Richard Etienne talks about his Dominican film project, iD

Andrea Talarico chats to Richard Etienne about his Dominica film project, iD.

Richard Etienne
Richard Etienne

You may have seen Richard wandering around with a camera at the Lambeth Country Show. He was making a film short in which he asked people about their national dish. It received a great response within its first week online.

Reflecting on his project, however, Richard realised that he was unaware of the national dish of Dominica, his father’s homeland and the subject of his new and larger project.

Entitled iD, the young filmmaker, father, and Brixton resident hopes to share his late father’s story and examine the history and culture of Dominica at the same time.

Born in Hackney to Dominican parents, Richard has always been interested in arts and travel. His father – whom Richard describes as “awesome” and his best friend – was always supportive of his son’s creative endeavours, which include fashion, photography and a brief rapping career.

It was his father who got Richard interested in film one night when they were watching television, by suggesting that the adolescent should make his own shows instead of complaining about what was on TV. The next day Richard borrowed film equipment from his school to film his classmates.

The idea of making iD was a result of the constant surprise expressed by others upon hearing that he had never been to his parents’ birthplace. The narrative of the film involves him visiting Dominca to learn more about his father’s background and heritage, whilst also showcasing the country’s natural beauty, people, and culture.

In February Richard met with Ms Francine Baron, the Dominican High Commissioner, to explain the project.

“Her eyes lit up. She was just so taken aback that someone based in the UK would want to promote Dominica like that. She scooted her chair around the table,” he explained.

“When I saw how big a deal it was to the highest governor in the country, it was like, I need to do this and do it well.”

Richard Etienne and Father
Richard Etienne and Father

When asked Richard why he decided to make a film, rather than simply visit the island, he responds that he wanted to leave something for his son. “Memory is great, but it’s kind of selfish. Photos are cool, but I’m not the greatest photographer. My medium is film.”

Furthermore, the film is intended to be a homage to his late father. The idea of tying together the story of the island and the story of his father came organically to Richard and it now seems to have a particular importance. While typing out a thank you letter to the High Commissioner, Richard suddenly started crying.

He called his brother, in tears, from a bathroom cubicle. Richard’s brother told him that this film was something that he needed to do. “Maybe I haven’t grieved. Maybe this is something I need to do in order to grieve,” Richard reflected.

Beyond grieving, Richard’s goals for the film are tripartite. First, he hopes to make people aware of Dominica. “I want to introduce people to Dominica. Kind of like a friend at a new school. I just want to put Dominica in people’s hearts.”

Second, he hopes to discover what made his father into the man he was.

And finally, he wishes to explore what it means to be a black man in London. “It’s about being born here as a black man, but recognizing that this other Dominican life exists that I am totally unaware of. That’s what I want – to feel whole. Because I was raised here, I only know what it is to be Black British. I know nothing about being Black Caribbean. There must be another side of me that has yet to be explored and I can’t wait to do that.”

So, one question remains: What is Dominica’s national dish?

The filmmaker laughs. “It’s actually something called mountain chicken. Chicken is a bit of a deflection because it’s actually frog – frog’s legs.” Richard tells me that he has posted the recipe on his blog, My Dominica Story.

“The thing is though, the Culture Department in Dominica are actually putting out a vote to create a new national dish because the frogs are endangered. The new dish will be announced on National Day – hopefully when I’m out there. I want to capture that!”

Indeed, for Richard and for all those interested in the connection between country, ancestry, and family it couldn’t be cooler.

Richard is funding his project through the increasingly popular crowd-sourcing. Click here for details.