Surf Girls Jamaica was selected for the 7th Annual NY Women's Surf Film Festival 2019. Directed and Produced by Filmmakers Joya Berrow & Lucy Lane. Imani Wilmot is a role model to a community of Afro Caribbean surfers in Jamaica and beyond. She is using surfing as a tool to transform the lives of many Jamaican woman.
SURF GIRLS JAMAICA Director Joya Berrow & Lucy Jane
Where did you grow up and where do you call home now? Home is where the heart is, where the sky meets the water, the SKY WATER. We live predominantly in a huge white Ford Transit, in Cornwall. However Lucy grew up in North Wales and Joya in West Dorset on the Jurassic Coast.
How did you get started in filmmaking? We both came at filmmaking from different avenues, Lucy moved away from home to study media as a BTEC in Birmingham, while Joya was at sixth form school in Dorset studying and shooting analogue documentary photography. A few years later after pursuing these different paths, we met on a BA Film Practice Course at university the London College Of Communication (UAL) in South London, we would both arrive to the lecture room looking a little more rugged and wind swept than everyone else. We kinda spotted each other but it wasn't until our last year that we collaborated, which led us to make Away With The Land in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. We spent most of our last year of uni following a crofter up the mountains in Scotland, anything to escape the dark underground lecture room back in London. Something that we have had in common from the start, and is how we approach every film on a very human, personal level is that we have both always seen film as a tool, we believe in the power of film as a strong impact medium. We use this power to bring light to underrepresented stories, inspiring new energy to global issues and breeding empathy, because culture change leads to other change.
What inspired you to make SURF GIRLS JAMAICA? How did you come to meet Imani Wilmot and why was it important for you to tell her story? The seed of the project was planted while at the 2017 national championships in Colombia. It was amazing to see the diversity of the athletes and how inclusive the whole event was. Everybody was so supportive and involved, from local children to adaptive surfers to the best ranked athletes in the country. We realized that surf communities in these regions had been ignored by mainstream surf media and how important it is to tell these underrepresented stories, because of the negative cycle and lack of access this can create to a sport. Back in the UK, we researched for weeks but there really was very little coverage on Afro-Caribbean surfers. There are whole groups of women who cannot see a role model or place for themselves within the global surf industry. We eventually found out about Imani from an article that was a few years old and, inspired by her ambitions, we reached out to her. She is a filmmaker too, and so this whole process has been a collaboration with her. Surfing has incredible healing powers and Imani was using this to bring the women around her together to overcome whatever struggles they were going through. She really is an incredible role model, but her story had never been given any light. It has the potential to inspire people all over the world on so many different levels and that’s why we felt it so vital that her story is told.
What was your impression of the surf culture in Jamaica and its impact on the local community?
J: The Jamaican surf scene is small and they are a very strong community. There’s no surf shops or commercialized elements of the industry yet. It’s just the strength of the Wilmot family, who have set up the Jamaican Surfing Association and surfing competitions like the Makka Pro. They have managed to reach out to people and get a quiver of a couple hundred boards, which are held at the Jamnesia Surf Camp and anyone can have access to. Imani, her brothers and extended family all offer classes at no cost to some and a greatly subsided rate to others, because they see the value of empowering the locals to get into surfing.
L: They totally love and value how it is now, and when they competed internationally, people admired the Jamaican team because they had a completely different way of being, where they are very humble in their approach to competitions. That’s the unique energy they have passed on and built within their surf community. However, there’s always the other side, which is that it’s much more difficult to make a living out of surfing when based in a more remote surf community such as Jamaica.
What were some of the challenges you faced while making the film? - for the woman in the film not for us.... It is undoubtedly a patriarchal society, sexual assault and abuse is a very real, daily experience for women there. Despite the hostile experiences they go through, the woman we were surrounded by came back with even more strength. We were lucky to be working with a crew of Jamaican women, Mel (fixer), Apple (Sound and Drone) and Imani herself, who are boss women and knew how to deal with any problematic situations and kept us out of trouble! The space that Imani has created is unique, in that there are not very many other support systems for women to escape from these challenges and therefore overcome them. Being a part of the surf girls family and using the ocean as this escape, together, brought us closer to to them. Building those relationships was really important to the narrative of the film.
Specifically for us. The film industry is so vast, with so many micro pockets within it, it is developing so fast and is a hugely competitive industry to want to be in. So we try to just stay focused on our projects and what is important for us to say, keeping it real, rather than getting lost in what is essentially zeitgeist and going to sell at that moment in time.
We are highly aware of the misrepresentation of our voices as woman when portrayed in media but also as female filmmakers trying to find work. Being a freelance creative might be the greatest and the stupidest thing we ever choose to do! We know it's all a balance and you've got to keep many doors open, making sure to have perspective on your situation . However we try not to get too hung up on it, by surrounding ourselves with strong positive people we can make anything happen.
What do you hope the audience takes away from Imani’s story? Within surfing, for the film to be used as a positive tool, working from the bottom up – empowering communities of black women to get into the ocean and see a place for themselves in the global surf industry. In Jamaica we’d like to see Nya (Imani’s daughter) and her Jamaican friends and cousins, of all ages, grow up within this strong support system that Imani has created, and to continue to inspire future generations of women in surfing. We want to see these women to continue uniting together through the power of the ocean and surfing, and to continue to overcome and therefore challenge the patriarchal structures that surround them. Visually, we’d like the film to make large waves to change the sport. We can use it to challenge large brands, to show them their social responsibility and how it could potentially benefit them to be diverse in their advertising. In turn, this can increase the representation of many diverse athletes and open up more opportunities for sponsorship, create more funding and improve access on a local level all over the world for people to surf and find the therapy they need from the ocean. In the future, we hope that the surf industry will give support and representation to these surfers.
Where do you find your personal inspiration? Our inspiration comes from all sorts of people and places, all over the world, from the women closest to us, to communities defying cultural stereotypes and filmmakers who tell stories fearlessly. We’re also always looking to the ultimate mother herself- mother nature, which is undoubtedly the most grounding of all and is the only thing sometimes that when she slaps you in the face, you find perspective!
What can’t you live without when you travel? Turmeric & Lemons
What is next for Joya & Lucy? We are distributing Surf Girls Jamaica, to make the biggest impact possible; to connect to and inspire diverse women and also to work towards a more accessible surf industry. The film has screened all over Europe and is playing throughout the USA over the next few months. It has won numerous awards and continues to garner traction online and at festivals. We hope in the lead up to the Olympics in 2020, the film will continue to be used as a tool to show an inclusive and admiring surf scene.
There are many women in sports whose stories are underrepresented and misrepresented and we are excited to see where our next few projects can take us, we are currently developing a host of stories with some exciting talent and potential clients. We want to use our experience in making documentaries to make engaging and powerful commercial work too that can change minds, behaviors because that leads to culture change.
At this moment we have just received a commission from Red Bull looking at indigenous leadership in conservation, as well as being a part of the BBC New Creatives Training scheme where we hope to work towards a commission from the BBC Arts. Two of our projects are looking at underrepresented voices in the alternative living / off grid community scene in the UK. We hope to be able to be more involved and dedicate some real time to being on the frontline of the Extinction Rebellion Movement in London, which is happening in October all over the UK.
Dedicating ourselves to being freelance filmmakers, means that we really don’t know what exactly we’ll be doing next. Most importantly we feel a responsibility to drive a creative movement which is representative and determined in the fight for equality. Nature is a therapy that should be accessible to all, without exception. Our stories will continue to look at access to nature, as well as our responsibility as humans to preserve and give life back to it.