BIFF 2018 Interview: Jennifer Smith-Bent

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Additional reporting by K.F. Cumberbatch.

Jennifer Smith-Bent is the co-founder and co-director of the Barbados Independent Film Festival. As stated on the festival’s website: “Prior to her move to Barbados, she worked as Vice President for the National Geographic Society in Washington DC, responsible for the global expansion of the Society’s Science and Exploration programs. Additionally, she has 12 years’ experience forging media and program partnerships for Discovery Communications. A former print journalist in Alaska and Mexico, Jennifer has a love for film, photography and for communicating current events and stories that impact the world and our daily lives.”

We spoke to her at the festivals Meet the Filmmaker’s media events on January 8th.

Jennifer Smith-Bent with co-founder and co-director of BIFF, Sir Trevor Carmichael.

Zeitgeist: This is 2018, what are your hopes for this year’s festival?

Jennifer Smith-Bent: I hope to at least meet the expectations of the festival that we put on last year, because I was just so pleased with how it came off last year. But of course we had a little bit more time and a little bit more support this year with our volunteers and all of our sponsors across the board. So we actually ended up making it slightly bigger, slightly more involved and a lot more exciting and [we have] a lot more diverse programming. So I’m very pleased with how it came out.

Z: The lineup this year – of films – to say the least, they have created a lot of buzz online. Especially from Green Days by the River. Tell us what was your procedure in choosing the films to come here and be showcased on the island.

JSB: We have a diverse way of doing things. We are on Film Freeway, which is a submission platform that goes around the world that all the major film festivals use in order to advertise and to solicit submissions. We have a submissions process and we have a number of judges who then review the submissions and then we select the best ones and we look for the most compelling story telling and the quality of filmmaking.

We also keep our eyes out for compelling films that we think will really resonate with our audiences here in Barbados. It’s a real mixture, word of mouth; people coming to us with films and saying: “We think you’d really enjoy it.”  So it’s a variety, but we’ve been really lucky this year to have an amazing, eclectic and compelling mixture of films. From environmental documentaries, to a documentary about Machel Montano, thrillers and various comedies and we kind of go all over.

Green Days of course is just a magical film. It was very well made and if you’ve read it in school or know about it will certainly bring a lot of nostalgia to the film; which is stunning. It’s just beautiful. The fact that we have Michael Anthony, the author, who is 87 years old but wouldn’t stay home – he wants to come and we’re so thrilled to have him. He’ll be at the actual screening as well at Limegrove on Thursday night.

Z: In the last couple of years we’ve seen an explosion of interest into independent films being made in Barbados. Were you surprised by the interest or did you really expect to see it coming?

JSB: You know, I am not surprised by the interest, but I am thrilled by the people that have come up to me and said that they’re excited about the festival. We offer workshops for everybody and anybody, but particularly our filmmaking community and this year we have some amazing workshops. We know It’s the exchange of ideas and it’s the collaboration with other people in the industry that really kind of make the difference.

So we’re just thrilled to have, say, Ed Neumeier here, who’s the creator and writer of the original RoboCop. He wrote that when he was twenty-six years old. Anybody in sci-fi knows who he is and he’s here to kind of talk about his process and how he developed his program. And we welcome anybody to come see that film and also to learn about his process. Because you never know, maybe there’s a budding filmmaker in you and you just never realized it. So we want to make sure there’s opportunities and the conduit to information and these experienced individuals.

We also know there’s a lot to learn from our local filmmakers, who are doing really, really good storytelling and they are making world class films. We have Abiola by Rommell Hall, we have Mermaid by Vonley Smith, we have some wonderful short films by Kerry-Lynn Coppin. Some wonderful films that we’ll be showcasing by our local filmmakers as well.

Z: When this festival is finished, what are your hopes for the future of this festival? What would you really like to see happen in 2019 that isn’t happening in 2018?

JSB: My hope and my expectation is this will be an ongoing festival and over time it will really become considered a community event. As much as it requires sponsorship, more importantly it requires community support in the sense of volunteer efforts to help us get it up and running, but also to come and see the films. And I think over time we will build that and people will come because it’ll be a wonderful, wonderful event and everybody will enjoy being part of it. So it’ll be an expression of Barbados, because we bring in unique cultural aspects to everything we do at the festival, but it will also be an interesting and internationally kind of relevant festival around the world.

Z: Have you realised over the last couple of years the interest from tourists in the festival? I was there last year; an interesting number of tourists actually were interested in seeing what films are being shown.

JSB: Oh absolutely. I mean, I see it as a huge aspect of people coming to Barbados and coming to see a film festival and I think people are interested in local filmmaking as well as the independent international filmmaking. We were just at the airport yesterday welcoming some of our guests and we had a sign up and people were coming up to me who were tourists and saying: “Oh how do I learn more about the festival?”

So if anything, a bigger task for us is how do we get the word out to all of the hotels and all of the people in the homes that are coming here on vacation or spending some time in Barbados. Because we think that that’s a huge attraction. The difference with it is there’s a lot of film festivals around the world that use it specifically to attract tourists and such. We do it because we care about filmmaking and we think it’s an important community event, but we recognize that there’s also a huge benefit to having one of the premiere film festivals in the region to attract

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