History of Film- Our Television History Mirrors Our Struggle to Own Our Big Screen
Christopher Laird, the founder/CEO of Gayelle The Channel, and the co-founder of Banyan Productions, Trinidad's first ever independent production company has a lot to say about film. He believes our attitudes towards television and its development relate directly to the challenges we currently face in setting up an indigenous, sustainable film industry. As he explains,
“Our society was founded on importing of finished goods and exporting of raw materials. So, we got someone else’s television before we could even develop our own. So Lord Thompson and his empire came in and set up TTT and then supplied the station with cheap television programming.”
According to Christopher,
“These programmes were not designed to build our true cultural identity and national self worth but capitalise on the essential insecurities of a post colonial people.” He further reveals,
“There are statements I have heard from their (US) State Department where they have said that sending cheap programmes and dumping it in the Caribbean is a way of changing people’s perceptions. Consumer habits become directed towards advertised goods and so on. Just seeing someone’s kitchen in a soap opera means you will want to get a kitchen like that. So that’s the economic history of television. It was never seen as a means for developing the culture, the civilization the people. Most developed societies have mechanisms by which people can stand outside of themselves and see what they look like. We never had that. When we turn on the TV we become disassociated and alienated from ourselves.”
Christopher decided to fight on his own terms for our national identity with Gayelle The Channel and his second weapon of choice is doing what he can to help develop the local film industry. Thankfully, technology is on his side, as he explains,
“The interest in film is essentially connected to the whole digital revolution and the technology which allows it to be more accessible. Very much like what happened in audio. The digital revolution happened and now you were not only able to record but actually manipulate, print, press and publish. So the same thing is happening in video now. People are saying, ‘Well I can’t get my script accepted in Hollywood but I have a Mac and a camera I can probably put something together and raise some money and make a film myself.’”
Christopher believes that hands-on technical expertise forms the foundation for a viable local industry as demonstrated by the success of Slumdog Millionaire, filmed in India by a British filmmaker. He shares,
“If I have a film idea and I need to go to India to film, I know that when I get to India I have highly skilled technicians waiting there for me. I probably don’t even have to go with a crew. I’ll just take my favorite Director of Photography. If you are talking about a film location what people are looking for is to save money and at the same time, get the locations ready made. If Trinidad and Tobago wants to attract people to make films here as the main income generator, the only way that is going to happen is if you have an industry already working in the first place. Because we are not unique! I think that we need to continue emphasizing local industry development”.
“Our natural beauty, beaches, swamps and scenic vistas can be found in more film ready places for less money like Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Dominican Republic where filmmakers are not hassled by airport customs, get easily accessible tax rebate incentives and police cooperation while filming, among other things. We still have a long way to go to before we are at that level. “
Christopher believes the Government needs to step up, even more than they already have and he hopes TTFC’s budget will be increased, dramatically. In his opinion, if well-executed, the return on investment can trickle all the way to the grassroots, especially at-risk youth. He quells concerns about overblown production budgets and clarifies,
“We are not talking about sixty million US dollars to make one film in Hollywood. We’re talking about one million dollars TT to make one film. Imagine! About five films every year could have been coming out of Trinidad. If…even just one is good…they (the international audience) are going to say, ‘Wow, something is really coming out of this place,’ the tourism, the investment, all that will come.”
Christopher’s numerous accomplishments were recognised on July 11th at the 4th Annual Caribbean Tales Festival in Toronto, Canada, where he received a well deserved “Lifetime Achievement” award.