BitDepth#835 - May 22

The local film community meets to discuss the
Challenges for local film industry
Film director Professor Pat Mohammed speaks on the floor at the TTFC’s stakeholder consultation on the next strategic plan for the local film industry. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

On May 12, the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company (TTFC) met to consider the strategic plan for the film industry for the next four years.
There was a bit of world-weariness mixed in with some honest ambition at the event, held on a Saturday morning at the Cascadia Hotel, but stakeholder consultations are not just a requirement for the TTFC. The leading programme that the state enterprise is managing today, the Production and Script Development (PASD) programme, emerged from the floor at the first consultation in 2005.

Up for discussion was a 26 page abstract of the 200 page document, prepared by Lahiri School of Business Management, which sought to address the mission statement of the organisation, “To create and maintain a sustainable and viable film industry and to promote T&T as the premier film location.”
Practically jumping off the pages was the conflict between the ambitions of the Film Company and its painfully slim budget and administrative capacity.

The last budget request to government from the TTFC was for more than $20 million to cover a dizzying range of projects, which include film support, screenings, festivals and funding to support local productions. They got $6.5 million.

The plan for the next four years is no less ambitious. The successes of the last four years, with students graduating from UWI’s Film school (disclosure: I am a part-time lecturer there), the School’s Film Festival, more productions getting critical financing from the PASD programme and the success of projects like I am Santana encouraging even more enthusiasm for the medium will tax the resources of the TTFC and bring challenges unforeseen in 2005.

Among them are practical matters like subtitling and dubbing to improve distribution in the region. This is a step that needs to be handled properly, or films get translated from the sublime to the ludicrous in one easy step.
It’s serious enough to the life of a film in a language fractured region like the Caribbean with its Latin American neighbours that the IADB is considering funding centres for translation and UWI is being considered as a lynchpin resource for the ticklish business of translating West Indian English into foreign languages.

Copyright lawyer Anthony Viera noted that civil penalities for IP piracy are more puntive than criminal prosecutions. Remedies are available but aren’t being used.
Former COTT director Alvin Daniel noted that in 1998, 100 cases were brought before the courts for piracy infractions and not a single case resulted in a prosecution or a penalty. Police officers were said to be neither equipped nor interested in pursuing such cases with diligence.

Should pirates be persuaded to become distributors of local films? It wouldn’t be the only provocative question to be asked that morning.
In 1936, Bruce Paddington noted, the cinematographic act was brought into law because the British felt that there were too many films from the US in local cinemas? Should there be quotas? Increases in taxes with automatic rebates for cinemas and television stations who show more local films and shorts?

Fresh calls were made for the removal of all import duties and taxes on film making equipment. What will happen if such floodgates are opened? Will the proliferation that followed the removal of VAT and duty on computers be repeated?
Sonja Dumas noted the challenges that foreign filmmakers and producers have encountered with customs and crime as stalling points for bringing productions to Trinidad and Tobago.

In response, Pat Mohammed suggested that the TTFC should begin looking at Caribbean islands like the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico which have successfully sold themselves as locations for films.
It wasn’t all dour contemplation of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Two local students have been invited to study animation in India as a result of the January 2012 state visit.
Film also looks set to become part of the CXC syllabus as part of a creative studies course with options in dance, drama and cinematic arts expected to go live in 2014.

There is also to be a T&T Best Village Film Festival, beginning with training in five communities to each produce a short film.
The challenges of the next strategic plan will not be in building, but in consolidating the successes of 2005-2012 into something that looks more like a sustainable industry.
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