Ingrid Jahra is a bold woman. In 1995, when the Internet meant nothing to most Trinidadians, she and her husband Brian took the brave step of establishing one of this country's early new media companies dedicated to building Web sites. They knew nothing about new media at the time; she had a degree in tourism management, but they taught themselves along the way, developing some of this country's first corporate Web sites for TSTT and the Tourism Development Company, among others. Their company, Caribbean Interactive Multimedia Limited, developed the Caribbean's first multimedia interactive CD-ROMs in 1997. The CD, the Multimedia Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt was produced in collaboration with ABC TV New York and the software integrated into the educational curriculum of various US cities. The Jahras sold their company to Neal and Massy ITC Group and she went on to work for Ansa McAl, successfully launching the company's Web site and developing web policies. Now, Jahra, who recently completed her MBA, is set to make another entry into this country's history books. Founder of Giant Screen Entertainment, she is the woman behind IMAX theatre's entry into Trinidad and Tobago.
A mother of three, Jahra and her family have often attended IMAX theatres abroad and were always amazed, she says, by the quality of the experience, particularly the 3D technology. "I liked the brand and I always wanted to be in media so my husband and I, together with our business partner Gerry Hadeed, approached IMAX about coming to Trinidad," she said. "We saw the genesis of where they were going from film to digital. In 2006, they started to digitise some films and they wooed film directors. We saw this trend and then the 3D technology. We were watching the company and decided to try to see if we could get it. In 2008, we wrote a letter and the synergies were right. I think things happen for a reason."
Getting this large worldwide brand to Trinidad wasn't easy. It is a costly venture, hovering somewhere around the $20 million mark to complete the project. Jahra faced many closed doors, despite proof that this was a worthwhile venture and the evidence lay in the packed cinemas across the country each weekend. AIC Limited eventually stepped in to fund the project but sponsorship was vital to defray the costs of attendance. "It wasn't absolutely easy to get sponsorship. There were those who said thanks but no thanks. It was a easier sell when people were familiar with the brand."
Giant Screen teamed up with Jim Patterson, the project director and consultant on the IMAX Trinidad project, to assist. Jahra met Patterson at a conference held by the Giant Screen Entertainment Association and was impressed with his experience. Patterson has over 20 years in the family entertainment industry, launching and managing a variety of projects in eight countries. A Canadian, he worked as the vice president of sales for South East Asia for IMAX and worked with several customers to open and run 15 IMAX theatres. The team was able to secure five non-competing sponsors: Digicel, Carib, Ansa Automotive, Atlantic LNG and FCB. Digicel is the title sponsor and as such the local brand will be called Digicel IMAX. "Our theatre allegedly has the most sponsorship network," Jahra revealed proudly. Asked if she believes T&T could sustain another cinema, Jahra said she researched the market deeply to see if the model could be sustained here and believes instead of competing, IMAX would add to the movie-going experience. "I think I can grow the market, we can co-exist," she said, noting that she wants to see how the market supports it before considering branches in San Fernando and Chaguanas.
She also believes the IMAX experience is worth the $75 ticket fee. The theatre, to be located at One Woodbrook Place, will seat 360 people and each seat would be assigned upon ticket purchase so lining up for a good seat will be eliminated. Jahra, who has been involved in every detail, down to the type of seats chosen to outfit the space, said the geometry of the cinema would make every seat a good seat.
Despite the technological wonders of the brand, Jahra is particularly pleased with the opportunities it offers for learning. The cinema will be open on mornings to accommodate field trips for school children to see educational films such as Born to be Wild 3D, Hubble 3D and Under the Sea 3D. "It is a commercial venture but I like that we will do something meaningful, that our children can be exposed to learning."