By RON FANFAIR
Just like its world-class athletes, Jamaica’s film sector is soaring in rare air.
For the first time ever in the history of Jamaican cinema and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the Caribbean country has an industry booth at one of the world’s largest publicly attended festivals. It’s located on the main promotional floor at the Hyatt Regency Toronto hotel.
In addition, King of the Dancehall – shot in Jamaica and written and directed by Nick Cannon– premiered at TIFF last Sunday and cast member, Kimberly Patterson, participated in the festival’s International Actors program.
Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) film commissioner, Renee Robinson, said the country’s movie industry is growing and evolving.
“We are starting to see films coming out of Jamaica, anywhere from one to three feature films, with quite high scope such as King of the Dancehall and Sprinter,” she told Share.
King of the Dancehall is a high-energy musical about a young Brooklyn man who gets caught up in the vibrant Kingston music scene while visiting Jamaica. With an infectious soundtrack featuring Beenie Man who also narrates the tale, the movie is an ode to the Jamaican music genre that’s rocked dance floors around the world.
Sprinter, directed by a Jamaican, Storm Saulter, was inspired by some of Jamaica’s famous sprinters. The film shoot recently wrapped up in Jamaica.
Robinson and 19 Jamaican industry leaders are attending TIFF to promote Jamaica for filming opportunities and to seek development prospects for Jamaican projects.
“We are also using TIFF as a platform to expose emerging Jamaican filmmakers and provide the veteran industry professionals with access opportunities,” said Robinson, a former TIFF programmer. “Our film industry is made up of two different types of cohorts. We have emerging talent who are new and they are cinematic with visionary identities. They are, however, talent that needs to be discovered and developed.
“Then there is the film sector in Jamaica that’s a little bit more established. They are the people like Chris Browne (the director of Third World Cop), Natalie Thompson (the owner of Cinecome Productions since 1975) and Lennie Little-White (filmmaker). These are the folks living and working for many years in Jamaica and what they need is access to opportunity. They need to be attending markets.”
Earlier this year, JAMPRO partnered with the Jamaica Film & Television Association (JAFTA) to support the “Propella!” initiative to discover and cultivate an annual cohort of Jamaica’s top film talent. Five new Jamaican short films were selected through a blind process to be produced this summer and will be shown at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival from September 20-27.
The filmmakers underwent scriptwriting, directing, pitching, festival strategy and deal-making boot camps.
The selected projects were Origins, which is a character-driven supernatural fantasy steeped in Jamaican folklore and set in modern times with a Tarantino-esque visual style; Shock Value, that tells the story of a loving young woman who is determined to save her marriage while learning the cost of misplaced faith and duplicity when forces align to destroy everything she holds dear; Shoot the Girl, which puts the spotlight on a 12-year-old using her brain to beat brawn; Sugar, which is the story of a girl from the underclass working at a Jamaican resort and witnessing tourists’ affluence and The Silent Ones, that explores the thought process of two crime witnesses.
Robinson, who came to Toronto in 2008 to pursue graduate studies, succeeded communications specialist, Carole Beckford who is the West Indies Cricket Board’s marketing and communications manager. She took up her new post last February.
“When I came in, I took stock of where we are as an industry,” said Robinson, who has a Master’s in communications & culture. “I did a series of consultations with members of the film community to understand what their needs are. They told us the industry needs to create content and have access to mechanisms of financial support and international opportunism. We will prioritize having a stronger presence at international film festivals and work closely with our local talent to develop commercial opportunities. Coming to TIFF and going to the T & T film festival later this month will help to propel the Jamaican film industry into the global landscape.”
She said the Jamaica Film Festival will return in 2017 after a one-year hiatus.
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 action adventure thriller, Knight & Day, was shot in Jamaica.
The list of popular movies filmed in Jamaica includes The Mighty Quinn, Marked for Death, Live and Let Die and Cool Runnings.