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    Co-production Film Treaties in Caribbean Countries - The Unfinished Story


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2009 

    As the country's reputation for producing talent like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff attests, Jamaica is synonymous with creativity. The creative sector now accounts for 5.2 per cent of Jamaica's gross domestic product - which is more than the country's traditional mining sector.

    It is not only the music industry that is having an enormous impact on Jamaica's creative industries. Bolstered by co-production treaties with the United Kingdom, the film industry is making a significant contribution to growth and development opportunities, but not without challenges.

    The Jamaican film industry consists of both local productions and the export of film services fuelled by the country's popularity and success as a production location. The local industry has produced several internationally successful movies including Dancehall Queen (1997) and One Love (2003). The Caribbean's Flashpoint Film Festival is also helping to support local talent, but most of the income generated from the industry comes from leveraging the county's natural assets for location filming of foreign productions.

    In April 2007, Jamaica signed a co-production treaty with the United Kingdom. The agreement allows production and associated benefits to be shared between producers from the two nations. For British producers, working with Jamaican producers affords benefits including tax breaks, sources of funding and support, and the free movement of production equipment. In the case of Jamaica with a small industry that faces financing challenges, entering a co-production treaty essentially grants access to financial and personnel resources not available locally. Co-produced films also qualify as national films, so local producers can profit from fiscal benefits, the lifting of quotas and special import arrangements.

    According to Jamaica's Film Commission, Jamaica facilitates 150 film projects annually, with associated foreign exchange inflows of US$ 14 million and direct employment for over 2,000 creative professionals. Despite an abundance of available content, talent and technical expertise, the quality and quantity of local feature films, documentaries and television programmes have been constrained by the inability of local filmmakers and producers to raise sufficient funding and support for projects.

    Co-production treaties have helped to overcome these issues and have enhanced the industry value chain by providing opportunities for professional and technical training, the provision of shooting and editing facilities, and an improved understanding of available distribution channels. Empirical analysis suggests that film production inflows have benefited accommodation, transport, customs brokerage and freight forwarding firms. The Jamaican Government has also generated tax revenue from foreign film investment.

    But co-production treaties can be a double-edged sword for the local industry. While these co-production treaties have improved the market potential for the industry and provided benefits for other sectors, they have not yet had major impact on the production of local content, as many resources are tied up in foreign productions. There are also challenges in bureaucratic and financing capacity. "Approved co-production status" is granted to film projects that meet the requirements of the treaty by the competent authorities. Among the requirements are minimum contributions to production costs, country of ownership and operation, a contribution to cultural benefit and proof that there is no affiliation between the parties.

    Jamaica is also competing with other destinations offering financial incentives for production locations. On the financing front, many financial institutions have difficulty in valuing intellectual property such as a script for collateral purposes. This has resulted in some filmmakers being unable to meet the minimum 20 per cent funding requirement to engage in co-productions under the Jamaica-UK agreement. Additionally, the scale of film projects in Jamaica is usually too small for local filmmakers to be the drivers of co-productions. In essence, international co-productions result in higher film budgets than projects shot in a single location. Therefore, for Caribbean Community (CARICOM) film producers, and in small-scale creative markets globally, it is imperative that scale be sought through embarking on regional co-production agreements.

    Despite the challenges, Jamaica is looking to increase support for the industry. CARICOM is now seeking to enhance the single market and economy process by designing an intra-regional audiovisual framework. This move has the potential to allow film producers to engage in a group regional co-production that may be an attractive co-production prospect globally. Trinidad's film school will soon graduate their first intake of producers and screenwriters - another key success factor for the region.

    Research related to the existing Motion Picture Encouragement Act will be incorporated into the Jamaican Government's consideration of a Film Production Investment Support Regime. If implemented, the regime will add a critical financial incentive to Jamaica's offering compared to other destinations.

    It is interesting to note that, for status to be granted, the treaty requires that films deliver cultural benefits to the countries. Based on the integral nature of film, other creative industries also stand to benefit, such as music (soundtrack), fashion (costumes) and dance (choreography).

    The Jamaican case study and experience in the Caribbean suggest that co-production treaties are useful tools for small developing economies to move up the value chain in the creative economy, but they are not a substitute for a comprehensive framework for creative industries, supported by ongoing policy initiatives.

    By Lincoln Price, Private Sector Liaison Manager, Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) & Arlene Martin, Senior Consultant, Generation Alliance, Jamaica with Trade Forum Editorial Team