SCREEN TEST: Festival participants discuss the direction of a shoot.
The organizers of the Greater August Town Film Festival (GATFFEST) have dubbed the event "the Caribbean's largest community film festival." Naturally, one wonders how accurate a label this is. "We have done the research on that, so I know," responds Dr. Ian Boxhill, Chairman of the GATFFEST 2014 Planning Committee. "There are other film festivals of this kind across the region, but they are not community film festivals like ours."
A brainchild of the UWI Community Film Project (an initiative of the Mona Campus' Centre for Tourism and Policy Research), GATFFEST, now in its second year, was launched with the aim of providing an effective creative outlet for the young people in and around August Town, developing their filmmaking talents and short films, as well as offering them advancement opportunities.
GATFFEST is also a clear reflection of just how much the university has sought to actively take an interest in the lives of the residents who occupy the small communities surrounding the Mona Campus. "We started in August Town, but we are now in Mona Commons, Nannyville, and we're interested in going into a number of other communities," Boxhill reports. "UWI has been active in August Town and other communities for many years, especially the Faculty of Medicine, and then [the late] Dr. Barry Chevannes was there. So we are essentially continuing the work that was started."
For any event boasting annual recurrence, growth is always a major target, and GATFFEST is no different, returning to the cultural calendar this month, with notable additions and improvements, including an increase in the number of awards to be handed out at the closing ceremony and contributions from filmmakers living and working overseas. Such initiatives are exactly what the Jamaican film industry needs, observes Boxhill. "I think the film industry on a whole will take off provided that opportunities are provided for where the majority of the people are," he says. "We need to approach it in a more systematic way by unleashing the talent across the communities, across the parishes. Once we do that it will become as successful as the reggae music industry and the athletics. Mark my word."
Professor Kenneth Hall says he opted to serve as patron of GATFFEST 2014 having recognized the event's enormous potential. "The creative industries are becoming centres of innovation and engaging people with talent," Hall said, addressing Thursday's opening ceremony inside the Courtleigh Auditorium. "It's not just about entertainment. One of the ways to preserve our history is to document it, and the work of filmmakers provides one such opportunity."