Filmmaker 5 with Stephanie Malson: Getaway
Short film Getaway explores what can happen to a family dynamic when escaping their everyday circumstances. Struggling with civil unrest in the United States, a Jamaican immigrant takes her young son on his first trip to her homeland. As they adjust to a quieter life away from the daily threat of gun violence, mother and son confront their shared trauma. News from home brings a harsh reality, forcing the mother to make a life-changing decision for her small family. This short film from writer/producer Malaika Paquiot and director Stephanie Malson explores what it means to be a good mother in extraordinary times.
Getaway poses for viewers a series of questions: Where is a Black person safe? Where do we belong? What if the place you thought would help you reach your dreams becomes your prison? What sacrifices are you willing to make for your family and what’s the cost?
Getaway made its world premiere as an official selection at the 31st Anniversary Pan African Film Festival (PAFF). PAFF Virtual runs from February 21-March 3, 2023.
Our Classic Couple Academy interview with Getaway direction Stephanie Malson follows.
Filmmaker 5.1: What was a standout moment in filming Getaway for you as a director? How did this impact you as a filmmaker?
Filming the scene when June tells Leighton that she’s going back to the US without him was a standout moment for me as a director. Directing the actors in this heartbreaking, vulnerable scene, taught me that I could allow a scene to unfold, and I could trust my actors to find the notes that enrichen the scene.
Working on this film also reinforced a philosophy that I now hold and will use in all projects going forward – do no harm, make caring for my actors and crew’s well-being a priority. If I am subjecting my actors to scenes that may involve trauma, make sure there are tools available to support their experience.
Filmmaker 5.2: The performance of each of your actors in Getaway is intimate and powerful. That of child actor Ian Smalls, Jr. as Leighton is a standout. How did you work with him to bring out his performance?
Leighton was the character that I thought needed more dimension. This young boy is managing his own trauma. He’s hiding it from his mom. The actor for this role had to show that nuance, fear, and vulnerability. Thanks to Honey Head Productions who managed casting and put Ian on our list. Ian was prepared and open to adjustments in his audition and that was very impressive to me. He’s also adorable. His personality, curiosity, awareness, and flexibility shined throughout the entire process. He understood what his character was experiencing and immersed himself in each scene. I chose to use an improvisational approach to directing Ian particularly because I wanted his connection to June to feel authentic. I also wanted Ian to have room to explore.
Filmmaker 5.3: The world premiere of Getaway took place at the 31st Pan African Film Festival. What about PAFF and the PAFF audience inspired you to debut the film there?
PAFF was the perfect film festival for our film. The festival offers a wide array of films from all parts of the diaspora. That is their mission, and we wanted our film to be in conversation with the films featured at the festival. PAFF has a long history of supporting filmmakers like me. While the film has universal themes, it speaks directly to PAFF’s audience and is one we knew they would support. We loved the themes and threads that connected our film with the other films we were screening with. It was a beautiful conversation.
Filmmaker 5.4: You have a canon of short films, Getaway the latest among them. What about this medium inspires you as a storyteller and filmmaker, especially one committed to showcasing ancestral stories?
Writing is my passion. I imagined that one day I’d publish a book. When publishing felt inaccessible to me, I chose to pursue independent filmmaking. This medium offers a level of creative freedom that is much more expansive and impactful. I love world building and connecting my ancestral experiences to the stories I am telling. Filmmaking allows me to infuse those elements in varying ways.
Filmmaker 5.5: Getaway explores themes of safety, family, and the Black experience in America and abroad. What conversations do you wish to inspire with this film?
With Getaway I hope to spark conversations around how our society’s lack of concern for gun violence in all its forms is imposing continued generational traumas and hopefully those conversations can lead to solutions. I strongly believe that the solutions are within our communities.