Film festival gets two thumbs up


As published by the Cayman Compass

Attendees of the CayFilm International Film Festival enjoy the Gala Opening Cocktail Party at Camana Bay after the premiere of the film ‘Serena.’ – Photo: Maggie Jackson

Attendees of the inaugural CayFilm International Film Festival praised the event which left many celebrity guests and attendees eager for next year’s encore.

“It exceeded expectations,” said Festival Director Tony Mark. “I thought it went very smoothly and everyone seemed to have a really good time.”

George Town MLA and Tourism Ministry Councilor Joey Hew said that when he first spoke with Mr. Mark about the event a year and a half ago, they thought it would take four or five years to reach the level of participation attained in the very first year.

“I think this will become a solid date on Cayman’s calendar,” he said. “I truly believe it has the potential to be as big or bigger than the Cayman Cookout.”

Mr. Hew said he saw several potential benefits from the film festival going forward, including an educational aspect and a tourism/economic impact aspect, as well as creating new career opportunities for Caymanians in the film industry and the potential for seeing the Cayman Islands used more often as a film location.

The festival, which ran from Thursday night through Saturday night, featured the screenings of 200 feature films, short films and documentaries from 50 countries, and well as workshops, talks and panels about acting and filmmaking.

Some of the celebrity guests who attended included Paul Schrader, the legendary Hollywood writer and director responsible for the classic American films “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”; actors Brian Cox, Wes Studi, Reno Wilson, Nicky Whelan, Alexa PenaVega, Rick Gomez; screenwriter James V. Hart, who penned “Hook” and “Contact”; Loren Carpenter, the Oscar-winning animator and co-founder of Pixar.

Most of the events and screenings were held at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, but other venues included the National Gallery Theater, the Regal Cinemas at Camana Bay and the Harquail Theatre.

Mr. Carpenter, who has known Mr. Mark on a personal basis since the latter was a child, attended with his wife, Rachel. Visiting the Cayman Islands for the first time, both he and his wife found Cayman “higher end” than they’d imagined. He said he believes Cayman’s climate, infrastructure and economic standing all bode well for the future of the event.

“We’d do it again,” he said confidently.

Actress Nicky Whelan said she really enjoyed the friendliness of everyone involved in the organization of the event, as well as the people she met from the public.

“It’s such a welcoming place,” she said, adding that she too sees positive things for the festival in the future. “I just think it will get bigger and stronger. It’s not a hard sell [to get celebrities to the Cayman Islands]. It really isn’t.”

One of the highlight events was Mr. Schrader’s hour-and-a-half talk in which he spoke of his career and about the evolution of the film industry since his start in the mid-1970s. He said there has been a big shift in the kinds of movies made now compared to then.

“In the 1970s, movies were at the center of the sociological debate,” he said. “People turned to movies to talk about what was going on.”

However, eventually audiences demanded different kinds of movies, Mr. Schrader said, adding that whenever society starts demanding something from an art form, that art form loses part of its essence.

“It’s not the fault of the actors, the filmmakers or the financiers that movies aren’t really alive today,” he said. “It’s the fault of the audiences. But that can change.”

Films have also changed in other important ways, Mr. Schrader noted.

“There used to be rules,” he said. “There are no rules any more. You can do anything.”

In the past, movies had to have continuity and follow linear narratives, whereas today there can just be an episodic series of vignettes, he said.

He said that films used to be watched in darkened theaters where the audience paid for a ticket. Today, he said, people can watch a film on their telephone while riding on the subway, something which presents challenges in terms of monetizing filmmaking.

“The financial model has collapsed,” he said. “Theatrical is on the way out and the question facing us is how to monetize films in the digital age.”

Conversely, however, people are making films these days without worrying about a financial return.

“You don’t have to make money anymore,” he said. “People are making movies that no one wants to see and it’s not stopping them. That’s how divorced we are from the traditional capitalist paradigm.”

Native American actor Wes Studi, who has appeared in such films as “Dancing with Wolves,” “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Avatar,” had a session where he spoke about acting and gave advice to some aspiring actors and actresses in attendance.

Although he said he likes to get many different kinds of roles, he is often typecast as a bad guy in movies. Still, partially because he believes “acting is a muscle you have to keep exercising,” Mr. Studi will still gladly take the “leather and feathers” western roles or those in which he’s cast as the bad guy.

“A good bad guy is hard to find,” he said with a laugh.

Mr. Studi said he likes to play his bad guys as if they’re good guys. How his bad guys are viewed by the audience is a matter of perception; for example, many native Americans would be sympathetic to his bad-guy roles, he said.

“It depends on which side of the fence you’re on.”

Like many other of the guest celebrities, Mr. Studi said he really enjoyed visiting the Cayman Islands and one of the highlights was a trip to Stingray City.

“I learned how to snorkel and more importantly, how not to snorkel,” he said, admitting he swallowed some seawater on the trip. “Then I had a full body massage … from a stingray.”

One piece of good advice he gave the aspiring thespians was not to take rejection personally.

“Rejection is a huge part of [the acting business], if you view it as rejection,” he said, adding that when it comes to casting, many filmmakers are looking for specific qualities for specific roles, which may be beyond the control of the person auditioning.

“You’re going to hurt yourself if you take rejection personal. It helps to have a thick skin about it, but further it’s important to realize it’s not something you necessarily did wrong.”

Mr. Mark said he was already thinking about ways of improving on the film festival for next year. He believes that he can attract even more celebrities to attend, partially through positive word of mouth from those who attended this year, but also through the outreach efforts of Virgin Produced, the Sir Richard Branson company that partnered on this year’s event and was very pleased with the results.