President Bharrat Jagdeo pledged $30M to spur the growth of locally produced films, minutes after the premiere of eight short films financed under a project to support a film industry here.
At the Theatre Guild on Thursday evening, Project Manager Paloma Mohamed joined the president, film casts and crews to open the project, before a packed audience. According to a Government Information Agency (GINA) press release, the films were made over a packed four-month period where they were conceptualised, planned, shot, produced and edited by casts and crews made up of over 180 persons, along with the expertise of award winning American film maker Brian Zahm of the University of Ohio.
The project, titled the President’s Film Endowment Project 2011, stemmed from a meeting between the president and stakeholders in the local arts and entertainment industry last November where he committed a small grant of $10M to jumpstart the venture.
The films, Hope, The Backyard, Three Cards, Firebrand Masquerade, Beached, Luck Beat Handsome, The Encounter and The Bottle, combine drama, romantic comedy, cultural fiction and fable, GINA said. They will soon be released after a film festival promotion campaign in the Caribbean and North America.
Locations, including the Number 63 Beach and others in Linden and Mahaicony were filmed with casts and crews that had never before been involved in aspects of film production, including acting, costume, and set design. Bonny Alves was the only participant who had some experience in film production.
In making the pledge for continued funding, the president said a thriving film-making industry in Guyana is a boon for creativity and the unveiling of an enormous pool of talent.
He also shared the view that the industry should consider tapping into the modern world of filmmaking. “This is so vastly important particularly as content, becomes so vital…. People are competing around platforms and bandwidth and you can make money in ICT but the biggest money making one would be in content production and if we can break into the content market …people can be watching movies on their handsets and as bandwidth develops in Guyana we can sell this content,” Jagdeo said. He also noted that Guyana’s venture into film production can boost the economy but this aspect has been delayed by a lukewarm approach to the arts and culture sectors and less involvement by the private sector.
GINA said an overwhelming outpouring of accolades was bestowed upon Zahm for his dedication and commitment to the project, even after he had received news that his father had died.
An emotional Zahm told the audience minutes before the films were screened that Guyana boasts a wealth of talent in the film industry, which if fuelled properly can grow from a spark to a flame. “The Guyanese filmmaking family we have already established must grow. Talent is positively here. This place is so right for talent…not only is the talent here but your community is strong and always supporting each other… you need support to grow,” Zahm said.
The film-maker said he was particularly thankful for the dedication of the cast and crew and the Head of State for committing financial resources to artistic talent, which he admitted is being slashed and burned in the United States. Zahm contended that film-makers in Guyana have what it takes to compete with the rest of the world as Guyana has a vibrant filmmaking future.
Dr Mohammed, Director of the Centre for Communication Studies at the University of Guyana, acknowledged the charge given to her by the president to ensure that the project accomplished the objective of making Guyana proud and the complete autonomy which was handed over to her. “He did not interfere, he did not tell me who I should choose, he did not tell me what the subject should be and he did not try in any way to dictate what this project should do… because of this we were able to do a lot of wonderful expansive things that were not at first envisaged by the project,” she said.
The project subsequently attracted support from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, the United States Agency for International Development the universities of Guyana and Ohio, the Theatre Guild of Guyana and several other private organisations.
This allowed the initial plan of funding five short films to extend to eight and allowed the film-makers to transition from conceptualisation to post production. Jagdeo was particularly thankful to the University of Guyana for supporting the venture, noting that he had always envisioned the university as place that maintains relevance to a knowledge driven world.
According to GINA, US Embassy Charge d’ Affaires Thomas Pierce and UG Vice Chancellor Professor Lawrence Carrington also attended the premiere.