It was a homecoming of sorts last Thursday night on Cayman Brac as actors and producers of the independent film, Cayman Went, ventured back to the island to give residents there a first glimpse of the movie in which their island is a star character.
An estimated 600 residents showed up for the screening, causing traffic headaches rarely seen on the Brac and packing out the Aston Rutty Centre. While some were forced to stand, such was the crowd, no-one was complaining, the film ending to rousing applause and rapt appraisals from thrilled locals.
‘We are far away from Hollywood but Hollywood is here tonight,’ said long time resident and musician Percy Whorms afterward. ‘It’s a great story … it really portrays how Brackers feel about the Brac,’ he said.
Locals were particularly impressed by a litany of local references and familiar sights. There are sweeping aerial panoramas of the island, iridescent sunset shots of the Bluff’s lunar terrain and breathtaking underwater scenes as divers drop into the endlessness that lies beyond ‘the wall’.
When main character Josh Anders, an out of favour B-list TV star arrives on the island to shake down three Brackers in a property deal, he is promptly informed “It’s Cayman Brac, not Broc.” The crowd loved it.
They were also delighted to see friends and family feature throughout the film; most as extras, but a couple with small speaking parts.
‘I guess we take a lot of things for granted,’ said Mrs. Vernell Brown after the screening. ‘When you see it like that, it was really exciting.’
The family-friendly film was shot almost entirely on location on Cayman Brac over a two-week period in February, with a final scene shot on Grand Cayman using turtles from the Turtle Farm. Other scenes were shot in Los Angeles and New York.
The plot follows the development of fading Hollywood actor Josh Anders as he learns through the people he meets on Cayman Brac what is really important in life.
Josh is played by Michael Lombardi, star in the TV hit movie Rescue Me. The girl he falls for on the Brac is Darby, a dive shop owner and environmentalist played by actor/dancer Susan Misner. Hollywood veteran Jeffrey DeMunn, who was on the Brac for Thursday’s screening, plays the part of Rodgers Bowman, an eccentric Bracker.
The test screening, which was open to all and free on Thursday night, was followed by an invitation only test screening at Camana Bay’s Hollywood Cinema Friday night. Both were hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, which is hoping success for the film will prove a promotional boon for the island.
Jim Ritterhoff, who wrote the film’s script and was one of its producers, told the Caymanian Compass it was thrilling to be able to bring the movie back to the Brac for the first test screening.
‘We said all along, before we even started the cameras rolling, that this is going to be a movie of the island, not imposed upon the island,’ he said. ‘It was always a given that the first time we would screen it would be here, regardless of any distribution deals that we had.’
He added: ‘When else do you get to sit with an island to watch your film?’
Ritterhoff explained the idea for the movie came about after a discussion on the Brac about five years ago with local businessmen and now Sister Islands MLA Moses Kirkconnell.
‘He started telling us all these great stories about the Brac and said someone should make a Cheers-like TV show set at a dive resort here. My wheels just started turning. I thought ‘we probably can’t make a television series but we could probably make an independent film’.’
Inspired, Ritterhoff went back to New York where he began working on a script that he would later show to Bobby Sheehan, who ended up directing the film.
Sheehan loved the script and soon found himself on the Brac, where he said he quickly realised: ‘it’s all here.’
Sheehan said: ‘From a film-making point of view, it’s really exciting to think you can point a camera somewhere and get interesting cinematography.’
The Brac’s effortless beauty was one factor that helped the crew produce the film on a shoe-string budget while making it look like a Hollywood major release.
‘This place is so beautiful, it’s all here,’ said Executive Producer Sarah Feldman-Sheehan. ‘You don’t have to fake anything; it’s all here.’
Sheehan added: ‘The film has such a nice heartbeat that, if we had of had more money, we probably wouldn’t have made a better film. Everything that went into this film is so sincere and it just took on a very positive life of its own.’
He explained that the movie would never have been completed if not for the donated time, skills and equipment of so many that took the project on as a labour of love. ‘The only reason we have the film we have is because so many people came on board and said ‘this is a project we can all feel good about’,’ he said.
From here, the film goes on to industry screenings in New York and Los Angeles and negotiations with distributors. Sheehan is confident the movie will be picked up but wants to find a distributor that can guarantee the film the kind of audience it deserves.
‘We are going to find the right distributor for this film – it’s not just the economics, we really want people to see it.’
The crew all agreed the film should deliver the island some big-time exposure but they hope it doesn’t lead to the kind of over-development the film’s own storyline warns against.
‘When people see this they are going to want to come here because its unspoilt but with that comes that anxiety that too many people and developers will come in and spoil it,’ says Sheehan.
Sister Islands MLA Moses Kirkconnell said: ‘All of us on the Brac are delighted that this movie, which seemed impossible in the beginning, has become a reality.
‘We wish the producers luck with its distribution. Knowing everyone involved and the huge amount of talent and hard work that has gone into this movie, I have every confidence that it will be a great success,’ he said.
Tourism Minister Charles Clifford predicted the film will bring plenty of positive exposure for the island, saying it captures the unique personality, terrain, flora and fauna of Cayman Brac in a way that transcends traditional advertising.
For more information, visit www.caymanwent.com