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The Reel | Film Festivals are much more than 'exposure'

Published:Friday | November 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMKimberly Small
Carl Bradshaw, who starred in the 1982 film Countryman, speaking during the Portie Film Festival last weekend. Looking on is filmmaker Lennie Little-White.
Professor Carolyn Cooper moderates a panel discussion with Askia Hylton (left), a cast member of Knights to Kings, and his colleague, Dailan Alston.

The Jamaican film industry has been experiencing a rapid ebb and flow in recent years and seems poised for a huge wave of possibilities. Today, we continue our feature - The Reel - which explores the industry, highlights the player and the possibilities of a bona fide film district on the rock.

Today, we shine the spotlight on the players who work behind the scenes to bring the visuals to the cinema or your television screen.

When a film-maker wants to be seen, they have the option of hiring a production company to erect a screen and host a premiere or screening. But that takes money. So it's best to find a screen that's already erected, with an audience eager to see something new - film festival. For many film-makers, a film festival is their gateway to success.


The Exposure


"A film festival means you have an audience primed and ready to watch. Showing a film at a film festival is like flashing a calling card, or a proof of concept - and that's where you show people your ideas," Kevin Jackson, marketing and communications officer of JAFTA, told The Sunday Gleaner.

According to Jackson, one of the primary purposes of participating in a film festival is for the exposure it affords. "When people talk about exposure, of course the first question that comes is 'how do I make money from exposure?' You don't," he said.

In his experience, participating in a film festival is very potent. "If they find it interesting, they might recommend you to other festivals," he said.

He reveals that he has gained employment after screening his work at international film festivals. "Every time I've won an award, I've gotten a call from someone saying they want to do some work. A lot of people's careers are born out of that."

While some festivals are just for screening, others include components built in to help film-makers further hone their skills. "You can get advice from more experienced people or discounts to workshops. Sometimes the festivals already have workshops," Jackson said.

Some international film festivals double as film markets, where the audience comes primed and ready to watch and buy. "Not with local festivals, because we don't have that framework. Cable stations aren't going to festivals to buy something," Jackson highlighted.


Local Film Festival


The 8th annual Cinema Paradise: Portie Film Festival, which recently wrapped up in Portland, offered a look into Jamaica's long-standing relationship with Hollywood. The nostalgic element of the festival was delivered by three 1980s productions staged in Jamaica - Countryman (1982), Club Paradise (1986) and Cocktail (1988).

"We're a land of film, and that's not celebrated enough. We have a rich film history, with over 700 filmed in Port Antonio," director of Portie Film Festival Vivene Levison told The Sunday Gleaner. Levison agrees with Jackson that film festivals are a showcase of talent with the bonus of networking with like-minds. "At film festivals, there are opportunities that won't take place anywhere else. It's for both local and international partners to celebrate and make connections between business people and creatives," she emphasised.


GATFFEST festival


Younger than Portie Film Festival, but still potent, is the Greater August Town Film Festival, better known as GATFFEST.

GATFFEST is considered the Caribbean's premier community film festival. Chaired by Professor Ian Boxill, principal of the University of the West Indies, Mona, this year's 6th staging of the festival saw the screenings of 34 international films and 10 local ones.

An initiative of the UWI Community Film Project ( a programme to assist at-risk youth in surrounding areas), and Centre for Tourism and Policy Research at the UWI, GATFFEST offers a platform for the project's graduates and any other interested film-making aspirant.

Boxill explains, "There is an abundance of film talent in the Jamaican market. More recently, there has been an increase in the number of films produced locally. Some film-makers, especially amateur film-makers, may have some difficulty securing a spot in the traditional media, and also in the movie theatres. Therefore, GATFFEST is relevant in that it gives these film-makers an outlet to secure an audience and showcase their work." Participants now have a full-time career in the industry with local production companies through the exposure of their work at GATFFEST.