Chappie hailed as true artist

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

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Members of the entertainment industry, specifically film, turned out in their numbers to pay their final respects to cinematographer Franklyn “Chappie” St Juste at his funeral at the University Chapel, Mona campus in Kingston, yesterday.

The 90-year-old, who died of complications due to cancer in the University Hospital of the West Indies on November 5, was remembered in glowing tributes for his sharp wit, eye for detail, and, above all, a passion for what he did. But it was fellow film-maker Natalie Thompson, who captured the essence of the man she knew for nearly half a century.

She recalled his work on many of the film and video productions which captured the life of a newly independent Jamaica, as well as her professional interactions with him on countless television commercials and film projects.

“When I first met Chappie, I immediately saw, as a young director probably in above my head, that he was not a cameraman or a director of photography... he was a cinematographer, the true cinematographer. Anybody who was able to see Chappie load a film camera knew that he was an artist dealing with a piece of equipment. If you noticed Chappie's fingers, they moved like a dancer's and he used his hands to speak and to express himself, and we all know that Chappie could express himself, especially when he knew he was right, and all of us young people were wrong.”

Thompson detailed the way St Juste gently and meticulously loaded the film camera, always dusting the inside of the camera with a paintbrush, as he was well aware that a single speck of dust on the emulsion side of the film-strip would cause a scratch that would run down to the end.

“It was because of this meticulous attention to detail that we were able to put our trust, the trust of our clients, and the trust of our country's historic film legacy in the hands of Franklyn 'Chappie' St Juste. In those days, the cinematographer was who we relied on. We were not able to shoot too many takes because film cost money, processing cost money, printing cost money, and so we only had an average of three or four takes. It was your cinematographer who would have to tell you when your shot was in the can, because he or she saw it,” she said.

Born in Trinidad of St Lucian stock, St Juste came to Jamaica in 1955 and joined the film unit of the Jamaica Information Service, along with industry stalwarts including Carey Robinson and Cynthia Wilmot. They were charged with recording the history of of Jamaica as it went along for later use. He was the cinematographer on projects, including Birth of Nation, which captured the Jamaican independence celebrations of 1962; Time of Fury, a dramatisation of the life of Paul Bogle and the Morant Bay Rebellion; and Lion of Judah, the visit of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in 1966.

“Chappie was entrusted to capture our history in pre-and post-independence and he always got the shot. When I visited Chappie a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was looking for some footage on the interment of Marcus Garvey in National Heroes' Park. I asked him, 'Did you film that?' Chappie said, 'Of course, I walked with the camera on my shoulder from the cathedral to Heroes' Park and waited for the interment.' When I told him that I could not find the footage, there were tears in his eyes. He said, 'My Jamaican legacy, I have to go to England and get it back.' Unfortunately, he was not able to. I hope that we can be trusted to find these beautiful pictures again: the legacy. The Jamaican legacy of this man of fastidious detail. We trusted him and he came through. Can he trust us?” Thompson asked the congregation which packed the chapel.

St Juste is survived by his sons: noted film director Brian and broadcaster François; and daughter Maya.


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