May 13, 2004 – As part of the Tourism Department's National Tourism Week activities, Eddie LaBorde Jr., the new director of the V.I. Film Promotion Office, spoke to about 80 students at Charlotte Amalie High School on the role the office plays in selling the Virgin Islands as a destination for cinema production.
The film office, which falls within the Tourism Department, works with local film-production companies such as Grip Flicks and Film VI to accommodate the production needs of Hollywood and other filmmakers in the Virgin Islands. Promoting improved local technical facilities to entice producers to the territory is part of the job.
Film has great potential to boost the local economy, particularly on struggling St. Croix, LaBorde said. To promote the territory, he said, he is planning a film festival in October on St. Croix that he expects to attract Hollywood notables such as Morgan Freeman and Morris Chestnut.
LaBorde, a St. Thomian, also spoke about his own work as a movie director and how it led to his new role within the Tourism Department. His first feature-length film, "Me and Mrs. Jones," released in 2001, was shown at the Reichhold Center for the Arts on St. Thomas last fall and at St. Croix's Education Complex earlier this year.
Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards then approached LaBorde about heading the film office, and he says he jumped at the chance for professional as well personal reasons. In his new job, "I have a lot more to do with the industry than I would have if I were living in L.A.," he told the students. "Even after a successful film, I would probably have to wait tables for a while before getting to make another movie. Here, I'm in direct contact with the decision makers at the studios."
Speaking about his experiences on the stateside movie scene, LaBorde encouraged the students to value the place they come from. "People want to know about you — not just the beaches, but the culture," he said. "Don't let yourself underestimate the power of what you have, coming from here."
He expressed an eagerness to produce his own next film in the territory. "There's nothing like having your home behind you," he said.
"We are working to bring Hollywood career opportunities in entertainment here, so it is not out of your reach here," he told his audience, encouraging the young people to pursue their interests in acting, music and production.
The students reacted with enthusiasm. "I thought it was a really good speech," Muhammad Abiff, a CAHS student interested in music production, said. "I feel it's a good thing for the islands, for the young to have something inspiring to look up to."
Tourism Week winds up with numerous students scheduled to participate in "Tourist for a Day" activities Friday on St. Thomas and a cultural fair in Buddhoe Emancipation Park in Frederiksted on St. Croix.
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