The Rise of Homegrown Film Festivals | Platforming Creativity & Bolstering Local Industry

The Jamaican cultural and creative landscape is expanding to create more native platforms to showcase homegrown talent. One of the ways we see this happening is with the rise of locally conceptualised and directed film festivals. 

There are many substantive benefits to native film festivals, the most significant of which is helping emerging filmmakers find an audience for their work. Events like this bring visibility to the industry at large and exposure to other players in the space, including script writers, producers, and directors. And it can boost cottage industries that pop up around the industry. 

Developing Creative Outlets for Youths Outside Kingston 
Dr. Ava Eagle Brown- Founder & Director, Black River Film Festival

In fact, it was for all these reasons that Dr. Ava Eagle Brown decided to launch the Black River Film Festival, a 3-day event intended to “cultivate budding filmmakers and ignite creativity in the heart of rural Jamaica.”

As a St. Elizabeth native, Dr. Brown was motivated by giving the youth in the community access to creative outlets she never had as a child, and in this way, the event is like a homecoming for her.

On this side of the island, I think young people have not had that experience, said Brown. And, while she applauds continuous efforts to build what is still arguably a fledgling local industry, she believes most of that effort has been concentrated in Kingston and that people, especially youths in rural Jamaica, should also have access to these kinds of creative opportunities.

According to Dr. Brown, the festival is not meant to “compete with what already exists in Jamaica but to compliment and have a better offering from the island.”

The inaugural event, which gets underway today through Sunday, features a variety of events, including panel discussions, workshops, and screenings of local and international films. The event will also feature popular media personalities like Julie Mango, who will be talking about content creation, as well as local and international experts who will share their knowledge and experience in the industry.

Black River Film Festival  2024 flyer.

She hopes the first staging of the event will demonstrate that the South Coast can provide great entertainment and quality production of events. “I want the creatives to walk away feeling more empowered, transformed, and equipped to go and produce that which can come off the island. For the film enthusiasts, I want it to be an experience where they say, ‘Lord, when is the next one?”

Going forward, the Black River Film Festival will be held biennially as a kind of accompaniment to the world-renowned Calabash International Literary Festival, which also takes place on the South Coast each year.

You can find the full schedule of events and grab your tickets to the Black River Film Festival here.

Gatffest Film Festival
Savannah Peridot Director Gatffest film festival University of the West Indies.
Savannah Peridot – Director, Gatffest

The annual Gatffest Film Festival, formerly the Greater August Town Film Festival, started out as a community film project. This UWI-based outreach project taught people rudimental filmmaking processes such as camera operation, editing, and scriptwriting.

At the end of this training, participants produce their very own short films. Gatffest is the platform where that work is showcased. Over time, the platform has matured into a full-fledged festival that embraces and spotlights the wider film community.

According to festival director Savannah Peridot, Gatffest seeks to overcome the difficulty of finding an audience for your work as a filmmaker. “It’s a space where our local filmmakers can be assured that every year they have an audience at the Film Festival,” she says.

Gatffest 2022 Best of Festival Award winners
Gatffest 2022 Best of Festival Award winners | Image Credit :

This year, the festival, which runs from June 27th–July 7th, 2024, has partnered with the French, Canadian, and Colombian embassies to show films from those countries. 

The festival also features workshops, international and regional film screenings, and themed nights by community stakeholders such as JAFTA, Jamaican Films, and CARIMAC film studies.

In talking about why community support is so important to the continuation of this event, she explains that it really boils down to empowering creatives to tell more representative stories. 

“For the audience, they get to see themselves on screen. They get a reflection of themselves; they get to see their own stories on screen. Yes, we can go to Carib and watch a Hollywood movie, but we have our own stories to tell”.

For filmmakers, Peridot says the film festival is an opportunity to not only “show their films but network with other filmmakers and to speak to [and interact with] the audience.”

Learn more about Gatffest here.

Jamaica isn’t short of storytellers; festivals provide the outlet

For some time now, Jamaican filmmakers have been showing up and showing out at international film festivals, with several notable screenings, awards, and very high praise for the depth of talent displayed.

Notwithstanding the increasing international attention, we know that it takes a great deal of work and a lot of trials to get to the level where Jamaican films are deemed ‘worthy’ of acknowledgement. And so local festivals create spaces where local filmmakers can hone their talent and gain invaluable experience and exposure.

According to Kevin Jackson, Senior Consulting Officer in the Film, Animation, and Music Department at JAMPRO, and who himself is a filmmaker says local festivals are important to local talent because they can serve as “a launchpad for their careers.” 

It’s also a way for them to “showcase your work, receive feedback, and receive recognition that can help to not only boost confidence towards launching your career but can directly determine the trajectory of someone’s career, “ he says.

Jackson added, “films are a way of transporting you into different cultures,” and film is a way of coming together to experience cultures “across borders and across oceans.” 

Follow us on social media for more coverage of both festivals. We hope you’ll support these events by buying tickets and, of course, attending. You’ll find more information about the Black River Film Festival here and Gatffest here


  • Rashida Grant

    Rashida enjoys crafting stories about Jamaican and Caribbean culture, music, and lifestyle. She’s also passionate about highlighting Brand Jamaica and supporting Jamaican Artisans. Rashida’s love of reggae music and the creativity that can be seen and felt through so many spheres locally is her motive for writing.

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