The Reel | Propelling the local film industry
The Jamaican film industry has been experiencing a rapid ebb and flow in recent years and seems poised for a huge wave of possibilities. Over the next six weeks, our new feature, The Reel, will explore the industry, highlight the players and the possibilities of a bona fide film district on the rock.
"This is the beginning of my experience in film. It's huge for me. What they did is validate that I do have what it takes," Kia Moses told The Sunday Gleaner.
The 'they' that Moses speaks of is the JAFTA/PROPELLA Initiative, supported by the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund.
Established in 2016, each year, the programme selects up to five budding film-makers through a film competition. These persons then receive a grant to produce a 10- minute short film during the summer.
In this its third year, those selected, including Moses, were granted J$850,000 and a trip to premiere their films at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, where they got an earful of industry-insider knowledge.
Of 49 submissions this year, the four filmmakers selected were: Mezan Akoya (Lovers), Ina Sotirova (Agwe), and Kaiel Eytle (Safe Harbour).
Moses, who wrote and co-directed her short film called Flight, describes the experience as amazing. "They had a lot of talks on different aspects of the industry - from making a profit to the conceptual side," she reported.
Workshops and panels aside, Moses believes that the most beneficial element was their interaction with filmmakers from other Caribbean islands. "Having the islands come together, watch each other's films and give feedback was amazing because we don't get another platform to network with artists from other islands."
The Film Mecca
As rewarded as Moses feels, many people question the reasons for creating a short film.
Short films can be practice before a filmmaker tries a commercial or feature-length production. It is also a good way to get noticed by industry gatekeepers. Though their audience seems restricted to film festivals short films contribute to national libraries of art and have the potential to generate public interest.
Professional filmmaker Kyle Chin recalled sitting in a large, ornate cinema that can hold approximately 1,500 persons. "It was being filled throughout the day," he said, describing lines bending around corners. He participated in the initiative last year, and their cohort went to the world's short film Mecca: France.
"France is the home of film. That's where it began, and to go there and see that strong film culture, to see what an actual film market looks like and seeing how it's done and how it operates - it was really impactful. It was eye-opening," Chin said.
While there, the cohort attended the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival - the largest of its kind in the world. "Just the exposure to the library of films was incredible," he reminisced. Reflecting on the waves of patrons flooding the French cinema, Chin lauded the initiative as helping to increase the local library of well-made, local short films.
Last year, Chin was able to direct his short film - Mango Wars. The other JAFTA/PROPELLA 2017 short films and their makers are Code by Sarah Manley; Fever Dream by Nile Saulter; One Patty by Gay Magnus, and This City of Mine by Danielle Russell.
Among the first five recipients was Kurt Wright. His cohort also travelled to the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival in 2016. However, for this career filmmaker, he was most pleased to be able to bring an idea to life. "With our film, it's very out there. It involves sci-fi elements, special effects, time travel. And it would still be an idea if not for JAFTA/PROPELLA," Wright said.
"I got something off the ground that wouldn't be possible otherwise ... without putting a dent in my bank account."
Another perk for Wright was the opportunity to see the creative side of his colleagues.
"All the people from my year were from the industry but normally focus on music video or commercial work. It was awesome to be able to see because none of us had ever seen what each other was capable of," he shared. Before production, these five vowed to keep secret their film plots so that during their premieres, they all could watch as fans.
The films in Wright's cohort were Shock Value by Adrian Lopez; Shoot the Girl by Tony 'Paleface' Hendricks and Natalie Thompson; Sugar by Laurie Parker, Sharon Leach, and Michelle Serieux; and The Silent Ones by Gregory Lopez and Janet Morrison. Alongside co-writer Noelle Kerr, Wright presented Origins - a story fantasising Jamaican iconic figures - making superheroes and villains jump right out of the history books.
This year's cohort of JAFTA/PROPELLA will have their first public local premiere screening at the Cinema Paradise Portie Film Festival this year.