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Jamaicans fly in for Propella screening

Published: 
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Jafta Propella winners. Photo courtesy Kevin Jackson/ Jafta

A cadre of Jamaican filmmakers is attending this year’s T&T Film Festival to screen five short films in a special showcase. The films, which will have their world premiere at the festival, are the result of a programme called Propella initiated by the Jamaican Film and Television Association (Jafta).

The winning films were chosen from over 20 submissions in a blind application process. They are Original by Kurt Wright and Noelle Kerr; Shock Value by Adrian Lopez; Shoot the Girl by Tony Hendricks and Natalie Thompson; Sugar by Laurie Parker, Sharon Leach and Michelle Serieux; and The Silent Ones by Gregory Lopez and Janet Morrison.

The films’ genres range from urban to sci-fi and supernatural. Jafta marketing director Kevin Jackson said one mission of the organisation is to create opportunities for filmmakers and people involved in film, including writers and technical experts.

The name Propella came from the lift a helicopter propeller blades provide, as it was hoped this programme would lift filmmakers from script to final product, and is also the name of dance by popular dancehall artiste Elephant Man. The initiative gave the five filmmakers TT$500,000 (about US$4,500) each towards finishing their short film, as the biggest challenge for filmmakers is almost always funding.

“People don’t want just to make a short film, they want to make one that is impactful, visually appealing and looks professional, and that’s one of the main reasons why Propella came about,” he said.

“Because of the purpose of the project, you’ll find people are willing to help out where they can or reduce their rates to help make the film happen. So what you’re seeing is Jamaica trying to step up the production value of their storytelling because we want to be neck and neck with the professionals internationally.”

The Propella initiative was started after Jafta received an invitation in March from the festival to prepare a one-hour showcase. Jackson said the association asked its members to submit their concepts anonymously via email, with uniform formatting so that nobody could identify whose scripts was whose.

“The scripts were then sent to judges who would be reading them for the first time and they looked for uniqueness, innovation and story, because the whole idea was not just to tell a good story but also something that was feasible during the time frame given, and the other thing was to ensure that the story was captivating.

“Those stories represented a bit of innovation and uniqueness that the judges wanted to see.”

Ten scripts were picked initially, and the filmmakers went through training sessions in scriptwriting, directing, pitching, festival strategy and deal-making, following which the five winning films were chosen.

Funding came from the Jamaican Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (Chase) Fund, an organisation that gives funds to artistic and other ventures.

Jafta then approached the Film Commission at the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (Jampro) for assistance in getting the film-makers to attend the T&T Film Festival.

Jackson said Jampro was very enthusiastic about the initiative and went as far as also taking the filmmakers to the Toronto International Film Festival (Tiff). “They’re trying to push film and representation at the T&T Film Festival is a big deal because it’s the biggest film festival in the Caribbean. They saw merit in taking the filmmakers there, because you can enter a film festival but if you’re not there your presence isn’t really felt, even if your film does well.

“At Tiff, the filmmakers (would) be working and attending the marketplaces and finding out the new trends in the business side of the film industry. We definitely have to thank Jampro for assisting us to be able to push ourselves in the marketplace.”

Jackson said that following the world premiere at T&T Film Festival Jafta hopes to showcase the films at other major film festivals internationally in order to promote the filmmakers and try to make some of the short films into feature-length films.

“Most of them are actually feature film project ideas which were just done as shorts to get the concepts out there. Several film festivals have actually started asking for the films already, and the filmmakers going to festivals will be going to workshops to help broaden their knowledge and skill base.

“The hope is that by next year this time, we will see at least one or two of those films becoming feature length films to be put in theatres.”

The Propella initiative is also working on sustainability. “We hope that by the second year, the first Propella group will be helping out the next cohort of Propella filmmakers, giving them advice, telling them about their experiences on the film festival circuit, any business deals that they've made, giving pointers where that is concerned, so they pass on the knowledge and we can grow the film industry in Jamaica.”

The Jafta Propella shorts will screen next at 8 pm on September 26, MovieTowne, Tobago.