Nneka Luke–the newly minted general manager of the state company Film TT–came in time to preside over a local "film festival season" richer than it's ever been.
The ten-year-old T&T Film Festival ran from September 20-27. The 15-year-old Animae Caribe animation festival was held from October 24-29. The five-year-old Green Screen environmental film festival took place from November 1-12. And the inaugural Caribbean Fashion and Arts Feature Festival happened from November 17-19. Film TT sponsored the first three festivals and Luke sat on the jury for the last.
"Where you have other industries stagnating or in decline, creative industries are on the rise," said Luke, the former external relations director of the T&T Film Festival, in a recent interview. "T&T certainly has a lot of potential. We certainly have the talent. I think we need to fill the gaps that exist and continue to build on the foundation that exists to be a significant player in that international industry."
Three years after a rocky start and multiple personnel changes at the leadership level, Creative TT and its subsidiary companies, Film TT, Music TT and Fashion TT–established to boost the creative industries in T&T–seem to be finally coming into their own.
There's been a recent spate of conversation and activity geared toward making the most of the potential Luke spoke of, much of it facilitated by the three Creative TT subsidiaries.
Fashion TT has begun to implement a five-year strategic plan which had been more than a year in development. And Music TT has begun its own development process, which, according to its general manager, Jeanelle Frontin, should result in a plan by April. Luke said Film TT should begin its strategic plan process next year.
The companies held regular workshops and seminars over the year. Videos from one were posted on Fashion TT's YouTube channel. Creative TT finally launched its website this year, and visitors to it can find links to the subsidiary companies and information about T&T's fashion, film and music industries.
But despite the positive buzz, there are still glitches in the operation of Creative TT as some stakeholders remain skeptical and the office of CEO remains unfilled since the last occupant was fired in November 2015.
The company's subvention from the national budget was reduced markedly in 2016 as part of an across-the-board belt-tightening to cope with economic challenges facing the country.
The companies nevertheless went forward with major plans in 2016 and in 2017 intend to continue to do so.
Fashion TT unveiled its strategic plan in late 2015. General manager Lisa-Marie Daniel said some adjustments will have to be made because of the new funding realities, but none that will affect the basic goals of the plan.
"Times like this call for being innovative and to re-prioritise," she said. "We're just basically selecting those projects that are more important to follow through with, in order to make sure that we build a strong, viable industry."
One key project, a garment production factory, should be operational by May 2017.
"We have no shortage of creativity and skill," Daniel said of the T&T fashion industry. "We have demand for local pieces locally and on a global scale. It's just that we need to be able to fulfil that demand–and that is what the manufacturing facility is going to do."
But some in the industry have objections to how the factory is going to be run and other aspects of the Fashion TT's operation.
Designer Robert Young of The Cloth led a walkout during a meeting about the project in November. He believes the factory should be a cooperative, giving the people who sew the garments more say in its operation. This will ensure, he believes, increased commitment and lower turnover, which is better for a creative endeavour.
Daniel had been a financial analyst, had sat on boards of other state companies, and has been Fashion TT GM since March 2015. He said the goal is for the factory to be given its independence after three years, but Fashion TT wants to first ensure it can sustain itself. "At the end of the day, the facility is really for the designers," she said.
Young seems generally skeptical of Fashion TT. In a TV interview, he pointed to questionable projects in the past, like a 2014 showcase of local fashion for Vogue Italia that came under criticism for how participating designers were chosen and its ultimate benefit.
In July, Young posted a link to a copy of the strategic plan on his Facebook page.
"Designers, we need to do some reading circles to full[y] understand this document," he wrote. "It seems it is being rolled out and we are unaware of its guts."
At a series of stakeholder meetings this year, the general manager of Music TT faced doubt from musicians who had seen similar efforts in the past.
"The general public doesn't even know you're here," said singer/songwriter Sharon Fraser, pointing to the company's continued lack of national visibility as evidenced by the many empty seats in the auditorium where the meeting was held.
Music writer and promoter Nigel Campbell said he has no confidence that state companies can help creative industries.
Pointing to previous efforts like the T&T Entertainment Company (T&T ENT), he said in a recent TV interview: "That state enterprise model is just not a model that works efficiently. The line minister has some input and things go off track. The results have just not been positive over the years."
Frontin, who's been a involved in the entertainment business in various ways and came aboard as Music TT GM the same time as Daniel, showed she's very much aware of the challenges she faces.
Her voice firm and steady, she told participants at the meeting:
"Everyone needs improvement, from the Government straight through to the artist. The artists have to be more entrepreneurial. The radio broadcasters need to put their ears to the ground far more than they do right now. The government needs to give far more money that they're giving into this. And we have a responsibility to fix the system. So everyone here has a role to play."