The first time I laid eyes on Street Side Salon, the short documentary that’s been making waves and garnering comments on YouTube and in social media circles, was via a Caribbean friend’s Facebook page. Although some comments expressed shock at the bustling beauty industry in downtown Kingston, many expressed humor and familiarity. Yes indeed, although there is nothing quite like Mathews Lane in Trinidad, scenes from Anna Alissa Hitzemann’s documentary reminded me very much of the old People’s Mall, or the atmosphere of Charlotte Street in Port of Spain.

Some have expressed concern about the hygenic conditions of the market when they laid eyes on this video, but I encourage you to look past that. Look at the ingenuity. Look at the skills of these manicurists and hairdressers.

I caught up with Anna Alissa Hitzemann via e mail, and she enlightened me about her film, and the ways of the Street Side Salon.

Afrobella: Tell me a little about yourself – are you still a college student? Or are you currently doing documentaries full time?

AAH: I am 23 years old, from Niger and Germany. I grew up between Europe and West Africa but I also lived in India for 2 years. I just graduated from Wellesley College near Boston in MA, USA where I completed a BA double major in Cinema and Media Studies and Africana Studies. I plan on going on to grad school for development studies and I havent decided yet whether I should apply to film school. I love cinema and I plan on not starting grad school right away. I want to take the time next year to think about what I want to do in life.

Afrobella: Talk to me about your experience with Jamaica – from what I’ve read online, you’re not Jamaican, right? So how did this come about?

AAH: During my junior year, in 2008, I decided to study abroad for a semester at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Kingston, Jamaica. I wanted to get out of the USA and go somewhere completely new. I have always had many friends from the Caribbean and I was getting increasingly interested in dancehall music and culture so I wanted to go live in Jamaica and experience it for myself! After the semester I did not want to leave. I made so many friends there! I love Jamaica and I can´t wait to go back. I have been back several times and I actually got into UWI for a masters program but I haven’t decided made a final decision yet as to whether I will be moving back there.

Afrobella: What drew you to the market? Walk me through what led up to the experience.

AAH: I actually used to go downtown a lot while I was living in Jamaica. People always told me it was too dangerous and warned me never to go there. It is dangerous, that’s true, but it is also full of life and a lot of fun! I have friends who live downtown and work in the market place so I often go visit them. From the very first time I went there I was just captivated by the energy of the place! There is so much going on and I’m a real people watcher so it was the perfect place for me!

Afrobella: Did you get any beauty treatments at the market? Would you? Why or why not?

AAH: Yes, most definitely! I always get my nails done there!! I ask them to paint my own natural nails. I really think it is a great place to go especially if you want a unique look because those women will do any style you want them to do. they are incredibly creative! I love it!

Afrobella: For outsiders to Jamaican or Caribbean culture, the image of this market may seem unhygienic and I’ve been reading some judgment online. As someone who’s filmed and spent time there, what do you think?

AAH: I think it is all relative and a matter of opinion. Of course, if you are looking for a calm beauty experience this might not be your place to go. But honestly, I think it is so much more fun than the uptown airconditioned beauty parlors. Here, you get great treatment and entertainment all at the same time. Its a totally different vybz and I would encourage anyone to go, even if you do not want to get anything done. its just a really fun place to hang out!

Afrobella: What do you want people to learn from or gain from watching your documentary?

AAH: I wanted to show a different side to what films usually portray of downtown kingston. documentaries often show the ghetto communities and focus on the gang violence, crime and poverty. There is not only crime and poverty downtown! there is so much life, love, energy and laughter! I wanted to show that yes, people are struggeling, but they are also going about their day to day business with incredible dignity and pride. and those street side beauticians are so talented and creative- how could I not film them?

Afrobella: What’s next for you – what else are you working on?

AAH: As I said, I will be taking 1 year off before going to grad school. I want to spend some time with the family and also think about what’s important to me. I want to travel in Asia for some months and hopefully i will be able to take a camera with me…! I also love music very much, and writing. Not sure what’s next but life is so exciting and I know that whatever I do it will be a great experience. There is so much to see in this world and so much more to learn!!!

And a final, follow up question…

Afrobella: In light of what’s happening now in Jamaica, what do you think would be happening with the street side salon and the people who work and visit there?

AAH: Of course with the political situation right now the women will not be out on the streets. But at the same time, people need to go on with their lives and they can’t stop earning money. It’s difficult to get info on whats going on right now. I still have friends I havent been able to get in touch with. Let’s just hope and pray for the best!!!!

Anna is absolutely gorgeous, SO talented, and I can’t wait to see what she does next! She shares her own life in this beautiful Self Portrait. Check out her YouTube channel, streetsideprod.

Thank you Anna! I really appreciated your insight, and LOVED your film. I wish you all the best!!

Bellas – what are your thoughts? Would you go get your nails done down Mathews Lane?

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