The nine-minute film is the first Guyanese film to ever be screened at the Festival de Cannes in France, one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Richards has also received high praise from the international film directors at CARIFESTA XI, where viewing of his film was requested.
In addition to being Mason’s graduate thesis project at the renowned Film Directing programme at CalArts, the film allowed Richards to return to his home country, Guyana, to share what he has learned about filmmaking and tell a story.
The film was shot entirely on location in Georgetown, Guyana, and centres around Marjorie, a Guyanese woman, as she prepares for her 10-year-old grandson’s move to America to be with his mother. The cast and crew consisted of local Guyanese non-actors, non-professionals and students from Los Angeles working alongside Mason and his crew.
The film offers a rare glimpse into the day-to-day life of a Guyanese family, and stunningly captures how emigration affects those left behind. Audiences watch as Marjorie sacrifices her happiness for her grandson’s future, and struggles with loneliness and abandonment.
Richards said: “Guyana is a beautiful country with good people. I wanted to make a tonal film that captures the essence of a few people’s experience in the country I love so much.”
The Seawall was made possible by fundraising and donations totalling $20,000 through a non-profit fiscal sponsor affiliate with Friends & Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Guyana (FROG).
FROG, based in Washington, D.C., was created in 2007 by a group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who wanted to create a community of people interested in Guyana, the small English speaking country in South America. Through a grassroots grants programme, FROG implements projects in and about this beautiful and largely unexplored region of the world.
As Richards pointed out at the screening, Guyana itself has a modest population of 750,000 persons, but additional hundreds of thousands live outside of Guyana – in the United States, Canada, Europe and Caribbean.
The topic of emigration discussed in The Seawall highlights the important issues that are changing and challenging Guyanese culture within its borders and across the globe.
Mason hopes to turn The Seawall into a feature film. He is currently in pre-production for his next short film, to be shot on location in Brooklyn, New York, and he is also in development for his first feature-length film based on a Simon & Schuster-published novel about a kid coming of age in the inner city. Mason splits his time between Los Angeles and New York City.
When Marjorie, an elderly Guyanese woman, receives a call from her daughter in the United States stating that her grandson, Malachi’s, Visa to move to the US has been approved, Marjorie struggles with feelings of loneliness and abandonment as she prepares to send her only grandson away to America for “a better way of life.”
Marjorie’s place of solitude is in her daily morning walks to “the seawall” — a large man-made stone structure that stretches along the coast off the Atlantic Ocean in Georgetown, Guyana, preventing the country from flooding.
Malachi is an active, high-spirited 11-year-old Afro-Guyanese boy who does his best to conceal his lack of desire to leave Guyana and his aging grandmother behind. Therefore, he tries to take extra care of her around the house. Malachi secretly hides his travel documents as an act of defiance to delay the trip.
Malachi confides his fears of leaving Guyana forever to his best friend RAJ, an 11-year-old Indo-Guyanese boy who lives in his town and has personal struggles of his own. As their last act of solidarity, the boys devise a plan to skip school and go see the “magical waterfalls” everyone always talks about in Guyana, but few have ever seen.
Malachi and Raj come up with a scheme to convince Malachi’s estranged father, Clev, a 43-year-old eccentric Afro-Guyanese gold miner to take them through “the bush” (jungle) and up to the waterfalls without letting his grandmother know.
The boys heard about the Kaieteur Falls, the “largest single drop waterfalls in the world”, from their school teacher days before. When Clev finally agrees to take the boys on the trip, they all set out on an adventure beyond their backyards into the heart of the country and the Amazon. They take an old, tiny commuter plane across the river; they ride a donkey cart through small, forgotten Amerindian villages in the bush; and then a small boat through murky waters, and witness wildlife as they’re never seen before.
It’s a surreal experience for the boys as well as for Clev.
During the trip, Clev struggles to connect with his son and shares stories of his childhood growing up in Guyana, including “Jonestown” and some myths of Guyana’s colonial history of slavery.
When they make it to the top of the Kaieteur Falls, they take in the spectacular view and are overcome with wonder at its grandeur and untouched natural beauty. This makes it even more difficult for Malachi to think about leaving. His connection to the water, the land and his family is actualized and becomes apparent.
Meanwhile, back in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city, Marjorie worries when Malachi doesn’t return home from school, and realizes that his travel documents to the US are missing.
Marjorie searches through the city for Malachi in various parts of Georgetown, including the outdoor markets, random shops, the school grounds, abandoned streets, and some corners of the seawall. She visits Raj’s family’s house and stumbles in on a domestic dispute between the young couple, who weren’t aware that Raj wasn’t home — which leaves her even more upset
Eventually, a defeated Marjorie gives up, goes home, makes dinner for Malachi, and nervously waits into the night for him on her front porch.
When Malachi finally returns home, Marjorie confronts him about hiding his travel documents and missing school. After Malachi shares some details of his adventure, Marjorie becomes even more upset, recognizing that she really is losing him and she will be alone. Later that night, Marjorie lies awake in bed, unable to sleep. She peeks into Malachi’s room to find him still awake underneath the mosquito net, and ends up apologizing for yelling at him, and tells him her story of life as a young girl growing up in Guyana.
Days later, Marjorie watches Malachi board a small airplane leaving for America. His father Clev and Raj are there as well. Malachi waves goodbye, closes his eyes as the plane takes off, and hears the thunderous roars of the waterfalls of Kaieteur – a sound he will never forget — marking that he will return one day.
The next day, at the break of dawn, Marjorie strolls along the seawall like she does every morning. She sits on the edge of the seawall and looks across the Atlantic Ocean to the world beyond, thinking of Malachi, her daughter, and all the Guyanese people who have left.
In her eyes, she has a reason to stay. It’s her home, it’s all she knows.