Island films in the stream

Here are excerpts from Mark Lyndersay’s “Island films in the stream,” originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Caribbean Beat as “Streaming the Caribbean.” For this article, he spoke to Maria Govan, Maya Cozier, Kim Johnson, Gian Franco Wilson, and Mariel Brown. Read the full article and recommended options for streaming at Tech News T&T. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

After two years under lockdown conditions globally, the cinema industry experienced a major change, as first-run films moved to streaming to capture audiences that were trapped at home. [. . .]

For regional film makers, the challenge has been going on longer than that, as access to cinemas, where the limited time available for small and independent films made outside of major studios and distribution channels has been shrinking, even as screens abounded in multiplexes to be viewed by smaller audiences.

For Maria Govan, director of Play the Devil, going through a large distribution agency proved a hard learning experience. [. . .]

Maya Cozier’s first major outing as a director, She Paradise, was picked up for streaming on Amazon after a short run in TT cinemas. The sales representative placed the film through Samuel Goldwyn Films, who secured distribution on Amazon, YouTube’s paid viewing channels and Vudu. “There were a lot of requirements before handing over to the distributor,” Cozier said. “The handover took weeks to generate.”

The financial return from cinema screenings can be a difficult proposition for filmmakers pushing the boundaries for local audiences.

Kim Johnson’s PAN: A Music Odyssey enjoyed some success on French television, on PBS and in cinemas in Japan, but when it screened in Trinidad, just four people turned up, Johnson recalled. The film was not picked up for streaming during its initial distribution. [. . .]

According to Gian Franco Wilson, CEO of Pavilion, a new streaming service targeting the diaspora, those requirements are forward-looking and there might be flexibility about earlier films.
Wilson, born in Trinidad but living in the UK for most of his life, fondly recalls visits to the country where, for him, the most exciting thing was watching local programming.

“It’s not just the quality of the format, it’s the storytelling,” Wilson said. “We can’t expect Oscar-winning films right out of the gate, but content has a role in reflecting ourselves back to us.” [. . .]

After the pandemic inspiration of WAMOU, the TT Film Festival crafted its own streaming platform, ttff+ to build on the momentum of online viewing. “Online distribution is unavoidable,” FILMCO’s interim executive director, Mariel Brown said, “not only is it the future, it’s also the present.”

“Going online puts the power in our hands, in terms of deciding what gets shown and when.”

“For too long, local filmmakers have had to work within a hostile broadcast environment in which filmmakers were asked [more often than not] to pay for air time, or to hand over their content for free or otherwise participate in some nebulous revenue-share agreement.”

The first WAMOU in March 2020 clocked 36,000 views for less than a dozen films made available weekly. That’s slowed down considerably since countries have reopened, but the project is a long-term undertaking.

“Online distribution is not the miracle panacea that many people think it is, unless you’re Netflix or YouTube,” Brown said. [. . .]

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