On the day to celebrate America’s Independence, the short film “Passage” screened at Caribbean Cinemas on St. Thomas, highlighting the slave trade that occurred in 1600 West Africa.
On Sunday, the theater room for the private showing was almost filled to capacity as many community members gathered to watch the film. Several cast and crew members of “Passage” were also present to share their experiences filming on St. Croix and provide more insight into their characters, their roles, and the message of the film.
“One of the reasons we did the movie was because we found out one out of 10 slave ships never made it to the New World,” said David Massey. Massey is the film’s director, producer, and creator.
“Passage” shows what some Africans experienced on their way to enslavement in the Americas. It starts by showing a normal day in a coastal Angolan village where everyone is completing their daily tasks, such as cleaning, building, and food preparations. Then, the villagers are ransacked and prepped to be sold to European slavers.
“I don’t want to give away the film, but let’s put it this way. We’re telling a story that hasn’t been told before,” said Massey. “We’re looking at Africa through a different lens.”
Actor Robert Okumu, who served as one of the film’s antagonists, was present at the screening and said that filming on St. Croix “was one of my best experiences shooting anywhere.” Of his character he said it was pretty challenging to get and stay in role.
“There’s a thing where you, as an actor, you always have to stay in the moment and pretend [to not know] what’s coming … so trying to stay in the moment and being in that very militaristic, cold [character], without showing any emotion [was most challenging].”
About 90 percent of the film’s cast hail from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Massey said he enjoys shooting in the USVI and tries to implement Virgin Islanders and the culture of the people into his work.
Also included in “Passage” is actor and DJ, Benny Demus. Demus was credited by director Massey as showing much dedication with his role to the film, as he was suffering from appendicitis before and during filming.
“For me to do the action scenes with Robert, it took so much out of me. But I told David I wanted to make sure he got the film. I’m a man of my word. That’s how I always been, just as a Virgin Islander. And I can only assume that’s why I was able to have my career go the way that it went.”
Keith Smith served as the director of photography and said he also enjoyed filming in the USVI. Smith said that location scouting was very exciting as well as working with locals.
“I usually work with 10 crew members in Hollywood, and we had like two or three here, and they were just hard working and committed,” said Smith.
Though Smith loved the scenery of St. Croix, he also mentioned that the most challenging part of the experience was ensuring that the crew matched the chosen setting of the island as close to the historic period that the film intended to portray.
“The biggest challenge was just making it as authentic and as period as we can … we needed to find [a location] where all the backdrops work, where we did not see any telephone poles or airplanes,” said Smith.
“Passage” was shot in March 2021 on St. Croix at Ridge to Reef Farm and took about six days to film and an additional day to film in Los Angeles, California. It was screened on Saturday on the Twin City island. Currently, the film is set to be screened at 25 film festivals worldwide.
Other cast and crew members who were present Sunday to share their experiences included Gabriel Stephen, Isiah Massey, Tiffany Massey, Shary Cruz and Edith Gumbs.
More information about filming in the Virgin Islands can be found at the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism Film Office at filmusvi.com.