Born and raised in New York City, Stefon Bristol remembers not seeing west Indian people portrayed in the media.
“Growing up in Coney Island and being of Guyanese descent, I used to see Caribbean people all through Flatbush and never saw them in film,” Bristol said. “I thought it was a real disservice to New York to not show Caribbean people in movies.”
So Bristol decided to take matters into his own hands.
While studying for his master’s in fine arts at the NYU Film School, Bristol co-wrote and directed “See You Yesterday” as his master’s thesis. The short follows the story of C.J. Walker and Sebastian Thomas, two teenage Guyanese boys living in New York City. Both brilliantly gifted in science, the two build a makeshift time machine to go save C.J.’s brother Calvin, who was wrongfully killed by a police officer.
For Bristol, one of the key things that was important for him to portray in the characters was their interest in science.
“When you see young black youth in film or TV, they have to be hoodlums or violent. They’re never seen doing their thing,” Bristol said. “Growing up in the hood, I got picked on for not wearing name-brand clothes. I don’t listen to hip-hop all the time. I never wanted to be a basketball player or a rapper. It was important for the characters to have an interest in science.”
While he was making the short, renowned director and producer Spike Lee saw Bristol’s work and decided to fund the project.
“Spike saw it and gave me a grant for it,” Bristol said. “Later, when he saw the finalized version, he gave me another grant.”
“See You Yesterday” was entered in festivals, earning accolades as a finalist of the HBO Short Film Competition (American Black Film Festival) and winning the Best of the Festival (Hip-Hop Film Festival) and HBO Short Film Competition (Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival).
The short “See You Yesterday” is currently streaming on HBO and HBO Now and is set to be adapted into a feature-length film, with Spike Lee signed on as an executive producer.
“I remember it was three days before Christmas when I got an email from Spike,” recalled Bristol. “He asked me if I wanted him to be my producer for a full-length film. After I read that, I jumped up and screamed.”
This is not Bristol’s first encounter with Lee. For the past eight years, Bristol describes Lee as his mentor in his journey as a director and filmmaker. During his time at NYU, Bristol attended Lee’s lectures and classes, and took his mentorship to heart.
“[Lee] has taught me, lectured me, yelled at me,” Bristol said with a chuckle.
While studying for his undergrad degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia (“The greatest college EVER, and you can quote me on that!” said Bristol, laughing), Bristol tried to intern with Lee at his Brooklyn office.
“I asked him three times for an internship,” Bristol said. “When he finally gave me an internship, I lived out on Long Island and commuted into Brooklyn five days a week for no pay and worked on weekends. I never had a day off.”
According to Bristol, the plan was always to make “See You Yesterday” into a feature-length film while he was at NYU. However, some sound advice led him to release this story as a short.
“The professors at NYU said I wasn’t ready to make a feature film,” Bristol said. “They said I should make it as a short, as a proof of concept. I’m glad I listened; I still have a lot to learn. But I knew I could pull it off.”
After many re-writes with his co-writer, Fredrica Bailey, Bristol is currently casting for roles for the feature film version and plans to start filming this summer, with Queens and Brooklyn as the story’s backdrop.
“I couldn’t imagine not using the city as the setting,” Bristol said.
Bristol is specifically looking to fill the roles of grandparents with West Indian actors.
“When I think of west Indian people, its always elderly people chiming in to make sure people do the right thing,” Bristol said. “That’s what I want to capture when casting the grandparents, like when I would get godly advice from my own grandmother.”
The “See You Yesterday” short is currently streaming on HBO Now. For more information about Bristol and “See You Yesterday,” visit stefonbristol.com.