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Sunday, April 15, 2007

TRINIDAD EXPRESS: 'Trinidad not ready for global film industry'

The Sunday Express of April 15th, 2007 carries the story at caption. Written by Rowan Gould, it covers comments made by the producers of the movie "Branded" which filmed at locations in Trinidad and Tobago recently.

Held at the Cascadia Hotel, producers Daniel Springen and Gerard Anthony Joseph made much ado about the beauty of the country and the fantastic locations that exist for filming, but in the same breath casitgated the country because, "There's too much running around and paperwork involved in entering the country with film equipment and getting permission to use locations."

Perception is reality, and maybe these gentlemen really did have a hard time getting their footage here. But to say to our press that they would never recommend Trinidad and Tobago to any film maker is a little more than harsh.

While I will admit that I don't know Trinidad and Tobago to have a rich feature-length film tradition, there have been moves made in recent times to prepare the country for local and foreign movie making, and to support the industry as it already exists. Perhaps if both Springen and Joseph had done some homework, things would have been easier for them.

For starters, the web site of the Film Company of Trinidad and Tobago (http://www.filmtnt.com/) provides more than enough basic information for a film maker to plan a visit to the country, even before he contacts the company to finalise arrangements. I found the Film Company's website myself by searching for "film in trinidad and tobago" on Google, and given how clear the procedures and accessible the information provided, it made me wonder whether what these gentlemen wanted was to be met by Hervé Villechaize on the tarmac, ringing a bell and shouting "Ze plane! Ze plane!"

Indeed, how many locals can say that they had at their disposal the services of Trinidad and Tobago Police Service vehicles and officers, not for crowd control, but for actual filming. I was quite impressed that on a Saturday afternoon, the length of Park Street was blocked off to facilitate these gentlemen, and that their footage also included the precincts and premises of our Port of Spain Magistrates' Court.

I am surprised then that they are so dissatisfied. But that then says to me one of two things. Either they did not avail themselves of all of the services of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company and that in a timely fashion. Alternatively, these foreigners - and I do include local-born Gerard Anthony Joseph in the category "foreigners" - expected that in true colonial fashion, the business of all Trinidad and Tobago would cease to facilitate them. They can't expect the same in the country they came from.

While these gents make their assertions about the nation's readiness to support the international film industry, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago through the Ministry of Trade and Industry had gone so far in 2005 as to establish a strategic direction for the support of film and filming. Out of this initiative has come both the Film Company of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Film Company-sponsored Bachelors degree in Film which started at the UWI St. Augustine Campus in the 2006/07 academic year. The Film degree is just another extension of a well-matured Theatre Arts programme run by the University.

This too is a country that has generated wildly popular series and films. Most recently, the nation would stop for an hour on a Sunday night while Westwood Park aired. Only The Cosby Show may have been so popular among locals. Before this, we used to sit to take in Calabash Alley, Sugar Cane Arrows (interracial relationship angst at its best!) and No Boundaries. We've had our game shows with Horace James' Play Your Cards Right, and our own short movies in Play of the Month. So, yes, we do have something of a film tradition which the powers that be would do well to nurture, and by written accounts are doing so.

These gentlemen, Springen and Joseph, though want more than the professionalism and organisation that we are trying to build into our own film industry. If they were bringing the promise of revenue, whether one-time major injections or the promise of future revenue streams, then that's one thing. But to go completely out of our way to facilitate the production of every low-budget action flick to ever be badly written, filmed and then relegated to 2:00AM cable, perhaps these guys really need to film in another location where they will be treated like the Lords that they seem to see of themselves.

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