Below the Brain: West Indian Carnival Brooklyn 2010 Documentary TrailerFour filmmakers teamed up to produce Below the Brain, an experimental documentary that highlights
Four filmmakers teamed up to produce Below the Brain, an experimental documentary that highlights last year’s Caribbean Carnival in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Following one of the largest and greatly celebrated parades in the United States in a 24-hour time frame, Below the Brain is a visual compilation of the filmmakers’ individual experiences that captures the visuals of any vivacious festivals. The film will be premiered at the BAM Rose Cinema in Brooklyn tonight and will be followed by a week-long theatrical run at Spectacle Theater on the next day where it will also showcase different island-themed films. Vice recently sat with the people behind this film for an interview where they discussed their experiences while shooting the film, and the topic of melancholic Haitian music.
VICE: Did you guys dress up for the Carnival?
Tony: When we showed up, we weren’t that decked out. But, throughout the night, we picked up a hat here, a flag there… we got sprayed and powdered and painted and fucked up.
Olivia: We all had matching hats so we could identify each other in the crowds. We were all representing different countries. Wills was representing Haiti.
Wills: Yeah, I rocked the Haiti flag pretty hard.
There’s a great shot at about the 15-minute mark in the film where you’re right in the middle of a huge crowd procession and the camera pans around to a group of guys wearing “Pray For Haiti” T-shirts. It reminded me that this was the first Caribbean fest since the Haiti earthquake. Did you detect a somber tone at the 2010 fest?
Sam: Haiti has a unique place in the Carnival because they’re one of the only islands that doesn’t speak English. So, they always have their own kind of unity and pride. Especially in the music, which has this French influence. And even though their music is melancholic, you really feel the catharsis for them. Because the whole calendar year is about Carnival. That’s the one night that you get to go hard. Everyone is letting so much out in that Haiti sequence.
Olivia: I’ve been studying Haitian music for five years and I find that the lyrics when they’re chanting are really sad, really depressing.
But instrumentally, it’s very uplifting. I like the juxtaposition of the translated lyrics on top of these rhythms that I find joyous. Was there ever any attempt to do “man on the street” interviews?
Sam: We made a decision before we went out to have none of that. We just wanted the most visceral experience possible.
Olivia: I think it’s more unique for the audience to be thrust into the experience. Sometimes when you include interviews, it takes away from the moment.
Wills: The character was the Carnival.
Tony: Someone said, “There’s so many butts! Should we just shoot all the butts that we want?” And we decided to let our eyes shoot as many butts as we wanted. It’s also just an environment where it’s almost impossible to grab somebody and interview them.
How does this New York Carnival hold up to other Caribbean ones around the world?
Sam: It’s all the islands together. I know Miami has a really good one. Toronto has one. The UK has one. But Brooklyn is the shit. It’s a love letter to Brooklyn. And Flatbush is also so maze-like that it’s able to exist and hide in this great way.
Olivia: And I don’t know if this is true for other countries in the Caribbean, but I know that New York has the largest population of Haitian immigrants of anywhere in the United States. Miami definitely has a lot, but I can say for sure there’s more Haitians here than in Miami. The energy of everyone coming together because the populations are so large is amazing.
Tony: There’s food everywhere too. Literally every store, every stoop, every business is grilling. It’s insane.
Yeah, what did you guys eat while you were shooting? What are the good food spots?
We were eating a lot of Trinidadian chutney food. Curried goat. They busted out this corn chowder at sunrise that had dumplings in it and it was the perfect meal. We like Ali’s Roti Shop for veggie roti. Peppa’s Jerk Chicken is another spot. Scoops is the shit but it’s closed during Carnival. The old rasta couple that owns it just chill out.