The Jamaican director burst on to the scene with his acclaimed 2010 crime drama Better Mus’ Come and attends the Caribbean Film Mart at the trinidad + tobago film festival to pitch his second feature.
The film is set against the world of track and field – an area in which Jamaica has excelled for decades – and addresses urgent and poignant broader themes. ‘Those images of Rastas smoking ganja on the beach or the gunman from Kingston – it isn’t who we are,’ Saulter tells Jeremy Kay.
What has it been like pitching your project to dozens of people here?
You kind of have to get to the soul of the thing and you see what people respond to. This is about meeting with people that can help with financing and also potentially sales agents and exploring co-production possibilities. Jamaica does not have a treaty with the US but we have treaties with the UK and Canada. It’s this whole puzzle you have to put together. The responses have been positive.
What’s Sprinter about?
Sprinter follows Akeem, a 17-year-old Rastafarian teenager on a track team. His goal is to qualify for the national youth team and go to the World Youth Championships in Philadelphia and reunite with his mother, who’s been living there illegally for 10 years. He has a dream of reuniting the family and if he can run fast enough he can make that happen. When he gets there he realises that dream isn’t necessarily shared.
What are some of the themes behind the story that interest you?
It’s about living out your dreams, but this boy has to realise life isn’t quite as straightforward as that. But time tests people and time tests families. I’m interested in exploring that. Families are separated because of economic opportunities elsewhere: it’s not just people running across borders but leaving for professional reasons. They can’t leave [their new country] and they stay. This is so common and has affected both actors who play Akeem and his older brother… They grew up without their mothers, who grew up in the US working. I was interested in exploring how that affects family.
This all touches on a red-hot topicality
I’m interested in issues of immigration – which is on top of people’s minds right now – and how that affects families and the individuals, ultimately.
There is a personal connection for you to this material
My personal reason… I lost my mum a lot earlier than I though would happen. It was rough to deal with and I wondered if there was anything I could do to get back to see her. It got me thinking about this.
As a Caribbean storyteller what is the opportunity here?
In the Caribbean we’re so culturally strong and in Jamaica we’ve always punched above our weight. But there are certain stereotypes associated with that and I’m very interested in breaking those stereotypes. I don’t want to tell a story about a working-class boy from the ghetto: this is a middle-class family dealing with the real world. Those images of Rastas smoking ganja on the beach or the gunman from Kingston – it isn’t who we are. I’m interested in opening up the scope of Caribbean tales.
Track and field is an important part of Jamaican pride
I’m also interested in exploring the Jamaican track and field world. This country consistently turns out the fastest people in the world with way less resources than others. I come from cinematography. I am really interested in the visuals and atmospherics. I want to do for the running film what Raging Bull did for the boxing film.
This is a world you seem to know deeply
I also shoot commercials and I worked quite a bit in track and field and directed and shot a number of things with Usain Bolt and a lot of high school athletes who are the next wave. I have shot with Puma, I shot the Cuban national track team recently, so I have kind of been in the world while developing Sprinter.
Tell us about Better Mus’ Come (which is available to stream on Netflix)
It’s set in the late 1970s and inspired by the true story of a gang leader / activist whose ideology is failing him. There were a group of guys who were trying to get jobs on a construction site on the other side of the tracks. They couldn’t get work [because of where they came from] so they attacked the site and shot it down. They were lured to a military base on the pretense of getting guns and money and Jamaica Defence Force soldiers were waiting and they were massacred. This was the Green Bay Massacre in 1978.
So I wanted to make a story about the type of person who ended up there. In Jamaica we have this image of the faceless gunman who kills and that’s how we rationalise our police force going into certain areas and taking people out and I wanted to show the face of one of these people. I tried to make a movie about an individual who was in that time and who was involved.
What were the repercussions of the massacre?
The Green Bay Massacre was a massive scandal which the government was blamed for. They lost the following election. Nobody ever went to jail, nobody got into trouble, but it was a proper military intelligence operation and I wanted to explore that. In school they don’t teach about that. I only knew about Green Bay through a dub record. My parents told me the 70s was wild in Jamaica.