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Trinidad & Tobago: What Direction For Creative Industries?

On September 6, 2012 The Cabinet of Trinidad & Tobago took the decision to create the Trinidad & Tobago Creative Industries Company (TTCIC) . The purpose of this “supercompany”, from the government's point of view, is to merge existing “creative” entities, including the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company (TTFC). Its mission? To communally develop develop the following industries: film, fashion, theatre, dance, visual arts and other branches of entertainment, including the country's flagship festival of Carnival.

On Tuesday November 20, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment, Senator Vasant Bharath, laid out his plans for the “rationalization of institutions in Trinidad and Tobago” at a breakfast conference hosted by the Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce. During this presentation (audio link below), Minister Bharath revealed his plans for the TTCIC:

There was consternation from various members of the artistic community as they felt there was a lack of consultation prior to this decision. Many artists were concerned by the relative paucity of information in the public domain, even though the decision to form the TTCIC was made about three months ago. On November 25th, various stakeholders in the artistic community met with Minister Bharath at the Little Carib Theatre in Woodbrook to share their concerns.

Filmmaker Mariel Brown was sceptical of the direction in which the Minister wants to take the film industry:

On the one hand, Minister, I agree that adequate reporting needs to be put in place – but the idea that a country should ever attempt to privatise cultural practice is ludicrous. All the major developed countries have arts programming that is built around government funding as those governments recognise that these programmes are not about hand-outs but about creating an environment in which development through creative expression [is] encouraged. And to suggest anything else says that you are trying to hoodwink many people who know a lot more about this than apparently you.

Brown, along with several other stakeholders, protested via Facebook:

My cover and profile photos are black in protest of the proposed TTCIC. As a filmmaker and stakeholder, I demand that there be full and open public consultation on the TTCIC and that the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company be allowed to continue its work with an appropriate budget allocation from the Government.

Nigel A. Campbell was wary of importing formulas from larger countries:

In a small developing country, the standard rules don't always apply. I remember in my university days when a statistics lecturer made an eye-opening revelation that the formulae and rules we use generally work for large populations, but have to be modified for small ones. That distinction works whether we are speaking about bacteria count or relative success of creative enterprises in TT versus the UK.

Campbell suggested that greater attention needs to be paid to what has already worked as opposed to blowing everything up and starting over:

Tried and true always wins an argument for me, and the notion that success in wooing cinema goers to a Cineplex with blockbuster films with individual budgets approaching US$200M is the same winning formula needed to develop an entire film industry with an investment of less than TT$100M is a myth worth debunking. The portfolio of Minister Bharath covers Investment as well as Trade and Industry. The minister must be aware that there has been steady investment by private sector companies in the arts and culture. The rush to catalyse the creative industry growth pole from ‘undisciplined’ micro-entrepreneurs to an ‘industry’ is apparent and unfortunate. Differentiation of the industry between more market-based segments and the more culture-related segments was absent from Bharath's intervention, and his focus negates the real economic and workforce impact that the industry has on the local economy. Unstructured yet dynamic and fluid, some segments of the industry—pan, Carnival—have grown and have been exported despite government intervention

After sharing some recommendations from a report on the creation of music industries in developing countries, Campbell concluded by wondering whether TTCIC could meet its goals, based on the performance of previous state boards:

…government intervention, even in TT, should not be in competing with entrepreneurs to reward a few ‘people who have been successful', with board positions. More successful entrepreneurs than those named have been on state boards with little to reflect in diversifying the economy. The manufacturing sector despite the intervention of IDC, EDC and TIDCO has not become globally competitive, but rather regionally focused if only relatively successful. For all these years later, one would have thought that we would be able to compete with India and China or Vietnam! Industry is the segment of economy concerned with production of goods. Creative industries are about goods, services and intellectual property.

Timothy C. Teemal offered a series of proposals for government policy re: the Trinidad & Tobago film industry, whether via the TTFC or TTCIC:

1) An immediate release of all auxiliary staff including consultants.

2) An immediate freeze on travel for staff.

3) An immediate freeze on funding for any programmes and initiatives offered.

4) The introduction of a CONTEST to determine the ‘best’ script based on ‘doability’ within a prescribed budget and its commercial merit – that is, its ability to make money.

5) After script is selected, gather all stakeholders (Directors, producers, cinematographers etc.) and challenge them to make a feature length film within the prescribed budget which will be fully funded by the ‘slimmed down’ TTFC/CIC either from its own subvention from the Ministry or in partnership with the business community. The TTFC/CIC will lead the charge to meet with and convince the other investors of the film’s commercial viability and its positive return on investment.

6) The TTFC/CIC will lead the charge in acquiring official project certification from the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism which allows said project to offer a 150% tax back incentive to businesses investing in the film.

7) The TTFC/CIC will lead efforts to ensure that the 35% cash back guarantee for production costs on the film is maximized.

8) The TTFC/CIC will lead efforts to acquire distribution for said project. This will include local and regional cinemas and Cineplex’s as well as International deals.

But perhaps one of the most compelling arguments for leaving the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company as is came from filmmaker Dion Boucaud:

The PEOPLE’s Partnership Government has decided WITHOUT ANY FORM OF CONSULTATION to dissolve the Trinidad & Tobago Film Company (TTFC) and re-brand it as the Trinidad & Tobago Creative Industries Company (TTCIC). Under this new Company they plan to bring together Film, Fashion, Theatre and Entertainment. To this end the Trinidad & Tobago Entertainment Company (TTENT) has already been dispatched.

To most people, this may not seem threatening, just another Government scheme. But they won’t see the barrel until they are in it with the other crabs.

One floated rationale is that the film sector is doing so well that they want to apply that model to develop the other sectors.

The current success of the film sector is directly attributable to the singular focus of the TTFC with CONSTANT CONSULTATION with industry stakeholders. It is lunacy and fallacy to believe that this same success can be achieved by destroying a successful entity, and splintering it’s focus to such disparate sectors. What is most likely to happen is that the ball is dropped and any forward advancement of the film industry will be lost as the new entity struggles with the many competing needs of the various sectors and decisiveness and immediacy will give way to pandering and prioritizing.

Worse is the swiftness with which they are systematically dismantling the hard won gains of stakeholders WITHOUT CONSULTATION and the total lack of understanding that would engender them to believe that all Creative Industries can be lumped together. I mean ‘obviously’ film, fashion, theatre, entertainment! How different can they be?

This ‘TOP DOWN’ over handed and yet underhanded approach to Film stakeholders does not speak to the ideas of cooperation and inclusion. It displays a gross disrespect and ignorance of how the Industry works and what it needs to grow and develop.

  • Baririkushi ROSS

    This present government does not respect our National Culture trying to privatize A National Culture and then assimilate a second sub-culture will not fuse into a National Culture, the govt, by first listens to one ethnic group that has segregated the people and the melting pot .This psychological warfare is failing, because of trying to Nationalize Hinduism as National Culture of Trinidad & Tobago culture

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