Mary-Rebekah Reyes upholds her love for art and family with Short Drop
The UTM graduate’s first short film is a collaboration project that delves into Caribbean folklore.

On October 25, 2023, the Department of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) partnered with the Black Leadership Table at UTM to present a screening of Short Drop—a nine-minute short horror-thriller film inspired by Trinidadian and Tobagonian folklore, of which Mary-Rebekah Reyes is the executive producer.

In 2022, Reyes graduated as an international student from Santa Cruz, Trinidad and Tobago with a specialist degree in art & art history from the UTM and Sheridan joint program. 

“The oral tradition of my people’s history is being lost in a lot of ways,” Reyes told The Medium, speaking to the motivation behind making the film. “You can maintain our stories by archiving work in an academic sense or you can do that through film because it lives on forever.” 

Reyes’ brother, Romario Reyes, wrote and directed Short Drop. Together, as independent artists, they worked on a low budget to realize their vision for the story. 

After three days of shooting on an iPhone amid the challenges of self-learning the technicalities of basics like scene lights and camera work, the film eventually featured at the Film and Folklore Festival this past spring in Trinidad and Tobago, and then at Toronto’s Caribbean Tales International Film Festival last month. 

“Doing a project like this outside of school for the first time, you really need the people around you to be present, patient, kind, and loving to be able to go past 3 a.m., working neck and neck with you, saying ‘I’m going to stick with you through it ‘til the end,’” Reyes said. “And we did have that, thankfully.”

As Reyes drove long distances for props and focused on scheduling to a “T,” a small-scale team of equally creative-minded (and thereby, empathetic) family and friends supported her as cast and crew. She wouldn’t have wanted it any other way—and quite possibly, couldn’t have imagined it otherwise. 

Reyes’ father, newly retired from his job as a secondary school arts teacher, is one of 11 children, all of whom are artists in some professional capacity. “All of my cousins and I grew up together as siblings and we were all artists,” Reyes shared. “All of us would enter art competitions every year, and it would literally be like ‘Reyes, Reyes, Reyes’ for first place, second place, and third place.” 

The art competitions they participated in were never limited to a certain medium. Reyes engaged in various art forms like painting, dancing, acting, and fashion design throughout her entire life, so much so that she struggles to categorize herself as an artist today. 

“I wouldn’t even say I’m a multidisciplinary artist because to me it’s all just as natural as it is to speak English,” Reyes said. “Yes, there are differences between creative works in terms of scale and technique involved, but the interest, the underlying reason why I’m drawn to doing all kinds of art in the first place is the same: there’s just a pull for me to do it as I don’t find joy in anything else.”

Under the tutelage of her father, as one of the many students he nurtured into scholarship winners, Reyes was granted a full open scholarship from the government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to study, in particular, art & art history at a university level in Canada. 

Reyes, who counts 17th-century Baroque artists Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Peter Paul Reubens as amongst her favourites, is currently researching Trinidad’s first internationally recognized artist, Michel-Jean Cazabon, on the merit of receiving the Ben Portis Memorial Award in her final year. 

“Trying to find my own art history in the land of the Caribbean is important because that was something that wasn’t covered at UTM or Sheridan, but I can use my degree for this current project,” Reyes explained. “I know the academic structure of how to do research, but my research now has pivoted in the sense that if I want to tell stories about where I come from and my people, the way I go about doing that research is going to be a little bit different, though still informed by my studies.”

Alongside regular trips to the University of the West Indies’ library to search for Cazabon in the archives and to talk with academics who can help, Reyes intends to continue exploring folkloric characters through film by first talking to people in the street and inquiring about their personal experiences with folk knowledge and culture. 

When asked to give advice to aspiring UTM creatives, her response was: “Trust in your own individual journey, be careful about the company you keep, [and] focus on totally positive things—but first start with discipline because it’s more important than motivation […] In producing, you have to be a critical thinker, be quick on your feet to problem solve, know how to navigate personalities and strengthen relationships, and not let your emotions get the best of you because how you respond to difficult situations determines the success of a project.”

Sports & Health Editor (Volume 49)| — Alisa is a third-year student completing a major in Professional Writing and Communication with a double minor in Political Science and Cinema Studies. She served as Editor-in-Chief of Mindwaves Volume 15 and Compass Volume 9 and was a recipient of the Harold Sonny Ladoo Book Prize for Creative Writing at UTM. Her personal essay, “In Pieces,” appears in the summer 2020 issue of The Puritan. In 2022, she published her first poetry chapbook, Post-Funeral Dance, with Anstruther Press and wrote for The Newcomer as a journalist. When Alisa isn’t writing, she’s probably reading historical nonfiction, ugly-crying over a sad K-drama, or dreaming of places far, far away.


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