Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Indigenous Jamaica feature film production struggling

Published:Sunday | October 16, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Director and producer, Lennie Little-White (left) and actress Leonie Forbes
On the set of 'It's a Family Affair'
Ity and Paleface
Dahlia Harris in her dancehall outfit
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When the movie - It's a Family Affair, has its world preview later this month, its completion would have been achieved against all odds.

Local film producers and directors unabashedly admit having to resorted to relatives and friends for financial support and intellectual encouragement to help energise the indigenous Jamaican feature film.

"To bring this movie to the screen, I got tangible support from Melia Beach Village, Jamaica National Building Society, FLOW, Juici Patties, Grace and Red Stripe. Others rejected me outright, which was very surprising," said Lennie Little-White, executive producer, writer and director of, It's a Family Affair.

Little-White says that the film's plot highlights a family reunion from the diaspora, namely England and the United States. Despite this, a Jamaica Tourist Board senior executive, told him that there was nothing to be gained from supporting a Jamaican movie about a family reunion at a world class local hotel.

"It was our intention to have the families visit Dunn's River Falls, Dolphin Cove, Mystic Mountain and Good Hope Greathouse. Naturally, we dropped all those attractions," he tells The Sunday Gleaner.

Arguably the grandfather of Jamaica's film industry, Little-White is convinced, these are among the reasons there are so few indigenous Jamaican feature films.

He argues that despite the ready availability of equipment and well-trained personnel, very few indigenous feature film productions take place in Jamaica.

"This is largely due to the lack of financing for movies."

To make matters worse, four years ago, the then government yielded to IMF pressure and eliminated all incentives for local film production.

In fact, few indigenous feature films have been done, research has shown.

The big exceptions are Destiny, which director Jeremy Whittaker said was financed two years after he worked tirelessly to get funding; and Ghett'a-Life, directed by Chris Browne and financed by local investors.

 

Expensive art form

 

"It is a very expensive art form, so it is difficult to get funding. Persons are reluctant to invest because it is a business operating in a slow economy," stated Whittaker, adding that the filming industry, which has a strong track record, was relatively small.

Whittaker, like most persons, sees tremendous potential for growth of the industry, not just Jamaica, but the Caribbean.

"After 30 to 40 years, the indigenous industry remains in an embryonic stage," lamented Whittaker, even while ensuring not to blame any one.

"There is no blame game, it is the Jamaican economy, one that has not seen tremendous growth," he noted.

Whittaker, who says he has a few projects in the pipeline, added that he really believe in the indigenous industry, because Jamaica has a lot of stories that can be told.

Currently, there are two new features in production directed by Jamaicans. Sprinter, directed by Storm Saulter is now in production ,with

generous financing coming from overseas. Contrast this with It's a Family Affair ó a truly indigenous feature film with a Jamaican story, Jamaican actors and crew and all-Jamaican post-production.

It's a Family Affair is the latest feature film from Little-White, who previously directed, Glory to Gloriana in 2006 and Children of Babylon, in 1980.

The director/producer said it took him this long to do another film of this nature because of the lack of financing to produce the traditional Hollywood type movies which Jamaican filmmakers have aped.

Little-White goes even further, pointing out that despite the rogue international success of Perry Henzell's movie, The Harder They Come, Jamaican filmmakers have not followed Henzell's footsteps, but have tried to duplicate Hollywood style movies with peppercorn budgets.

"To name a few, we had Trevor Rhone's Smile Orange; Chris Browne's Third World Cop; Dicky Jobson's Countryman; Storm Saulter's Better Must Come and Little-White's two features.

Other features have been done locally by foreign directors including, The Lunatic, Dancehall Queen, One Love and most recently, King of the Dancehall. They all featured Jamaican actors, but lacked the element that gives film its authorship ó indigenous, "born-a-yard" directors.

With the struggles finding funding, The Sunday Gleaner asked Little-White what prompted, It's A Family Affair, and his retort was, "Reality check".

Impractical

He said it was impractical to continue to imitate the Hollywood prototype with "empty-pocket" budgets. In today's film world, marketing and promotion can equal or exceed production budgets. With no more incentives to entice local investors, the Jamaican indigenous feature film could be hearing its death knell.

Little-White is not ready to give up his dream of Jamaican features, so he decided to learn from African directors who have made Nollywood a reality.

Watching the Nigerians closely, he said the first thing he learnt was to keep it simple.

"Simple stories with good lead actors; few locations and limited days in field production. At all costs, do not exceed a budget which cannot be recouped at the box office locally."

This is the model Little-White used to produce It's a Family Affair utilising only seven major actors, shooting over six days, and completing post in six weeks. The purists said it was an impossible dream and he could not make it happen with a "bruk-pocket" budget.

Come October 25, the public can make their own judgement, when the film opens at the Palace Multiplex Cineplex, at a special fundraiser for the Jamaica Cancer Society.

As usual, Little-White says he is not sitting on his laurels waiting for handouts for the next feature film.

With a working title of, I'm Not Dead Yet, the next feature should be ready for the screens by mid-2017, and a third movie expected to be shot before the end of 2017. This ambition will only become a reality if the first movie is profitable, he said, being cautiously optimistic.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com