Lockdown opened a path for Brixton resident Charysse Tia Harper – filming from Zoom to create her documentary The Jill of the Trade which premieres soon in the West End. Simone Richardson discovers her route
Charysse Tia-Harper, now living in Brixton, looked all over the world to find the women she wanted to interview who work in predominantly male jobs.
The interviews are the basis of her Zoom-based documentary The Jill of the Trade.
Charysse explains how her journey began with her own production company, Xplore the World.
“I sent out feelers through my networks in documentary groups. I was looking for women who work in male-dominated professions – they could be from any country in the world.
“I didn’t hear from anyone, so I contacted embassies and consulates to see if they could put me in touch with different people.
“I also did Google searches trying to find inspirational women.
“Through that I found so many people – even the woman who was the first female firefighter in India in 2015.
“But she didn’t respond for six months, so, unfortunately … too late.”
Charysse chose five women from different countries – four of whom spoke English and one, Colombian female priest Olga Lucia Álvarez Benjumea, who didn’t.
Olga’s Spanish answers were transcribed by Charysse’s friend Jean-Philippe Bensoussan before she translated them herself.
The other women involved were
Ruth Negash – Eritrean mining manager
Anna Linnik – Russian software developer
Alison Doniger – American plumber
Zarifa Ghafari – a female mayor in Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover. Zoom connection with her was not possible, so Charysse used the wetransfer file-sharing app to obtain video.
Charysse’s own origin is on the other side of the world. She was born and raised in Oxnard, California, by her parents from Trinidad and Tobago. She has lived in Brixton since 2019.
“I studied cinema-television production and broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and did postgraduate degrees in management & leadership and international relations,” she says.
“I have always loved journalism and films – my first job was working at a cinema. The best way to bring them together is to make documentaries.
“I also have a passion for international development. I started my business, Xplore the World, in 2009.
“My goal is to highlight social and cultural issues in short journalistic pieces or documentaries.
“This has allowed me to work around the world for a couple of weeks at a time and also live in Trinidad & Tobago, the US and the UK.”
Life in the UK is in Brixton where Charysse now lives with film director and editor Keith Musaman Morton.
They searched around the world together to create the award-winning 2015 documentary Panomundo Part 1: The Evolution of the Steelpan.
Charysse developed the concept of The Jill of the Trade during August last year.
“I was lucky, in the sense that coping through the lockdown was not that difficult for me,” she says.
“My flatmate Keith (and also, filmmaking partner) is the most positive and relaxed person you will ever meet.
“It would be hard to describe a typical day, as each one was different. Quite immediately, I got a part-time job and spent three days doing that.
“I was also taking classes at the time, which greatly assisted passing the time.
“I also started honing my guitar-playing skills. I started cycling and watching more movies for inspiration.”
Charysse developed the concept for The Jill of the Trade while she was taking classes on international security and diplomacy.
“I was writing an essay about gender equality. Somehow, in between researching that topic and talking to friends about it, the idea came about to interview women – from different parts of the world – who work in male-dominated professions.
“Before the pandemic, I had planned to start filming Las Matadoras, a feature documentary about female bullfighters, in May 2020. I had been developing that project for three years.
“Not being able to do that left me with a void.
“Then, with these classes, something got me motivated to do something on a smaller scale where I could interview women virtually.
“Not to mention, I’ve never made a short documentary of my own – meaning, a piece that I was not commissioned by someone to do.”
What Charysse loves most about living in Brixton is the easy access to Caribbean food.
“My heritage is Trinbagonian,” she explains. “In southern California, the Caribbean community is very small. Being able to visit so many different restaurants and stalls has been so refreshing!
“I must also give a shout out to the Brixton Market. I enjoy the diversity in restaurants, the African shops and vibrant atmosphere.”
While the world premiere of The Jill of the Trade will be at the Empire Haymarket in the West End on 28 October, hopefully, it will also be shown at The Ritzy.
In the meantime …
Haymarket tickets are available for a donation
Thursday, 28 October 28, 6.30 – 8pm
Empire Cinemas, 63-65 Haymarket, SW1Y 4RL