Curtain closes for Film Commissioner Renee Robinson
Recaps bittersweet journey; embraces new challenges
Saturday, March 31 marks Renee Robinson’s last day as film commissioner.
Speaking with The Sunday Gleaner, Robinson, who is now numbered among the longest-serving film commissioners, expressed the view that it has been a bittersweet seven years, filled with long nights and hard days, all with the single purpose of furthering Jamaica’s Orange Economy. As she gracefully makes her exit on the heels of the announcement of a national screen fund, Robinson is looking forward to taking on new challenges.
“It has been an honour serving my country. More and more, I believe that the transformative power of the arts and business of creativity will ‘future-proof’ Jamaica. My time here has brought me both personal pride and professional fulfilment, and obstacles and challenges! I am grateful for the partners, stakeholders, clients, and my team who rolled up their sleeves to do this nation-building work with me,” she said.
“The most rewarding part of my role as the Film Commissioner of Jamaica, however, has been building the local screen ecosystem with industry partners. I’m grateful to all who committed to this big, hairy, audacious vision with me and helped to make it happen. But it has been seven years. It’s time for a new challenge and personal growth for me, and to create an opportunity for another industry leader to continue the progress,” Robinson continued.
Under her leadership, there have been several advancements to the world and space of local film production. But, at this point, working to help formulate the billion-dollar Jamaica Screen Fund, announced recently by Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke, is arguably atop the list. She shared that, since 2017, significant effort has gone into developing this initiative, with a goal of stimulating the local industry.
“With access to financing now available, we can finally tell our stories in our voices with our aesthetic, to be experienced by the world,” Robinson said. “The ultimate goal is to activate our local industry towards greater economic activity and business opportunities. The launch of this fund — J$1 billion over the next 2 years — not only enables us to invest in local content development, but also signals for potential partnerships in the private finance ecosystem, and with co-producing opportunities. There is a global demand for stories like ours that are culturally specific with universal appeal. Through this fund, we are telling the world that our stories are bankable,” she explained.
During her time as film commissioner, the industry also made a significant contribution to the island’s gross domestic product (GDP) with the contribution from Film Production Expenditure to national GDP increased from under US$5 million to more than US$18 million, between 2015 and 2019. In addition, jobs for Jamaican screen professionals increased from under 1,000 to over 2,800 in the same period.
Robinson would have also overseen the production of several high-ranked films, including Idris Elba’s directorial debut; Storm Saulter’s Sprinter; Marvel’s Luke Cage; Beyonce’s On The Road; the return of the James Bond franchise to Jamaica with the 25th anniversary edition No Time To Die; the Marlon James/HBO’s series Get Millie Black; the Hulu/Oprah Winfrey-backed Black Cake and, currently in production, the Paramount Pictures untitled Bob Marley biopic. According to her, working on James Bond and the Marley film are the highlights of her 20-year carrier in the field.
What’s next for Robinson?
“On April 1, I plan to sleep in as no one has ever done before!” she declared humorously. “But, seriously, I’ve been approached by other governments to consult on their legislative and development structures. I’ve also recently been awarded as an International Women’s Forum Global Leaders Fellow, and I’m engaged with an international legacy project that relates to access to financing for creatives. There is a distinct need across the region and internationally to advance this momentum for Caribbean cinema from outside institutional walls. My sweet spot is my fluency with the languages of both ‘business’ and ‘creative’, and to translate between the two, and I remain committed to access to financing for Caribbean cinema. But, first, a short sabbatical where I will be spending a few weeks in Europe, drinking wine and eating cheese. I can’t wait,” Robinson continued.
As she moves on, it is undeniable that there is still much work to be done in elevating and growing the film industry in Jamaica. In somewhat of her final thoughts, Robinson believes the next step in the development is to look at other thriving film industries and carve out working legislations and policies to help create a mature and robust space. She cited the need for embedded support services like entertainment tax specialists and Intellectual Property assessors; multiple funded institutions that understand what film-friendly operations look like; and positive input from the private finance ecosystem.
“In LA, for example, there are commercial banks that have an entire media and entertainment division. Can you imagine? I know many people believe that more training is needed, and, to an extent, it is. However, once we first adjust and advance the matrix nature of the ecosystem, commercial viability will follow,” Robinson assured.