KINGSTON, Jamaica – The US Embassy in Jamaica recently partnered with the American Film Showcase (AFS), the premier American film diplomacy programme of the US State Department and the Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA), to engage industry stakeholders on the challenges facing the local film sphere.
The discussion, which took place via a five-day programme in early September, saw US film director Joy Kecken being invited to the island's shores as a special guest speaker.
Kecken, a credited writer and director for the critically acclaimed HBO series, The Wire, told Observer Online that she was more than excited to not only share her expertise with local stakeholders but to also learn ways she may be able to assist in the development of the local film industry.
"This opportunity gave me the chance to meet and interact with a lot of industry players from Jamaica and let me just say, the talent pool is simply extraordinary. It was wonderful to just be surrounded by people who are creative, and just very eager to learn what I've done throughout my career and see how they can apply that in some way to their own lives," she said. "There is so much potential in Jamaica's film industry and I just want to help like-minded persons come up in this industry, so for me, the programme was very satisfying. It was great being on the ground and seeing how everyone was working hard on making their dreams come true."
Kecken is no stranger to the JAFTA/AFS programme and has been to similar workshops in Cameroon as well as Trinidad and Tobago. She expressed that for her, having jumped over many hurdles throughout her rise in the industry, representation matters and thus Diaspora support will always be a key mission for her.
"Every country is different but I believe in representation in the Diaspora and so it's important to see faces like mine and hear stories that resonate with our kind. As a black American, any way that I can use my talent to help other people discover and advance themselves, I will always take part," she said. "Usually, I am not what people expect when they hear writer/director from America. Stereotypes can be something so it hasn't been an easy journey for me but I persisted and I love showing people like me that they can make it. I wanna keep inspiring."
Speaking of inspiration, Kecken got the chance to engage students from the Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing Arts. The film writer/director told Observer Online that as part of the exchange, she got to prepare scripts for the students and watch them perform. After viewing outstanding performances, Kecken said Jamaica has the potential to make a huge impact on the global film space.
"Getting to see them come alive and putting their best foot forward was everything. I am looking forward to seeing these students in the future and all the great things that they will do. Where I come from, you don't get a lot of government support and no one expects you to really make a living from the creative industries and I felt like we had that common thread while I was in Jamaica," she said. "It's a worldwide thing if you really look at the industry (in terms of support) but when investments pour into the industry, it can be very prosperous. So if I could leave Jamaica with one message it would be to support your local filmmakers."
President of JAFTA, Saeed Thomas said having seen the outcome of last month's programme, the organisation was honoured to partner with the US Embassy and AFS.
"JAFTA is always honoured to partner on these types of initiatives. Originally the embassy had contacted us for consultancy and we saw it as an opportunity to strengthen the pipeline of scripts as well as the capacity of younger writers, especially considering that the Government announced the film fund earlier this year," he said. "JAFTA thinks it's an opportunity to prepare our membership for those types of opportunities and we are grateful to Joy and the Embassy for it. Unfortunately, there was limited space so we weren't able to invite the numbers we would have wanted, but we definitely focused on some of the younger upcoming writers who we think would capitalise on the level of knowledge presented by Joy."
Thomas, a filmmaker himself, told Observer Online that the AFS/JAFTA partnership can only spell good for the local industry and says it is a solid start for things to come.
"We need many more of these on a wider scale. It was amazing to see the feedback to the sessions, hopefully, we can expand the program and give more people the opportunity to network and learn from artists such as Joy. Big thanks again to the US Embassy," he said. "The content was well received by the participants. Joy went through certain particulars such as storytelling and character development and gave us a better idea of the industry in the US and what is needed to tap into it."