Coffee Talk is a monthly informal chat between Washington Filmworks staff and local film industry professionals and arts organizations to better understand what it is they do, how our work and missions intersect, and what we can do to support like-minded projects moving forward.
David Constantin is a filmmaker from Mauritius (an island country off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean) visiting Seattle through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). His new film, Lonbraz Kann (Sugarcane Shadows), is about Mauritian residents fighting to retain their country’s culture and had its North American Premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Constantin and IVLP Liaison Shawn Paunchai-Green were kind enough to have a discussion with Washington Filmworks about Constantin’s filmmaking and the global significance of production incentives.
Constantin was inspired to become a filmmaker from a young age, and attended school in France to study filmmaking. However, when he got back to his country, Constantin recalls he “saw there was nothing – so I started a production company to bring a film project of mine to life. There were no artists, technicians, producers – so I recruited colleagues from school to get trained and help with the production.” Constantin made a few short films that led to creating Ille Courts, a short film festival in Mauritius. “The festival offers several training workshops and forums,” says Constantin, remarking on the importance of having a filmmaking training program in a country that’s developing its industry.
Constantin then moved onto his first feature film, and realized he needed a trained crew. “There were no technicians who had the experience of working on a feature film, so we enlisted film professionals from France and South Africa – such as sound editors, directors of photography, and other crew members,” says Constantin. “We brought them to Mauritius and paired them with young Mauritians who had no feature film experience but had done work in advertising, and they essentially trained them.”
Next, the country needed a production incentive program to help finance Mauritian films, which is now a 30% tax rebate. “We had to lobby the government and went to the Finance Minister, and the program was set. My film was the first feature that benefited from the program,” recalls Constantin, “and it brought in many production companies and economic activity. It worked for two years, but then the government underwent changes – and the program was affected.” However, the program is going to be maintained and “ensures that international productions utilize local workers and trainees to create jobs and economic benefits for the country,” – much like Washington’s program does for the state. “The next step is to create an industry around the program on a local and national basis.” Constantin helped make that happen, as his film, Lonbraz Kann, received not only funds through the incentive program and local sponsors but also a grant from a European Union because “the project was not only about film but about creating jobs and a basis for a film industry.” Additionally, Constantin brought in “camera gear and other equipment from South Africa. South African production companies began to shoot in Mauritius and take advantage of the incentive program, while allowing equipment to stay in our country.”
There are a few things, however, missing from the industry, Constantin thinks: “There’s not enough financial incentive. There should be enough to train and keep people while supporting the hospitality and tourism industry. Also, we don’t have a cinema history – we don’t teach as much as we’d like to. And students would not have enough projects there to work on – so it is a challenge for us. A larger incentive would lead to solutions.” Still, Constantin cannot imagine making films anywhere else. “It has been easier for me, even in Mauritius without a huge film industry, to have a voice and get my projects done than if I were still in Europe, with everyone else trying to make different films. I want to get as many local people as involved and trained in my country as possible.”
Moving forward, Constantin has identified “the needs of people and the industry – now, it needs to grow. We need more local film projects that can have the role of not only being a production but building on training and workforce. Besides that, we should have international crew come to get people to work. Morocco is a good model. They started from scratch and eventually got money from international productions to build a school, program, and a film festival. We’re not at that level yet, but we can reach a realistic level where the industry is sustainable in terms of employment. We’ve been inspiring young filmmakers who are starting to work on productions, so hopefully that will lead to growth.” Ille Courts also has training workshops and visitors who are helping to accelerate this process.
We thank David Constantin and Shawn Paunchai-Green for meeting with Washington Filmworks to discuss their experiences. You can find more information about Lonbraz Kann here.