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Filmmaker Tristan Barrocks Focuses on Mining the Black Experience

Jamaican Canadian filmmaker and commercial photographer Tristan Barrocks wants to zoom in on stories of the West Indian, African and diasporic communities across the world.

“I want to continue to write and direct, but more importantly produce projects that go off the beaten path and challenge audiences to see people, situations, cultures, and ethnicities in a different way,” he explained of his abiding creative storyboard.

“That’s the end goal for me… to tell these stories for the rest of my life and help other filmmakers coming behind me to do the same, without barriers in front of them. If that morphs into being a film studio or a mentor working in a school, however it manifests itself,” Barrocks, a professor of media studies at Seneca Polytechnic Institute said.

Here last month for his annual family vacation trip to the island, from where his educator father Albert and motivational speaker mother Marjorie migrated in the late 1970s, Barrocks released his first feature-length film ‘Wallflower’ last year, which debuted on Pluto TV and Fuse TV.

It’s a career high point for the 40-year-old, and he’s expectedly upbeat about the coming-of-age drama he directed in 2022.

‘Wallflower’ is one of the most important projects that I’ve done in the last few years, because it has allowed me to be a part of the American Black Film Festival, the Brazilian Webfest Film Festival, as well as the TO Webfest at the Toronto Film Festival.

Tristan Barrocks (left), on set of ‘Wallflower’ with first assistant director Celina Bradley

‘Wallflower’ is about an introverted young lady who gets gifted a trinket from her Jamaican grandmother that changes her life radically. I think we all have a little bit of Bell, who was our main character’s mentality. We all want to be seen. We all want to be the charismatic, engaging, bold person in the room, but oftentimes we get in our heads, and we get lost in our thoughts, and this film allows you to think about the what ifs,” he said. “What if I just took the risk; what if I was able to fully walk in my confidence, and bloom into the individual I was meant to be.”

Raised in a family of creatives – his dad, also a photographer, his mother involved in the culinary arts, and his siblings, professional writers, and hairstylists – Barrocks believes that he was destined to find his craft.

“I think as a filmmaker, as an artist, if you don’t see the uniqueness in your voice then why are you doing it? What’s the purpose of being in the industry that requires you to have a fresh take on stories, on events, on perspectives, but you don’t feel that you have a unique voice?”

Barrocks graduated from the Toronto-based Seneca College in 2007 with an associate degree in digital media arts, but, shortly thereafter, he had to find fast footing.

“I was at a place in my life where I needed to make everything work. My love for performing, my studies, and the bills needed to be paid,” he said. “So, I started capturing my theatrical performances and editing them to post on Facebook and YouTube.

“People started noticing my work and began to hire me to film their lives, businesses, and even their funerals. But I wasn’t just capturing events in people’s lives, I was telling their stories. That’s when I became known as the digital storyteller,” he added.

“From there, I started directing music videos, and flying all over North America to create documentaries, and tell stories that meant something to me. Years later, I began getting featured in publications like ‘Vogue Italia’ and ‘Munu Luchi Bride’. My commercial journey had begun.

“Since 2018, I’ve been a part of several national and international campaigns for such clients as YouTubePinterest, Appleton Estate, and CIBC Bank,” he added.

Barrocks, citing Ava Duvernay, Barry Jenkins, Christopher Nolan, and Steven Spielberg as film directors whose collective output he most admires, said:

“I look at my relationships with my father, my wife and siblings as some of the biggest points of inspiration. I also look at stories that are universal, whether it’s ‘Rocky’ and being the underdog or trying to find your purpose like in ‘Good Will Hunting’. These are stories that pop off the lens and speak to people, no matter what age and what generation they’ve been a part of.”

Barrocks and his former human resource management exec wife of 13 years, Natanya – parents to Zephtan, 11, and Zien, nine – established their own production company Mid Career Productions last year, primarily to tell authentic stories of black people from their point of view.

“We are tired of seeing stories of not only black people but West Indian people that lack nuance, depth, and humanity. Being a Jamaican is not a trope. Being Jamaican is beautiful, heartbreaking, truthful, passionate, inspiring, hard, and funny.

“We believe that the stories we are telling will allow our audiences to gain a new perspective,” he said.

He added that they also created the production company to break the idea that “you must start from the bottom or pay your dues to make it in this industry”.

“My wife and I are both skilled professionals. Although we may not have had commercial success yet, we have accomplished a lot of milestones in the media industry,” he explained. “So have many others who have pivoted to this industry later in life. That matters to us, and we have made a commitment to develop, highlight, and empower those who have the skills and just need the opportunity.”

In the works for Barrocks is a television pilot for a planned sitcom titled ‘Diaries of An Average Black Dad’, which he said originated “from the vantage point of a midlife crisis…

“I’m 40 years old, and a few years ago, I just really started to question my own mortality, and that led me to the idea of what makes an extraordinary life and what kind of life would I want to lead to leave a lasting legacy,” he shared.

Also on the docket is the short film he wrote, ‘Sugar Dumpling’.

“I will be directing that later this year. The story focuses on the journey of a young woman who’s trying to reconnect with her estranged father, struggling with dementia in a long-term care facility. The only way that she can connect with him is through cooking his favourite meals from his Jamaican childhood, rice and peas and white dumplings and curry goat. That film will be coming out this fall during film festival season,” Barrocks explained.

Though a proud Canadian, the director’s heart partially resides in the Caribbean.

“The older I get, the more I need to stay connected to Jamaica. Jamaica, to me, is more than sunshine, rolling hills, blunts, and the beach. It’s my roots. The place where my parents fell in love, the place where a culture of creativity flows through my veins.

“To ask me what Jamaica means to me is like asking me if I love my children. Being Jamaican, having those roots is everything to me, and the older I get, the more I want my children to know who they are completely, and I can’t tell their story without them understanding the story of Jamaica,” he said.

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