By Donovan Watkis
I was having a conversation recently with some entertainment industry practitioners at a meeting convened by the film commissioner of the creative unit at the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), when someone said that Jamaica has a film industry – one that persons earned from over the years. My response was Jamaicans may have access to a local film sector but not an industry.
Donovan Watkis is an award winning film maker, actor and author. His latest projects are the #noviolenceinlove campaign and JR’s Hope. You may email responses to email@example.com
I explained that an industry is an economic activity concerned with the mechanical processing of raw materials, and the manufacturing of goods (or services) in those factories are made perfect, packaged and offered to specific markets for sale.
Intellectual capital and imagination is what most Jamaicans naturally possess due to evident social struggles. Without taking away the credit for the ingenious creativity most Jamaicans possess, there are no factory equivalent infrastructures in place to support the intellect and imagination of the film practitioners in Jamaica.
The structures in place for films such as the Palace Amusement Company and the creative unit led by the film commissioner are concerned with the final product and not the development of those products.
JAMPRO’s mandate is to sell Jamaica, so the film unit is to sell already completed films. We all can agree that the selling of films coming from Jamaica is dependent on the quality of the films, the quality of the films are dependent on directors and producers accessing the tools and infrastructure necessary to create films.
Neither the government nor private sector has seen the need to develop the industry in any meaningful way so that Jamaicans can tell their stories and access the overseas markets in more competitive ways. The US and Canadian embassies requires proof that you are at the top of the food chain in film making in order to get the O-1 visa to practice film making or to sell your film in that country.
How might an aspiring Jamaican film maker get to the top of the chain without proper infrastructure, master training, and training facilities to work on his/her craft in the same way Jamaican athletes and artiste do? And can he/she ever access the facilities and platforms to showcase their creation competitively? Or will we continue to depend on the outliers and regard that as success of the film industry?
After I explained that the lack of infrastructure to facilitate a fully functional film industry disqualifies Jamaica from having an industry right now, another person then said: “You don't need an infrastructure to have an industry because many people will come down with their equipment and as long as they return with the equipment they pay no custom duties on their top level equipment so Jamaicans do get access to the equipment while they are here.”
Yes, my friends, currently if an overseas film maker imports his/her equipment in pursuit of a film project here, as long as he leaves with the equipment there are no custom duties, but a Jamaican film maker who imports and will keep his equipment here to pursue his dreams of telling stories on film using the imported equipment will have to pay a high custom duty at the borders. I could not make that up if I tried.
Therein lies the problem. If it is more difficult to practice film here in Jamaica if you are a Jamaican, and if you wish to go abroad you have prove yourself to be a master film maker then the Jamaican film maker is at a competitive disadvantage.
Mastery requires practice, so I call on the government of the day to help film makers to create a film industry. Film making is a business that can benefit the entire country but we need fair access to the tools without the exorbitant custom duties. Jamaicans who practice films have been making well to do with what they have against all odds, but the lack of assistance has prevented the fledging sector from becoming a competitive industry.
We must think bigger; and better tools will help us to expand our imagination so we can demand more of ourselves, and create more exceptional stories that might see Jamaicans becoming more sophisticated and cultured and may even contribute to the reduction in crime.
We can start with an ease of the custom duties for practitioners who have as job title “Film director” in their Jamaican passports. One film hires many people but the investors will not come if we are not able to compete with other countries.
Bill Duke, who I had the opportunity to meet while on a trip to Hollywood with Usain Bolt’s former publicist, Carole Beckford, said: “If in the next couple of years we can see an increase in film employment, we may be able to see images that reflect our humanity and not just our ethnicity. If we can see more directors and producers owning content, if we can see ourselves getting into the gaming market (which is a US$2 billion industry), until this is a reality we cannot say we are in the film and television business. We are now in the media business, and until we get into that film and television business, until we get into that business, I say to my generation don't try to be Stephen Spielberg, be Steve Jobs.”
Let's get to the part where we do what we need to do collectively for building the film and other creative industries. No excuses.