Film is big business

Private sector partnerships being welcomed for creative industry

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 24, 2019

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A call is being made for more private sector investment in the creative industry, particularly film, in order for the sector to reach full potential. That perspective was shared by film commissioner and head of the film, animation and music unit at Jampro, Renee Robinson.

Her comments came against the backdrop of the absence of a national film festival to showcase the work of local filmmakers, which many believe could be used to boost the local industry. The last festival, The Jamaica Film Festival was staged in Kingston four years ago, but according to Robinson this event was important in celebrating content in Jamaica, activating and exhibition an cinema-going culture; it was also a watershed in spotting the critical weaknesses.

“The event in 2015 allowed us to identify certain gaps in our existing ecosystem. The main one was that we unfortunately had a very limited amount of commercially viable, investment-ready, high production value local content. so that film festival showed a lot of international content, with very limited local. That was one of the things that that whole festival identified which meant that a shift was necessary to focus on the development of local content. The film festival was also crucial in validating that perspective because for a long time, maybe decades, Jamaica was always a location. We had positioned ourselves as come shoot on our shores, we have these beautiful venues and although that is an important component for any film industry, what it means is that we do not have an active role in the development of financing, the creative decision-making process and the monetisation and distribution of content. We certainly do not get any return on investment for anything that is shot here,” she told journalists at the Jamaica Observer's forum Monday Exchange.

“So in the past five years there has been a trend towards a greater focus from a policy, a business and strategic perspectives focusing on the local content ecosystem and that film festival was crucial in marking that shift. And so what we are doing in the interim is working on some sector development programmes, working on ensuring that our practitioners have what is needed to be globally competitive and that our investors are also aware of the creative economy and that the private sector is contributing to this creative economy, so that we can generate more viable local content in the future.”

The film commissioner also disclosed that her office oversees up to 150 international film projects per year, which in 2017-2018 contributed $10 billion to the local economy and hired over 2,500 persons.

Over the years Jamaica has lost out on being a location for a number of films due to the lack of tax breaks and incentives to filmmakers who shoot on our shores. Robinson noted that while this is an ongoing process, global trends are moving away from such practices.

“If it were that Jampro was the entity that developed, designed and implemented incentives I'm hoping that we would be further along, but there are other external factors that determine whether or not incentives are possible in Jamaica. I know we have limitation in terms of our relationship with the IMF and tax reform, so that is a concern that we face. However, we need to shift the conversation a little because if you look globally incentives are actually downtrending, for example, 13 states in the US have cancelled their incentive programmes. We could be trying to play catch-up as opposed to identifying what are the things that we can do here and maximise opportunities instead of trying to follow a path of development that other countries enjoyed 20 years ago. Maybe we need to shift the focus and look at how do we create opportunities for the local ecosystem. For example, how do we institute a national film fund which is something that we are in fact advancing. What are the different building blocks that we can put in place in the absence of an incentive scheme,” said Robinson.


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