Earlier today, the trinidad+tobago film festival hosted the first of two free filmmakers’ panels at our sponsor hotel, The Carlton Savannah. Admittedly, we were a bit apprehensive that no one would turn up – scheduling anything at ten in the morning of a public holiday is often a risky venture. Thankfully, quite a few film-interested people were present to hear local and visiting filmmakers talk about their experiences.
Moderated by ttff creative director, Emilie Upczak, the panel consisted of Ciro Guerra (Colombia, The Wind Journeys), Ryan Khan (TT, The Midnite Affair), Miquel Galofré (Spain, Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?), Kareem Mortimer (The Bahamas, Children of God), Adam Taub (USA, The Duke of Bachata), Marc Barrat (French Guiana, Orpailleur), Tracy Assing (TT, The Amerindians), and Haik Gazarian (Venezuela, Venezzia).
After introductions had been made, the filmmakers – whose films in the ttff/10 range from documentaries to dramatic features – gave some insight into why they chose to tell their particular stories. For Mortimer, his film is a way of making a contribution towards the dialogue of homophobia in The Bahamas; for Assing, hers is an attempt to unravel the mystery of her own identity and to tell an ongoing and evolving story, and for Galofré, his film is an exploration as to how a group of six or so athletes have made such a small country feel tremendous pride.
Up next was the question of funding – how had these filmmakers raised the money to make their films? Barrat spoke of funding from French government channels. Gazarian mentioned that he started off with the idea for the story and then pulled together a group of his friends – passionate people who wanted to see the project developed and the story told. This group of people pooled resources and, once the script had been developed, Gazarian submitted it for a grant, which he won. Going a bit further, Gazarian said, “Every film festival is extremely important: small, medium, large, if you are a filmmaker, it’s important to have your work get out there. The trinidad+tobago film festival is a unique festival; there’s no other like it that focuses on the stories of people from the region.”
Khan spoke about the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company’s equity funding programme whereby he and three other filmmakers were given a relatively small amount of money to make three films, which they did to the best of their ability given the budgetary limitations. “The TTFC expects an exact return on what they’ve invested, so nothing is really guaranteed,” he said. However, filmmakers own a percentage of their films and if the film doesn’t recoup the cost of making it, they are not indebted to pay back the money.
After funding came the question of distribution. Here, Taub perhaps wins the prize for guerilla marketing of his own film – he did a series of East- and West-Coast driving trips where he would contact Latin American organizations, or go to various music festivals, set up a portable screen, and show his bachata documentary. Out of his efforts came distribution through companies such as Best Buy, who sell his film packaged with music. He then receives a percentage of the sales.
Mortimer is set to have a small theatrical release in January in the US, and his film has been sold internationally in the US, UK, France, Belgium, and Germany. “I made the first two sales. It’s a hustle,” he says, but, two months ago, Wide Management took on the film so he no longer has to deal with sales. In Guerra’s case, once his film was selected for the Cannes Film Festival, it was bought by Wild Bunch management. Since then, it has been sold in 17 countries – US, Mexico, Argentina, Denmark, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand, to name a few. When it comes to distribution, “leave it to professionals,” he suggests.
Gazarian then spoke about the need for us to be ourselves and to tell stories that are from us. “Sometimes when you’re living in a country you don’t realize the highlights,” he says. Every place is unique; one way or another it’s good to add some of that place to your films. The more true you are to telling your stories, the more success you’ll have for that film to get picked up or noticed.”
Equipment and crew was the last issue tackled; with a wide range of answers across the panel. According to Gazarian, “technology is working to our advantage these days but first you need to tell the story.” Assing spoke about difficulties with format; of PAL vs NTSC. Barrat favoured Super 35 for his film because it lent itself well to the beauty of the region he was highlighting and the fact that he only used natural light. Taub was his only crew and he shot on mini DV, standard definition, which suited his film. He also did all his sound work. Mortimer shot on The Red One Camera with a crew of over 30. Galofré rented a camera in Jamaica and had a crew of three and acknowledged that there were places he couldn’t have gone with a bigger camera or more crew members. Khan shot on HD and also did some of the editing.
With a crew of 50, Guerra shot on Super 35, which, like Barrat, was the right choice for the look and feel of the film he had envisioned. “Digital will never be film, it will never look like film,” he said. “They are completely different; it’s like oil painting versus watercolour. My first film was a black-and-white urban story so I used digital. You need to sense what is right for the story you’re telling. In whatever you do, your decision should be artistic versus economic.”
The second filmmakers’ panel takes place Friday, October 01 at 10am at The Carlton Savannah. Admission is free and all are welcome. View list of participants here.