Nollywood, Bollywood, the Squid are all at the table Why aren’t we? asks Lisa Hanna of Jamaica

For the past 15 years India has been the most significant global producer of films — releasing approximately 1,500 to 2,000 movies annually, spanning 20 languages. What’s more, India’s television market represents the third-largest worldwide.

It’s projected that its media and entertainment industry, worth US$23.29 billion, will grow to US$44 billion in 2024 as a result of rapid digital usage by its citizens for online video views via paid streaming services and free platforms. Consequently, to satisfy the demand for content, analysts predict an employment increase to 640,000 in 2024, up from 280,000 in 2017.

However, Indian citizens are not the only ones lagging on to this progress, as subscriptions to streaming video-on-demand (SVOD) products and digital videos have overtaken broadcast television worldwide with streaming providers such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple TV, Peacock, HBO Max, Discovery+, and Paramount+ gaining popularity.

With a combined 785 million subscribers globally, the video streaming market is projected to grow from US$419.03 billion in 2021 to US$ 932.29 billion in 2028 ( Fortune Business Insight, December 2021). Already 82 per cent of US broadband homes subscribe to at least one SVOD service, and 46 per cent of them subscribe to four or more streaming services (Parkes Associates, 2021).

Furthermore, these sites have mastered the strategy of investing in diversifying their content library for the changing needs of their consumers, while specifically designing spaces to cater to millions of ethnicities and diasporas.

Between 2015 to 2020, Netflix Inc invested US$700 million to expand its slate of South Korean content and established two purpose-built production facilities in the country. With its monumental success of the Squid Game last year, the company spent an additional US$500 million to invest in an original Korean growing slate of dramas, reality TV, documentaries, and its first Korean sitcom ( CNBC, Feb 2021). It also commissioned close to 100 productions in India, including 30 films ( The Economic Times, 2022), and developed an entire suite for Nollywood movies and television out of Nigeria.

What do we need to create a robust film industry for global streaming services? 
The Jamaica Film and TV Association (JAFTA) is the national body representing individual practitioners, and they’re roughly 350 registered members. Between 2020 to 2021 Jamaica’s film industry earned US$1.5 million from 47 productions, generating 867 jobs.

There is a global thirst for Jamaican content. Jamaican content creators, such as Storm Saulter ( Sprinter currently on Netflix) and Kia Moses ( Flight on HBO), have made a memorable debut to these streaming sites. Twain Richardson’s post-production for Britney Spears doc on Netflix and ListenMi Caribbean and Liquid Light Digital content animations for Sesame Street are notable achievements.

Film Commissioner Renee Robinson says, “There is a lot of ongoing development and capacity-building to bring local production qualities up to international standards, and business networking to ensure that our content creators are talking to the right people.

“Analisa Chapman is the current Jamaican representative at the Rotterdam Lab (virtual), inviting only select international film-makers each year. Additionally, the Locarno Open Doors Lab will focus on Latin America and the Caribbean over the next three years. So, there’s activity happening to advance opportunities for Jamaican content to access streamers. Still, we need to ensure consistent, high-quality production, audience development towards the universal appeal, and depth of networking relationships with decision-makers.”

*How can we incentivise more Jamaicans to get into film production?

  • The fact that since 1954 there have been only around 70 films either produced by Jamaicans or filmed by others in Jamaica is not sufficient to have us compete globally for a piece of this market share. I believe we can compete with the potency of our brand and the allure of our iconic episodic moments from our past.

Imagine three seasons around titles such as ‘The History of Jamaican Music’ or ‘The Rise and Fall of Jim Brown’ or ‘The Paradise Pastor of the Occult’, to name a few. That people still seek out the low-budget film Shottas, depicting Jamaican-related organised crime in Miami, 20 years later, is proof that there is demand.

Let us set our sights to 2028, where the value of the streaming market is expected to reach US$932.29 billion. If we target one-tenth of this share for Jamaican content our film industry could potentially be valued at US$932 million. Therefore, we need a fully staffed and resourced film commission to implement this responsibility. At the very minimum, the film commission should be allocated two per cent of this value per annum; that is, US$18.64 million for the financial development and production of content, the training of animators and film-makers, and the construction of a state-of-the-art production facility for both local and overseas clientele.

Currently, our film commission has only two staff members, as a department of Jamaica Promotions Corporation (Jampro) within the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce. Moreover, the commission’s roles and functions are also split between a separate ministry altogether, as the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport undertakes registering cultural and creative companies for productive inputs relief (PIR).

The PIR provides duty-free importation on “tools of trade”, including creative products and services equipment. This approach is untenable and must be fixed to develop this viable industry under one roof. The epic Lord of the Rings movies in New Zealand were transformative, increasing its tourism arrivals by 50 per cent as people became curious to visit the sprawling lush green locations.

Jamaica’s excellent global reputation of gold medals in track and field is a direct outcome of the national infrastructure we created for our athletes’ training and development. The Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Boys’ and Girls’ Championships, G C Foster College for Physical Education and Sport, and CARIFTA Games, are a few of the important platforms we’ve used to identify, train, and develop the talents of our athletes for the world’s stage.

It appears everyone else in the world values Jamaican content except respective governments in power. Both political parties have only paid lip service towards real investment and development of our cultural industries. Yet, we’ve incentivised and invested in hotels to service foreigners, we’ve incentivised the business processing outsourcing (BPO) industry to service overseas markets, and we protect local agricultural monopolies that make meat protein more expensive for our citizens.

Oliver At Large, Lime Tree Lane, and Hill an’ Gully Ride were just some of the local programmes I grew up watching on television over 30 years ago. Apart from Royal Palm Estate years later, nothing much has happened. The time is now to see our culture as a gateway for economic growth and job creation. It is one of the few areas with a global competitive advantage.

We already missed the boat with Jamaican ganja with enshrined bureaucracy. Let’s not miss this opportunity. If we do, then the credits of ‘The History of Jamaican Music’ will scroll on Disney with the name of an overseas executive producer. Therefore, let us tell our own stories with films made by our people. If Nollywood, Bollywood, and the Squid are all at the table, so can we.

Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People’s National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member.

Story Credit: Jamaica Observer

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