Director Justice Jamal Jones joins myth with modern themes of Black queerness and trans identity in their latest film, Notes on a Siren. Presented by Something Curated, and exclusively premiering on the site, the film was shot on location at Palm Heights in Grand Cayman. Jones expands on the thinking behind their mesmerising work below.
For me, film is a sort of alchemy. Embedding visuals and audio on celluloid or in digital codes feels like magic. I am influenced by the symmetry of fairy tales and religion. My debut film How To Raise A Black Boy is a fantastical retelling of my Black boyhood through the lens of a fairy tale. Now, my fairy tales have become alchemy, and magic is a key for revolution. Inherently, film is a colonial tool; it “captures” a subject at the mercy of the director. I intend to use film as a decolonial medium, destroying my false power as the director and giving the subject agency.
It is truly magical when a filmmaker, production company, and publication sync on the same creative wavelength. With Notes on a Siren, I was lucky enough to know that serendipity. A year of commercial work, followed by the writing and SAG strikes, left me ironically a bit directionless as a director. When Keshav [Anand], from Something Curated, invited me to Palm Heights free of obligation to create a film of my choosing, I was, of course, thrilled, but nervous, and many thoughts ran through my mind. After days and nights of mood boards, prayer to my ancestors, and YouTube rabbit holes about modular synthesisers, I emerged with the premise for Notes on a Siren.
Notes on a Siren was born out of my fascination with the relationship of the Siren and the Sailor. It mirrored my own ideals around the director and subject. Like the film director, the sailor is set to capture the beauty of their subject or Siren, but if they are not careful they can drown themselves in their search for ownership. Also, mermaids and sirens often speak to my trans femme non-binary identity, being many things at once, in the net of the male gaze.
In Haitian Vodou, La Sirène (The Siren) uses a mirror not out of vanity but as a portal. In Notes on a Siren, the camera was my mirror. I was able to be both the sailor and the siren, the director and subject. As a Black Trans Femme, the mirror has been my power and enemy. It has been a vessel for me to transform and find gender euphoria, as well as my most severe critic, perpetuating my internal transphobia.
My time at Palm Heights was enlightening. The island carries so much energy; many times on the beach I wept at the beauty, strength, and sorrow the water holds. At the hotel, I was able to relax and be with myself, opening new portals and directions for the film. The vast number of artists I came in contact with while at Palm Heights inspired and influenced the film heavily – especially musical artist Raheaven. Her experimental pop and R&B music became my soundtrack while on the island. For the film we collaborated on three songs; she helped produce, conceptualise, and write them.
Film cannot be done without collaboration. It is an art form that takes a village. When my film crew arrived on the island, those were some of the best times I had while at Palm Heights. I want to take the time to thank the entire team that made this film possible: Imani Fuentes, Corey Hess, Alvaro Herrasti, Matthew D’Amato, Justine Sweetman, Raheaven, Conner Reddan, Joseph Magee, Angie Nicholas, Stephen Axeman, Kelt Leray, and Zach Beebe. Thank you for allowing space for me to grow, diverge, and challenge myself as an artist. Without any of you, the film is simply not possible.
Producer: Justine Sweetman
Cinematographer: Corey Hess
Sound Engineer: Alvaro Herrasti
Choreographer: Imani Fuentes
Editor: Conner Reddan
Composer: Zach Beebe
Music Producer: Raheaven
Vocal Composition: Stephen Axeman
Guitar Instrumentation: Kelt Leray
Sound Designer & Composer: Joseph Magee
Colorist: Calvin Bellas