Hunt: “St. Maarten is in a perfect position”: Central Committee updated on potential film festival

POSTED: 10/9/13 12:22 PM

Film Festival Presentation

Eyelander Entertainment gave a presentation on a potential international film festival to the Central Committee of Parliament yesterday. The group hopes it will gain support from MPs for the idea. Photo Today/Jason Lista

St. Maarten – “We are a group of highly trained young professionals all born and raised on St. Maarten. We are Eyelander Entertainment,” Jordan Hunt said as he gave his presentation to the Central Committee yesterday on the possibility of establishing a thriving local film industry on the island, including the creation of an international film & arts festival.

He mentioned the only two other existing film festivals in the Caribbean, one held on Jamaica and the other on the Bahamas, the Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF).  The Jamaican film festival, he said, had “instantly limited its audience” by being specifically a Reggae film festival, thereby restricting its global reach. The Bahamas, on the other hand, “has established a much better model for the rest of the Caribbean,” and thus for St. Maarten. “Over the past nine years, BIFF has showcased 500 films. Among the many filmmakers attending the festivals were film industry giants such as Heather Graham, Johnny Depp, Alan Arkin, Sir Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage, Laurence Fishbourne, Roger Corman, and Daryl Hannah,” Hunt pointed out.

Hunt explained how the BIFF has grown into a public relations venue now worth $20 million from an initial $550,000 worth of exposure back in 2006. “Our event will feature not only filmmakers but spoken word artists, painters, musicians, chefs, and photographers. The festival will provide a unique cultural experience and set of educational programs and forums for exploring the world of cinema and art,” Hunt continued.

Hunt showed a clip of famed director Martin Scorsese describing how he wrote the script for his film Raging Bull while on St. Maarten. Hunt hopes more of this kind of creative production and cross collaboration can be done on the island and in the region.

“Compared to Sundance, Tribeca, TIFF, and Cannes film festivals, St. Maarten is in a perfect position working with travel planners to offer an amazing location while still making the event affordable,” Hunt said to the committee. “The real benefit,” of the film festival, Hunt said, “is in keeping the flows of productions consistent as opposed to making small amounts of income on new permits and taxes.”

Hunt’s presentation also focused on other aspects of establishing a viable film industry on St. Maarten besides a film and arts festival.  He presented a plan that would hopefully include government’s support for the creation of locally produced shows, 2 of which are currently under production solely at Eyelander’s expense, while the 3rd could take off with some additional help.

The process would include involving local high school students who are interested in film and media production to become part of Eyelander’s production teams.  “The students will work side by side with our professionals on creating new ideas and executing different TV shows plans. We envision 2 hours after school, one spent on TV show development and one spent on their individual projects,” Hunt said. “Our company is making this investment in our youth because we are committed to fostering and nurturing homegrown talent.”

Hunt hopes the students can also eventually showcase their own projects at the international film festival where greater possibilities can open up for them. He honored the late Ian Valz, a pioneer in the Arts and Film on St. Maarten, by saying that a $10,000 Ian Valz Award for the Best Short Film category can be given out, among other prizes that will act as incentives for quality work.

For the film festival, Hunt hoped for a government contribution of about $450,000 to get the project off the ground.

The MPs were overwhelmingly in favor of the idea, citing budgetary concerns as the only main bump in the road toward supporting the idea of an international film festival, along with working out the details of logistics and traffic flow should the festival be held in area blocked to traffic between the entrance to Pelican and the Royal Palm Hotel.

All agreed, however, that it was a good way for the island to offer something different and diversifying St. Maarten’s economy. Many praised the fact that the initiative was all homegrown by a group of young St. Maarteners, eager to contribute.

“Let us collectively think outside the box and support the diversification of our island’s economy by introducing new industries like this to the island. This is the future, and we are from St. Maarten,” Hunt concluded.

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