Cinema on the verge: Jamaica's film industry today
Film is alive in Jamaica. The lush Caribbean island is known for birthing reggae and its gorgeous mountains and beaches, but it’s also home to a burgeoning film industry with young filmmakers, screenwriters, and actors at the helm. Earlier this month, I traveled to the island to observe and be immersed in ScreenCraft'sinaugural retreat at Jakes Treasure Beach in Jamaica– but my education went well beyond the intricacies of screenwriting. Instead, I was awakened to an industry on the verge of breaking through. Jamaica’s Film Commissioner, Renee Robinson returned to her homeland to begin building Jamaica’s film industry into one that could compete on a global level. It had been her dream job since she was 19-years-old. “I’ve been building other people's film industries for so long, and I wanted to be able to contribute to the development of my own film industry,” she told me as we sat overlooking the saltwater pool at Jakes. Building up an infrastructure for film on an island that’s home to less than three million people isn’t something you can simply wish into thin air. Robinson has faced various roadblocks --especially in a country that leans on tourism as its main industry. And yet, she’s determined to bridge the business of cinema with the ambition of the filmmakers and artists on the island. “I would say there are three streams of things that I have encountered that I think are ripe for change," she articulated. “First, is content. Being a part of underworld is a real thing, but it's not the only life.” In Jamaica, films depicting gangsters and street life are abundant, but other stories need a platform as well.
Robinson has sought to shift the narrative and has solidified a partnership between her office, Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO)and The Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA). Together they have created the Propella program. “Propella is a talent discovery and script-to-screen program,” Robinson clarified. Along with Jamaica’s national fund CHASE (culture, health, arts, sports, and education), Propella identifies five filmmakers each year they want to support. Each filmmaker gets a mentor -- an international script development expert who helps them take their project from treatment to final script. Then, the filmmakers go through a production boot camp and receive about $5,000 USD to produce their short films. Their education doesn’t stop there. Once their film is complete – the filmmakers go through another boot camp, this time focusing on festivals and distribution strategies before their films premiere at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and another international market of JAMPRO’s choosing. Jamaican filmmakers have a plethora of stories to tell – Propella is simply guiding them on the path to bring their narratives to life.
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