Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
“We acknowledge receipt of your scripts and/or treatments for the consideration of having your work selected to be produced in time for premiering at the Jamaica Film Festival July 7-11, 2015, in Kingston.”
That’s the beginning of letters received recently by dozens of “emerging, aspiring and established” Jamaican film-makers and screenwriters. Coming from JAMPRO Film Commissioner, Carole Beckford, they were responses to the 54 scripts or treatments (outlines) for documentaries and short films (up to 40 minutes) sent to the agency after a call for submissions some months ago.
The second sentence of the letters, “we congratulate you on your efforts to participate”, hints that not all efforts to participate will reap the success desired. Beckford expects only a handful of the scripts to actually be produced for the film festival.
“Ideally, we’d like to have five to six short films premiered at the festival. If we get enough funding, we’ll try to do more, but I think for a first-time film festival of this calibre to premiere five or six films would be incredible,” she told me.
Beckford said an announcement of the scripts selected will be made soon, “definitely before the end of December”.
Beckford said a major difference between the upcoming film festival and others is that the scripts chosen to be premiered will be developed professionally. “A selected script will be tidied up by a professional and then a director or actor will help the production team to tighten up on that area,” she explained.
Beckford said that while the festival’s final programme has not yet been designed, it will include workshops, with a focus on music, and during the Friday of the event. For example, there may be a workshop on the role of music in films, in addition to other music features.
“A live show will be on, for sure,” she added.
JAMPRO has partnered with Tuff Gong International. “We’ll be celebrating Bob Marley’s 70th year of existence and an exciting competition will be announced the week of his birth. The aim is to select a song, and a video will illustrate the song. Details will be announced in February,” Beckford said.
Beckford told me that the music shows will be held at Emancipation Park, New Kingston. Workshops, a special element of the festival, will be held on the Wednesday and Thursday of festival week. Award winners will be announced on the final day.
The festival organisers are hoping to attract international independent film-makers and distributors who are looking for work with good content, said Beckford. She added that she sees lots of opportunities for screenings of Jamaican material.
“The Caribbean is a big market. Trinidad and Tobago has a film festival. So has the Bahamas, and Jamaican talent is already being used across the region. In fact, we’re a cut above the rest in terms of experience, expertise and skill sets,” Beckford said.
Another attraction that Jamaica possesses is varied scenery. “For any film or commercial that can be produced, Jamaica has a location. And we’re in the middle of the world. It’s easy to get here,” she said. However, she cautioned that Jamaica must have something competitive to offer producers. She was referring to financial incentives like cash rebates.
Staying on money matters, Beckford said the Jamaican film industry can earn millions. “China and India have big ones, so there’s no reason Jamaica can’t carve out a little niche,” she opined. “If we attract two good documentaries every six months, that’s about 14 persons for two weeks each time, each spending on average US$400 a day.
” Feature film people stay here three or four days. Commercials are better for us; they bring their executives. Virgin just shot a commercial here and they had 72 people on set every day for 10 days.”
Selection of scripts for next year’s film festival has been taking place at ‘pitching’ sessions between scriptwriters and a panel of judges, Beckford said. Matters related to production of the selected scripts, including script doctoring, shooting of the films and post-production work will begin in January.
Three days before interviewing Beckford, I had been chatting with a family about pictures of another kind, the ones you hang on walls. At least two of the family members could easily get involved in the film industry.
I was at the Regional Headquarters of the University of the West Indies (UWI) on Mona Road, attending the opening of an exhibition of paintings by siblings Kitwana and Atira Robinson. In addition to them, I spoke to their mother, Denise Francis Robinson, a choreographer, costume designer and artist – three skills she shares with her daughter, Atira – and a former principal dancer with the National Dance Theatre Company.
Like her mother, Atira is a graduate of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (one of the educational institutions Beckford mentioned that could provide training to those interested in the film industry) and a dancer. Atira has been with the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble for some 16 years, she told me, and is now a principal dancer with the company.
“At first, I didn’t think of myself as an artist,” Atira said, “but now it is my life.”
Her brother has an oddly parallel story. With initially no interest in art, Kitwana started his working career as a statistician. However, while pursuing a second degree at the UWI, he developed a chest tumour which, his mother said, almost killed him.
When Kitwana recovered, she continued, all his ability to do statistics had disappeared, so she started teaching him art. (Teaching art is one of her professions.)
“It started out as therapy,” she said, “but by 2012, he had developed enough to exhibit.” As Denise said in her vote of thanks, she has a lot to be thankful for.
Kitwana and Atira’s art work – about 50 pieces in all – is displayed in the Regional Headquarters’ lobby. They are very attractive and well worth a visit.
Published Date: December 19th, 2014
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