Developing a local film industry—local filmmakers make their case

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By Robert A Emmanuel

[email protected]

Whilst the Antigua and Barbuda government is hoping that an international filmmaker will provide nearly 200 jobs for citizens, local filmmakers believe the development of a local film industry would be beneficial to the country long-term.

Speaking on Observer radio’s Big Issues yesterday, Howard and Mitzi Allen, alongside Dr Lisa Tomlinson and Dr Alvin Edwards, sat down with host Barbara Arrindell to discuss the film culture in Antigua and Barbuda.

Mitzi Allen, who is best known as the co-founder of HaMa Films, and co-producer of the film ‘The Sweetest Mango,’ said that while it is important for foreign investment, she noted that there was a lack of interest in the development of local filmmakers in the country.

She argued that “bringing in international productions, absolutely yes, but it is not sustainable if we do not have the training on the ground, we do not have a film industry.

“So, when I hear that there is going to be employment for as many as 200 people, I would like to know who those people are, and where they exist, because we are on movie number five and we have had to go outside of Antigua in order to raise the bar in the productions that we do.”

Mitzi Allen argued that a fund needs to be set up to develop the local creative industries for a more sustainable employment market.

Howard Allen also reiterated the need for a local film industry, noting that the jobs the government is touting would be created, once the international filmmaker leaves, many of the locals employed would be again returned to their regular jobs.

“If we really want to build a viable film industry, the government has to take the lead on that, and throughout the islands, the politicians really do not see the value of our stories, and so their real interest is just bringing in international productions here,” he said.

Dr Lisa Tomlinson, who is a lecturer at the UWI Mona Campus in the Institute of Caribbean Studies, teaching Caribbean and African Diaspora Film courses and documentary narratives, spoke about what the region could learn from Jamaica, where the government has invested in developing youth filmmakers.

“We have the JAMPRO…and through that, they have a branch called the [Propella Initiative by the Jamaica Film and Television Association] where they take local filmmakers and go through a process of training and developing their films, and once they are finished, they enter national and international film festivals and competitions,” Dr Tomlinson said, although she did note that it was still not to the level of economic sustainability compared to other industries like music.

Dr Tomlinson argued that the Caribbean has a strong film culture, but not a strong film industry.

Howard Allen said that, while it was costly and longer-term to establish a film industry, we often look at Hollywood as a model for a film industry rather than other thriving international film industries.

“I think that if we are going to build a Caribbean film industry, we have to devise what is our own home-grown process,” he said.

“We have to look at how the films are funded – the Cuban government understood the value of them telling their own stories, preserving their history, and they invested in that, and Cuba has some of the world’s best animators and filmmakers, but Cuba doesn’t have a lot of money,” he articulated.

Howard Allen expounded that it would be best for the region to develop a collective film industrial policy, whilst Dr Tomlinson noted the film industry in Nigeria could be an example.

“The problem with the Caribbean is that we are always imitating the US, and we are taking in the cultural relevance and appropriateness and the way we develop our cultural art…if we continue to use this Hollywood [model], we are going to de-sanitised our stories…and our stories will be told through the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ or ‘the Bobsled’ a story they have about the Jamaican bobsled team,” Dr Tomlinson explained.

One of the arguments made by the panelists was for the government to offer scholarships to youths in subject areas related to filmmaking.

“In Antigua and Barbuda, we have a number of the people within the creative industries who don’t even realise that their skill is transferable into the film industry if they are properly trained, whether it is makeup or wardrobe, electricians, scoring music, line producers, carpenters, the list goes on, so the first order of business is to offer scholarships in not just tourism management, but also in the areas of creative industries,” Mitzi Allen explained.

She added that for the past two decades of filmmaking, she has seen young people who have entered the film business through her company, studied film production, then left the country for employment opportunities.

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