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Alumna Triumphs at Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival

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Ayana Harper '12

AUP alumna Ayana Harper ’12 is a Trinidadian producer, editor and filmmaker. Her short mockumentary movie, The Interview, won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s edition of the Trinidad+Tobago film festival. The seven-day event, held online due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, featured over 110 films and took place between September 22 and 28, 2021.

Ayana was born in France to Trinidadian parents, and, like many global explorers, she moved around in her youth. Upon transferring to The American University of Paris in 2010, she chose to major in global communications. “I would say that my journey at AUP directly influenced this win at the film festival,” she says. While at AUP, Ayana took a short-film course, during which she made her first mockumentary movie: a parody of the US TV show Intervention. As well as making good use of her obvious comedic timing, the mockumentary format highlights Ayana’s editing and scriptwriting skills, while allowing her to film in a more guerrilla style.

After graduating from AUP, Ayana attended EICAR, an international film and television school in Paris, where she majored in editing and minored in scriptwriting. She then spent some time in the United States, including a short stint in New York interning with a production company called Greenpoint Pictures, before moving to Trinidad and Tobago in 2015. “Trinidad has sort of been the one constant in my life,” she explains. “We went every year when I was a kid.” Several of her family members are interested in the media. She and a cousin who shared her passion for filmmaking together founded a production company, Story Play. Ayana acted as the company’s lead editor. Story Play’s projects have included animated short Big Man Dan, about a husband who attempts to get rid of a cockroach for his wife. The character later recurred in a series of PSAs exploring gender roles in Caribbean communities.

During the pandemic, Ayana returned to DC, where she attended remote classes with the New York Film Academy (NYFA). One of her assignments involved filming a documentary-style interview. Though she had a subject all picked out, the filming process hit a snag. “When I went to look at the footage, I realized I’d lost the sound, and one of the cameras stopped working,” says Ayana. She was therefore stuck without a project for a rapidly approaching deadline. “I panicked for maybe 24 hours, then I thought: I’m going to make a mockumentary about this.” The resulting four-minute short, The Interview, is a comedic take on the filmmaking process, in which Ayana, playing herself, attempts to track down willing interviewees. Her eventual volunteer – her father – turns out to be a less-than-cooperative subject.

Ayana submitted the finished project to the Trinidad+Tobago film festival and was delighted to discover she was nominated for two jury awards, including best student film and best Trinidad and Tobago film. The prize she went on to win, the People’s Choice Award, was awarded following an audience vote among all festival entries from Trinidad and Tobago filmmakers. “Whenever you do anything creative, you put in your time, your soul, hoping that others can enjoy what you create,” she says. “It’s very rewarding to know that you can connect with people.”

What’s next for Ayana? “Film, film and more film,” she says. The first step is a postgraduate program in postproduction, which she is currently completing in Toronto, Canada. But studying doesn’t mean the creativity stops; she is working with two other Trinidadian professionals, a writing partner and a producer, on future media projects. She hopes their work will bring more Caribbean stories to the screen, which move beyond certain clichés associated with the region. “Unfortunately, some of the things that get exported in Caribbean cinema are violence, poverty or the drug trade,” she explains. “But that’s far from the only thing happening in Trinidad.” She hopes her work will help ensure more and more people can see themselves represented on screen. “It also helps me explore my own identity – what it's like to be Trinidadian but grow up outside of the Caribbean.”

You can keep up to date on Ayana’s work by following her on Instagram or visiting her website. Her award-winning short film, The Interview, is available to stream online on Story Play TV.