Brigidy Bram – Documenting Kendal Hanna
A Bahamian visual artist, Bahamian filmmaker and American filmmaker walk into a studio – this is not the beginning of a tongue-in-cheek joke; it’s what Toby Lunn, Kareem Mortimer and Laura Gamse have been doing since early 2014 with the making of their documentary “Brigidy Bram”. Focusing on the life and work of Bahamian master artist Kendal Hanna, “Brigidy Bram” highlights Hanna’s journey through the Bahamian art world, his 1950s diagnosis of schizophrenia, the resulting electric shock therapy and his recovery through artistic creation.
Screening her first film, “The Creators” – a documentary shot in South Africa – at the 2011 Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF), Gamse made the acquaintance of artist Lunn, who showed her to the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB).
“I was completely distracted by the walls, which were [covered in] Kendal’s work. It was all of his self- portraits,” said Gamse. “I was like, ‘Toby who did this stuff?’ and he said, ‘Oh that’s Kendal’. And Kendal had actually come with us to the National Art Gallery.”
Originally from Virginia, Gamse was captivated by the septuagenarian’s “1950s dialect”. “He still has all of the nuances and phrases that have evolved out of our language, and I just liked the way he presented himself. And then I heard that he had a history with schizophrenia and electroshock therapy, and it seemed like a story that could be explored.”
So she did. Wasting no time, Gamse left and returned to the country in early 2012, camera kit in tow. She entered the Bahamian International Film Festival, making Hanna the subject of her documentary. The film was awarded the Bahamian Oscar for best short film, catching the attention of Bahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer.
In December 2012 Gamse and Lunn committed to fleshing out the shorter film into a full-length documentary. “The short film was always lacking because we were missing so much of his life, and Kendal has had a really crazy life with some experiences that are just straight out of a movie…and we wanted to portray them much better than we would have on a $3,000 budget,” said Gamse.
“Brigidy Bram” was born. With Gamse and Lunn mostly working on the project remotely, barring Gamse’s periodical trips to The Bahamas to film, the duo made a push to complete the project this year. They invited Mortimer to be a part of the project in early 2014 as an editor and producer. Having seen the original shorter film, the Bahamian director, known for his award-winning films, which include “Children of God” and “Passage”, was intrigued.
“They (Lunn and Gamse) just wanted to open the film up a bit more…and really flesh out the story of Kendal,” said Mortimer. “And they also offered me an opportunity to come on as a producer to think about festival strategies and how to launch the film, and that type of work is really exciting to me because I’ve been doing this for a really long time, and so I have relationships with festivals, and it would be really fun to connect a story like that with people I know.”
The trio, whose experiences in filmmaking range from novice to professional, view the collaboration as a win-win-win enterprise. Gamse, in particular, is grateful for the additional link to the Bahamian community and further insight into the local culture.
“I don’t like when people kind of jump into a new culture and all of a sudden find themselves experts and make films about it. So I think it’s important, when you’re making a film based in a place that you are not from, to include someone in the creative process or hopefully more than one person who is actually from that place,” she said.
Named for an old Bahamian interjection – one which Hanna himself uses frequently – “Brigidy Bram” goes beyond the work of a traditional documentary, according to Gamse. “It tries to delve into his mind and bring you into his mental landscape – the fabric of his reality. We’re trying to let you live through his eyes; with that comes a different texture and cadence of experience, whether caused by one’s unique life events or just a different mental landscape than the average person.”
As a visual artist, Lunn is a direct link to the local visual arts community; Mortimer has professed a personal interest in the documentary’s subject matter. “I entered this film purely for fan reasons,” said Mortimer. “Kendal is actually one of my favorite painters in The Bahamas. Kendal’s story is the story of an artist who persevered though all these tribulations for the sake of his art because it’s what completes him, and I think that’s a very powerful story to be led by your passion and still be happy, despite all these things.”
The trio hope to complete production in September 2014 with a premiere in late 2014 or early 2015. It is Gamse’s hope that the documentary shines new light and insight on a fascinating artist.
“I hope they fall in love with Kendal,” she said. “He’s just such a unique person and it would be easy for him to kind of just pass through this world and not have many people notice what a brilliant person he is, the value of his work to the global art world, and how unique and intriguing his life has been and continues to be.”
The Nassau Guardian
Published: Aug 30, 2014