The St. John community poured into Bajo El Sol Gallery in Mongoose Junction Saturday evening for back-to-back screenings of “A Blue Estate,” a short film written, produced, and directed by Savannah Lyons Anthony.
This is the first film by Lyons Anthony, who grew up on St. John, attended Charlotte Amalie High School, and became the first St. Johnian to win the St. Thomas Carnival Queen competition.
Lyons Anthony went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in choreographic forms from Bard College and was pursuing her career as a dancer in New York City when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
As live performances came to a halt during the lockdown, Lyons Anthony returned to St. John temporarily and began exploring other modes of creativity, including writing and film.
She turned to the landscape around her — and the conflicts generated by St. Johnians’ desires to utilize their land — to develop the fable that is at the heart of the film.
As the film gets underway, two brothers, long estranged, meet in a ruin of a colonial estate by the sea to discuss their inheritance symbolized by a blue tarp. (For those unfamiliar with the islands, blue tarps were distributed by FEMA after major hurricanes to replace roofs that were blown away.)
The brothers’ conversation is terse and tense. One brother has gone abroad and has returned to claim his share of the inheritance. The other has stayed and fought to keep intact “the blue estate,” which means so much to both of them.
The adult brothers are played by two young actors, Isaac Peters and Jalani Phillips Jr., now both students at the University of the Virgin Islands. Both actors were still in high school when the film was shot in 2021, and their apparent ages, which at first seems to clash with the characters’ supposed maturity, seems increasingly appropriate as their conversation devolves.
Lyons Anthony, as well as the two actors, answered questions following two screenings at the packed-to-capacity gallery in Cruz Bay. She said the film was shot over four days at Estate Lameshur, a place that has had great resonance for her since she was a child.
The evocative setting gave Christopher Currence, director of photography, and Lili Dekker, the film’s editor, much visual material to work with. The soundtrack, which includes a folktale and music from an anthology of Virgin Islands folksongs, adds to the allegorical nature of the storytelling.
Priscilla Hintz Rivera Knight, who co-owns Bajo El Sol Gallery with her husband David Knight Jr., congratulated Lyons Anthony following the screening for her storytelling craft and her believable depiction “of the Caribbean people who choose to go and the people who choose to stay.”
Lyons Anthony is now on her way back to her base in Harlem, New York. Asked by an audience member what’s next for her, she said she would soon be applying to show the film in festivals.