Top stories of 2015: CayFilm festival prepares for encore

The first CayFilm International Film Festival, held in June, was billed as a “spectacular event” designed to promote the Cayman Islands as a world-class filming destination. By all accounts, it was as enjoyable and well-produced as the films screened at the event. 

The festival featured workshops, talks, panels about acting and filmmaking, and screenings of 200 feature films, short films and documentaries from 50 countries. Thirty of the films were produced locally. 

The scale of the event was huge, with up to 11 screens at multiple venues, including the Harquail Theatre, the National Gallery, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and Camana Bay. 

Some had expected that it would take a few years for the festival to achieve the level of success and participation attained in its inaugural year. Festival director Tony Mark said he did not expect the festival to take off so quickly. 

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

The festival was attended by hundreds of film aficionados and attracted many celebrity guests, including Paul Schrader, Hollywood writer and director of classic American films such as “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”; actors Brian Cox, Wes Studi, Reno Wilson, Nicky Whelan, Alexa PenaVega and Rick Gomez; screenwriter James V. Hart, who penned “Hook” and “Contact”; and Loren Carpenter, the Oscar-winning animator and co-founder of Pixar. 

Many guests were impressed by both the high quality of the festival and by Cayman’s climate and infrastructure. 

Actor Ms. Whelan predicted that the festival would not have trouble attracting more film industry notables in the future. 

“It’s such a welcoming place,” she said. “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.” 

Beyond bringing Hollywood stars to Cayman, the festival was also a boon to local budding filmmakers with its free screenings and workshops for local young filmmakers and actors at the Harquail Theatre. The festival team is also working to develop the Cayman Media Academy to educate Cayman’s youth by offering classes and qualifications relating to careers in the industry, with the goal of eventually establishing a full-time associate degree program at the University College of the Cayman Islands. 

Organizers plan to expand and include new opportunities for local filmmakers to develop their talent for the 2016 festival. One new event, to be held the week before the festival, will be a “48 Hour Film Project,” which challenges filmmakers to make a movie in two days. Those films will then be shown at the festival. 

Another new addition is the Frank E. Flowers Local Filmmakers Award for a film made in Cayman or by a Caymanian. 

Mr. Mark said the 2016 event will be held over three days, June 16-19, and will feature a mix of movies from around the world, workshops and panel discussions. 

“The planning is going well and we hope to have some big announcements about celebrities and special events soon,” Mr. Mark told the Cayman Compass earlier this month. “This year, we hope, will really put CayFilm on the festival map.” 

CayFilm director Tony Mark at the opening of the 2015 Cayman International Film Festival in June. - PHOTO: MAGGIE JACKSON
CayFilm director Tony Mark at the opening of the 2015 Cayman International Film Festival in June. – PHOTO: MAGGIE JACKSON