When filmmaker Michael Anton visited his father on St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma hit, he decided to make a film – “not a story about politics or hurricanes,” but rather “a story about culture and love.”
Many months later, Anton returned to St. Thomas with only his iPhone and a portable audio-enhancing device as equipment. He had few contacts, a tiny budget and less than two weeks to gather his footage.
“Good Morning, Good Morning” is Anton’s attempt to catch a glimpse of “the nucleus of a culture” and “find ways to connect with each other.”
Anton began by knocking on doors, asking those who responded for referrals and simply hanging out in places like Market Square. In the process, he met a dozen residents of St. Thomas, including Sen. Myron Jackson, French Creole preservationist Henry Richardson, Rabbi Michael Feshbach, businessman Leroy Gottlieb Jr. and Dominican-born farmer Angelina Anton (no relation).
These people agreed to talk to Anton on camera, and the result is a snapshot of the range of people who make the island their home and share the words “Good morning, good morning” as a common greeting and a sign of respect.
Anton said the film doesn’t include interviews with representatives from all of the cultures that make the island their home. “If I could go back in time and had the finances, I’d try to track them all down. I know my very large Arabic family will be concerned that I didn’t cover [the Palestinian community.]” He said he hoped the few who appear in the film might represent the many who didn’t. “I don’t mean to offend anyone,” he said.
The film caught the eye of Linda Bechstein, who chairs the St. John Citizen Integration Team, a local group that brings together representatives from the V.I. Police Department and members of the community for monthly discussions.
At a meeting in January, Bechstein said, a police officer spoke about the cultural clash that occurs when visitors walk up to officers and abruptly start asking questions without the customary greeting of “Good morning” or “Good afternoon.”
Bechstein quoted the officer as saying, “Sometimes, when people talk to you like that, your first instinct is to ignore them, but you try not to do that.”
That comment led to a discussion about finding ways to communicate simple cultural expectations more effectively, perhaps through a flyer that could be given out by owners of rental units. Bechstein thought posting a link to Anton’s film might be a good place to begin.
Anton is best known for his 2016 short film “Democracy Road,” which explores “the importance of culture and the role it plays in countries that have democracy and those that do not.”
The strength of that film propelled him into a film festival and a meeting with the head of the New York Times Op-Doc Division, which presents short documentaries produced by independent filmmakers.
Anton pitched the idea for his film on St. Thomas and was encouraged by their response. When the film was completed, however, the Times declined to “pick it up,” but did compliment him for the film’s “beautiful shots” and “interesting characters.”
Anton said he was disappointed, but as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, he thought the message of common humanity was needed more than ever and he made it available for free on YouTube.
Anton spoke to the Source by phone from his home near Pittsburgh last week.
Though he is someone who is eager to connect with others, Anton was self-isolating from the rest of his family after showing symptoms of COVID-19 last week. (In a subsequent conversation, he said he was recovering.)
“I like to watch people talk and be the listener,” he said. “My iPhone is the shovel I use to find my treasure.”