MUCH has changed since the 1975 film Bim broke new ground in TT cinema. Today, a forward-thinking crop of native filmmakers – which, we consider, must include those from the TT diaspora living abroad – is helping us come to terms with the present and look to the future of this still-fledgling industry.
Trinidadians and Tobagonians are blazing a trail internationally, appearing in Oscar-nominated films like Moonlight and Black Panther, and even being elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Winston Duke, Frances-Anne Solomon, Geoffrey Holder, Heather Headley, Sam Mendes, Naomie Harris – these are just some of the names of people with ties to this country who have made an impact internationally.
A rich array of local films has also taken flight: Green Days by the River, Bazodee, The Cutlass, Play the Devil, Unfinished Sentences, and a host of compelling documentaries about diverse local figures from CLR James to Calypso Rose. The appetite for local content remains strong: episodes of Danielle Dieffenthaller’s Westwood Park are still connecting with audiences across the globe: Australia, Cambodia, China, Africa – you name it.
But the challenges facing film practitioners are just as weighty as the industry’s unquestionable potential.
This month’s TT Film Festival, which is being held in a special edition coinciding with Carifesta XIV, presents another opportunity for stakeholders and burgeoning filmmakers to engage with one another, to assess the state of the cultural sector, to formulate plans to make film more viable as a career path for creatives, to act as a forum for local expression and art, and to generate revenue.
From a business point of view, the concessions available to film producers present unique opportunities. A flat 35 per cent cash-back rebate on qualifying expenses for budgets between US$15,000 and US$8,000,000 is available, plus 20 per cent for hiring local talent and labour.
Are these concessions accessed? Do investors understand them and the role they play in driving projects to profitability? Or does the view that film remains a risky business prevail?
Events such as the film festival and Carifesta have integral roles to play in persuading movie theatres that they can rely on local content. They are also showcases for regional talent, generators of ideas, and gauges of the mood of society. Not to mention a tool for cultural and ideological diplomacy.
From October 2018-June 2019, 17 local and international productions have spent approximately $12.6 million on services in TT, according to Nneka Luke, general manager of Film TT. Revenue is generated not only through box-office takings but also through the number of people hired in production, room nights, and shots in locations across the islands. Given the incentives, the history and the potential of the industry, this figure is minuscule, barely a blip on TT's overall GDP.
Clearly, more needs to be done to support organisations and entities that encourage filmmakers to form support networks and to open the industry up to the diverse talent it needs to truly reflect the evolution of its society.