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A Flashpoint Of The Jamaican Film Industry

A Flashpoint Of The Jamaican Film Industry

A Flashpoint Of The Jamaican Film Industry

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The Flashpoint Film Festival 2008 was held last week in the historic Port Royal in Jamaica and celebrated the premieres of three new Jamaican films. Report.

What would Admiral Lord Nelson have thought, I wondered, as I listened to the howls of laughter, hoots of joy and shouts of acclaim that boomed across Port Royal from the Quarterdeck where he had one surveyed the coast of Jamaica. Instead of the crash of cannon fire Where the sea Lord had warred in the historic era of the infamous pirate town, there was now a happy celebration of the premieres of three new Jamaican films in the Flashpoint Film Festival that occupied the national historic monument Fort Charles for three nights.

With rows of seats in the well of the Fort guarded by the protection of four ancient cannons, seating on the Main Deck provided Balcony and VIP area, while upstairs on Nelson's Quarterdeck -- a brick walled boardwalk with gun emplacements -- the crowd of young fans cheered the real 'stars' of the Festival -- young film makers Joel Burke, Nile and Storm Saulter who presented three well made, enjoyable and even controversial films that mark a new era in Jamaican film making.

Flashpoint Film FestivalFlashpoint's move to the quiet village of Port Royal from its Negril origins for its third event to hopefully capture the larger Kingston audience, made sense to those seated in the midst of so much history to participate in an event that was making its own unique history. This centered around the premieres of the films by Flashpoint's producers -- Firefly Films, whose CEO Paul Bucknor ('The Full Monty') was the sponsor, producer and mentor of them all. That the film makers Storm, Nile and Joel whom Bucknor has mentored are all under 25, deserves celebration and brings to the fore the determined effort by Firefly films to make an important contribution to encouraging a truly Jamaican film industry, where Jamaicans tell their own stories, rather than simply working on the films of non-Jamaicans. That the three film makers who made history at Flashpoint are all members of the computer and internet generation, underscores the fact that today's global film industry has been made accessible to new creators because the new breed of high definition digital video cameras facilitate minds raised on computer games and cable TV to present their creativity using computer-based film technology from script through production, to editing, screening and distribution.

As Jamaican films, all three had fresh and unusual plots set in real-life Jamaican situations that are not often captured on film. Opening the Festival on Thursday night was Part One of "Soundrel", Nile Saulter's feature about a small, unsanitary restaurant and its proprietor's efforts to avoid the health inspector, that raised guffaws of laughter and ancitipation for its promised second half -- which the director informed is yet to be scripted and filmed.

Joel Burke's "Candy Store" which screened Friday night to a much larger audience, describes itself as 'the first Jamaican teenage comedy' about three high schoolers whose quest for a 'gentleman's club' lapdance after CXC graduation exam day, leads them into hilarious situations that accurately display Jamaican teenage life, home life and as well as some typical social situations. It was given a raucous, standing ovation for its director-writer Joel Burke. Special mention must be made of the young actors, especially Everaldo Creary, whose comic timing is so sharp he captures attention continually, reminding of Carl Bradshaw and Charlie Hyatt. Female lead Melissa Fearon also did an excellent job in the dual role as "Eve/Steve', adding to the humour and plot twist.

On Saturday night it was time for the controversial and much-anticipated "Betta Mus' Come" by Storm Saulter was screened to a crowd that filled the venue and included such celebrities as singer Wayne Marshall.

Set in the 70s when the film's title was a popular political slogan, it's a fast-paced action film set in a Kingston ghetto where the orange-and-green factions are constantly at war. One witnesses the swift and violent death and vengeance that arises from the political guerilla war and leads to events that show the lead up and reality of the infamous Green Bay Massacre. It's a surprisingly accurate view inside the ghetto, gritty and real with well-directed action and way-too-realistic violence, but it is an extremely well-made film -- from all angles. It will be interesting to see other critical opinion on this film as, with only the brave present cultural forms that examine Jamaica's recent political history -- this one certainly does.

To get the reality for a film shot in 12 days, the main actors were moved into the Cassia Park ghetto where it was shot and for several weeks of casting, preparation and shooting, the entire crew became a part of the neighbourhood which, in return gave their full participation. It helped the realism of the entire film.

Though I think the film could do with a little tightening to make the story flow faster (and Storm admitted in his post screening thank-you that he was still finishing editing touches up to half hour before the show), I give the film high commendation. It makes me proud of what Jamaican film is today and I think this is one film that is going to become one of Jamaica's most controversial. Hollywood actor Roger Guenevere Smith as 'Manley" is believable, and Everardo Creary plays a serious role as well as he does comedy. From the cinematic aspects of direction, acting, script and editing, all three films display a level of professionalism usually seen only in major Hollywood movies.

Though it may have seemed that Flashpoint was only about the Firefly films, there were screenings of other films that, though the daily schedule changed randomly, were worth a look. One of these was "Kapskilla - Chapter One" by Allan "Endless" Tenant, well-known 27-year-old director of edgy music videos for artists like Richie Spice. Starring dance hall DJ Raw Raw, this intense 20-minute action thriller sticks to the guns-and-drugs-in-the-ghetto scenario, but does so with the electric energy and fast-paced editing typical of the MTV generation, that made it riveting.

The Jamaica Film Academy was invited by Flashpoint to present 3 films in their 'Ites, Gold & Green" section of the programme. These were "Roots Time" the hilarious feature film by Argentinian Sylvestre Jacobi that follows the adventures of two Rasta record vendors travelling around Jamaica in a well-decorated car. Also shown was "Summer Sound in Canada" a documentary directed by Jamaican singer Keith 'Jerry' Brown about the birth and growth of reggae in the 70s in Canada. The director came in from Westmoreland to be present, while director of the third film "Jungle' George Tait travelled from Canada for the screening of his documentary 'Destination Jamaica'. Though advised to let the Festival screen Part One of his film, he preferred to show the second half which was little more than home movie-style introduction to Jamaican foods and lifestyle made for his family back in Canada. He was disappointed at the lacklustre reception from the audience, but nevertheless overjoyed that he had come down to Jamaica both to be at Flashpoint as well as to be in the beauty and history of Port Royal -- about which he continually marvelled.

Films were shown daily on the other side of the town in a small multi-purpose room at the Royal Naval Hospital. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust has been doing a magnificent job of restoration of this large two-storey building, with its high-ceilinged, many-windowed rooms and wide verandahs. The audience for these screenings was always small and some films never made it to the screen. More time was spent between seminars enjoying the wonderful view from the building of the turquoise Kingston Harbour, the mountains across framing the water, the bright sunshine-filled sky, boats of all sizes and passenger jets of several airlines. Beside the wide verandah stood ruined red brick buildings -- survivors of the earthquake and still beautiful in their unique way. A tourism gem yet untapped, but hopefully the JNHT realises its value and plans (with finance) are in place.

SEMINARS

Seminars hosted by the JTI Film Commission were held each day. On Day one we heard about the UK film co-production treaty and how it works. It's a process aimed at providing tax-exempt benefits for productions that have a UK component -- whether originating from Jamaica or the UK. It's a process that needs explanation, but there were several would-be producers listening in hope of benefiting.For local producers, finding a UK producer will be the first hurdle, as there are several hundred from which to choose. However, some ways to narrow the search were offered.

On Saturday a seminar on Screenplay writing was given by Trevor Rhone ('Smile Orange"; 'The Harder They Come'; 'Milk & Honey'). Instead of a 'how-I-do-it talk, he challenged the aspiring writers to express their commitment to several aspects of writing a successful screenplay including: dedication and 'passion', the ability to tap into humanity, to write from instinct and with structure, and necessity to test the idea and premise.

Later in the afternoon noted Hollywood actor Roger Guenevere Smith (8 Spike Lee Films, including 'Malcolm X', 'Do The Right Thing') gave a lecture workshop on acting, taking those present through several exercises of mute interaction with and movement to express emotion, as well as harnessing the power of unity to make a successful team, explaining the philosophy that motivated these actions. Best of all, he answered questions afterwards about the films he had acted in, what it was like to work with Denzel Washington and Spike Lee and what he learned from such cinematic greats and other actors and film makers.

On Sunday the seminar on feature film making was led by Firefly Films Paul Bucknor, Joel Burke, Nile and Storm Saulter. They spoke on various aspects of how they made their films, casting, crew, editing and problems overcome. It was a lively session which saw the audience asking several questions to the team about their work and film ambitions. One Firefly Films innovation is their practise of making a short version of their intended movie -- a trailer or one scene -- and use it to shop their project to potential investors. It's an innovation that has enabled them to get funding for not just one, but three films premiered at Flashpoint 2008, with promise for at least two new films in 2009.

If it be said that the Flashpoint Film Festival only exists to screen Firefly films, I doubt that there is any more motive than to set an example of what can be done with limited funding, but unliminted commitment and creative talent to maintain the Jamaican film industry and produce the kind of films that will keep Jamaica's film name at the heights established by the late Perry Henzell in "The Harder They Come'. The fact that all the Firefly Films film makers knew and were inspired by Henzell himself, made their work even more important and welcome.

I congratulate Paul, JOel, Nile and Storm for their brilliant films, not forgetting newcomer to the pack, Allan Tennant.

THE TOWN OF PORT ROYAL

Port Royal is a beautiful Jamaican town, quiet and peaceful with no crime and nice people, as 'different' as if they live on another island. The quaint architecture of the town's streetwide townhouses, as well as the magnificent ancient ruins and history, makes one wonder why Port Royal is not a major tourist destination yet. Port Royal is often described as 'sleepy' and it seemed that everyone in town was asleep last weekend, as a few hundred people passed through for 3 days on their way to the Flashpoint Film Festival. I kept thinking that the opportunity should have been taken, either by the festival organisers or the citizens themselves, to use the event to boost cultural tourism.

The staff at only hotel did not know her hotel had been the location for the first and most famous James Bond movie, whose author Ian Flemming's centenary is being celebrated at the moment, nor that "In Like Flint' and Jamaican movie 'KLA$H' also shot scenes there. Only the bellman who carried my bags knew about these well-known films that were made at the hotel. I could see that a link between Port Royal and film can give the town a modern tourism attraction from our cultural creativity (rather than from a past we'd rather forget) that could 'wake' it up.

Maybe its the long drive from Kingston, especially for those with no cars of their own. The ferry is gone (I bemoan its demise) but the bus service is regular so it's possible for this event to do for Port Royal what Calabash did for the equally sleepy town of Treasure Beach. If the film festival in Port Royal grows annually, it could stimulate a renaissance that brings life to this sleepy, beautiful town, as the Firefly films have stimulated the nascent Jamaican film industry.

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