Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
One of Jamaica's most prolific filmmakers, Lennie Little-White, has called the country's film industry a one-night stand.
"There is no long-term planning, with an umbrella perspective. No parallel consciousness to think long term," Little-White told The Sunday Gleaner in a no-holds-barred interview last Tuesday night.
His comments come in the wake of intense criticism that various governments continue to give the creative industries, "lip service", heightened by the recent opening of the US$1.3-million movie, Home Again, a Jamaican story which the country lost to Trinidad as a location.
Viewers will be amazed to hear Trinidadians attempting Jamaican accents to complement the Jamaicans who were flown into Port of Spain to help simulate the experience.
"Someone comes in and spends some money in three weeks and then they are gone - there is no residual effect that benefits the Jamaican film community. The whole emphasis is reporting on the amount of foreign money made for the year. The film industry in Jamaica is like a one-night stand. We are not thinking like Mexico, Australia and Canada that developed a vibrant film/television industry," bemoaned Little-White, who returned to Jamaica 40 years ago to start his Mediamix Productions.
Mediamix has under its belt, productions such as Royal Palm Estate-cum-The Blackburns of Royal Palm Estate plus the full-length movies, Children of Babylon and Glory to Gloriana.
According to Little-White, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga understood the creative industries and was always out in the open celebrating Jamaica's indigenous culture and folk forms.
"He has an appreciation that the creative industries can be a change agent especially as it relates to the poor. Seaga had a vision for the arts to take pride of place in our social and economic landscape."
The filmmaker is of the opinion that if the creative industries were treated like tourism is treated, the net benefit would probably be greater than what the country now gets from the number-one foreign exchange earner.
"In the same way we want to cultivate fish for export, we should be exporting our creative industries tenfold above what it is now," he added.
Little-White's comments have been endorsed by over 60 members of the Jamaican film industry, who in a six-minute hi-definition documentary tagged Beyond the Lens - Lost Opportunities, have bemoaned the death of the film industry.
The film, which is scheduled to be released on the Internet tomorrow, is a cry from the heart of the Jamaican film community, which has seen its film-making moving more and more to the periphery of the mainstream psyche.
They are now in survival mode, waiting for a life-jacket to be thrown their way before the final tsunami.
The familiar faces making the call include, Chappy St Juste, the godfather of Jamaican cinematography; Leonie Forbes, the doyen of the acting community; second generation film-maker Chris Browne; the new blood of actors such as Kadeem Wilson; producers Natalie Thompson and Sarah Manley. The creative team behind the production is made up of Kurt Wright and Noelle Kerr.
Wright, who has become one of the most sought-after assistant directors in Jamaica's commercial and music video industry, says the country has lost approximately 10 to 12 films valued at US$801 million ($80.1 billion) as a result of the absence of incentives or violence in the Jamaican society.
He cited two cases where violence affected the producers' decision not to come to Jamaica. The other reasons include the impossibility of low production costs, the lack of tax breaks, and the unavailability of free public locations and spaces as well as the customary bureaucratic red tape from state agencies.
Since 1948, Jamaica has had a Motion Picture Industry Encouragement Act - which allows companies in the industry to bring in their equipment free of import duties and taxes. The Act allows film-makers tax exemption on their profits, a major weakness some industry experts claim because a lot of films will never make a profit.
For example: if a successful Jamaican businessman like Norman Horne or Glen Christian decided to finance a film, there is no immediate benefit unless the film makes a profit and motion picture feature films don't usually break even until about five years, and then go on to make a profit in seven. Only films with big names like Denzel Washington or Brad Pitt, or James Bond movies, turn a profit as early as three years after release.
According to Little-White, there was far more encouragement when he returned to Jamaica 40 years ago.
"The powers that 'run tings' don't understand the nature of the film industry nor understand its international linkages in a global landscape."
Little-White opines that the people who have been put in charge of promotion and development of the industry have no training or background in film production. "They have been forced to learn on the job".
He described the country's film commissioners as "door keepers" and not "door openers", stating that for close to 20 years he has been doing Royal Palm Estate-cum-The Blackburns of Royal Palm Estate and not one film commissioner has ever visited his studio or the locations to see how it is done.
Similarly, no state representative visited the sets/locations when he did the two feature films.
The consistent call for incentives was evident during a short interview with Delano Forbes of the Jamaica Film Producers Association, who admitted that if Jamaica did not offer the kind of incentives that are now commonplace worldwide, there was no way the country could compete as a destination for film production.
His admission has been cemented by writer and director of Home Again, Jamaican-Canadian Jennifer Holness, who was forced to take her film to Trinidad and Tobago where she was offered a 35 per cent rebate.
Holness lives in one of the most prolific film-making capitals in the world - Toronto, and says that last year, Toronto had Cnd$1.2 billion worth of productions.
"About 20 or 30 years ago Toronto decided they were going to introduce real tax incentives. Up to that point our film industry was struggling. We had the big Hollywood south of the border and so we put in the incentives and the Americans started coming to our shores."
She said when they first came "they came just to service their productions, because they had no confidence in the Canadians' proficiency in film-making but as time went by, the Americans would hire local people and our people started to get trained and move up in the ranks".
Today, things are different, movie director, Giamo Del Toro, for instance, shot Pacific Rim in Toronto valued at US$250 million. The vast majority of the crew were Canadians and, obviously, all of the services were from Canadians.
"Giamo loved it so much he has now bought a house in Canada and now shoots all his movies here. This has come about because of the long-term investment the Canadian government put into Toronto," she noted.
It is Holness' film that has restarted the conversation in Jamaica. A conversation that sees Frame By Frame's Lukkee Chong joining in.
"I am of the opinion that local film/television productions should get the same if not more incentives than those coming from overseas, as these assist with the maintenance of our cultural identities which have been so negated by the exposure to foreign cable television programming," Chong stated Thursday night. He believes cable television in Jamaica should be made to subsidise the efforts of local cinema/television productions.
For Chong, international treaties could have done a lot more for Jamaica than incentives.
"We tried with Canada but got no assistance from the local film office then with executing it. We even had a project and the two production companies ready."
In its response to questions about the co-production treaty that Jamaica signed with the UK in 2007, film commissioner, Kim-Marie Spence revealed after six years in existence, it has not been utilised.
"The treaty requires each country partner to contribute 20 per cent of the funds. On the Jamaican side, there is a weak market for private investment in film and there are no public funds to draw upon. This situation has resulted in a scenario where there have been a number of film ideas -
According to Spence, the Jamaica Film Commission has been advocating for a number of measures to be put in place for over a decade. The measures suggested include:
Film fund supporting international and local production and the marketing and distribution of film
An investor tax credit
Free public locations (filming on publicly owned property)
She said these measures were suggested to put Jamaica within sparring distance of a number of our competitors for film projects in the region.
"The proposal would apply to both international and local film projects of a certain size - including diaspora film projects, like Home Again."
The film commissioner admits that Jamaica has lost approximately 10 films to her knowledge - including Pirates of the Caribbean.
"The international feature film industry now works from incentives. Jamaica is in a region of countries offering incentives. The incentives usually offered are in the form of rebates - a percentage of the amount spent in the country for the film production. Presently the range of rebates range from approximately 10 per cent (Bahamas) to 50 per cent (Trinidad & Tobago).
The Sunday Gleaner understands that despite the fierce competition Jamaica now faces in the Caribbean, the Government has no intentions to offer any new incentives that could foster the growth and resurgence of film-making in Jamaica.
Babylon - Filmed in Puerto Rico
(value US$4 million)
J-Lo - filmed in The Bahamas
'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Sides' - filmed in Puerto Rico
(value US$250 million)
'Blood Diamond' - Filmed in South Africa (value US$100 million)
'Dark Fields' - filmed in Mexico
'Blood Ghost' - filmed in Puerto Rico and Trinidad (value US$0.8 million)
'Pirates of the Caribbean' - (value US$300 million)
'Die Another Day' - filmed in Cuba (US$142 million)
'Shottas 2' - filmed in Dominican Republic (value US$3 million)