The just concluded 40-year-old Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is the premier event of its kind in North America.
With the creative industries being identified as a key sector for economic and social development, The Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) hitched its wagon to the world renowned festival for the second straight year to promote Jamaica as an attractive and idyllic low-cost destination that inspires creativity.
Jamaica has had a long and distinguished history in film, dating back to 1916 when Daughter of the Gods – a silent film featuring late Aussie swimmer/actress Annette Kellerman in the first ever complete nude scene by a major star – became one of Hollywood’s first movies shot outside the United States.
A 10-minute scene of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz’s recently released action adventure thriller, Knight & Day, was shot in Jamaica. It’s estimated the country earned nearly US$1.5 million from the shoot.
JAMPRO’s senior consulting officer, Nardia McKenzie, said the TIFF provides a wonderful opportunity to showcase Jamaica’s unique creative industries.
“Our goal is to encourage film production in the country and contribute to a stronger economy,” said McKenzie who is also the consul for trade & investment. “We are aggressively moving towards developing new content for promotion at festivals such as TIFF given that the creative industries are recognized as having the potential to transform the country’s fortunes.”
JAMPRO, formerly Jamaica Trade & Invest, re-established its presence in Toronto last March after a five-year absence.
“The fact that we now have a physical presence in the market has contributed significantly to our success in having an increase in the number of films being done in Jamaica,” said McKenzie. “Our Toronto office also covers the entire North American market, including New York and Los Angeles which are the hubs of the creative industry.”
The Jamaica Film Commission has been quite active since its inception 26 years ago, servicing more than 3,200 films projects, ranging from features and documentaries to music videos. Close to 150 films are shot annually in the country.
“The interest is high,” said JAMPRO’s regional manager for North America, Robert Kerr. “Usain Bolt is a powerful brand and his story has been identified to be told. There is tremendous interest in him and what he eats that makes him so fast and also what it is about Jamaica that allows its athletes to excel on the world stage. That is another story to be told.
“Our culture is also exciting and people like the way we speak, move and dance. Those aspects are becoming increasingly interesting from a film perspective and we are seeing an interest in telling these stories and showcasing Jamaica’s culture which is unique and which we are happy to show off.”
In the past few years, Jamaica has been exploring a co-production treaty with Canada that would provide investors from both countries with increased access to available funding for film projects.
“There are still some issues to be worked out in terms of whether it’s the best option for us,” Kerr said. “The good thing about having a treaty is that it allows you to secure certain benefits for films to be produced. When we examined closely what we are trying to achieve, we discovered that there might be other ways to get the benefits without having a treaty which has to be passed by parliament and which has to go through a long legislative process. There might be a shorter process, like a Memorandum of Understanding, that lays the foundation for certain terms to be agreed on. We are exploring all the options.”
New Jamaica Film Festival Commissioner Kim-Marie Spence was in town last week to network and meet with JAMPRO officials here.
“There is a certain amount of developmental work that has to be done to ensure that the stories are documented in Jamaica, that we choose the material that’s right for our market and that we prepare it well so that the quality is extremely good and the movie will do well when it’s released,” Kerr said. “So we are looking at building that content and a lot of what Kim-Marie has to do is to make sure that all the systems work and the support mechanisms on the ground are in place.”
Spence said she’s excited about her new role and is fully committed to capitalizing on the Jamaican brand.
The long list of popular movies filmed in Jamaica includes The Mighty Quinn, Marked for Death, Live and Let Die and Cool Runnings.