Film Review – ‘Tears of Joy’ for a New Caribbean Film Market

Words by Klieon John

In what seems to be the first major attempt at filmmaking in St. Kitts-Nevis, writer/director James Galloway manages to tell a compelling story, while tackling a major social issue. In his first short film, Tears of Joy, Galloway and co-director Nigel “Tru Capo” Lewis examine some of the causes and effects of bullying in high schools, which has been on the rise globally in recent years, resulting too often in tragedy.

Poignant narrative

The narrative, if sometimes a little obvious, does make a good attempt at depth in its exploration of the subject matter. Following the story of Joy (played by Neila Jones), a teenage girl and her relentlessly sadistic but also deeply troubled bully, Samantha, the film covers important themes like the contribution of abusive parents to delinquent teenage behavior, and challenges prescribed individuals like teachers to pay closer attention to behavioral trends that might indicate trouble.

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Neila Jones as “Joy” in Tears of Joy

Promising performances

For a society that has virtually no formalized training in acting, and an only just now budding film industry, the all-local cast makes a praiseworthy endeavor that shows great promise and opens a window for expansion.

Kyla Morton as "Samantha" in Tears of Joy

Kyla Morton as “Samantha” in Tears of Joy

Most notably, Kyla Morton’s portrayal as the main bully, Samantha is both gripping and terrifying, leaving us with the fear that she may actually be something of a young terror in real life. The film is supported by other commendable performances by Deslyn Williams-Johnson (Joy’s mother) and Charles Parris (Samantha’s father).

Charles Parris as "Samantha's Father" in Tears of Joy

Charles Parris as “Samantha’s Father” in Tears of Joy

What would have made the overall production more of a success is the use of more authentic dialogue, which for the majority of the film smacked of forced standardization of English. But this is a common challenge for filmmakers in the region – even experienced ones – who are often afraid to step out of the colonial socialization of the Queen’s English to use native dialects boldly. The result is often an uncomfortable use of standard English, which may seem contrived, and diminishes the authenticity of some scenes.

Chilling elements

The most mentionable thing about Tears of Joy is the emotional and in some parts piercingly chilling elements of death, sorrow, anger, pain, shame and regret that are rendered with the help of a well-chosen soundtrack and artfully directed photography.

Shakeem Parris as "The Boy in Black" in tears of Joy

Shakeem Parris as “The Boy in Black” in tears of Joy

James, a noted poet, can’t hide the mystic within himself, borrowing from Absurdist drama with the inclusion of what seems to be an automaton representation of Death, who tempts the protagonist during periods of intense distress. The message of this apparition is even more disturbing: “This world is uncaring and selfish. This world is a hateful place. Nobody truly loves. But it’s different on the other side. There is no pain there; only light.”

This adds a poetic and pensive dimension to the film, which makes this such a laudable first attempt.

Opportunity for growth

Tears of Joy won’t be winning any Oscars. It is however, a brilliant start to what promises to be an exciting and dynamic new film industry in the Caribbean. Great writers like James Galloway should be praised for pioneering the movement in St. Kitts-Nevis and hopefully encouraging other writers and filmmakers to start coming out of the woodwork and producing as well. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing the fruits of future growth in St. Kitts-Nevis.