Friday, December 31, 2010

Filmmaker boost from telecoms liberalisation

Tribune Business Editor

Telecommunications market liberalisation could further aid the growth of the Bahamian film production industry as a niche market, a leading investment banker said yesterday, as it would provide more avenues for distribution of local work.
Owen Bethel, president and chief executive of the Montaque Group, told Tribune Business that with movies and 'shorts' now being viewed on iphones, and movies being downloaded on to cell phones in many countries, the long-awaited development of new products and technologies following the Bahamas Telecommunications Company's (BTC) privatisation and market liberalisation could further help to unleash Bahamian creativity in film production.
And he added that the Government's policy for the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas (BCB), moving it towards a public broadcasting service and possible privatisation, could also provide new opportunities for Bahamian filmmakers, given that it would require locally-produced content and programming.
"With the development of the telecommunications avenues for release, you have movies and 'shorts' on iphones," Mr Bethel told this newspaper. "It really tells you that the telecommunications industry is moving by leaps and bounds, where you can even now download movies on a cell phone.
"The number of avenues local producers can take to ensure exposure and sales of their production are increasing, and it means the growth of the industry is not just [confined] for theatrical release."
Bahamian filmmakers and producers could specifically tailor their works for cellular phone customers, tapping into the fastest-growing area of telecommunications worldwide, Mr Bethel suggested, thus exposing themselves to a new audience and expanding distribution channels.
Given the telecommunications industry's potential future importance to Bahamian filmmakers and producers, and its role in stimulating growth in their sector, Mr Bethel urged the Government to be very deliberate in its decision-making on the BTC privatisation and subsequent liberalisation.
"It is going to require that the process is done properly," he added, "and the potential for these various niche markets and what it means for Bahamians should not be overlooked.
"Government, in its deliberations, must look to see where benefits can be made and reserved for the development of Bahamian industry in the diversification of the economy. That means a very complete and thorough review by all parties in whatever privatisation process there is."
Another potential opening for Bahamian filmmakers and producers lay at the BCB/ZNS, Mr Bethel said. "With the direction the Government is moving in in regards to the TV industry, public service broadcasting and possibly further privatisation of it, there is a need for further content and locally-produced movies and features," Mr Bethel told Tribune Business.
"The ability for local producers to see an avenue for release through these means lends itself to a niche market, where we can showcase local talent in an industry other than tourism and banking.
"It won't happen overnight; it has to evolve over time, but the talent is there. It just needs more avenues to be exposed, and released from the exposure."
Film production is an industry that appears to have, in particular, captured the imagination of young Bahamian entrepreneurs, encouraging them to make full use of their creative talents.
Mr Bethel said their efforts were being further aided by the increasing tendency of US-based film studios to provide an avenue for independent producers to develop their works, not just for theatrical release but also DVDs and TV productions.
"Hidden throughout has been this talent and desire to produce, but it has clearly been limited by what is seen as a limited market and the exposure they would get," Mr Bethel told Tribune Business of Bahamian filmmakers.
"Kudos to the Bahamas International Film Festival and Celi Moss for drawing attention to, and providing an avenue for, the talent here and allowing those filmmakers to see it's really a stepping stone to a larger industry.
"From that perspective, I'm pleased Bahamians are coming out of the woodwork and are confident enough to present their works for review and criticism. I hope constructive criticism makes them better and increases their resolve."
But, in a reference to the still-closed Bahamas Film Studios on Grand Bahama, Mr Bethel said one element lacking in the development of Bahamian filmmakers was access to a purpose-built production facility that would act as a one-stop-shop in taking care of all their needs.
"It would be great to imagine there was a Film Studios established to capture this talent and put it to greater use on an active basis," he told Tribune Business. "Had we seen the Bahamas Film Studios come to fruition, that is an avenue that has the greatest potential to develop this talent. But it is one that is lacking."
Mr Bethel pointed out that Pirates of the Caribbean IV was set to be released next year, having been filmed elsewhere after its II and III prequels were shot at the Bahamas Film Studios, largely due to the facility's demise and closed status.

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