IT is not often that I get nervous before conducting interviews and feel like I have to be on my Ps and Qs. After all, those days are far behind me when I just stepped into the media field, so you can only imagine how I felt when I got butterflies after the call came up from reception, telling me that my FITC was in the building.
I am speaking of none other than Davina Lee, our St. Lucian filmmaker, who has truly broken the mould for women all over St. Lucia and the region on a professional level.
Lee, who is the daughter of iconic local writer, poet and artist Robert Lee, and writer and producer Jacintha Lee, carries a large body of work under her belt ranging between television shows, music videos and short films, including “Coming Of Org”, which put St. Lucian folklore onto the international stage after it was featured at the 2012 Festival de Cannes in the Short Film corner, and her most recent film, “The Knot”, which was released two weeks ago.
It was clear that she was destined for creative greatness, and was told that from early childhood that she was always up to some sort of creativity. But I’m sure that her parents are happy that they nurtured that creativity because today Lee is nothing short of one of the prides of this nation.
The VOICE: How did you get started in the film industry and what did it take to get to where you are now?
Lee: I started for a very shallow reason. My sister and I wanted to be on TV and we were about 15 and 13, but we wondered what is there on TV that we can be part of? There was nothing, really. So we were like: “You know, we should make our own TV show!” At that age, you feel like you could do anything and there was nothing to tell us that we couldn’t. So we said, “Yeah, let’s just make our own show.” We set up a plan, it was called “Vibes Central”, and we said it’s a group of girls and guys talking about different things we like, like boys/girls and food etc, just a bunch of things. Then we spoke to people at DBS and HTS. We were very serious. We thought we could just go to these stations and say: “Hello, we have a great show for you, put us on TV!” They were like: “Ok, here’s what we’ll do for you, we’ll sell you airtime (laughs) when you get your advertisers.” So at a very young age, we learned how it works. So being a producer, I was forced to be one at age 15.
I think it took us about three years to get advertisers on board, but we never stopped; we kept on it until three years later when we got SMJ Beverages, FICS and a few others who came on early to support us, and the show was on for like 10 episodes. But that’s when I realised that I liked the behind the scenes part of it. My sister Ester was really great at the front of the camera, but I said no, I want to be behind the scenes.
I decided that I wanted to go to film school and went to Miami, but I decided that I didn’t want to stay, I wanted to come back home.
Then I was asked if I did music videos. I said no at first but was convinced to get into it and I did a video for Shayne Ross’ “Take You Home”, which was my first music video. After that, I was like “Okay, I can do some more music videos” (laughs) and then I thought, ok, I need to do some films, and that was it from there.
The VOICE: What does it take to do what you do?
Lee: That was a lesson that I learned very early on…we couldn’t give up. Giving up is the easiest thing to do, but I have to remind myself to just keep pushing. There are people rooting for you that you don’t even know so don’t give up…that’s what it takes, not giving up. Also, don’t listen to people telling you that you can’t…just stay focused.
The VOICE: You have broken the mould with your chosen profession, because you are female, black and you’re St. Lucian. Yet, you are well-loved and respected to the point that when the name Davina Lee is attached to any production, people know it’s going to be professional and enjoyable. How does that make you feel, and does that light fire underneath you to keep up the standards?
Lee: I don’t realise that, even with you telling me (laughs) but it feels good. When people tell me that they love my work, and they have said it to me in the past, I’m surprised, and then it makes me a little harder on myself, like you cannot drop your standard at all. It keeps you at a certain standard that you cannot fall below.
The VOICE: You are undoubtedly a role model to little St. Lucian girls. What words of advice would you give them for their future endeavours?
Lee: Do what you think will make you happy. Don’t give up, be respectful to people and appreciate advice, but always be focused on what you want to do, don’t get side-tracked at all. A lot of people would ask me why I wanted to study film since there is no “scope” for it. Now there are photographers etc, but back then, people would tell me that I should study business etc, and do the filming on a side because it is nothing but a hobby. So I will tell them to be focused…know what you want and stay focused on it.
The VOICE: How far do you want to see the name Davina Lee reach?
Lee: A filmmaker would be lying if they don’t want to see Academy Award Winner attached to their name, and the next time I go to Cannes, I want it to be an official selection, like from the top six films that they choose, I want mine to be part of that.
Also, I would love to see “Davina Lee, Humanitarian!”