The filmmakers’ panel: Dalton Narine, from left, Francesca Hawkins, Francis Escayg, Bruce Paddington, Ida Does and Vero Bollow
Passion. If one word could serve as the keyword for this morning’s filmmakers’ panel at Chaud restaurant in Port of Spain, that would be it. If you’re a filmmaker making independent or non-mainstream films–in Trinidad and Tobago, the wider Caribbean, and really, just about anywhere outside of the major film production areas in the world–you’ve got to have passion for what you do, or the obstacles you will inevitably face will ensure you never get your film made.
That seemed to be the consensus of the five filmmakers on the panel (as well as panel chair Bruce Paddington, TTFF Director) and most, if not all of the audience. Each filmmaker had his or her own horror story to tell of the difficulties in getting their film made, from raising funding for production to being able to market their film effectively to getting a proper distribution deal.
But it wasn’t all gloom and doom. The fact that there was a panel at all (and will be another one next week) is testament to the tenacity and resourcefulness of the filmmakers who were more than willing to share with the audience and each other how they went about getting their films made. They all acknowledged that the process starts with the passion for telling stories; as the Netherlands-based Surinamese documentary filmmaker Ida Does said, “I can only make a film when I sense it very deeply.”
“My passion is to tell our stories,” said Francis Eascayg, writer of the script for the Trinidad and Tobago film The Ghost of Hing King Estate. “If we don’t tell our stories we will lose the essence of our identity.” Vero Bollow expressed a similar sentiment. Her film, The Wind and the Water, was made with the people of the Kuna tribe of Panama. “The Kuna like to tell their own stories,” she said, noting that she worked in such a way that allowed for the Kuna to really make the film, while she and the professional crew essentially only provided technical guidance.
Bollow’s film is perhaps different from those of the other filmmakers who were on the panel in that it was also a development project in aid of the Kuna people, which helped her get access to funding. (When she said this, a member of the audience who works with the Youth Training Centre noted that the boys of the YTC are very interested in making their own film. Perhaps, as I noted in my last post, the model for making The Wind and the Water could work for them.)
Ida Does also had a somewhat different story when it came to getting funding for her film, Trefossa. Working out of the Netherlands, she was able to get a state grant for 100% of the funding. It also helped that her subject is a major national icon in Suriname. And Francesca Hawkins made her film, Sans Souci, as a student project at the Film Programme at the University of the West Indies, which gave her free access to equipment and expertise.
Dalton Narine‘s story, however, was one of an almost constant search for funding over the five-year production period of his film, Mas Man–and the film is still not fully finished. Even though the subject of the film, Peter Minshall, is one of this country’s greatest artists, sourcing local funding proved almost impossible. In the end Narine had to finance much of the film himself. “I emptied out my pension fund,” he admitted.
Francesca Hawkins, who though she is relatively new to filmmaking has worked in the local media for many years, declared, “I wouldn’t be so foolish to look in the Trini market for funding.” She noted that the lack of a large-enough homogeneous audience means that only small, specialised film projects seem to get funding, and that corporate sponsors only want to sponsor projects that will give their products prominence. At this point Bruce Paddington jumped in to “speak a few words in defence of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company,” noting that the Film Company does provide seed funding for film projects, but is unfortunately unable to give more than that. Audience member Chris Meir, lecturer in film at UWI, made the suggestion that one way of securing funding was through co-productions with such entities as the BBC and CBC of Canada.
Vero Bollow also noted that having generous funding to secure proper equipment perhaps wasn’t as important as having the right people working with you: “Much more important than your equipment are the people manipulating that equipment.” At the end of the day, she said, what matters is the film itself, and getting it made. Make it on a cellphone, project it on a piece of paper in a park for the public to see, and you never know what could happen from there–you could start a whole new film movement.
Bollow’s advice might seem naive, or at best wildly optimistic, but is it? The point she makes is that if you wait until you’ve got all the funding you need, you will never get started. Start, and go on from there. But you have to have the passion. If you don’t, you’re doomed before you even begin.