Identifying the potential of the Caribbean film industry
Alexander Younis, co-founder of Bahamian production company - the Best Ever Film, believes that interest in the culture of the Caribbean islands, has grown far beyond utilising the region’s music on a soundtrack, or showing a character vacationing on a white sand beach. He noted that it has moved on to social issues as portrayed in his award-winnng film Cargo, which premiered at Carib Cinema, two years after its release.
His remarks were made at the Caribbean Movie Forum Panel Discussion on Tuesday, on the challenges of the film industry in relation to the company’s own journey in creating Cargo, focusing on human trafficking. Younis, who is originally from Austria, made what he considers one of the best decisions of his life to settle in The Bahamas over five years ago. He said the audience determines what is produced or sustainable. “People vet content based on where it is from, not the actual story of the place, its people, and even its landmarks,” Younis said.
He added: “The issue I face when I moved to the Caribbean is the competition, and it might seem like a long shot to identify those audiences with the help of various government authorities who lay the ground work for all creative industries to hear and see the needs, interest and translate to people, not just as The Bahamas, Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago but as a single body.”
Programme coordinator of the bachelor of film arts in film production, Rae-Ann Smith, who was also on the panel, said that the priority is creating film-makers, not an individual that is just making a film. “My first responsibility is teaching some of the up-and-coming filmmakers of the Caribbean, is to look out for the message and what they are doing in film.”
She noted that the topic of human trafficking as it relates to the Caribbean presents many relevant stories. “It does not make sense putting out a statement yet have nothing to say, meaning, it has to be able to create a powerful impact on the audience. And I believe our region has so many stories from folklore, relationships, culture et cetera that need to be told – that are yet to be told.”
Cargo boasts a diverse collection of Caribbean talents, including Jamaican Sky Nicole Grey to Haitians Jimmy Jean-Louis and Gessica Geneus.
“There is an even wider list of names, from actors to film-makers, that have the ability to shake up the industry, but it is a scary time for them with changes in technology and the availability of platforms like Netflix and mobile pocket devices, so small, that can record, edit and eventually produce an entire movie”, Smith said.
Actors Grey and Jean-Louis believe that self-identity of the Caribbean natives is the precious “cargo” that is being carried by the world’s growing interest in the culture.
“We have to understand what’s causing the division between the nations whether it stems from racial or the cultural perspectives. By recognising the origin of that separation, the opportunity to develop an understanding can be formed and by that, growth can happen,” said Jean-Louis.
Need for festivals
Director Kareem Mortimer co-founder of Best Ever Film, notes that “Major events, including film festivals, need to be a staple within the region, and it was that environment in which we (the cast and crew) all met.
To be specific - at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival in 2013. There began a lot of the relationships built throughout my career, including meeting Jamaica’s Nile and Storm Saulter.”
The director/screenwriter said, “There is something special about communication; that is, to do our part as individuals that identify as Caribbean, to talk and share with each other in such a way where it will benefit the portrayal of our projects and films, and to introduce them to the respective world audiences.”
The Kingston premier followed a series of sold-out gala events staged in Nassau, Miami and Atlanta, that enjoyed enthusiastic responses. The proceeds from the film throughout its Caribbean release will be donated to Hollywood Unites for Haiti, a non profit organisation founded by Jimmy Jean Louis, to promote sports and cultural activities for underprivileged youth in Haiti.
“It does not make sense putting out a statement yet have nothing to say, meaning, it has to be able to create a powerful impact on the audience, and I believe our region has so many stories from folklore, relationships, culture et cetera that need to be told – that are yet to be told.”