After winning Best British Surf Film at London Surf Film Festival with their film Surf Girls Jamaica; we catch up with Joya and Lucy, the two unstoppable forces behind The Right To Roam, on how the project came about, the film industry and where they'll be roaming next.
In Conversation | The Right To Roam
What/how did you get into filmmaking?
We both came at filmmaking from different avenues, Lucy moved away from home to study media as a BTEC in Birmingham, while Joya was at sixth form school in Dorset studying and shooting analogue documentary photography. A few years later after pursuing these different paths, we met on a BA Film Practice Course at university the London College Of Communication (UAL) in South London, we would both arrive to the lecture room looking a little more rugged and wind swept than everyone else. We kinda spotted each other but it wasn't until our last year that we collaborated, which led us to make Away With The Land in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. We spent most of our last year of uni following a crofter up the mountains in Scotland, anything to escape the dark underground lecture room back in London. Something that we have had in common from the start, and is how we approach every film on a very human, personal level is that we have both always seen film as a tool, we believe in the power of film as a strong impact medium. We use this power to bring light to underrepresented stories, inspiring new energy to global issues and breeding empathy, because culture change leads to other change.
You have had a lot of success with your recent film Surf Girls Jamaica – how did this particular project come about? How did you meet Imani and how did she become the focus of this film?
The seed of the project was planted while at the 2017 national championships in Colombia. It was amazing to see the diversity of the athletes and how inclusive the whole event was. Everybody was so supportive and involved, from local children to adaptive surfers to the best ranked athletes in the country. We realised that surf communities in these regions had been ignored by mainstream surf media and how important it is to tell these underrepresented stories, because of the negative cycle and lack of access this can create to a sport.
Back in the UK, we researched for weeks but there really was very little coverage on Afro-Caribbean surfers. There are whole groups of women who cannot see a role model or place for themselves within the global surf industry. We eventually found out about Imani from an article that was a few years old and, inspired by her ambitions, we reached out to her. She is a filmmaker too, and so this whole process has been a collaboration with her.
Surfing has incredible healing powers and Imani was using this to bring the women around her together to overcome whatever struggles they were going through. She really is an incredible role model, but her story had never been given any light. It has the potential to inspire people all over the world on so many different levels and that’s why we felt it so vital that her story is told.
In the film, it mentioned the difficulty’s women in Jamaica typically face on a daily basis… how did that come across during the filmmaking process?
It is undoubtedly a patriarchal society, sexual assault and abuse is a very real, daily experience for women there. Despite the hostile experiences they go through, the woman we were surrounded by came back with even more strength. We were lucky to be working with a crew of Jamaican women, Mel (fixer), Apple (Sound and Drone) and Imani herself, who are boss women and knew how to deal with any problematic situations and kept us out of trouble!
The space that Imani has created is unique, in that there are not very many other support systems for women to escape from these challenges and therefore overcome them. Being a part of the surf girls family and using the ocean as this escape, together, brought us closer to to them. Building those relationships was really important to the narrative of the film.
As two women creatives, how have you found the film industry? Has there been anyone who has particularly inspired you?
The film industry is so vast, with so many micro pockets within it, it is developing so fast and is a hugely competitive industry to want to be in. So we try to just stay focused on our projects and what is important for us to say, keeping it real, rather than getting lost in what is essentially zeitgeist and going to sell at that moment in time. We are highly aware of the misrepresentation of our voices as woman when portrayed in media but also as female filmmakers trying to find work. Being a freelance creative might be the greatest and the stupidest thing we ever choose to do! We know it's all a balance and you've got to keep many doors open, making sure to have perspective on your situation . However we try not to get too hung up on it, by surrounding ourselves with strong positive people we can make anything happen.
Our inspiration comes from all sorts of people and places, all over the world, from the women closest to us, to communities defying cultural stereotypes and filmmakers who tell stories fearlessly. We’re also always looking to the ultimate mother herself- mother nature, which is undoubtedly the most grounding of all and is the only thing sometimes that when she slaps you in the face, you find perspective!
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt so far?
That’s always a difficult question to reflect on for us, because we are so stubborn, always with our heads down to get stuff done, moving forward without time to appreciate how we got to where we are in the moment. Through all that, we’re always so open and curious to the wisdom that’s out there, what we’ve heard at talks, or in a book, that has nothing to do with filmmaking but something completely random that we can apply to filmmaking. The work ethic versus positive mental health / space and mindfulness balance is very real when you're freelancing, you’ve got to be super aware of when you're overdoing it.
Something we have to remind ourselves of is that there is no one language, especially with film. The medium is limitless and the more expression you put into creating your own unique film language, the more of a gift you will be giving to your audience.
That’s something we learnt from many filmmakers but in particular from Jamaican/Iranian/New Yorker, Khallik Allah, a documentary filmmaker who is shaking up the boundaries between art and documentary, breaking down the barriers of how we take in non linear narratives on hard core topics.
We have learnt a lot from collaborating with other creatives who respect us as much as we do them. Although we are a self sufficient team, it’s been so inspiring to work with individuals who have specialised in certain post production areas, these fresh perspectives to your work can be so important to the finished product. Noemie Duciemtiere, our soul sister, sound designer and score creator, is a super talented musician in film and the music industry as a whole. Noemie sung parts of the Surf Girls Jamaica score, which plays as Imani surfs to the shore and dives back through the sets. Her incredible voice echoes through this scene, this synergy of two incredible people that we have somehow brought together is amazing!
A more obvious point, but it actually really means something to us now, is to not get too hung up on kit. In comparison to other filmmakers, we use a small simple set up, (SONY A7S & Vintage Nikon Primes) but this means that connecting to people, capturing them in their natural environments and telling stories more intimately is a lot more possible. Nothing should stop you from going out and telling the story you want to tell, the process of making something from nothing is what really brings creativity.
If you're a filmmaker, recognise early the power of your medium that is film and see how you want to use it to make positive momentum and change! Because it is a powerful tool when used right!
Where/what is next in the pipeline for you both?
We are distributing Surf Girls Jamaica, to make the biggest impact possible; to connect to and inspire diverse women and also to work towards a more accessible surf industry. The film is screening at the San Diego State Conference from the 26-28th April, at a conference on the culture and history of surfing. Rhonda Harper founder of Black Girls Surf is holding a panel which Imani’s is speaking on. This a great example of when film can be used as an impact tool, to screen at an event like this using the film as a hard hitting case study is amazing. We are also very excited to be going to Brest Surf Film Festival in May, to screen the film with a Q and A.
There are many women in sports whose stories are underrepresented and misrepresented and we are excited to see where our next few projects can take us, we are currently developing a host of stories with some exciting talent and potential clients. We want to use our experience in making documentaries to make engaging and powerful commercial work too that can change minds, behaviours because that leads to culture change.
With bigger budgets we can have the opportunity to work with larger teams and therefore hopefully create better work by bringing more people’s creativity together to tell a powerful story. There is definitely space for hybrid forms of filmmaking that need to be explored, combining music videos, documentaries, dance, empowerment, environmentalism, fiction into a story that speaks louder than what you get from just a straight version of any one of those things. Approaching environmentalism in a manner that leaves the viewer empowered and understanding how they can make tangible change is a BIG priority, because we are fed up of film formats which are causing more damage though their ‘entertainment’ value, than actually helping and empowering people to make change.
Dedicating ourselves to being freelance filmmakers, means that we really don’t know what exactly we’ll be doing next. There are so many exciting opportunities, there are a handful of potential commissions on the cards, both short and long form but also a more unusual documentary installation. Most importantly we feel a responsibility to drive a creative movement which is representative and determined in the fight for equality. Nature is a therapy that should be accessible to all, without exception. Our stories will continue to look at access to nature, as well as our responsibility as humans to preserve and give life back to it.
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