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The Caribbean Targets a New Kind of Tourist: Film, TV Productions

Caribbean film commissions band together to push for wider regional production

The Caribbean is targeting a new kind of tourist — film and TV productions.

At least nine film commissioners from key Caribbean nations, including Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago, are teaming up to create an association to represent this multilingual region.

Members of the new org reason that while they may compete with each other for foreign location shoots, a more unified entity would give them more political clout, and allow for improved communication among participants, says Dominican Republic film commissioner Ellis Perez, who will attend AFM.

Jamaican film commish Kim Marie Spence calls the Caribbean a region with good resources, and adds that the association will lead to co-production opportunities and training for filmmakers and creatives. “With the inclusion of commissioners from the French-speaking and Spanish-speaking Caribbean, it opens up new markets and potential funding sources,” she says.

That kind of multilingual support will be a boon to the region, in which 10 major languages are spoken, led by English, Spanish, French, Creole and Dutch. Trinidad and Tobago film commissioner Carla Foderingham points out that “once outside a language-specific market, we don’t hear about each other’s films.”

A healthy local film industry is key before the region can attract more foreign shoots, while film production across the Caribbean has grown — in some cases, quite dramatically.

In the Dominican Republic, local pic production, spurred by incentives, has exploded from an average of four to five a year just two years ago to the current annual average of 15 to 20.

“Both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have seen approximately a 60% jump in production,” says Zumaya Cordero of distribution/exhibition shingle Caribbean Cinemas, who notes a greater exchange of films between the region’s two bigger islands.

“Comedy travels best,” she says, adding that local filmmakers need to make more films with universal themes and less local slang to facilitate better inter-island distribution opportunities.

The Dominican Republic offers 25% transferable tax credits on local spending for features, TV and musicvideos with a minimum spend of $500,000.

The opening of Pinewood Indomina studios’ 60,500-sq.-ft. horizon water tank and initial three soundstages in the country are also a boon. The first pic to use the new offshoot of Pinewood U.K. is a $1.5 million local comedy, Archie Lopez’s “Lotoman 003,” the fi nal installment of a trilogy.

Pinewood Indomina VP Albert Martinez adds that the studio is investing in local training initiatives. The first installment of “Lotoman” in 2011 was the biggest box office hit in the Caribbean, luring 650,000 admissions in the Dominican Republic alone.

Puerto Rico, which offers a 40% transferable tax credit on payments to local companies and individuals, as well as a 20% production tax credit on all non-resident qualifi ed spending both above and below the line, is the furthest advanced in luring foreign productions to its shores. Big series such as NBC’s pirate-themed skein “Crossbones” and features such as “Reclaim” (Paradox Entertainment/Arclight) are shooting in the territory.

But local projects aren’t ignored.

Though producer-helmer Javier Colon Rios’ comedy “I Am a Director” fell far below the $100,000 minimum spending requirement to qualify for credits, after the fi lm became a hit, the government offered distribution help, which allowed the pic to run for seven weeks. Madrid-based Kevin Williams of KWA handles international sales on the pic at AFM, where he will also be selling a new catalog of English-language black Caribbean movies. Other local projects that are tapping Puerto Rico’s tax credits and local film funds include “Fragmentos de Amor,” a co-production with Colombia.

The association also may be able to boost the exhibition and distribution sectors in the region. Currently, its 60-plus film festivals are the primary distribution outlets for Caribbean pics.

One of the nations taking advantage of the fest circuit is Cuba, which does not belong to the association. Despite scant aid from its government, Cuban filmmakers have managed to produce a number of acclaimed films, including Carlos Lechuga’s “Melaza,” winner of the best feature award at the recent Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.

Trinidad’s Damian Marcano took home three major awards at the fest, including the audience prize, for his gritty urban drama “God Loves the Fighter.” Marcano’s pic debut, which features non-actors and slick cinematography, tapped Trinidad’s grant funding for marketing coin. The oil-rich nation offers up to 50% in cash rebates to foreign and local productions.

“We may not have the resources here for big-budget films, but digital photography has raised the production values of our films, leveling the playing field,” says Foderingham.

Moreover, as production in the region grows, crews become more reliable. And with the various governments chipping in to incetivize, it won’t be long before foreign producers start hitting the beach as well, and not just for a vacation.

(Pictured: The 65,000-sq.-ft. horizon water tank at Pinewood Indomina studios.)

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