Attendees at the Commonwealth Foundation panel included (front row): Jen Sobol, programme officer of the CF; Tony Hall, filmmaker; Abigail Hadeed, photographer; (second row from right): Marina Salandy Brown, Executive Director of the ttff and Francesca Hawkins, producer of The Siege and director ofSans Souci
Today was a busy day for us at the trinidad+tobago film festival so I’m cutting the preamble and getting right into things. First on our Republic Day agenda was a panel sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation on the future of co-productions in the Caribbean. When one plans a workshop that starts at 9 in the morning of a public holiday, one tends to brace for a few empty chairs. And at first it looked like that would be the case, until the trickle of coffee-clutching people grew to a steady flow and the all the seats were taken as people waited to hear from the panelists.
According to text from the CF website:The panel will see experts from film and creative industries debate with audiences at the festival about how co-production agreements and the cultural protocol of the regional Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and Caribbean states can be used in practice, and what their limitations are . . . “Co-productions and other policy instruments in the audio-visual industry have the potential to bring about important benefits. However, filmmakers have yet to see any of the promised results,” comments Jen Sobol, Programme Officer from the Commonwealth Foundation. “Even with new agreements in place, such as the UK/Jamaica treaty, there has been little tangible benefit to date for practitioners. This panel is a chance for individuals from government, civil society and practitioners to come together and discuss why this is, and how these tools can be better harnessed. “
There is no way I can do justice to everything that was said at the panel (nor do I wish to spend the rest of the night deciphering 15 pages of my hastily scribbled notes) so what what you have below are quotes or salient points raised by each of our speakers.
Keron Niles. We need to find a way to ensure that there is digitization of our audio visual footage. [this comment made in reference to a horror story he told about a TV station taping over archival footage].
Even with a 80/20 ration of a supporting organisation or company, there has to be a way to raise that 20% at home. There are laws in place but what we need is to find a way forward.
Bruce Paddington. I would argue that we shouldn’t rely heavily on formal co-productions when there are so many informal arrangements, which are very important. Take, for example, the film festival–we are a co-production, this year we have an informal arrangement with the Commonwealth Foundation and BFM. [Referring to films made with informal arrangements]: These types of arrangements seem to work and should not be overlooked. Yes, there are advantages to a formal arrangement: we get to access funding from developed nations and there is wider distribution but the disadvantage is that, inevitably, we end up having to make compromises as authorship is in question when someone is paying for most of the cost of making your film. Then, what you end up with is a film like One Love, which isn’t a true representation of the Caribbean.
Mariel Brown [from the audience]. One of the questions is: Can we negotiate a fairer deal? For example, if the CF funds a series then there should be arrangement whereby each episode is broadcast in each country of the Commonwealth. Distribution is a major challenge for us but what would happen if the 50 countries in the Commonwealth pooled their resources?
Nadia Benton. Yes, there are grants and such available to filmmakers but some of them remain unaware of this information. Additionally, there is a lot of bureaucracy involved in the process of filling out documents, etc. Filmmakers are creative people not bureaucrats so the process of applying for grants and such needs to be amended so that it can support getting work out. Filmmakers need to be made aware of the various festivals and the opportunities available to them. Institutions need to act as conduits as institutions carry more weight than an individual filmmaker. It’s not that filmmakers are illiterate and can’t fill out forms, it’s just that those forms are thick with trade language.
Tony Hall. Our home market is so small that we have to think about how we can maximise our local gains. I’m thinking of forming a citizen company to fund my films, you know, granny could give $100. It’s a foot soldiery job but I think it could work. But I refuse to compromise on my films, and I won’t be told what kind of film I should make or how people should talk in them. What people respond to isn’t the words being said on screen per se, but the emotional interaction between human beings. I intend to make a movie that’s so Trini that only people from a certain street in Trinidad would understand a particular reference.
Lincoln Price. Funding a film is a costly venture so what is the golden egg we’re offering to local companies and oragnisations to fund our films? Tax breaks? They’re not even offered in our own communities. We’ve settled our affairs outside and we’ve managed to secure certain arrangements but our domestic affairs are suffering–we haven’t dealt with what we have to deal with. It’s like attending to a stranger in your bedroom while you ignore your spouse. There needs to be an indigenous demand for our product but it seems a difficult task to convince people that our stories are worth telling.
Clyde McKenzie. We have to change the paradigm. We have to be creative and hound financial institutions and government to talk a more creative approach. We need our own. One solution is that the government could float a regional cultural fund. People could then invest funds that will be used for the cultural industry. At the CARICOM level there is information set up, but we need to revisit it. We need to create opportunities.
Carla Foderingham. We are not seeing enough of our own local content. We need to look at where we are strong. We need organisation and advocacy. In 1999 the TTFC set up a film desk and developed a strat plan that needs to be refreshed. But, since that time, we have brought in $32 – $34 million from location shoots, with the employment of some 3,000 local crew, but we seek to improve that. We need to adopt practices that make an impact and we need to use our cultural difference as a source of strength. We face a challenge with money and with fragmentation of the region and we struggle with questions of direction. We seem unwilling to support our local brand. Why?
–end of notes
I would like to note that the trinidad+tobago film festival documented the discussion on video and we’d like to find a way to transcribe this and other discussions sometime in the not-too-distant future so that they are readily available to those interested in accessing our growing archive.
A packed house takes in the panel at the Hotel Normandie
Keron Niles during his slideshow presentation
Carla Foderingham talks about TTFC’s initiatives
Jamaican producer Clyde McKenzie addresses issues of ownership
Filmmaker Mariel Brown has a word with ttff founding director, Bruce Paddington. BFM’s Nadia Denton is in the background