The process of filmmaking in Barbados has crawled apace through the decades, starting with the era of such Hollywood location shoots as Island in the Sun (1957), through the launch of new government agencies, Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Government Information Service (GIS) in the 1960’s, to the current digital age in which the playing field has been levelled due to the availability of affordable technology and increasing access to training, plus exhibition opportunities locally and globally.
Growth of the Sector
In recent years Barbadian residents have been exposed to a steadily growing number of film products created by local casts and crews. Paving the way was The Film Group, spearheaded by Mahmood Patel in the early 2000’s, known for their workshop-based, communityoriented medley of short films entitled The Shoe. In this period, the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI) embarked on a tertiary-level film training programme. The National Cultural Foundation (NCF) established the Film Desk in 2007 to assist in the overall development of the film sector. Through a public/private sector initiative, the Barbados Film & Video Association (BFVA) was formed in 2011 to lead the sector through lobbying and advocacy, education and capacity-building.
These efforts spawned the beginning of an exciting period in which technical and production skills were amalgamated to manifest a plethora of Bajan film products of varied styles and quality: shorts and feature films, commercials, animation products, documentaries and more. Highlights include Hit for Six, a fiction story set in the world of West Indies cricket, produced by Blue Waters Productions (2007); HUSH 1, HUSH 2, and Chrissy, produced by Step By Step Productions (2008 - 2021); Pay Day produced by Let’s Do This Films (2013), and Keeping Up With the Joneses by Hall.E.Wood Productions (2013).
The NCF’s National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) also nurtured the development of original content though its annual Film/Video competition, in which successful entries have been awarded gold, silver and bronze certificates.
Streams of audiences have poured out of local cinemas with some degree of pride and satisfaction after viewing welltold stories about familiar cultural themes that survive the constant cavalcade of North American screen fare.
This emerging Bajan cinema represents yet another milestone in our journey of decolonization and independence. It will serve a useful purpose in the continuum of a dynamic Barbadian/Caribbean cultural identity, as it seeks to spread our tales and ideas across communities and diasporas globally.
For many years, film producers and film production companies have visited Barbados for the purpose of using the island’s beauty and unique features, either as a central location or as a backdrop for their lifestyle TV series, narrative and documentary films, commercials, and music videos.
Steps have recently been taken by government to regularize this activity, so that Barbados could reap maximum benefits from it by developing the local film industry as a major engine of growth within Barbados’ economy. It is widely recognized that the global film industry is resilient and performs even in times of recession.
Through the establishment of the desk of a Film Commission in 2015, government has been creating a system which facilitates the development of a symbiotic relationship between visiting foreign production companies and development of local skills and content.
Its main role has been the promotion of Barbados as a viable foreign filmmaking destination and the provision of a comprehensive service for all filmmakers in production or location scouting on the island. It serves as a liaison between government agencies, private sector companies and film productions. Procedures for filming on location are clarified with clients and apprenticeship opportunities are encouraged. The desk also encourages a means of monitoring filming activities and ensuring that the economic benefits are exploited.
Film shoots from the Caribbean, Europe, the UK and the USA have been facilitated over the years. Several Barbadian film production companies provide necessary services for such activity on an ongoing basis: Parachute Film Studios Ltd., 13 Degrees North Productions Inc. and Crucial Productions Inc.
Sanna Allsopp, Executive Director of Parachute Film Studios, describes how she feels about her current business model:
“Our greatest strength has been the people that work with us. We have been lucky to have so many talented people come through Parachute. The international shoots would help train our team and then we could produce our own Bajan content. We have won top prizes at international festivals! We just completed a music promo with Apple Music for the Superbowl. Our crews in camera, art, wardrobe and production were able to weigh in creatively and collaborate in a way that’s been so inspiring for us.”
Government has been seeking to bring strategic direction to this emerging, high-growth sector, by providing the appropriate enabling legislation and a fiscal incentives structure that would maximize economic potential.
The Cultural Industries Development Act, 2013-15 was established with a suite of tax-based incentives for the audio-visual sector. Benefits, which are accessible through the Business Development Department of the National Cultural Foundation, include:
• Duty free and tax free concessions specifically on equipment, machinery and materials for the building of film and video production studios
• Duty free concessions for the importation of all film production, staging and set equipment
• 35% exemption from personal income tax payable by foreign resident individuals on income received while working in Barbados
• Provision of a 100% export allowance on profits derived from the export sale of books, screenplays, plays, animation, and musical compositions.
Additionally, the Copyright Act 1998 provides a major advantage for companies and individuals registering their work in Barbados, since it ensures the protection of Intellectual Property Rights. Effective management of Intellectual Property Rights is integral to the successful development of the film industry in particular.
The Barbados Independent Film Festival, now in its seventh year of operation, insists on continuing to provide a powerful and dependable annual platform for the screening of local, regional and international independent films.
The COVID 19 pandemic has had a major impact on all aspects of our lives, and the global film industry is no exception. Major and minor releases were forced to end their theatrical runs early. Some production companies have attempted unorthodox measures to release films, while others have moved to new dates or postponed indefinitely.
To varying degrees across the world, cinemas and movie theatres have been closed, causing global box office sales to drop by billions of dollars. Festivals have been cancelled or postponed, and many film production processes also halted. Fewer film shoots have therefore visited our shores from the popular source markets. We have, however, been able to host a major Netflix series for the second consecutive year. As Phil Archer of Crucial Productions Inc. fondly reflects:
“Both 2021 and 2022 were groundbreaking years for Barbados’ film industry. In 2021, during lockdown at the height of the pandemic, I facilitated and was Production Supervisor on the popular Netflix original series ‘Outer Banks’. This was one of the largest - if not the largest - and longest productions ever held in Barbados to my knowledge, with over 200 local and international cast and crew at its peak. After Season 2 was released in 2021, it reached number one on Netflix charts worldwide for several weeks. On the back of its huge success, the production team again returned to our beautiful shores to film Season 3 in 2022, having fallen in love with Barbados’ unique aesthetic and people. I can’t help being super proud of playing a part in this series, and I must give a huge thank you to the Barbados Government at all levels for playing a pivotal role in making this stellar production happen. We also have an amazing resource of local crew and suppliers who we relied on heavily to make the production successful. Everyone from gaffers to art department, hair and makeup, local actors and extras, to truck drivers and skip delivery services, plus the Barbados Police Service for their unwavering professionalism in protecting and assisting us throughout. The way Bajans came together for this production was incredible.”
The pandemic has forced human beings to make dramatic, long-term changes globally. Streaming has seen a significant increase in popularity, creating openings for independent cinema productions to receive wider exposure. More eyeballs are now fixed on computers, phones and tablets through platforms such as Amazon, Hulu, Facebook, Instagram and Netflix.
Nevertheless, as the world begins to emerge from the previously unimaginable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, borders are re-opening and cameras are beginning to roll again on international film and high-end TV productions.
Competition remains fierce and locations like Barbados must take the opportunity to create facilities and maintain safety protocols that will enable them to remain sustainable in the face of climate change and economic challenges. Our specific and unique challenges must be addressed and overcome in order to realize true economic and social potential.
Aggressive marketing strategies are required to attract foreign producers/ investors and to upgrade the general position of the locale as a shoot location. It will become necessary to establish film festivals, as well as to actively participate in other regional and international film markets, and to network with key industry players and financiers.
Focus should be on production, marketing and consumerism, as well as the adoption of a sustainable apprenticeship training model. Focus should also encompass low-cost shared facilities, utilization of the expertise of local practitioners and strengthened capacity in the area of IP.
Funding should be established to continuously master emerging digital technology to facilitate international recognition and marketability of digital products. Private sector support is necessary in areas such as venture capital funding, angel funding, business partnerships. We must continue to explore opportunities to innovate in the distribution arena, working with new partnerships and developing more direct digitally-enabled relationships with our audiences.
Kirk Dawson, Managing Director of 13 Degrees North Productions is optimistic about the future:
“I would love to see at least three large-scale productions happening on the island every year. These productions would employ at least two hundred Barbadians year-round in every capacity, thereby generating income for all sectors in the economy. Barbados has international global appeal and is viewed as one of the best film locations. We should also have a school for film development and training, with access to direct internships on major productions and production houses across the world.”
Barbados has much to offer the global film industry: physical beauty, picturesque land and seascapes, architectural variety, a thriving and hospitable population, developed infrastructure, technological advancement … and a promising future!