HAVANA Marking has made a name for herself with her gritty documentary films shining the spotlight on extraordinary stories.
Her latest offering, which will be screened at the Electric Palace next week on September 4, takes a good hard look at the world’s most successful diamond thieves.
It’s a far cry from her beginnings in West Dorset, when she got her break with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his River Cottage team.
But since those days Havana, whose mother Stacey still lives locally, has garnered awards and critical acclaim for her documentaries – The Crippendales which looked at attitudes to disability and told the story of five disabled men as they became strippers.
Her film Afghan Star, about how a reality TV show based on American Idol, could change a culture where singing in public was a crime.
Now she’s turned to crime.
Her film Smash and Grab, the story of the Pink Panthers, was made with unprecedented access to the real Pink Panthers.
Havana said: “I first read of the Pink Panthers in 2003 when they pulled off their ambitious Bond Street raid.
“It was the British press that labelled them the Panthers after the Met police force recovered a huge diamond in a tub of face cream – a scene reminiscent of the Peter Sellers’ films.
“It was clear that these were organised thieves, part of a much larger group than was previously imagined.
“Notably they were all from Serbia, Montenegro and connected states – many from the same impoverished cities and towns.
“The mythology of the Panthers is informed by the name – they seem from the outside to be exciting and glamorous, slick professionals at ease in Monte Carlo, Paris, Geneva, Tokyo… there are famously ‘no victims’ in a Panther raid, and it can’t be just luck that in over 150 robberies no-one has ever been seriously injured.
“On top of this there is a mythology from the Balkans themselves, that these are gentlemen-crooks of the Robin Hood variety.”
She first met a gang member in 2010.
She added: “I was told to sit alone by a deserted war memorial on the outskirts of Podgorica and an unidentified man would pick me up.
“I wasn’t allowed to take my cell phone in case it was bugged. We went to an exclusive beachside club, and there began my journey.”
Two years later she had met four panthers, a courier and a fence.
“It is nonsense to say that these are Robin Hoods. It is nonsense to say there is no victim.
“While the thieves themselves might be gentlemanly, and they were to me – especially when I became pregnant in the middle of film, the links and networks around them are dark, dangerous and scary.
“I hope my film explains the context, shatters myths and reveals a wider truth: the West has a much bigger role in this than we like to admit.”