TT filmmakers linking to the world

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An article by JULIEN NEAVES for Trinidad’s Newsday.

NEXT month the University of the West Indies (UWI) Film Programme will be launching a festival to take audiences around the globe in film, showcase student productions and make linkages with filmmakers for bilateral productions.

And this is all part of the plan to take the local film industry to the world.

The World Festival of Emerging Cinema will take place from May 19-22 at UWI Film Programme building at Carmody Street, St Augustine.

Yao Ramesar, Film Programme lecturer and co-ordinator noted that it is the 10th anniversary of the Film programme and he wanted to have a showcase event and “a sort of a renewal”.

He explained that through the festival the students will learn not just how to make films, but every stage through which films go, including running cinema technology and attracting an audience to the film. “Allow them to get all phases of production, exhibition and distribution,” he added.

On the world emerging cinema theme Ramesar pointed out that local filmmakers and students, and Caribbean filmmakers as well, are emerging themselves. “I wanted them to see the work of their peers from around the world and get a gauge of what’s out there,” he said.

He pointed out that the students will also be able to network and link up with filmmakers from all over the world to do films together.

Ramesar explained that skills can be matched, such as a local student who has strength in screenwriting partnering with an Ecuadorian filmmaker who has strong cinematography skills.

He said these projects could be located anywhere in the world and they are looking at the workforce of the future as mobile and the market as the world.

He stressed that the local market is too small and we have to look at the world market of seven billion people.

Ramesar explained that he has been testing this arrangement personally, and in 2010 directed a Chinese/ West Indian feature entitled Stranger in Paradise, which had a cast and crew from 20 countries.

Last year he directed a film in South Africa and another in India; where he was filming the Indian portions of a local film called Last Dance of the Karaoke King.

Also last year his film Haiti Bride became the first Haitian film to be entered in the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO). “I’m testing (bilateral productions) out. It’s not imaginary,” Ramesar said.

He explained that he wants these types of productions to be expanded exponentially and the future of film will be based on collaboration.

Ramesar said a couple of the student projects are very strong and are almost market ready.

He reported that some have won awards and are getting their work out to international festivals.

Michael Rochford, a 23 year-old final year student, attended the 2016 Curaçao International Film Festival Rotterdam from April 6-10 where his film Pendulum, a psychological thriller, was nominated for best Trinidad and Tobago Feature Film and Best Emerging Trinidad and Tobago Film Maker; he won the latter. Rochford recalled that while at the festival he spoke to other filmmakers about co-productions.

On the UWI Film Festival, Rochford said the networking will be really good and it will be a meeting point for everyone. He noted that local filmmakers will also have the opportunity to get seen internationally.

On the local film industry, Rochford said in the past five years he has been seeing a lot of opportunities, foreign countries doing productions in this country, and almost ten films a year being produced locally.

He recalled this was not the situation back in 2005 and we have seen “exponential growth”.

“The future is looking bright,” he said. He stressed that the industry needs to funnel talent and resources and not be scattered.

Michaela Spencer, a 21 year-old final year student from Jamaica, said she was looking forward to seeing the material from the different countries and also what other young filmmakers were producing.

She said the film industry in Jamaica had been doing work in recent times but not as much as in this country and they were seeking to increase production.

Ramesar said the students are also being taught the importance of intellectual property matters so they do not get ripped off and can protect their work.

“You have to keep vigilant so you not making a path for ‘gouti to run,” he quipped.

For the festival the films will be screened in studio and also outdoor and Ramesar said they have capacity for some little “mulitiplexes”.

From the submissions of 192 films they have selected 52 countries including features from Peru, Columbia, Netherlands, Mexico, France, Albania, Spain, Guinea- Bissau, and Italy.

The festival will include about ten works from students which are still to be selected as well as local features.

Lynnessa Park, programming director of the festival, reported that over two months they watched the films.

She described it as one of the best experiences of her life so far and it broadened her horizons.

“This experience has made me appreciate film a lot more,” she said.

She said the quality of work was inspiring to see especially from Latin America and the Caribbean.

About 200 films have been broken down thematically into thrillers, horrors, action, romance and “a lot of comedy”.

For the festival they will be inviting schools for their morning blocks as there are a number of films for children, about the differently- abled, and animation about child issues. They also have films for seniors in their golden years category. She said the films will appeal to a range of ages, classes and genders.

“Everyone will find something in it,” she added.

Ramesar said he was happy with the selection and he wants people to come and enjoy the films.

“Round the world in four days and nights,” he added.

He said that in these tough times we need to take a breath and a laugh and just get caught up in the films.

Ramesar said the festival is primarily about films and they want to ensure they have an incredible amount of films of great quality. He added that it is good for the students and the public to see films from places and cultures from all over the world.

He said the film world of the future will be the whole world and this works with this country’s pluralism.

“Trinidad and Tobago is a world within a world to me,” he opined.

He said that this country is suited for international collaborations with other cultures as we already do it internally.

LOCAL INDUSTRY MOVING FORWARD He said that locally there are some economic challenges and people are making “ultra-low budget films”.

“We accustomed getting blood from stone,” he added.

He explained that the two main ingredients are ingenuity and hard work, noting there has been growth in the local film industry especially in the past decade. He recalled that in 2006 the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company began and the film school opened its doors. This was also the year his film SistaGod was entered in the prestigious Toronto Film Festival.

Ramesar said that the challenge now was to do more with less capital but the “genie is out of the bottle” and the fact that there is a local film is no longer a novelty. He added that the next phase is to move from novelty to an earner of foreign exchange.

He said that more than ever it is the key to diversification and cultural industries is “the tip of the spear”.

On the work of the students over the past ten years, Ramesar said production values have “quantum leapt” and screen acting, directing and screenplays have all been improving.

“We are getting so close to having highly marketable films,” he said.

He noted these films could be sold on the international market.

He said they are also looking towards streaming sites like Netflix and noted a report that last year people spent 42.5 billion hours (4.9 million years) viewing shows on the site. He explained that while preparing students to make feature films for theatres, they are also now being pointed to web television services which requires a different kind of writing.

O n the local industry he said it has to transport beyond boundaries and to transcend the economic situation and get foreign exchange “at a rage” filmmakers can make movies and repatriate the money home.

“We have to generate revenue (and) audio/visual entertainment is a winner,” he said.

He noted that locally there is a diversity in stories and our films from the “New World” were starting from an experimental point.

“That is our strength – our stories,” he said. He stressed that it is an important area for the new economy post oil and gas, and one of the foundations has to be cultural industry products. He pointed out that film includes other things such as costume design, soundtracks and building sets, which we have experience with from mas design.

“Just to synergize everything,” he added.

For further information on the festival call 662-2002 ext. 82727 or email film.programme@sta.uwi.edu.

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