Thursday, 19 May 2011

BARBARA BLAKE-HANNAH: ‘Reggae Film Fest stays an integral part of cultural landscape’

A LIFE CINEMATIC: "As Caribbean people, the film festival is something to be proud of," notes Blake-Hannah.

They say home is where the heart is, and for the Reggae Film Festival that home remains city Kingston, a convenient truth seemingly buttressed by fate. It was the desire of the festival’s chief organiser, Barbara Blake-Hannah, to offer patrons a change of pace and scenery by whisking the fest off to the Whitter Village, MoBay. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. When time came to secure sponsorship for this year’s staging, it quickly dawned on Blake-Hannah that Kingston is where the bulk of the commercial support lies. “We really wanted MoBay this year, but support for the [film festival] is mostly in Kingston,” she concedes during a recent stop by New Kingston’s Studio 38, where the event will be staged this year with next Monday’s kick-off.

An annual week-long gathering of Jamaican and overseas-based cinephiles, who come for screenings (of mainly reggae-based projects), film seminars, competitions and awards, the Reggae Film Festival has become a keenly anticipated calendar event while adding an important element to the personality of the city.

Perhaps there is some truth in the vicious rumour that Jamaica is slowly emerging from the firm grip of the global recession as Blake-Hannah reveals that support for this year’s festival has been rather inspiring, surprisingly so in some respects. “I’m so happy. For the first time, we really got some strong support this year. The festival has truly grown,” she observes, citing Pulse boss Kingsley Cooper, who leapt at the idea of lending Studio 38. Among the other corporate entities on board for 2011 is RBC/BRTT, sponsors of the Make-A-Film-in-24-Hours competition that has experienced a jump over its debut last years in the number of entries.

Speaking of growth, of all the multi-national projects that will grace the screen over the course of the festival, an impressive 11 are films by Jamaicans. “As Caribbean people, this is something to be proud of,” says Blake-Hannah, noting that next year’s staging will be a special tribute to Jamaica’s 50th anniversary as an independent nation.

Meanwhile, the festival continues to spread its wings, taking up invitations to participate at similar (admittedly bigger) events in Atlanta (June), Birmingham (July) and London (August). “We are expanding, and that means the festival is being recognised internationally,” Blake-Hannah offers, subsequently repositioning her focus on next week’s event. With increased sponsorship and a batch of important overseas visitors (including a Maverick Entertainment film scout), the 2011festival is gearing up to be the most successful leg yet. Says Blake-Hannah: “There’s a lot of dimension to it this year.”

The 2011 Reggae Film Festival will be held May 23 – 28 at Studio 38, New Kingston; jamaicafilmacademy.org

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