The announcement of the establishment of a strategic plan for the Film Industry and the launch of a Production Assistance and Script Development Programme to provide funding for filmmakers is welcome news indeed. Of course this is not the first strategic plan that has been mooted. There was a report entitled A Strategic Plan for the Film Industry of Trinidad and Tobago completed in 2005.
In 2006, we also saw the very ambitious introduction of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company Limited, which falls under CreativeTT. In 2006, we also inaugurated a film programme at UWI to train filmmakers, film critics and theorists.
There has, however, been a continuing problem with the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company. Much of it seems to do with infighting and a lack of a clear vision of what is truly needed in filmmaking. Script writing is of course a major issue that recurs with every new film and despite the fact that we have internationally recognised writers. But there is also the problem of sound mixing which, despite a few who have gone far in mastering this art, remains under developed.
The biggest issue is, however, film literacy. This means that there is a lack of understanding by the public of what goes into the making of a film. There is a serious lack of film criticism through which this ignorance might be counterbalanced. We still depend on cliques to validate our films and other artistic products. As artists we then depend on benevolence rather than knowledge or commitment to fund works of art. Yet, the cost of filmmaking is phenomenal.
Filmmaking is a production that involves not just actors, producers and directors, but editors and designers and a whole host of individuals who work together to make a final product, and all of whom must be paid. Even the fact of budgeting for a film is something that one must learn. As a filmmaker with a small budget, one remains at the mercy of grant agencies, which are few and difficult to access. This is because the ability to find funders remains a skill and a knowledge that few have mastered. But should that be so?
Why do we not have specific funding programmes for films that have cultural or social significance and that will never be shown in Movietowne? It is important that those who seek to develop the film industry understand that there are different categories of film and also different needs of filmmakers so that those who wish to produce educational films or films that will remain a part of our heritage do not have to compete with those who wish to make films that will generate an income. The Film Company appeared to understand the need for such categories at its inception, but this seems to have fallen by the wayside.
The truth in terms of access to the limited funds available, is that those who make documentaries or experimental films, compete within a framework in Trinidad and Tobago that apparently does not recognise these essential differences.
Equally, filmmakers from the Caribbean in general still have to contend with the fact that those who wish to screen their films, fail to recognise the huge sums in personal time and money that go into the making of a film. We are still at the point where those who screen our films see themselves as doing us a favour. Documentary filmmakers in particular are expected to screen films free of charge. But this attitude is also in a sense true of many of the arts. No one expects to get a pint of milk free of charge. But artists are at the mercy of those who place no value on their time or talent.
There is also little understanding that if you use a product, whether painting or film, that this is covered by copyright and that the artist must be acknowledged at every use. And should be paid.
Perhaps if we introduced film studies, which includes analysis and criticism, as well as film production at secondary schools, this would increase our knowledge of what filmmaking really involves and we could then develop a viable film industry.
BA (UWI); MA (Maynooth) PhD (Dublin)
Diploma in European Human Rights Law (Dublin)