July 23, 2004 – Filmmaking is a visual medium, which becomes apparent when calling on the recently appointed director of the V.I. Film Promotion Office.
Located within the cool, tidy suite of white and beige offices of the Tourism Department, the door of the film office opens onto a reception area with a bright burst of blue slathered on the walls. Ushered by the director, Edward La Borde, into his inner sanctum, a visitor is greeted by bold splashes of orange. A gold and lapis bust of King Tut sits at the corner of the desk, and three African masks mounted on framed grass mats hover over the chair where sits the new director.
By his own account, Ed La Borde is a happy guy. As the producer of his own successful independent film, "Me and Mrs. Jones," he says working at the film office gives him a chance to do what he loves for a living every day.
Stacked neatly outside on the floor are four reclosed paint cans, their blue and orange contents peeking out around the lids.
Ed La Borde is a guy who likes to set the scene.
Under the desk at his feet is evidence of one of his first projects — a box of slides depicting movies, music videos, documentaries and commercials that have been shot in the Virgin Islands through the efforts of the Film Promotion Office. He wants to create an archive. The idea behind the idea Is to give the territory's tiny film industry a sense of history.
Whenever he gets a moment, La Borde said, the box under the desk comes out, and he makes a little more progress on putting the past in order.
"You always learn from your past, and just the fact that we need to keep a record of the things that do happen here, it help us keep value," he says. "It keeps people who are interested in working, who are from here, are interested in doing things, they know they have something that is valuable because people in the past have capitalized on it. It gives people a sense of self worth."
He also has a vision, one that involves nurturing the now fledgling local film industry. The V.I. film industry is growing, he says, and to nurture it, he wants to create a local film festival.
He says it's better to showcase home-grown creativity than to invite promoters of a festival conceived outside the territory to come in and bring their own support system. With proper promotion, a V.I. festival could have the opposite effect — of letting the world know what's great about the local film industry.
La Borde compares his idea to Carnival: If Virgin Islanders build enthusiasm for their own film festival, then others will come in to see why they love it so.
"It really starts from us," he says. "If we have excitement about ourselves, then other people will have excitement about us. If you have a project and you go out to make this project — even on the lowest of budgets, people who work in the business of film, who want to work in the business of film, are going to want to get involved with you. But it's really an excitement they have to have about the project."
"If we support ourselves, support each other, people will come," La Borde says.
In his vision of mutual support, he sees an expanded local film industry with a willing talent pool that's available on short notice to do whatever it takes to support a visiting production team. He also sees a V.I. film industry that supports itself by using as much local talent as possible when it gets involved in independent film projects.
Possibilities for "Pirates" 2 and 3
For now, the archive slides mainly stay under the desk. There's lots of work to do at the Film Promotion Office. For the last two weeks La Borde, who is essentially a one-man band, has been squiring the location manager for the Disney blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean" around the territory. The crew, he explains, is looking for settings to shoot for two proposed sequels.
By car, by air, by land and by sea the location search has been going on from early in the morning and all day long. Much of one day was spent bobbing around in a boat, which La Borde says was fine.
For him, it's all part of selling the destination to a film professional whose objective is simply to show up and see what there is to see. Because the prospect of attracting a big budget major motion picture to the territory is enticing, La Borde says, his boss, Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards, directed the department's marketing manager, Steve Bornn and other Tourism staffers to back up the one-man band.
"We've seen just about every bay in the Virgin Islands," La Borde says. "There's no exaggeration there. We went to scout the bays by helicopter. We'd scout them by boat. We'd scout them by land. We'd drive through them to see what the path was like to it, looking at the areas to see if they're feasible; finding out what places are National Park — what can we do, what can we not do; will we be hurting leatherback turtles? Corals? All these things, and just coordinating what can be done, what can't be done."
There's a lot hanging on the successful outcome of this scouting trip. According to La Borde, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" producers had considered the Virgin Islands as a location for last year's hit film but changed their minds and went elsewhere. If all goes smoothly this time and Disney says the Virgin Islands is the location of choice, it could mean a sizable boost to the local economy.
As La Borde notes, "A project like that could bring a lot of revenue, a lot of employment opportunity to these islands."
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