Changing the Face of Caribbean Representation… Chantal Miller does it with passion (October 22, 2015)

Chantal part 1“Anyone wishing to pursue their passion, or creative entrepreneurship, has to be ready for failure, and even that failure is a success because it teaches you something. It teaches you that that particular project or that collaboration or that moment wasn’t the right one for you, but it then opens you up to explore other possibilities. The word ‘failure’ has a bad reputation but it’s not always an awful or negative thing because it will lead you to where you’re supposed to be.”
Wise words from Chantal Miller, owner of ChantiMedia, a production company in London devoted to “sharing and promoting Caribbean art and culture through film, photography, exhibitions, workshops and creative collaborations.” Miller was born in Leeds in the UK and went to live with her mother in Nevis at age 12. “The question of where I’m from is never an easy one to answer. I consider myself from the Caribbean, but legally the documentation says I’m from the UK. I don’t consider myself from there. The Caribbean takes a hold of you.”
Miller said she was always interested in telling the story of Caribbean people and the Diaspora. She was born into a creative family and credits her mother with steering her towards drama “I was born with an appreciation for the arts and culture. My uncle was the founder of our Carnival in Nevis so as I like to tell people it’s literally in my blood. My mom has been making mas for as long as I can remember, so even in Leeds when I was growing up I was part of a mas band and that continued when we moved to Nevis. I used to be at home in Nevis watching documentaries and Sunday movies and classic channels with my mom, who’s been a huge influence on me. She ensured that even though I lived in Leeds I would travel down to London every other weekend and my godmother would take me to the theatre, the ballet or the opera. My mom is a writer and an amazing creative woman who I don’t think followed her true calling.”
A defining moment in Miller’s life was a chance meeting at the age of 19 with Oprah while the talk show host was on holiday in Nevis. “She said “Chantal, you’re not going to believe this, but when you walked through the door I turned to Steadman and said ‘she has it. Whatever the it factor is, this young lady has it.’” So I had a two-hour conversation with Oprah. She gave me great advice and I didn’t have an email address at the time, so she said we need to stay in touch, I need to know how you’re doing in life and so she wrote me a letter when she got back, which my mom has framed. She told me to stay on my path and no matter what life throws at me, if this is my passion, just go for it and to let her know how I was progressing in life.”
Bolstered by this encounter, Miller eventually moved back to London after finishing her degree and slowly began to build connections throughout the Caribbean community. She said a great help in this process was Martin Shaw, who had a show on Choice FM called “The Caribbean Affair,” who mentored her for a few years and told her to do both presenting and producing, which she said was some of the best advice she ever got with respect to broadcasting.
“I couldn’t find any representations of my culture beyond the stereotypical ones and that began to frustrate me. When they had Black History Month, it was very Africa-focused and Afrocentric, and while I know we’re all of the African diaspora and have no issues with that, I am also Caribbean and it’s important and it’s a separate culture. I was feeling a bit disenfranchised by the way our stories were being told. The representations of us were all very marginalized and stereotypical and people are often surprised at what Caribbean people are exposed to. I thought this was an issue and it became my soapbox. I started to seek out events and exhibitions that showed the Caribbean people that I know and post them up on my Facebook page and people really started to embrace that and ask me about them.”
“I was asked to be host to an amazing initiative called ‘Speaking Of’ which is a celebration of literature in many forms, spoken word, readings from authors and we did a night called “Caribbean Roots of Hip-Hop where hip-hop giants from all over the diaspora came in and reinterpreted rap lyrics into spoken word. It became my mission to highlight Caribbean people and culture and then again because I like to create and make things I started to film things with an old camera I had and I would interview people from the diaspora that I thought were interesting and I’d post them up on my page.”

Then the organizers of Caribbean Film Corner in London, which is an annual Film Festival celebrating Caribbean film-making asked me to come on board their team to do the Q&As with the directors who had come over to promote their films. I started to build a relationships with a few of the directors, and started to do one-off screenings myself on my own and then I decided I was going to make the leap, leave the security of my 9-to-5 job because this is what I love, I love telling our stories, and so I did. I left and had a year of not working at all, literally just building my brand and deciding how I wanted to tell these stories, not just through film but photography, dance, performance and fashion. I had a few freelance jobs and it was such a learning curve, but it was something that I knew that I had to do. It was a very interesting year and then I went back to part-time work so I could pay my rent and ChantiMedia was born. It’s been an interesting journey. I’ve had a lot of support, not just from the Caribbean community but just human beings in general.”
Miller filmed her first documentary in T&T during Carnival in 2011. “I decided that since I love Carnival and I’m a Carnivalist, but I’ve never been to Trinidad for Carnival, let me make a documentary about that. I connected with a director one year who was doing some work in Nevis and said I was going to Trinidad, I don’t have any money and I want to do a diary/documentary type thing of my first Carnival experience in Trinidad, do you want in? And he said, let’s do it. I did a Kickstarter to raise enough money to feed the crew and not much else, and so did this film “J’ouvert Morning” with Pudgy Productions, Andre Crichlow and his wife Cheryl. I’ve always been a lover of J’ouvert and it ended up being a major focus of the project. I did some fantastic interviews with Michael Headley, Freetown Collective, 3Canal and so again started to forge and build relationships and collaborations from that experience as well. The film showed at a few Film Festivals in London and it was well received and the TDC used a segment of it for marketing, so I was ecstatic to have my first film have that type of reception.”
“Things started to fall into place organically and I had more clarity as to what I wanted ChantiMedia to be. I started and produced a series called ‘I Am’, a web series that celebrates the Caribbean heritage of creatives, which I’m still working on. I then developed another series called “Talk that Talk” which is roundtable discussions with Caribbean creatives from different media and different islands just coming together. ChantiMedia is about collaborations, just working with other creatives to get their stories out there and as my work grew, I also built a website so that people would know where to find me and where to find my work. I got some amazing feedback from a collective called PhotoFusion in the UK, a photography social enterprise that encourages photography as a way of telling stories, so we’re doing a series of panel discussions on photography and that’s amazing.”
“I went back to Nevis one year and curated a weekend of screenings called the Easter Screenings, got a lot of help from the Caribbean Academy guys who got me lots of films. I also did a mixed media exhibition while I was there, which was film, photography and installation art celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Carnival in Nevis.”
Miller said she enjoys working with young people. “There’s an instinct with young people where you just want them to be the best at what they’re choosing to do with their lives, you want to give them as much as you can to help. I have to help because I’m compelled to bring them in. I think the voice of young people is the voice of our future, however cliche that may be, so to not value that and take that seriously to me is just absolutely ridiculous and they’re out there, doing some mind-blowing things.”Chantal part 2

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