Jamaica has taken a blow from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe. Education, Farming, Fitness, Financial, Food, Manufacturing. You name it, they have taken a hit. Disney recently furloughed 43,000 employees from their theme parks alone in the United States. Geez, can you imagine 43,000 people who got paid to entertain kids, now have to go home to entertain their kids 24/7 and not get paid for it. Yikes Talk about irony.
In Jamaica some people are already being sent home without pay. In the local film arena Palace Amusement, the cinema monopoly in Jamaica has closed their doors till further notice. No more of those succulent salty hot dogs and buttery popcorn. Well, I have Act II Popcorn in my cupboard, so I don’t miss that as much, but those hot dogs though. Sigh, I digress.
Sadly, at a time when Filmmaking is experiencing a renaissance in Jamaica, Video Production crews are forced to stay home. A literal production hell nightmare.
One programme that has been pushing the barrier with film is the JAFTA Propella script to screen initiative of the Jamaica Film and Television Association. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a great way for filmmakers experienced and inexperienced to get a “Buss”. The word “Propella” is just Patois (Patwa) for Propeller, meaning to move forward.
Every year around November they have an open call for submissions of film treatments (Basically a synopsis of your story…NOT A SCRIPT), a blind judging process shortlists 10 projects during its first round. After submissions of a draft script and other items, 4 – 5 projects are selected and are awarded (subject to certain conditions of course), a partial production funding grant, and each project’s above-the-line participants take part in developmental workshops, towards creating a short film. In case you don’t know what “above-the-line” means, it’s Hollywood talk for the people in charge like the producers, director and writer.
This programme started in 2016 and to date has yielded 14 short films which have premiered in Trinidad, France, South Africa, Atlanta, Guadeloupe, Germany, Florida and a bag of other places. Combined the projects have raked in over 20 international awards like the Black Women’s Film Network, International Du Pan African De Cannes, Nouveaux Regards Film Festival, GATFFEST Film Festival, Bentonville Film festival and we’d be here all day if I listed anymore.
One of the films, “Flight” written by Kia Moses and directed by Kia Moses and Adrian McDonald aired on HBO Zone On February 3rd of this year. “Origins” by Kurt Wright received local funding to create a 60 minute slot pilot episode. “Mango Wars” by Kyle Chin and “This City of Mine” by Danielle Russell both signed distribution agreements with “Kweli TV” an African Diaspora Video On Demand platform regarded as the Afro-Descendant Netflix or Black Netflix if you want to straddle the lines of political correctness.
This year’s JAFTA Propella submissions closed the end of February just before COVID-19 hit Jamaica and concerns grew as to whether the programme would be postponed or even cancelled. Thankfully that is not the case. Had a chat with JAFTA President Analisa Chapman and she said there is no cancellation. The productions may be delayed however the steps that take place before production starts will be conducted virtually. In fact, the virtual ball has already started rolling.
Normally the announcement of the first-round top 10 shortlist is announced face to face at JAFTA monthly meetings but this year we did it via Instagram Live which saw up to 80 people tuning in to see who made the cut. The first Script Consultation session has already happened online, and participants are currently preparing for the second-round interviews and final judging for the final four projects, workshops, script consultations and more will be done virtually.
The hope is that by the time all the steps leading up to production are completed, the restrictions on movement and gathering in public will be lifted. If not, the productions will simply have to wait until the situation clears up.
Even if we (Jamaica) did have the luxury of filming during this time, practically all the film festivals JAFTA Propella would target have postponed their events. There is no rush to meet any external deadlines. Yes, this delays this year’s delivery of films and exposure of emerging talent, but it also gives the participants more time to polish up the quality of their final film. Thorough preparation almost always produces better results. That and a good team behind you.
In the meantime, I strongly encourage filmmakers to make use of the down time. Learn new skills. Collaborate online and find innovative ways to use technology and the internet to your advantage. Writers can still write. Producers can still prepare contracts, shot list and call sheets. Assistant Directors and Location scouts can still search for locations virtually in many cases and actors/actresses can rehearse online.
The show must go on, even if COVID-19 doesn’t go away. We must be prepared when that reality is before us.
Kevin Jackson is a writer, filmmaker and animator. He teaches Script Writing and Animation at the University of the West Indies, the HEART Vocational Training Development Institute and Northern Caribbean University. He currently serves as the outgoing President for the Jamaica Animation Nation Network and out going Marketing and Communications director for the Jamaica Film and Television Association. Oh, he is also the Vice President of the Jamaica Fencing Federation. No not chain link fence. Sword fencing. Yeah…that. Follow him @nivekproanimations