Last year we began a series on this site called Filmmakers in Focus, interviews with Caribbean filmmakers about their current work and upcoming projects. In the latest instalment we talk with T&T filmmaker Ryan Khan. Khan is the director of three short films—one of which, The Midnite Affair, was part of the portmanteau film Dark Tales from Paradise, which opened the ttff/10—and several music videos, commercials and animations. Last year, at the ttff/12, he won a pitch prize sponsored by the Tribeca Film Institute and WorldView for his first feature-film project, a political satire called Crabs in a Barrel.
Earlier this month Khan, formerly the ttff’s Technical Operations Manager, attended the prestigious Berlinale Talent Campus, a training initiative run by the Berlin International Film Festival, one of the world’s top festivals. Here he talks about this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What is the Talent Campus?
The Berlinale Talent Campus is an annual six-day event that takes place during the Berlin International Film Festival. Its purpose is to bring filmmakers from all over the world together to network, learn about current filmmaking trends and views, partake in workshops, brainstorm about projects they are currently working on or have plans to make in the future, hang out, party and of course watch outstanding films being shown at the Berlinale.
How did you first hear about the Talent Campus, and what was the process for getting in?
I Googled it…I know, pretty straightforward, right? But I wasn’t searching for the Berlinale Talent Campus specifically, I was searching for a range of talent campuses, labs and incubators. It’s popular. It was like the third or fourth link down the page. Other factors made me focus on it more, like a friend from Germany recommending it and also a filmmaker friend who attended it already. The application process is standard procedure. You have to submit a demo reel of your work, background information and a couple paragraphs on your vision and intent as a filmmaker. They have a very good website where you can upload all the necessary materials to one place.
How many other filmmakers attended the Talent Campus, and from how many countries?
In the end, they accepted 300 individuals from 96 countries out of about 4400 applications from 137 countries.
What was the schedule?
The campus was six days of workshops, seminars and speed-meeting (like speed dating for work professionals), to name a few things. The schedule was very intense, with no possible way of attending all the available events because they overlapped in a lot of instances. For example, you would have to choose between a seminar by a renowned filmmaker or a workshop on cutting-edge film technology, and both are equally good. The great thing is the Talent Campus does record all of its events and puts them online so you can still catch whatever workshop or seminar you missed, but it’s not the same as being there. It takes out that being-present-in-the-moment aspect of the Talent Campus, where you could meet someone interested in you or your project at a particular event.
Who were some of the filmmakers and other film industry experts who were there?
Too many to highlight! [Talent Campus guests included Hollywood/Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, New Zealand director Jane Campion and British filmmaker Ken Loach.]
What did you find most interesting or helpful about the Talent Campus?
I found the most interesting aspect of the Talent Campus to be the student filmmakers themselves. There was such a wide and diverse selection of people from different cultures yet I felt no “lost in translation” moments. Two filmmakers I met in particular showed the power of art bringing people together. One was from Israel and the other was a Palestinian from Jordan—but in the Talent Campus they were just filmmakers, and they talked with each other and made jokes. Now it’s not all fun and games at the Talent Campus—there were filmmakers there with a serious message—but in this place you felt a sense of security and freedom to discuss matters close to your heart and thoughts, without judgement. The Talent Campus staff were most helpful. From Matthijs, the Talent Campus programme manager, all the way down to the guy opening the door for you just to enter the seminar, they were all warm and friendly and made the experience way better.
How important do you think it is for Caribbean filmmakers to seek out and take advantage of opportunities such as the Talent Campus?
Very important, especially now. As pointed out by [international film journalist and ttff/12 guest] Sydney Levine, the film industry is at a turning point and the current distribution market is in a state of uncertainty because of the Internet and current technologies such as video on demand and with new resolution formats such as 8K on the horizon. The great news is when they figure it out in about the next five years, we, the current filmmakers, will be the ones to benefit. Now is the time for Caribbean filmmakers to take part in these global dialogues about the latest filmmaking trends that are being held at events such as the Berlinale Talent Campus. This is the starting ground where we can stake our claim in the market, and on the global perception of ourselves and our culture. All you need to do is show up!
Having been exposed—even if for just a short time—to other filmmakers and films from around the world, how do you see the Caribbean film industry in terms of where it is and where it has to go?
That’s a good question but one that I don’t see a simple answer to. I mean certain points are clear, we lack content compared to other established and even emerging markets and our quality of work is still behind, but what was once a huge gap is now becoming marginal. Judging from where the current market is I personally feel that the only way for Caribbean films to make it into the world forum is through self-distribution, at first. Then when money is being made, then you will find a market being grown. Otherwise a Caribbean filmmaker has to make co-produced work so that they can tie their films to another already established market. This is based on the current way of distribution, but as I mentioned before the market is going through a change and this is a very important time for Caribbean Filmmakers to step up and be a part of that change. Whatever it may be.
What’s next for you?
Produce more work! As much as I can, music videos, short films, feature films. Also, teach some classes, maybe hold a small talk on my Talent Campus experience. Basically, continue to contribute to the development of T&T/Caribbean cinema in whatever way I can. I’m also exploring some opportunities in Europe but we’ll see how that goes.