Producers of the Cayman International Film Festival – CayFilm – to be held from June 18 to 21, 2015, say the event has the potential to be so huge for the Cayman Islands that the spin-off effect could well develop a new tranche to the territory’s economy.
According to festival director Tony Mark, Cayman presents an ideal location for the development of a film festival and has huge potential to attract some of Hollywood’s biggest names to be a part of Cayman’s fledgling film industry.
“No other island has what Cayman has,” he says. “It’s safe, secure, has particularly good infrastructure and has already caught the attention of some important directors, producers and actors.”
Mark, whose idea it was to develop a film festival here, is an American film producer, director and screenwriter who received an Emmy nomination for line producing the 2003 HBO television film “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself,” which he shared with its executive producers. He works alongside a small team (all volunteers) which includes Roberta Bostock, the communications director of CayFilm, and public education director Robyn Larkin.
Big names on board
CayFilm has already attracted some of the industry’s biggest names, who have agreed to become part of the event’s board of advisers. These include Michael Black, a talent manager who helped the careers of such legends as Bette Davis, Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn; Loren Carpenter, the Oscar-winning co-founder of Pixar; and Chris D’Angelo, a producer with companies such as Universal Pictures and Disney and who is the current global head of YouTube Studios at Google.
Mark said big Hollywood names have recognized the value of a film festival in the Cayman Islands and have already come on board because they like to be part of such an important event “from the ground up.”
They include American actor and singer Terrence Howard, who has received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and starred in the first “Iron Man” movie, as well as a number of other well-known movies and television series, such as “Law and Order” and “Hawaii 5-0.”
Howard visited Cayman to be part of the kick-off for the film festival.
“I’ve struggled in this industry for 30 years,” the actor said. “It’s always a struggle to express yourself creatively … There’s so much frustration when you have so much beauty around you and so much of an impetus to do something but you lack the opportunity or the avenue. So the CayFilm International Film Festival, the initiative to give young artists the ability to expand and in a form which shows their creative gifts is going to benefit the Cayman Islands in the most amazing way.”
Jon M. Chu, an American film director and screenwriter best known for directing “Step Up 2: The Streets,” “Step Up 3D,” “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” is another Hollywood professional keen to be involved with CayFilm.
Chu said filmmaking “saved my soul” and spoke about how he felt once he knew it was a career he just had to pursue.
“I was artistic as a child but never great at any one particular field of art. I was on vacation with my parents and in charge of the video camera. Rather than shoot my family, I decided to make a mini movie with my brothers and sisters. I convinced my dad to buy a small editing machine, and when I showed my parents the movie, they started to cry. This was in third grade. From then on, I knew this was something I could speak with,” he said.
Chu said that when he comes to a place such as the Cayman Islands he can “feel the stories in the air.”
“You can feel the opportunity is there to expose more people to these stories,” he said.
Jason Felts, CEO of Richard Branson’s Virgin Produced (“Limitless,” “Machine Gun Preacher” and “Immortals”), has been visiting the Cayman Islands since he was a child and is now busy building a home on the island. Felts, who sits on CayFilm’s board of advisers, said he has wanted to make a movie in Cayman for about seven years. He said he had spent that time asking a considerable number of questions of both government and the private sector as to how a movie could be made.
“One of the things that really came out of my explorations was meeting an incredible amount of individuals and kids who were talented. Not just people who wanted to make movies, but also painters and musicians, getting involved with Junior Achievers and exploring all the touch points on island has been a great thing,” he said.
“CayFilm is a huge deal. The Cayman Islands as a world-class destination is really positioned to make its mark. It doesn’t need to be Cannes, Sundance or Tribeca. Those all have their own identity that started small and grew into what they became. CayFilm can do it its own way.”
Growing the industry from the roots
Mark and Bostock say that CayFilm is a twofold project. Not only will it be a weeklong film festival that they hope will attract movies from all around the globe, in addition to locally made films, the event has also started a pilot program at the University College of the Cayman Islands in which 12 students are being trained to make their own movies.
It is anticipated that training local youngsters to be part of the film industry will have a knock-on effect of developing the necessary infrastructure for movie producers, creating a ready-made backdrop of local staff who can reduce costs involved in the movies’ production.
Mark says there is a vast array of jobs within the film industry for which young Caymanians could be trained, not just as actors, directors and producers, but also as makeup artists, electricians, assistant and second assistant directors who help wrangle talent, accountants, caterers, cameras, sound boom operators, sound-recordists and grips, among others.
In order for CayFilm to be a success, Mark and Bostock are calling on government and the local business community to take ownership of the event and realize the potentially positive impact such an event could make on Cayman’s economy, enhancing the tourism industry and ultimately creating a third pillar of the local economy.
Councilor to the Ministry of Tourism Joey Hew said he has seen a need for such an initiative since taking up office.
“I’ve seen young people make amazing compilations of music using a laptop and a broken screen,” he said, “as well as young guys filming just using an iPad and an iPhone. There is a lot of talent on this island who could take advantage of any opportunity presented to them.”
Hew conceded that several years ago this initiative could have got started, but he says it sat on a desk and no one had taken the initiative to get it going. Following a meeting with Mark and the subsequent development of their relationship, Hew said that his ministry is now 100 percent behind the initiative, but that government lacks the cash to support CayFilm.
To this end, Mark and Bostock said that the private sector could benefit tremendously from supporting CayFilm, by making it an all-encompassing event. This could be demonstrated in a number of ways, they said.
“Relationships will evolve over time,” Bostock said. “We can envisage restaurants undertaking Hollywood theme nights, and CayBrew is talking about developing a special CayFilm label, just as an example. We anticipate a community effort to make CayFilm a success. We are interested in working with individuals and businesses who recognize the massive potential such an event could have for the island and who are in it for the long term.”
A similar undertaking in the Bahamas in 2004 launched what is now the extremely successful Bahamas International Film Festival, which has showcased more than 600 films from countries around the world, exposing the Bahamas to an international audience of filmmakers, according to the festival’s website.