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Bahamas International Film Festival: Second Edition

Bahamas International Film Festival:
Second Edition; 8. – 12. December, 2005

Readily accessed by the discount airline Jet Blue, the Bahamas International Film Festival on Paradise Island (Cinema in Paradise) is a new kid on the festival circuit and a most promising entry. Location is certainly important as the success of the US American Newport and Hampton International Film Festivals demonstrate, as is broad sponsorship. But artistic and professional skills are vital for the success of a new festival. And those skills were readily practiced by Leslie Vanderpool, the Festival’s executive director and founder who is the driving force behind the festival.

The ambiance of the festival venue, the Atlantis Hotel – Paradise Island, a large Las Vegas style operation cum casino themed consistently after the long lost island nation of Atlantis, the beach setting , and the festival’s receptions and island parties add to the appeal of BIFF. Though there was very little time for film makers and other professionals to take advantage of the 7/24 amenities of this thriving upscale luxury tourist resort hotel which is central to the tourist boom the Bahamas and Caribbean are currently enjoying.

In its second year BIFF suffers from customary growing pains. Some technical and scheduling problems interfered with the otherwise smooth operation. Spike Lee’s failure to attend to receive his Career Achievement Tribute award was as disappointment but did not dampen the festival spirits. A savvy excellent selection of titles organized in thematic blocks included numerous original selections but also several important productions that had premiered at other major festivals. This selection more than compensated for the glitches. Thus 69 films from 26 countries were presented in six sections identified as “Spirit of Freedom’, ‘New Visions’, ‘ Panorama’, ‘Caribbean Spotlights’, ‘ Films for Family and Children’, and ‘Shorts’ as well as the additional ‘African Sidebar’. The productions were screened at the Hotel Atlantis and the Galleria/JFK venues, permitting to observe from the shuttle bus the contradiction between a luxurious Nassau coast line and starkly contrasting poverty pockets when crossing the island to reach the JFK venues.

Among BIFF 05 noteworthy and sometimes outstanding productions were two major Hollywood productions opening and closing the festival BROKEN FLOWERS (Jim Jarmusch) and THE MATADOR (David Shepard), as well as AN AMERICAN HAUNTING (Courtney Solomon), MANDERLY (Lars Von Trier), SHADOWBOXER (Lee Daniels), ZOZO (Josef Fares). 39 POUNDS OF LOVE (Dani Menkin), LA SIERRA (Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez). ANTIBODIES (Christian Alvart), BROOKLYN LOBSTER (Kevin Jordan). MYSTERIOUS SKIN (Greg Arfati), MOOLAADE (OUSMANE SMABENE0, and 25TH HOUR (Spike Lee). ZOZO, SIERRA, and ATIBODIES were also among the films getting awards.

Panel discussions on customary themes such as marketing, financing, and directing were part of the program offering insights for newcomers to the trade, yet little strategic knowledge to festival regulars. Since a long shuttle ride was necessary for some seminars, attendance suffered.

Whereas the marketing and film financing seminars were well received, reaction to the Producing in the Caribbean received less kudos, since some questions remained unanswered and Cuba was left out of the discussion all together. The format and location of this important seminar was a bit surprising since the Bahamas is making a concerted effort to attract more productions to the islands. Though the Bahamas are still short of post-production facilities, there are obvious advantages producing there. The islands’ climate offers ideal filming conditions; there are governmental incentives, no sales or income tax, and one of the world largest open water filing tanks. Thus to date more than fifty major feature films and television programs have been filmed in the Bahamas, in addition to innumerable commercials and fashion shots.

For many years until US pressure forced the Bahamas to abandon banking secrecy, financial institutions constituted the largest island industry. By now it has been surpassed by tourism. For private and public sector executives, film and television productions can become the third leg of the economy. In that context support of the Bahamas International Film Festival by the local film production industry makes perfect sense. Closer collaboration. with BIFF will serve to train film manpower necessary for a larger Bahamas production infrastructure.

Claus Mueller

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