social power of art.
The post-film dialogue was animated and intense. And while discussing how community mural collaborations can help bring separated groups together, we began to explore the possibility of a mural project on St. John – one that might bring the local West Indians and the newer islanders into greater contact.
On our final day we took the film to the Gifft Hill School. I was a bit anxious about whether the middle school kids would have the attention span to stick with an hour long documentary, but they did – and afterwards they had lots of questions about prison and murals and filmmaking. It was a great way to finish our visit to St. John. (We WILL be back.)
Post and photos by Tony Heriza, OSIP touring filmmaker.