By RON FANFAIR
A former Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) programmer is the new Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) film commissioner.
Renee Robinson, who came to Toronto in 2008 to pursue graduate studies, succeeds communications specialist, Carole Beckford, who is the West Indies Cricket Board’s marketing and communications manager.
Returning to the land of her birth to head the commission is a dream come true for Robinson who had expressed an interest in the position nearly 14 years ago after completing her undergraduate degree at Williams College in Massachusetts.
“At the time, I had developed a plan to host the first Jamaica International Film Festival and had prepared a project proposal for the then commissioner (Del Crooks),” she said. “We weren’t able to move forward at the time, but it was certainly a pleasure to learn that my project documents were still on file during my recruitment process. The role interested me because it provides the opportunity to work on capacity-building for local talent as well as industry development in terms of market-readiness and international competiveness. I was ready to return home after being abroad for eight years and I knew that the only position that I wanted to go back home for would be this one.”
Robinson envisions Jamaica having a prominent and protective industry with a functioning film fund, co-production treaties and tax incentive scheme that’s comparative to nations building a film industry.
“Jamaica is not just a place to stay, but also a place to do business,” she said. “We have beautiful locations with a wide variety of infrastructure, highly trained professional crews with state-of-the art equipment and 365 days of sunshine which is important for shoots during daylight hours. But, most importantly, we have unlimited stories and storytellers. This little island has proven time and time again that when it comes to cultural clout and creative talent, we are a force to be reckoned with. This is the true spirit of brand Jamaica.”
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.
A graduate of Campion College, Robinson said the time she spent in Toronto prepared her for the new role.
“I was able to get behind the scenes of the business of the film industry and connect with key players in Canada and internationally,” she said. “My graduate studies focused on the disruptive impact of digital on the media industry as a whole as well as the policy environment surrounding media consolidation and international best practices. Professionally, I gained experience as the head of programming at Women in Film & Television Toronto and then with TIFF. In both capacities, I focused on professional development, business match-making and key sector trends. These areas of expertise will prove invaluable as I work on building opportunities for stakeholders in the Jamaican industry.”
During her 30 months with TIFF, Robinson – who has a Master’s in communications & culture – also spent time in Rome where she grew up.
“As a programmer, the benefits of being cross-cultural are innumerable as the role requires significant relationship-building and grassroots knowledge of what’s happening in the field,” said the former Jamaica Ministry of Culture programming director and ReelWorld Film Festival industry initiatives program manager. “Speaking Italian and French certainly allowed me to navigate our European clients.”
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.
“I am very interested in advancing co-production agreements between Jamaica and Canada and with other key strategic countries as well,” said Robinson who is a certified advanced diver and art historian. “Developing a local film industry really depends on these relationships and treaties and Canada has a very prolific production ecosystem that I am hoping we can work together on.”
Robinson plans to reach out to Ontario’s Film Commissioner, Justin Cutler, who she knows from her time with TIFF with which he was associated for a decade.