(AllHipHop Features) Filmmaker Storm Saulter is committed to his vision of telling the stories from his native Jamaica. His latest film, the critically acclaimed "Sprinter*,"* tells the story of the dynamics of a Jamaican family and Caribbean culture against the backdrop of track and field. "Sprinter" swept the 2018 American Black Film Festival winning “Best Director”, “Best Narrative Feature” and the “Audience Award.” "Sprinter" was released in theatres across the country on April 24th, 2019.
I spoke to Storm about his photography work on Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s On The Run II Tour, having former NBA star Richard Jefferson and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith get behind the film, and why Jamaican sprinters are so dominant.
AllHipHop: What made you want to write, produce, and direct films?
Storm Saulter: I wanted to become a filmmaker, because for me, you know, I was always very creative. I was encouraged by my parents and my family to express myself creatively. I just ultimately got into photography then cinematography for storytelling but film, to me is like the ultimate medium. Cinema is the ultimate artform and I feel you can tell the most detailed stories. To me, it’s the most profound, potentially profound art form. I'm trying to make film for global audiences.
AllHipHop: Your photography work was seen by millions on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On the Run II tour? How did that opportunity come your way?
Storm Saulter: Yeah, I mean, Melina Matsoukas was the creative director of those visuals and she trusted me to come in and direct second unit. So, it was great to film J and Bey and it was amazing seeing everything we shot in Jamaica being projected on those massive screens on the tour. So yeah, it was great man. I'm grateful for getting those visuals in front of millions of eyes. As an artist, I try to tell the story of Jamaica from the inside out.
AllHipHop: That’s what I love about your work. Your stories and artist indigenous to Jamaica.
Storm Saulter: As an artist, I try to tell the story of Jamaica from the inside out. It's important to include that in any work. The work may appear to be, you know, sports, family drama, and, you know, kind of touching on something that you expect. Anything I'm doing must about the reality of this society on the ground, trying to portray characters that are more nuanced and complex in real life, you know what I mean? Sometimes it's showing them in a simpler light. I'm not making it about all these extremes all the time. Akeem just wants to make the team because maybe he can see his mom again. That’s is as much of an important and relevant an obstacle as some extreme situation with life or death.
A lot of people and a lot of cinema, personally, of people of color, they always have the stakes are so extremely high like that's the only time it's really worth this journey. And I don't think that's true and that's what's creates stereotypes. I'm not trying to say everything but I'm just trying to say enough to open our doors to understanding
AllHipHop: What’s your view on the rise of international films by people of color getting released in America?
Storm Saulter: I think it's another perspective, an important global perspective, on our larger Pan-African story and journey. I think it's key to see how people live all over the world and what makes everyone similar. For me, it's like we show the different textures of a community that may seem very local. It's a discovery to see how other people live. But it's also makes you realize how simple you are, because every neighborhood has its own intricacies and its own specific vibe. Even though we're different, you can see that every community has its own culture. And it's important to give people context because their culture is not the only way it is. We're a global system. I think we're telling universal stories that everybody should be able to relate to or at least that’s the goal because the African American story is intertwined majorly with the Caribbean story.
With Sprinter, I came up with the idea because I wanted to tell the story. Obviously, the world of Jamaican track and field is something of global interest and we've been dominating for so long. Also, I wanted to make a film that was a contemporary presentation, about a modern Caribbean family that was showing their world in a more simplified, middle of the road light.
I had lost my mom and I was dealing with processing that; you know wishing I could speak to her again, get back to her, and the character I created that had lost his mom. If you could only achieve something, if you could only run fast enough, maybe he could get back to her. It was interesting for me to write that because that because of what I was dealing with.
So, the character of Jermaine (Played by Kadeem Wilson) the older brother, you know, I have an older brother, and a younger brother, I have a number of brothers and sisters actually. These family dynamics that I drew on to show the brothers dynamic, you know, the younger brother looking up to or performing for the older brother, you know, what I mean? I'm trying to figure out what the idea of being a man is, you know, obviously, we have very set ideas about what masculinity is in Jamaica.
AllHipHop: Explain to how important track and field is to Jamaican culture.
Storm Saulter: It’s always been taken seriously. The Jamaican High School Track and Field Championships (Champs) is probably the most competitive high school level event in the world, right inside the National Stadium. No event, no World Cup, nothing has the National Stadium more alive and on fire then during Champs. Champs is over 100 years old. For well over 100 years, they've been having high-level athletics coming from school age. We had amazing performers early on in the Olympics from the 40s, so we always have had that culture.
I think Jamaica has gotten very good at setting up structures, to find talent, to bring talent into the right schools, and to create stars. I think the key thing that makes Jamaicans so good is the coaching. I think Jamaican coaches are the best sprinting coaches in the world. There's a concerted effort to do so. There is a college that was built in the 70s, with major support from Cuba in fact, called the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education & Sport. A lot of our great coaches went to that school system and the school is still around you know? We filmed that high school scene at the G.C. Foster College. So, there's all these elements that are kind of at play and that competition of champs I think is central to the soul of track and field in Jamaica.
AllHipHop: And speaking of coach, man, you have one of my favorites in the film, David Allan Greer. He has the accent down and everything. He’s known for his work in comedy, but this is a great dramatic role for him.
Storm Saulter: We all helped him with his accent. David is amazing. He was always telling jokes, keeping the crew laughing. And as you said, we often see him as a comedian, man. But this is a great dramatic role form. I could feel he was excited about doing it.
AllHipHop: What was the casting process like to get everybody in the film? Dale Elliot does a fantastic job as Akeem.
Storm Saulter: He was amazing. The casting took different steps. I mean, a lot of the Jamaican talent I have known over the years that I wanted to work with for a long time. Ultimately, we had to search for overseas and once we got Overbook involved, you know, it helped us to reach out to certain folks and get those folks in the room and make those connections.
AllHipHop: How did it feel when you found out that Overbrook Entertainment (The production company of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith) was interested in your work?
Storm Saulter: Well, you know, once we got going, one of the first folks that actually gave us support was Richard Jefferson of the NBA. He believed in us from the jump. He put his money where his mouth was. And then also, at the same time, Rob Maylor, who is a producer of the film, he had been working with Overbrook doing some consulting. At that time, Will and Jada was looking at putting their energy behind more emerging voices in cinema, when we were perfecting the script. Everything kind of lined up. When they asked what Rob was working on, the script was ready, we were able to put it in front of them, they read it, and they loved the story.
Also, they knew that I had been working with Usain Bolt and he was agreeing to play a small role in the film and to support it. It's been, it's been a blessing. So, I'm grateful for everyone and for Will and Jada for putting the energy behind it and continuing, hopefully more so using their voice to kind of make people aware.
AllHipHop: Throughout the film, the music is incredible. It’s a great mix of Reggae. Dancehall, and Hip-Hop.
Storm Saulter: Whether its Reggae, Dancehall, Jamaican Trap, or Hip-Hop, you know, it's all the same origin. It's kind of like it's just different variations on this same kind of storytelling.
We had some cool moments because we know we had a great some original music made for the film. Kabaka Pyramid made two original tracks for the show. Ne-Yo, made several tracks for the film. One of them that he made that we have in the film an amazing song called “Major Moves” featuring Shenseea who is a rising dancehall princess. The soundtrack is pumping man. We have some great music on there.