Negril, the next big thing in film?
The legendary Negril Beach is being eyed for a full-fledged film festival, spawned by the success of last weekend’s Skylarks Film Nights, which featured eight Jamaican short and full-length films, including Sprinter, which was produced by Negril native Storm Saulter.
Skylarks Film Nights, staged for the second year in a row, was curated by renowned Jamaican film-maker Gareth Corban and held at the Skylark Resort in Negril.
According to him, the capital of casual has the potential to become a giant among other film festival destinations, due to a large global film following, the town’s uniqueness and appeal, and worldwide interest in Jamaica’s culture.
“So when you have festivals, you have people who are submitting films for festivals and you have viewers. And, if we get on that circuit of festivals, we can become a spot for people to come … As a location, Negril has an enchanting and magical feeling that you can’t deny,” Corban said.
He explained that festivals are not only about the films, but it is also about the locations – many exotic, where you can view films, while tasting the culture. “Our culture is so massive it spills over to the rest of the world. So it’s a no-brainer that people would want to come here and appreciate our culture on screen. We do it with reggae and dancehall and people come for it.”
The same can be done with films, he argued.
Cobran envisions the event growing to the extent that other filmmakers from the Caribbean, even the Far-Eastern countries such as Japan, which have embraced Jamaican culture, would be able to screen their films in Negril. The allure of Negril, he said, would not only attract film tourists, but also investors who are looking for films to endorse; films to put out; new kinds of films to invest in.
“For me, there are so many things that have happened on this strip of white sand beach, different kinds of events, and it’s all because of the space; the magic of the space. And cinema in itself is magic. So, marrying the two, I don’t see where we can lose,” he said with conviction.
Cobran, who studied film at the University of Central England, Birmingham Institute of Arts and Design, has produced music videos for artistes such as Busy Signal, Konshens, Elephant Man and Tarrus Riley. He has worked for corporate entities such as Digicel, Red Stripe, NCB and GraceKennedy, in addition to numerous documentaries.
Saulter is also of the view that his hometown can become the next big thing as a film festival destination. The Manning’s High School old boy said he and some of his compatriots had staged the Flashpoint Film Festival on Negril’s West End in the early 2000s, and was happy something greater was in the making.
“I grew up in Negril, on this beach running around,” the Los Angeles Film School-trained film-maker said. I grew up here and I know that this is a place that creative people love to come to. So I think it is a great idea,” he said.
He believes the industry is making some headway as the global taste for films outside of Hollywood is growing exponentially.
“It’s a good time for film-makers. It’s like sup’m a gwaan; you can feel it in the air. I think cinema in Jamaica and across the Caribbean is the freshest being made in the world, and I think what’s exciting about it, it’s young with a lot of room to experiment and grow. One time, it was just Hollywood movies, but now the audience wants way more diversity, way more stories and characters, and to see themselves more broadly, so that’s a very great place to be in for Jamaican film-makers,” he said.
“They are very open to our stories and, also, the Caribbean has a pretty unique history; we are global people. I think anything that is made here is as relevant as anything else,” he added.
Studies have shown that the number of film festivals being staged across the world is growing rapidly, providing tourism dollars to the towns in which the festivals are held.
Film festivals have been credited with creating links between tourists and their host communities, and also providing future tourism development opportunities in those areas. This fact has not been lost on hotelier and operator of Skylark Resort, Paul Salmon, who jumped at the idea of a film event after Corban broached the subject. For Salmon, initially the film night was a way to get guests of one of Negril’s newest resorts to immerse themselves in the culture to have an authentic Jamaican experience.
“We are looking forward to next year and are brainstorming ways to grow it into a fully fledged festival,” he said.