14 Films Challenge & the Ministry of Tourism

Over on The Bahamas Weekly, a story’s running that announces the release of the fourteen films commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism as part of this year’s  marketing campaign for The Bahamas.

For those of you who don’t know, or don’t remember, this campaign has come under considerable fire from local filmmakers, photographers and other artists.

The films are now all finished, and if they’re all like the teaser, they’ll be interesting to watch. There’s no doubt that the idea is a brilliant one from the point of view of marketing The Bahamas  The question remains, though: was the campaign ill-conceived from the point of view of Bahamians?

The discussion so far seems to be generating more heat than light. The Ministry of Tourism certainly seems to have gone on the defensive about it. “We are surprised,” said a press statement early in February, “at the criticism that has been directed at this promotion.” And that bemusement is further developed:

It would certainly have made headlines in The Bahamas if, instead of devising a search among Britain’s young film makers to be selected to come to The Bahamas to shoot, we’d announced that we were selecting 14 of our own people to shoot promotional videos of their country to show in Britain, but it would have had minimal impact in Britain. Aside from the interest British citizens will have in the output of their own young film makers, their output is likely to be perceived as more credible than material produced by Bahamians about their own country.

via thebahamasweekly.com – 14 Films Challenge films are ready to watch – Voting ends March 14th.

There’s a whole lot more in this vein, all supporting the idea of breaking into the UK market, attracting attention from the British, widening the tourist net, etc, etc. And the arguments are all good ones. I can’t take issue with them: the attention of BAFTA, the attraction of British sponsorship, the penetration of the British population by appearances in British cinemas, and so on.

But here’s my problem.

I have no doubt whatsoever that this campaign will get the people here. None at all. The British will come as a result of this campaign. And in the short run, it’ll be deemed a success, just like so many marketing campaigns run by the Ministry of Tourism.

But will it last?

I’m going to argue that the likelihood of it lasting is very slim, and the key to that argument is contained in the Ministry’s defensive statement. It’s the idea that lies at the heart of the way in which the Bahamian government spends its money: “their output is likely to be perceived as more credible than material produced by Bahamians about their own country.”

The government of The Bahamas, no matter its colour, stripe or initials, in the end, has absolutely no confidence in the people of The Bahamas to do anything of worth. And because of that, governnment funds, whether collected from the taxpayers or borrowed from some international agency, are almost never invested in projects that will do more than maintain the aging status quo in our economy and our society — tens of millions on the dredging and redredging of our harbour, more tens of millions on the construction of new roads, more contracts with concessions to multinational resorts to come in and “provide jobs” for the least productive among us, more maintenance of inequalities, more skewing of the local GNP by collecting the uber-wealthy to hike up our collective numbers while not doing a whole lot fresh and new to spark economic activity that is indigenous, reproducible, sustainable, resilient. As a result, we spend waste a whole lot of money on packaging and distribution and invest virtually nothing in the product itself.

Because the 14 filmmakers challenge could’ve done exactly what it’s doing now with a different spin. It could’ve got the same mileage — or more — by incorporating Bahamians into the equation. Rather than assuming — and stating that assumption publicly! — that Bahamian work is “less credible” than UK work in Britain, the Ministry of Tourism could have spent the same investment on a competition between young Bahamian filmmakers and young UK filmmakers. It could’ve invested not only in the advertising of The Bahamas — in the packaging and the distribution of the product — but in the improvement of the product as well, with the goal not only to raise awareness in Britain of The Bahamas and its existence, but also to generate some respect for the people of The Bahamas at the same time. Because it’s respect and love and curiosity that keep people coming back, and the hospitality that comes from being respected — not more pretty pictures and stereotypes of “native” activity, no matter how well packaged, how cleverly distributed, how brilliantly conceived the idea.


12 thoughts on “14 Films Challenge & the Ministry of Tourism

  1. Hi Nicolette – Came across your blog thanks to a Google alert today, very engaging topic. You may find interest in a campaign with South Africa leading up to the World Cup called “Get Wildly Creative About South Africa”, they’re crowdsourcing video and design content for a nation branding initiative. Just released a press release today: http://www.pitchengine.com/zooppa/world-cup-host-south-africa-crowdsourcing-usergenerated-ads-for-nation-branding-campaign/51066/


  2. I really enjoyed this piece and I agree wholeheartedly which is always nice. There is merit on both sides as you say but your point about including Bahamians is right on.

    Much of what hurts the young people and the idealists are the things that are not said but clear anyway: Services are of little value, local art is of little value, photography and graphics are only valuable commercially, and worst of all that they feel the things produced by British “output is likely to be perceived as more credible than material produced by Bahamians about their own country.” And it seems clear to me that the Ministry of Tourism doesn’t think British people will respect Bahamian work because they don’t.

    While a very convincing argument can be made along the lines of “a fisherman doesn’t call his own fish stink” and the Ministry wants to ensure credibility, I think that perspective is trumped by the fact that there is much about The Bahamas that can only be revealed by Bahamians. And besides all of this theoretical musing, I would bet ten dollars to a penny that any Bahamian artists or filmmakers involved in this project can give you a good idea of how respected their input was.


  3. Very interesting write up. In all reality the job of the MOT is to promote the Bahamas outside of the Bahamas, when they buy TV ads on CNN isn’t it silly to expect them pull that ad and advertise on JCN or ZNS – just to “support Bahamians”? Its the same thing, this promotion in the UK is buying them way more UK advertising than the couple dollars they are spending. When people sponsor stuff they want a return either in cash or kind and the MOT is charged with a very big job to bring people to this country.

    Last year Australia Tourism had a promotion to make a short film and submit as to why you should get a marketing job paying $100k with them – no education needed, just make a film and submit it. NOT OPEN TO AUSTRALIANS they wanted it from a visitor’s point of view. Did you see the publicity they got from announcing this promotion. Do you think that the effect would have been the same if they had used Australian’s? Did any Bahamian filmmakers take the opportunity to enter this? (I really dont know, so I am asking). Do you know that the set up of the Great Barrier Reef is similar to the Bahamas? Hey they even copy our logo and our advertising campaigns (or they use the same mkt company). This would be a shoe in for a Bahamian Film maker.

    Point is this there are very few people who are going to do anything for you for FREE. The MOT is spending money on this filmmaker promotion not because they feel sorry for these filmmakers, but because they want as much bang for their buck as possible, keep doing what you are doing as local artists and keep supporting each other – look how far the local music industry has come in the last 2 years without ANY HELP AT ALL FROM ANYBODY. If you stay improving and doing quality work, you will make it but if ya doing garbage you wont. The MOT got TaDa to sing on their superbowl ad in 2009. – thats a Huge endorsement! 5 years ago that would never have happened.


  4. “In all reality the job of the MOT is to promote the Bahamas outside of the Bahamas.”

    Cali, I always find it peculiar that so many of us accept the idea that promoting The Bahamas can be done without including Bahamians. If you can explain that concept to me, maybe I’d be less critical.

    The difference between Australia and The Bahamas is that I don’t get the sense that the Australian government’s promotion was normal at all. It was a departure for them to close the competition to Australians; most of the time Australian promotion is done from the Aussie point of view. The same cannot be said for the way we do things, or at least not for the way we have done them since, oh, about 1973 or so. For some unfathomable reason our MoT doesn’t regard The Bahamian people as the major attraction in our nation. No; promote our beaches, our sun, our sand and our sea. Whatever you do, leave Bahamians out of it. Never mind the fact that it’s Bahamian taxpayer money you’re spending in the meantime.

    Oh, here’s a thought. Let’s just pack the flag and the rest of the whole shebang up and send them back to Britain. Or let’s just get rid of all the Bahamians — turn the whole country into one big resort.

    Oh, and. Let’s be really happy that the MoT in our independent Bahamaland decided to spend money on one indigenous musician once. Far cry from Stafford Sands and the UBP, who built Bahamian tourism on, oh gosh, I don’t know, Bahamian music, culture, musicians. On people.

    What a thought.



  5. You are correct. You cannot promote The Bahamas without including Bahamians – Some of our filmmakers are more than capable, but even if Martin Scorcese or James Cameron were from The Bahamas, I would still see this campaign exactly for what it was.

    I think the billboards on the road side in South Florida, should use Bahamian graphic artists and photographers, AND the ads on CNN should use Bahamian filmmakers and production companies (and these facts should be highlighted by the MOT); but THIS particular campaign in the UK is something different and I still see it for what it was – A contest put on by the MOT in the UK to capitalise on the popularity of BAFTA.


  6. Yikes, Dr Bethel, shocking point you made re the dreaded UBP, what a thought indeed. Here’s my three rocks and a feather: If I were a great Bahamian filmmaker I wouldn’t touch any gig at the m.o.t., I would aim my sights much higher. A tourism campaign is for the marketing exec to create, serious filmmakers should steer clear of this sort of thing, nothing good for the artist’s soul – or work – can come of it. Let them have their crappy little ad campaign, Maria Govan’s movie was on showtime last week! i would hate to imagine her selling out, putting her grand, truth-telling visions aside to make a commercial for the tourism industry which is, by nature, a liar. but having said that, I do get your point about the government investing in our people. a very interesting discussion! bright blessings!


  7. You`re on point there Nico.. I always have a good belly laugh when I see the promo/commercials for the Bahamas by the MOT the “natives” are mostly left out or in the background. Man…. do I have personal experiences with this some years ago before my departure to Walmart- land I was employed with th GBTB , my co-worker & I were given script to recite to incoming visitors/passengers on a popular ferry travelling between Freeport & Ft.Lauderdale stating that certain parts of GB were not to be visited ,jitneys were not to be taken and the family islands were only to be visited with extreme caution…. I still have a copy of this script and this was about ten or so years ago. My point is MOT have never been interested in the Bahamian view of the island of the Bahamas, we are to shut up & be grateful that we gat jobs & to show off our pretty starch uniforms and to be good lil natives when the tourist call on us. Enough said.


  8. All these points are valid, but lets hear some opinions on the recent UK promotion. The promotion itself and NOT the MOT and its evil ways…


  9. Cali, I gave my opinion: I think it was a good idea and I expect it to pay high dividends in the short term. But I am concerned; I have seen before where such success effectively backfires in the long run. It’s because we focus on the packaging (the hype) and not on the product, and in the long run that can do more harm than good. So. Short-term: great. Long-term: not so great.


  10. Cali, You have to keep in mind that the Bahamas is only 36 years old as a independent country and there is a lot of growing to do,but growth without the Bahamian people involved is no growth at all.The UK & Europe market is old news and I hope this method works but I doubt it. It reminds me of a old island saying I heard once…”waxing a rusty car ,makes it look new but it still a rusty car”
    What we need to do is strip out the rust,bondo it,fiberglass it or galvanize the body then work on the exterior,and that`s what need to happen in the tourism industry in the Bahamas for the long -term for we do have a growing population that ready for innovation.
    By the way is there still native shows in Nassau ???


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