Monday, July 13, 2015

Film Biz: After the inaugural JA Film Fest, will it be "Lights, Camera....Industry?"

Having been briefly denied access to the Opening and voluntarily skipped the Closing ceremony, we managed to skip much of the glitzier aspects of the inaugural Jamaica Film Festival, put on by JAMPRO through its Jamaica Film Commission, and with help from the CHASE Fund, FOX Audience Strategy and other corporate and institutional partners.

we also screened relatively few films - four if an exact figure be demanded: the quirky yet ultimately sad and ironic "Country" (A peek into the present hardscrabble existence of the star of the 80s novelty Countryman), the compelling "Mas Man" (a peek, not into the life, but into the brilliant design philosophy of the irascible Peter Minshall), the dazzling yet lightweight romance "Destiny" and the unassuming yet ultimately heroic drama "Kingston Paradise" (more on these in a separate post).

So then, where was the "gold" in attending this high-powered gathering? In the seminars/panel discussions, There, the likes of  Paula Madison, writer-producer-channel owner (The AFRICA Channel), Basil Wallace (of "Marked for Death" Steven Seagal notoriety, but so much more), Tonya Williams (Young and the Restless alum and founder of her own filmfest, the Reel World Film Festival), Arthur Wylie (lanky, cool, soft-spoken but brilliant money manager turned film producer), Bernard Thomas (33 years with ESPN...nuff said), Marlon Paul (Betcha never knew that Timbaland's wedding videographer was a Caribbean man) and many others unfurled skeins of valuable (indeed invaluable) info.

Madison, who took NBC news from worst to first, was a co-owner of the WNBA's LA Sparks (before Magic Johnson) and had the temerity to take star producer Brian Grazer's regular limo driver, told how an upbringing by Jamaican parents in Harlem (including a Chinese mother, more on that) helped her and her brothers formulate and activate a philosophy on collective wealth, which, of course, she is still living.

Wylie, who overcame a Malcom x-style discouragement that he was "just a little too dark" to succeed in finance to build a firm that managed just over three-quarters of a billion dollars by the time  he sold it, told of his serendipitous association with Black writer Omar Tyree ("Fly Girl") and the attendant foray into the film business, on the heels of a major deal with Lionsgate. He also spoke of his Arthur Wylie Foundation, the upcoming Crazy and Fearless Golf tournament in Mobay (named after his inspirational book, Only the Crazy and Fearless win BIG!) and the in-development "White Witch" movie project, in which he is involved with Rollins family scion Michael Rollins and J Reddick, of the Final Destination horror/sci-fi franchise.

Tobago-born, Canada-based camera nut Paul spoke of travelling the world as a news cinematogpher/producer/cameraman and of the fateful call to go to Aruba from the Timbaland camp, a call which he initially rejected several times as a prank. There, he would distinguish himself by disregarding the objections of a co-ordinator and stashing a light bank in nearby bushes so as to compensate for the bride's proverbial late arrival, which would otherwise have thrown the wedding party beyond sundown and into darkness.

One of the points reinforced by the panelists, to the chagrin of some attendees, was that commercially, Los Angeles/Hollywood was still the global epicenter of the film business, even if volumes in Nigeria and India had overtaken those in the US. Therefore, posited Williams and others (including former pro baseballer turned "Being Mary Jane" star Stephen Bishop) to be truly successful on a global scale in film would require, at some point, a move to La-la Land, and further, for aspiring actors, it was imperative. This assertion prompted a minor storm of debate which was thankfully, soon quieted.

Overall, the main takeaway is that film is a collaborative, demanding business (that will "eat you up" in Wallace's words) but one with massive potential, particularly for the acknowledged talent pool present in Jamaica. the question still to be answered is can the required mobilization of people and funds take place in a post-IMF Jamaica to allow us to make the kind of dent, beyond high-placed individuals overseas, that the country needs and that our heritage deserves?

Stay tuned....

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