Soca Monarch Machel Montano could now add film star to his incredible career, after a compelling acting début in the role as Lee de Leon — a struggling musician who falls in love with the daughter of an Indian businessman — in the blockbuster “Bazodee.”
The film received rave reviews for its unique storyline that bonds two families, in a romantic musical and carnival backdrop, that kept the audience engrossed. Not only with Montano’s infectious music, and Bollywood dancing, but also the exceptional cinematography, and breathtaking scenery of Trinidad where the film was shot.
Last Thursday, co-founders of the Caribbean Film Academy (CaFa), Romola Lucas and Justin Blaize, hosted the first, Brooklyn screening at BAMcinematek, much to the pleasure of Bazodee’s screenwriter and producer Barbadian-born, Claire Ince, and co-producer, Trinidadian-born Ancil McKain, a husband and wife team.
The reaction of the audience to “Bazodee” was overwhelmingly positive. There were laughter, applause and retort to the supreme writing and exceptionally produced flick, released in 40 markets nationwide.
Directed by Todd Kessler and distributed by German-born Susan Bohnet, the film which was 10 years in the making, began with a phone call to Montano by screenwriter Ince, who said the crew experienced difficulties while working on the Caribbean island.
During a Q&A after the screening, the producers who began their careers producing videos for non-profit organizations to do what they enjoy doing — produce content for movies — were ecstatic at the reaction the film received from fans, and the positive reviews from prominent media outlets.
Ince said Machel Montano’s music was the inspiration for the film. “We were listening to music just after carnival had ended, and thought, it would be really cool to produce a soca musical, and felt Machel’s music was a good fit, for this Bollywood style movie.
Ince intertwined the music with the narrative, which at times were difficult, since she had to choose the correct songs, to make the movie organic, in the script.
She added that most of the actors in the film were Trinidad locals, whose acting skills were phenomenal, something that was certainly great to experience.
“Making a movie with a female lead, (Natalie Perera) was a big part of this film and I felt it was important to tell a story from the Caribbean. We wanted to make a difference, in this type of Caribbean film with music, and fun. That was hard, because Caribbean genre film is not firmly established yet.”
“A film like this does not fall in the category of what people expect of Caribbean film, which made it even tougher. We wanted to quit from this 10-year journey. Especially because of the financing of the film, but now, I watch the film, and marvel because many people worked very hard to get it to where it is.”
Ince said calling Montano, was the most difficult phone call she ever had to make, because they didn’t have anything in place, except that she had just graduated from NYU. However, confident that she could complete the film, calling Machel Montano, randomly was important.
“He is a creative soul and a courageous person, and after that first phone call, he said yes, I want to do this, and throughout periods of ups and downs, he stayed very excited about it, and was an inspiration and driving force behind the financing of the movie.”
“Machel was dissuaded from taking acting classes by the director because he is a natural actor, and a perfectionist, and engages his audiences,” said Ince.
“He really wanted to bring this movie to Caribbean audiences, so it was thrilling for me because it was easy getting him onboard.”
“Machel is a brand and he has a great audience throughout the Caribbean and the world, and we thought there was a possibility the movie would be distributed. But we never thought it would go as far as it has,” said McKain, adding that after the movie received a positive response at a test screening “we though this could really be a success.”
“Machel is a good person to work with, and he expects the best. I appreciate that he is a hard-working person,” said McKain.
The duo’s Indiepelago Film company hired more that 80 people to work on set, 65 percent locals, and a few key Hollywood professionals, said McKain, adding that it was amazing to see Trinidad’s thriving movie industry.
“It was a good experience working at home. The Hollywood people have their way of doing things, but it was a beautiful thing that everyone worked together, we taught each other something,” added McKain.
“I am quite happy at the response the movie is getting. This is why it is important to come out and support this films so that people could actually see good filmmaking in the Caribbean.”
Susanne Bohnet, CEO of Serafini Pictures,said it is crucial that Bazodee is called a Caribbean genre film, adding that the Hoffington Post and the New York Times, loved the movie, and applauded it.
“This is a beautiful film for Caribbean audiences, but is also for a worldwide audience which can relate to its storyline. We want to establish ‘us around the world,’” said Bohnet, who has lived in Trinidad for more than 20 years.
She said it was a wonderful spending two weeks in Hollywood with Montano, and a Tobago music producer to create the movie soundtrack, and thanked the incredible people who completed the project.
“Bazodee” is in theaters nationwide, and is set for release in certain parts of the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Antigua, later this month, and early in October.
Check your local listings to see “Bazodee.”