Maya is a Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival winner. She won in 2017 for her short film ‘Short Drop’ and has also directed music videos for the likes of Nailah Blackman and Freetown Collective. Her current project ‘She Paradise’ is due for release in 2019. Maya graciously gave some of her time to share with us her thoughts about creativity.
Cover photo by: Marlon James
How do you define creativity and what does it mean to you?
Creativity to me is noticing the value in things often overlooked. The creative finds the value in those simple things and puts it out into the world for critical reflection. Whether it be on the street, in a gallery or a theatre is irrelevant. I think there are creative possibilities everywhere.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
Two artists raised me in a house where creative experimentation is always happening. I'm unsure who I would be if raised differently. I'm not a firm believer that much of anything is innate. I think our environment and experiences shape us. I do believe that some exposure whether it be a high school teacher, a friend, an aunt, causes someone to become drawn to a creative field, and then naturally they develop individual skills. What causes that attraction, however? I'm unsure.
When did you realise that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?
I've been expressing myself creatively ever since I can remember. As a child, I was always writing, dancing, singing. In my late teens, I was a choreographer, and I did art in lower and upper six where I experimented with painting, sculpture, drawing and photography. I remember returning to Trinidad fresh out of film school, and someone asked me what I studied. They immediately went on a rant about how valuable law and science was for the fabric of society.
Creatives feel misunderstood constantly. As someone who is still learning and growing, I remind myself to put in the work. Once you put in the work, people have a harder time discouraging you.
What is your standard for evaluating your creative work and the works of other people? Do you think that monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general? Are financial rewards relevant to your projects?
Creativity is a broad term. I think it's important to put things into context. If you're making decorative wall art, then I will judge that work within the context of decorative wall art. I'm not a professional critic but personally work that brings a certain criticality around an idea, or an issue is interesting to me, or even work that is playfully ironic or makes me look and think about something in a way that I haven't quite considered before.
I think one of the exciting things about being raised in the art world is that I've seen the growth and progression of careers of artists from the region over that last ten years. I think that has helped me understand that it's not a simple journey. I'm at the stage where financial rewards aren't the only thing that matters. I'm still working towards a definite goal. To get there, I need a body of work.
Do you think the views of other people influence your perception and evaluation of your creative endeavours? What role do you believe the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?
It definitely is. We make art for people! Every time I make a film I want people to look at the screen as a sort of mirror to reality. I want them to see and experience themselves.
Does your creative work come easily or do you struggle with your ideas? What obstacles (if any) do you experience when you are creating? If you do face obstacles, how do you get past them?
My brain is continuously filled with messy and entangled ideas. It's chaos. I sometimes have to write to get my ideas out and then I tackle the process of making sense of those ideas. A lot my films come from a very natural space. It usually starts as an image or a gut feeling and then I try to extract a logical progression from those feelings.
Is there something that you do to put yourself into a creative state of mind? If so, what? How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?
I have to do things to feed my mind and spirit before I create. The start of producing anything is making myself happy and comfortable. If I'm tired and flustered, I can't produce anything. It usually is as simple as waking up in silence, drinking coffee, meditating, listening to good music and then I can get into it. Feeding yourself and being gentle with yourself allows for a starting point.
Was the way you express your creativity now always your ambition? If so, when did you know for sure?
I was always interested in film, but I had no access to it. I expressed my creativity through painting and dance at first. I only got my hands on a camera at college. It was all over after shooting and editing my first short film. I knew for sure that this is what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.
What has been the most significant sacrifice you have made for your craft?
Making films is expensive. So many directors talk about maxing out their credit cards for a dream. I've put everything on the line for my films financially and emotionally. I suppose it could look glamorous from the outside, but the level of sacrifice and risk-taking is very much a reality for most emerging directors out here. I think it's essential for film-makers within the community to support each other.
Which creative people do you admire? Why?
Melina Matsoukas has always been a huge inspiration to me. She started off doing music videos and now is the executive producer and director of Insecure. She's a woman of colour in a very male-dominated field, and she's managed to be a trail-blazer for other women who are now following in her footsteps.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
Every person who has believed in my work and my vision, have helped to keep me moving forward. When someone successful says to you, you have a voice, that advice resonates with you and keeps you going daily.
Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.
It's always crucial for me to remind myself that I have a lot of growing to do and a lot of work cut out for me. Rejection hurts naturally, but it's important not to let your ego get in the way. A rejection should only encourage you to work harder.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
Yes! Especially in college when you're around so many talented people. My mom is like my go-to for reassurance. It's, of course, biased reassurance but as soon as I start doubting myself, I call her and talk it through. She's been so fundamental in keeping me going; especially when I have a difficult decision to make. She's the first person I call.
What piece of work are you most proud? Why?
I'm most proud of my last short film 'She Paradise' we're still editing it. It's an idea I've been thinking about and developing for over a year. It is my first film out of college, and I didn't have to rush it to meet any deadlines. I got to take my time with the process. Being on the set of 'She Paradise' was one of the most surreal experiences I've had to date. Everything just came together so perfectly.
What is your ultimate creative goal and how attainable do you think it is?
My goal for the near future is to make a feature film. I recently won a grant to turn 'She Paradise' into a feature, so for the next year that's what I'll be doing.
What is the best advice you've received that helped you move forward on your creative journey?
The best advice I received was from Carrie Mae Weems, a famous African American photographer, who spoke at my graduation. She said some creatives would have a path that is quick and lucky. Things will work out for them pretty easily. For others, the journey will be long and hard, and you will continuously question why opportunities aren't coming your way. She said regardless of the journey; it's important never to give up.
For what would you like to be most remembered?
I want to be remembered for my ability to not only tell stories from the Caribbean but to tell stories about women in a way that is fresh and nuanced. I feel like experiences between my girlfriends, and I are always experiences that only we can understand. I want to bring those private moments of friendship to the forefront in my next film in a way that is honest.
If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?
My colour would be Kickass Pink. I want to reclaim pink as a colour that is strong and well inevitably… kick ass.