Film executive has big plans for movie industry in T & T

Film executive has big plans for movie industry in T & T

September 20, 2017

Forest-cloaked mountain ranges, palm-fringed beaches, scenic waterfalls, colonial and renaissance style architecture, a modern financial skyline and attractive cash rebates make Trinidad & Tobago an idyllic and ideal movie production location, says the twin-island republic's film company general manager & film commissioner Nneka Luke.

A subsidiary of the Trinidad and Tobago Creative Industries Company Limited (CreativeTT), FilmTT is the state agency established to develop the film and audio-visual industry in the islands.

She was in Toronto last week for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Caribbean Tales Incubator (CTI).

“We have the capacity that could serve as perfect backdrops and settings to produce films,” said Luke who has been on the job for a year. “It’s a mix of spaces combined with the diversity of our people that also allow us to double for other locations.”

‘Home Again’, a dramatic feature film about three adults deported to the land of their birth after spending significant time in foreign countries, was the last international production to be shot in T & T. It was co-written and produced by former Share photographer Sudz Sutherland and his wife Jennifer Holness.

Jamaica was initially targeted for the principal photography, but due to several stumbling blocks, including the lack of government support, the film was largely shot in T & T where cash rebates of up to 35 per cent are offered for expenditures accrued by producers while filming in the country.

There is also a 20 per cent cash rebate for local labour costs.

Considered one of the world’s great film festivals, TIFF offers priceless opportunities for industry leaders.

“I attended TIFF to pursue opportunities for our filmmakers and producers in T & T by looking to, where possible, connect our people directly to festivals, markets and funds,” said Luke. “At the same  time, I opened some conversations with producers to come and shoot films in our country because we are building capacity to accommodate productions between $1 and $5 million.”

She attended the six-day TIFF industry conference that featured an internationally-focussed premium programming comprising high-profile speakers, progressive discussions and innovative strategies for creative and business leaders.

“The industry program is excellent and it would be ideal for more of our producers to take part in because it’s a great networking and learning opportunity,” Luke said. “As we develop our capacity in T & T to attract productions and develop our indigenous content, we view TIFF as a potential training ground for our people.”

On the heels of TIFF and the CTFF is the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival (TTFF) which is in its 12th year.

It runs from September 19-26.

“This festival has become the meeting place for Caribbean filmmakers,” said Luke. “It is the only festival in the Caribbean with a strong focus on Caribbean content and, by extension, content from Trinidad & Tobago. The program features curated features and shorts. The shorts program is a good way to see what people are doing from a developmental perspective and how they can move into developing their feature work. About 60 per cent of the program will be films from T & T and other parts of the Caribbean. The rest of the program is international and, in that way, the festival aims to also develop audiences in T & T for cinema they would not normally see.”

‘Green Days by the River’, one of four feature narrative films shot in T & T this year and premiering the TTFF, will open the festival.

Shot in south Trinidad, the film is an adaptation of Michael Anthony’s classic 1967 novel of the same name.

Luke was appointed to the post last September after being the T & T Film Festival external relations director for three years.

“I have been able to assess what we have which is a lot of potential and some content and a very enthusiastic stakeholder data base who want to make content and explore,” she pointed out. “We are also using the opportunity to identify where our gaps are as an industry so we can work to fill them and create a sector for everyone to flourish in. We are also putting some structure around that.”

London-based Olsberg•SPI was retained by FilmTT last June to develop a strategic plan for the film and audiovisual sector in the country. This major project, to be delivered in 2017, will result in a robust and measurable strategy to develop a viable, profitable and sustainable film and audiovisual sector in the country.

“They were selected through a tender process and they have worked in developed and developing countries like ours which gives us some sense of comparison for the work they have already done,” Luke, who has a media & communications degree from the University of the West Indies and a Master of Arts in new media production from Boston’s Emerson College where she was a Fulbright Scholar, said. “We want to ensure there is a strong economic focus because, at the end of the day, film is a business.”

Luke is already considered one of the top film executives in the Caribbean.

Five months ago, she was awarded the Dancy Jones professional development scholarship at the annual Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) trade show & conference in Los Angeles.

Named after the late Tennessee film commissioner and AFCI board member and advisor, the award provides complimentary registration to an online AFCI university course or series and funds the cost of attending the two-day cineposium that takes place in Los Angeles next month along with a travel stipend up to the value of US$1,000.

“Going to that trade show and conference allowed me to connect with film commissioners from around the world, exchange information and learn,” said the former RBC Financial (Caribbean) Ltd. corporate brand regional manager. “Part of this work is not just looking at what others are doing, but demonstrating the value that we exist in the Caribbean."

Though her background is in communications and branding, Luke has always enjoyed watching films.

“I love looking at movies and if I could do another degree just for me, it would be in film studies,” she said.

Luke singled out Martin Scorsese’s ‘Raging Bull’ as her favourite film.

“That’s the one that has stuck with me because Scorsese is one of my favorite directors,” she pointed out. “He makes every frame poetic even when he’s addressing really difficult topics.”

A proud 1994 graduate of Bishop Anstey High school, Luke said the seven years she spent at the all-girls school opened in 1921 were the best of her life.

“I learnt there were options, I was encouraged to be analytical and question things and I was in an environment where teamwork was stressed,” she added. “That school turns out students with the capacity to make a statement in whatever way they choose to. It was an important part of defining who I am.”

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