Regional film unity urged
During the recent Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) conference in New Orleans, USA, Dr Keith Nurse made a case for a collective approach to the distribution of films from the region. Nurse, who chairs CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution (CTWD), shared a panel with the co-founder of Banyan Limited, Christopher Laird; Nicole Brooks hosting the event.
Nurse described a general go-it-alone approach across the arts in the Caribbean, including in music, book publishing and the visual arts, then dismissed it categorically. "This strategy does not work, it will not work. You have some exceptions like the Rihanna exception and the Bob Marley exception - which is an exception within an exception," Nurse said.
Having heard famed songwriting team Gamble and Huff say, if they knew at the outset what they learnt later, that they would not set up only a production company, but also a distribution company, Nurse said, "that is when it hit me."
"This framework (go-it-alone) has outlived its usefulness," he said. "The alternative is the Joined Up Approach." In this context, plus the explosion of platforms such as Pandora, Spotify and iTunes with their need for content (the conference took place before Apple's recently announced streaming initiative), Nurse said, "what we have been doing at CaribbeanTales is aggregating content."
"The race is on for content. What we are aiming to do is to position Caribbean content to be available to global platforms and also establish our own networks. So when we are negotiating with the big guys, we are negotiating from a position of strength and not weakness," Nurse said.
With Nicole Brooks of CaribbeanTales hosting the session, it was made clear that CTWD is into partnership with the film-maker, but aims for the mass effect as well.
On the content side, Laird gave an extensive history of Banyan and demonstrated its catalogue by taking suggestions from audience members and searching the Banyan archive in real time to see what material was there on the person.
The archive is extensive, as Banyan was started in the mid-1970s. "We have been working to create Caribbean content, so we see the world through our own eyes," Laird said. In that ongoing effort, Banyan has more than 400 TV programmes, Laird naming persons like CLR James and Aime Cesaire among those Banyan has material on.
In a brief example, he showed material from Maurice Bishop's funeral, noting that text alone would not have given the atmosphere that the audiovisual does. Among other advantages, Laird said, "video is very good with dance." When choreographers wish to recreate a dance that was staged some time before, they would have a video to refer to instead of relying on the memory of someone who was involved. Reinforcing the depth of Banyan's archive, Laird showed an image of Machel Montano at 11 years old.
Footage of St George's before and after Hurricane Ivan was especially effective.
"It is all now digitised and available," Laird said about Banyan's archives.