Despite a number of landmark films shot in Jamaica, from Dr. No, the first James Bond film (along with several other Bond films) to Legends of the Fall, the domestic Jamaican film industry is very much in its infancy. But Chris Browne, the director of Third World Cop, the highest-grossing Jamaican film in history, is trying to bring his country’s cinema to the world. His new film, Ghett’a Life, is the product of a 10-year labour, and has now achieved global distribution. Browne, who won the Grand Prize at the Hartley Merrill International Screenwriting Competition for Ghett’a Life at Cannes in 2006 (and the Best Pitch Award this year at Cannes), has made it his passion to grow a film culture in the country. Ghett’a Life, which is fully funded by Jamaican investors, opens July 29. Caribbean Journal talked to Browne about the state of Jamaica’s film industry, his next film and how Jamaican cinema can enter the global market.
Talk about the nature of the film industry in Jamaica.
There are two arms of the film industry in Jamaica. There is the commercial side, which involves making commercials for television, and music videos for artists. That is very vibrant in Jamaica. There are many production houses, many directors, many people to find for that work, and more and more people come into it. The commercial world of the film business is very vibrant in Jamaica. But in terms of the feature film industry, it’s a whole different story. But there are new and younger people who are coming into the business all the time, and they obviously want to go beyond commercials — they want to do features as well, and obviously the technology is changing so now we’re not tied to film anymore. Because the technology has changed, we have other cameras, which can shoot for cinema and we can edit it digitally. That has leveled the playing field somewhat. But there are still big production costs in terms of shooting a feature of a long period of time. That is still not easy. We had one film open in Jamaica last year, and now, with this film opening, it seems there is an industry started. But what happens is — I took 10 years to get to where I am. And the other person who did his [film], he had done it and it sat on the shelf for four years because he didn’t have the money to release it. So I would say we have a film industry, but we’re making one film a year.
What does the government do to help Jamaican film?
I think the government can help in a few ways. Because obviously, in terms of looking for money, I thought their policies have the cart before the horse. Investors can get a 10-year tax free holiday on the earnings on the film in Jamaica. If I made money in America and came back to Jamaica, it’s tax free. But it doesn’t encourage investors to make the film. I don’t think people would mind paying taxes to the government if the film made money, if the government funded it the other way. It’s still no incentive. The incentive should be at the beginning and not at the end. Like so many things with Jamaica, we call it “Planet Jamaica,” because we always seem to do everything backwards. And as soon as you get off the plane and land here, it’s like the world is askew. Because you don’t do things the same way.
What can the government do to improve the situation?
If they are really serious about filmmaking, they should change some of their policies. I’m not saying they should give us money. I’m not asking them to give us money, because only in the first world can you have something like the U.K. Film Council. They say that they have it in Jamaica, because they get [funds] through the lottery, and they do take money from that, but they put it in sports. They say they put it in film, but no filmmaker I know has ever seen that money. I’ve certainly applied to it, but have always been rejected. I’ve never seen anybody who has applied and gotten the money and made any films. We have a film association in Jamaica, amongst film people who work in the commercial world, doing ads and music videos, and of course they would like to see the film business develop and grow, and be able to do features, and they’ve come together and have an association. They’ve made some recommendations to the government, such as putting a tax on cable television. For example, if you pay $10 a month to cable, [the film industry] should get 50 cents, which would go to a board that can develop.
What do you think the market will be for Jamaican film globally?
That’s a very difficult question to answer right now, because I’d like to know that in a year or six months from now when my film has explored all the options in all the markets around the world — to find out which countries in the world are open to black films. I’m not saying that every film would be a black film, because my next film isn’t going to be a black film, it’s going to be a mixture, but what we’re saying is, culturally, it’s how wide and how broad can our film industry and our scope reach. I really don’t know. I know the world has changed and people are more accepting of different cultures, and there’s more mediums of showing them. Whether the world will accept Jamaican film depends upon our content and our style as directors — whether we can tell a good story. In terms of whether, as an industry, we can make films and make a return, that’s a different question to answer. For under $1 million [per film], we should be able to make a return on our investment for investors within the Caribbean.
What is your next film?
The other film I have is a film about a love story set in the country, about horse racing in Jamaica. Horse racing is the engine that drives the story, which is a love story about a man on a stud farm that is in love with the farmer’s daughter, a white girl. For him to win her love, he has a horse that he takes to the track to better himself. It’s about the social interaction between rich and poor, it’s more of a class film. Obviously it’s a slightly bigger budget than the one I’ve just done. A lot is riding on Ghett’a Life, and how that does financially.
What kind of distribution has Ghett’a Life received?
Well, luckily for us we have a sales agent in London, Jinga Films, and they’re pretty much going to sell the film worldwide for us. In terms of black films, I don’t think they’ve shown a black film before — they’ve shown European films. So I think this is something a little different for them. It depends on our release in Jamaica, on the strength of our releases, and how our audience receives it. They’re releasing it throughout the Caribbean, the Eastern Caribbean, Trinidad, and hopefully it’ll get a reaction there, and word will spread to the diasporas in London, Toronto and New York and take it to these places and hopefully get it more mainstream. The thing is, we have an audience — it may not be a global one, but at least it’s Caribbean, and Caribbean nationals have gone into many sectors around the world. It’s a new industry [here], and it’s opening the door again to find out. But I think if we focus on our target audience, first and foremost, we can really capture the market.