When I was a child I expressed my love for movies to my mother, to which she responded, “I wanted to be an actress, but that is not realistic.” Flash forward to 2017: about a month ago I was asked by a Saint Lucian filmmaker to play a role in his second short film – how times have changed! Creativity functions as the heartbeat of the 21st century. More than ever before, the gap between worlds and ideas far beyond our physical reach has narrowed. Provided that the cards are played right, Saint Lucia and the wider Caribbean could be on the cusp of unveiling the true potential of a thriving creative sector and the ocean of new opportunities that come with it. For the purposes of this article, professional filmmakers Colin Weekes and Darnel Kendal John, who have taken up the task of pioneering this new industry, enlightened the STAR on the ins and outs of their journeys thus far.
Mr. Weekes said it was dating back to his childhood when his love for film began. The media landscape in Saint Lucia has developed tremendously since. “When I started off in the 70s as a boy, people were wondering what I was talking about; things have changed in terms of the amount of people who are now interested,” Weekes explained. With more persons openly showing interest, the industry is now, as one young filmmaker put it, in its “foetus” stage. But why should other islanders care? Says Weekes: “We generally have a mindset that the Arts is no big thing; that it does not have consequences, but it does. Look at what we are feeding our youngsters: what it is they are seeing on television; we expose them to all sorts of things.”
No doubt, positive Caribbean voices and stories are lacking in the world at large, as well as here in our own small islands. It would be a game changer to have the dominating images in our mainstream media reflect ourselves and our stories as opposed to primarily foreign narratives.
With a number of projects produced by veteran filmmakers like Davina Lee and Mathurine Emmanuel, who both have had their films screened at France’s Cannes Film Festival, Dale Elliot, who is now widely known for his television series Untold Stories but has a number of films under his belt, and young filmmakers like Pierre Chester, Imran St. Brice and Lance George, Saint Lucia has a sufficient pool of content ready and available. It is likely, though, that the average Saint Lucian would be unfamiliar with the work of the aforementioned. Why? According to Weekes and John, more needs to be done at a base level to facilitate the production and distribution of local films and programmes. Weekes explained: “What we have is an industry that operates on its own; there are hardly any regulations and laws that anyone has to follow. The majority of the practices here are illegal. We pirate copyrighted content and we sell advertising in that illegal space. [They think] ‘Why would I pay a local production company to produce and show content when I could just pirate something off the internet, play it for free and charge someone to advertise during it?’ If there is regulation that allows the growth of more local products, then you are forced to produce more locally.”
Darnel Kendal John, who speerheaded the Audio and Video Film Association (AVFA), did so to present these very concerns to the relevant authorities. He stated, “One of the reasons we formed the AVFA is because we realized that if we need to fight this, we need to fight it as an association; as a collective, we are saying this is hampering our livelihood and hampering our progress as a nation.”
According to the two men, financial opportunities are missed regularly when foreign companies express interest in shooting films on-island but are deterred due to a lack of structure. “One time, a crew of 20 came down. They called the ministry to say that they were coming to Saint Lucia. They came down and they were lost: they did not know where to go to find information on professionals. In their minds there are not even qualified persons on the island,” Weekes revealed, both he and Mr. John indicating that this happens quite a lot.
John added, “To understand what we are losing, when people come to a country to shoot a film, they’re supposed to
pay something. They don’t just walk in, take a camera and start shooting. Filmmakers out there ask us where do we pay? And how much? That is all they are interested in. But we can’t tell them where to go.”
According to John, these missed opportunities are what inspired the AVFA and its members to work towards establishing a Film Commission. “We’re in the process of trying to get a film commission off the ground. The commission will help put structures in place for the film industry. We’ve been
to the government, we’ve provided proposals and I believe it’s now before cabinet. We hope it doesn’t just stay there.”
When they are not out pulling strings for the film industry or working on personal projects, the two men individually put their energies towards nurturing young talent and manifesting platforms for filmmakers through AVFA workshops and Colin Weekes’ Caribbean Youth Film Festival. They, along with a growing number of filmmakers in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean, are hoping to accomplish the unprecedented.
John lamented, “We don’t rely totally on government; we don’t have to get hand-outs but, at the end of the day, we acknowledge that we have to have an enabling environment for the industry to thrive. Other industries get the hand-outs, and the assistance. The banana industry was one; the tourism industry is still getting handouts and they are a thriving, strong industry. We believe the creative industry is the next industry that can be the pillar for the economy.”
Many of us hope this declaration to not be another futile attempt at lifting Saint Lucia’s creative sector off the ground.