While it has long struggled to find even the smallest space in the shadow of Hollywood, French and other film giants, Reunion Island’s cinematic creations have recently been granted some spotlight. What if this attention were not an epiphenomenon but an indication that the time has come for local cinema to shine at home and abroad?
“We are perhaps bored with seeing the same old stories about couples arguing in a Parisian flat”
As a French producer (from the mainland) said at the last Clermont-Ferrand short film festival: “We are perhaps bored with seeing the same old stories about couples arguing in a Parisian flat”. It was actually at the same festival that a Reunionese film, Blaké by Vincent Fontano, all in Creole, won the ‘France TV’ award. Quite symbolic considering last year’s nomination of Tangente by Julie Jouve and Rida Belghiat at the Césars, and the selection at the Oscars of Reunionese co-productions in animation, and many other films still being screened at Lussas, Fespaco and elsewhere around the world. Clearly, a door has been opened, and it is difficult to believe that just one hand turned the key.
Tangente (Julie Jouve & Rida Belghiat)
Whilst Reunionese cinema is yet to achieve awards on the scale of Dead Payet* Society, My Neighbour Tothoarau, or The Begue* Lebowski, there is still much evidence of its increasing success. Most importantly there are fundamental positive developments within the Reunionese film industry: its structural organisation, which now includes a wide variety of training opportunities, the creation or expansion of numerous associations dedicated to cinema, the arrangement of residencies, hosting of festivals, the creation of SVOD platforms and the availability of technical and technological equipment. Previously, most films shot locally were of foreign origin, with many ‘tourist’ films taking place mainly in hotels or on beaches. Perhaps this was a necessary phase though, allowing local technicians to gain valuable experience of ‘big’ shoots. Even though there is still a lot of work to be done, today the Reunionese have the means to make films and to share their own stories. And by all accounts these stories are of interest far beyond our shores.
Dead poet society, (Peter Weir)
It must also be recognised that there has perhaps never been a more favourable time for the promotion of our films. Today’s cinema, on a global scale, finally celebrates minority film, mirroring the issues of today’s society. As evidenced by the recent international successes of Asian, Indian or African films, people are increasingly open to discovering new aesthetics which provide a refreshing alternative to American productions. Reunion Island has just such qualities. Both diverse and universal, French without being in France, mixed in its colours and its cultures, it offers a new range of stories, lived experiences, of faces and beautiful landscapes, still too rarely illustrated on screen. It is hardly surprising then to note the change in behaviour of a number of foreign producers who previously only came to shoot their own films on the island but who now come looking for inspiration in our island life. What if the new New Wave came from the Indian Ocean?
Guillaume Bègue, Scriptwriter
*Common surname in Reunion Island, France.