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Entertainment Last Updated: Jun 2, 2017 - 6:55:43 PM

The State of Caribbean Film: The Bahamas
By Travolta Cooper, The Cinemas
May 30, 2017 - 11:33:33 PM

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That's a wrap! From left to right is Barry Jenkins - Oscar winning filmmaker of "Moonlight"; Bahamian filmmaker Travolta Cooper; and Bahamian filmmaker, Kareem Mortimer of "Cargo"

Cannes, France - And that's a wrap for Cannes’ 70th! Walking away, this wasn’t the best Cannes Film Festival I've attended; at least not as it relates to ‘content’ in the competition. No. Cannes 70th was mostly about ‘form.’  I think it wanted to send a message about the shifting world of cinema: that, and the shifting word of the word “cinema.”

Cannes 2017 aimed to redefine cinema as it relates in infrastructure. We saw that with streaming giants like Netflix ( Okja) and Amazon ( Wonderstruck). We saw that with TV-as-cinema with work by Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake” miniseries ( Top Of The Lake got better reviews at the festival than traditional films). We saw this most marvelously with Alejandro G. Inarritu's stunning breakthrough in virtual reality filmmaking, Carne y Arena, a six-and-a-half-minute total immersion experience.

“The Square,” one of the best in terms of “content” that I saw at the festival, and which represents a lot of traditional cinema (unless Netflix buys it) took home the Palm d’Or prize. So how does all this affect The Bahamas, the country to which I belong? What is the state of Caribbean cinema in the Bahamas? In short, I don’t really know the “state” of Caribbean film in the Bahamas; at least not as it relates to industry. How is that so? Well, we haven’t put in place any real infrastructure for a Caribbean Film Industry in the Bahamas.

Ruben Östlund, director of Palme D’Or Winner, ‘The Square’

The only reason we’re talking about The Bahamas is because this particular project’s origins. In our fourth year at Cannes, The Bahamas has been largely been absent at Cannes. Again. We do have content at home, we have loads of talent, and we have resources (The Bahamas is the third highest per capita income in the western hemisphere), but we don’t have an infrastructure.

With The Cinemas, a show we produced in The Bahamas (this is the last year for it) we’re all about Hollywood and World Cinema, but the emphasis, no doubt, has been Caribbean Cinema. That is the whole point: to spotlight, document, journal, motivate, and encourage a Caribbean film industry. This required a lot of work in front of and behind the camera.

While we have mentioned the constant presence of the Dominican Republic at the festival, we should stress that it is only because they are because they are committed financially to a Caribbean Film Industry. We expressed admiration for the leadership of Trinidad and Tobago at the Festival. But this is because Trinidad is committed to a Caribbean Film Industry. As it relates to a Caribbean Film industry in the Bahamas, are we committed? With that said, there’s no way to begin talking about film and industry in the Bahamas without mentioning (and crediting) The Bahamas International Film Festival.

The Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF) has been a tremendous catalyst in kick-starting a potential industry for film in the Bahamas and the Region. It has played a small role in my own success as a filmmaker. It’s played a role in the award winning Bahamian movie “Rain” getting made. It played a role with the award winning “Children Of God” (another Bahamian film) getting made. I remember that one year in particular when Children Of God opened the festival while at the same time Johnny Depp was being honoured as the Star Tribute. The sky was no limit, it seemed, for what the country could accomplish in cinema, and BIFF was its engineer.

Sofia Coppola became only the second woman to win best director at the festival.

But somehow along the way, things fizzled. The festival, which was originally supported by the Ministry of Tourism, lost much of its financial support from the government. Since then, we have seen it go from its glorious rise to barely getting by. BIFF by all appearances seems to struggle year after year. I checked to see if BIFF was a part of the Caribbean Association of Film Festivals only to discover that it is not. Perhaps this is much of its problem: BIFF has functioned and continues to functions as its own thing. I ran into some people at Cannes and mentioned that I was from The Bahamas. They commented that they went to BIFF and that it was “a nice party.” That’s it? A nice party? Noted. Bahamian film is a nice party event.

“We need more governmental support”, says Kareem Mortimer (filmmaker of Children of God). Mr. Mortimer is perhaps the Bahamas’ most prolific filmmaker with three feature film narratives under his belt. He was at Cannes 2017 doing business with the ‘Producers Network’ and on behalf of his third feature film, a movie called “Cargo.” Cargo, which tells the story of the plight of Haitian immigrants passing through the Bahamas, is currently on the film festival circuit. Kareem said of it, “We have a distribution plan in place for Cargo that we’ll be rolling out in a few weeks.” Kareem has also added the role of ‘Curator’ to his resume working at “The Island House” (a boutique hotel) in Nassau (the nation’s capital city) screening mostly art house films. And just earlier this year, he was a part of introducing the Island House Film Festival, sitting on the Festival’s board. The Festival is non-competitive and its emphasis is to spotlight local talent. “In The Bahamas I think the impetus for young filmmakers that are expressing themselves through the technology available has grown. Public support for film is what we lack. That would help to give us a more global presence," Kareem added.

And then there’s the emerging Caribbean Film Festival and Market (CFFM), which will be held in Freeport (our nation’s second city) this November. CFFM has been the topic of discussion for quite some time in circles I found myself in, and it is the real reason to end The Cinemas. We feel like passing the baton to what looks like could be a most auspicious event and moment for our country. I can only really hope it will be. Truth? It looks to be off to a not so promising bumpy start. While it is still shrouded in some mystery with regard to its organization and administration, according its website, CFFM is a “Ministry of Tourism initiative designed to bring focused attention to the production of film products in the Caribbean and Diaspora.”  So it’s the People’s money being spent on it. Got it.

Then they recently announced that they are partnering with Caribbean Tales World Wide Distribution (out of Canada) in the Region for the Festival and Market. Partnering with Canada to work in Caribbean Region? Okay.

With the Dominican Republic, we saw how that nation, as an audience, supports local films over Hollywood productions at their box office. With Trinidad, we see an infrastructure in place to incentivize and fund films being made in the country. Add that to the ever shifting world of cinema, we are learning from Cannes, and I think CFFM can learn from all of this, and create a perfect storm for a successful venture.

The Cinemas is the brainchild of its host, Bahamian writer, director, and producer Travolta Cooper, who began the show as a result of an endorsement deal with The Bahamas’ movie theater chain. At heart, The Cinemas is designed to promote and encourage the new wave of Caribbean Cinema happening in the Region and around the world. The show consists of movie reviews and interviews with a Caribbean twist.


Travolta Cooper at Cannes: Why is Netflix here?

Travolta Cooper at Cannes: What is Amazon Studios doing here?

Travolta Cooper at Cannes: Okja and The “New Hollywood”

The State of Caribbean Cinema: The Dominican Republic

European Cinema and Independent Sensibilities

Sofia Coppola’s "The Beguiled"

The State of Caribbean Film: Trinidad and Tobago

Blurred Lines: What Exactly is “Cinema” in 2017?

An Interview with the Film Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago

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