BEST PRACTICES: DAVID CONSTANTIN'S LONBRAZ KANN

BEST PRACTICES: David Constantin's LONBRAZ KANN

How a film kickstarted the audiovisual industry on the island of Mauritius

In 2014, Mauritian director and producer David Constantin shot his most recent film, Lonbraz Kann.The film tells the story of a group of friends in their fifties, who watch on powerlessly as the sugar mill where they have always worked is shut down. This serves as a metaphor for a world that is becoming globalised and is being transformed, a narrative of a traditional way of life that is being pushed aside in the face of urbanisation and modernisation in Mauritius. Through Lonbranz Kann, director accomplishes parallel goals: the realisation of a film project, as well as a development program for film industry jobs in Mauritius.This engagement is not new to Constantin. Indeed, for ten years now, the director has worked to help local cinema thrive both in Mauritius and in the Indian Ocean through his company Caméléon Production, and in partnership with the Association Porteurs d'Images.

How was the film financed?

The ACPCultures+ Programme made a significant contribution to the film's budget. Constantin explains, "Their contribution was fundamental for realising the project, because it came relatively early in the research process for film funding". The support given by ACPCultures+ acted like a lever, "as proof of our seriousness," which allowed the producers to raise more funds. In addition, collaboration with ACPCultures+ led the fund recipients to seriously consider how to incorporate many different elements into one project: training, regional cooperation and film production.

The film also received backing from the Prime Minister's Office of Mauritius through the Culture et Avenir think tank, and logistical aid from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the OIF (The International Organization of La Francophonie), the Global Film Initiative and Canal+ Mauritius.

Besides these institutional supports, Constantin took the risk of financing part of his film through a crowdfunding campaign. The purpose of the campaign was to get the Mauritian people involved in the project, which succeeded above and beyond the director's expectations. From the beginning, Constantin tried to involve expatriates in particular, but he soon realised "that there were just as many Mauritians from overseas as local Mauritians that had contributed to the film. This gave us an idea of the expectation that there was surrounding this project".

Development of a Mauritian cinema

The film offered high-quality jobs by giving priority to education through training workshops for the actors, and by providing supervision and training for Mauritian technicians throughout film production.

All the local and regional workers who participated in the project had the opportunity to further develop their skills, and for most of them, it was their first time working on a full-scale feature film. This experience enables them to highlight the value of their skills to local professionals asking for their services and also to foreign professionals looking for experienced technicians on site. Furthermore, the Mauritian Minister for Arts and Culture requested that the fund recipients collaborate to develop a youth employment programme specifically in cinema. 

Technicians from Mauritius and Reunion Island working on the set had never before been involved in a full-length feature film, nor had they ever used the specific equipment for these types of films. This was also true in the case of the majority of the technicians who were involved in the production phase. These technicians gained experience, learned new work methods and acquired new skills using state-of-the-art film production equipment - assets which from now on will increase the value of their services in Mauritius and the surrounding region. The positions of calibrator, chief editor, sound engineer and singer/songwriter are jobs that require considerable artistic input. The development of their skills is therefore not only focused on technical knowledge in these jobs, but also on instilling theseindividuals with artistic qualities.

The project helped establish a core group of experienced technicians and actors, as well as a network of young up-and-coming technicians.

In order to encourage other project developersto use and improve upon foundations established by this pioneering film production, the fund recipients also undertook to circulate information on the production model used for Lonbraz Kann. This information was distributed on the one hand through the media, social media, the film's website, and also through professional forums in which the fund recipients were involved and through discussions that followed film screenings. For example, the Film Bazar Forum was organised in October 2014 during the Île Courts festival, an international short film festival in Mauritius. This professional gathering allowed for a discussion centred on a screening of the film Lonbraz Kann. This discussion in turn enabled the gathering of the first round-table meeting between officials of the public support structures of Reunion Island, of Mauritius (the Board of Investors and the Région Réunion) and directors and producers from Mauritius, Reunion Island and the Comoros Islands.                                                                            

Visibility of the film

Thanks to Lonbraz Kann, Indian Ocean cinema for the first time had access to:

- a commercial distribution network through the distributor INVESCO;

- visibility at international film festivals (in Namur, Durban, Luxor and Reunion Island); and  

- increased visibility with the local and regional population through open-air screenings, who otherwise might not have access to cinema.

Lonbraz Kann is the first Indian Ocean film made for an Indian Ocean audience. The producer endeavoured to create and develop a future audience for the film by telling a very local story with universal appeal, and by choosing actors who were actually affected by the closure of the sugar mills. The producer also built expectation around the film through the media, by creating a Facebook page, a website and by organising a crowdfunding campaign.

Education through image

Similarly, work carried out with local school children reinforced the expectation of this cinematographic work that is attuned to local issues. The various meetings also made way for real reflection on the sugar industry in Mauritius and the consequences of globalisation on the social and economic environment of the country.

It was with the objective of reaching a rural audience who would identify with the film the most, that the fund recipients decided, along with their collaborators from the Association Porteurs d'Images, to make the film visible to the local population who do not have access to movie theatres by offering free, open-air screenings. 

Impact

The Film Rebate Scheme, a financial incentive for film production offered by the Mauritian state which allows a 30 percent rebate on certain local expenses, is now available to Mauritian film productions thanks to the lobbying undertaken by the beneficiary. In the past, this incentive was only available to foreign productions, but was opened up to local productions following talks between the fund recipients and local authorities. Lonbraz Kann is now cited as an example of implementing a pro-cinema policy in the country. Significantly, it is the only cultural project to be explicitly mentioned in the Strategic Vision for Mauritian Culture issued by the government.

The development of experienced technicians had an immediate impact. In 2014 alone, 29 international projects were produced in Mauritius, mainly by countries such as India, Germany, China and South Korea. This allowed for the development of a network of local providers and brought about the structuring of the sector. The ripple effect of the Film Rebate Scheme means thatMauritian technicians are being hired for international productions, in positions where they can use the experience gained from Lonbraz Kann. Positions include first camera assistant, chief electrician, electrician, stagehand, set designer and control room operator.

This policy of support has also been cemented through active collaboration with the Culture et Avenir think tank, an initiative of the Prime Minister's Office, which is:

- helping to organise actor training workshops;

- facilitating  the administrative process of entry visas for foreign technicians;

- actively supporting the presentation of the film through screenings at the CONFLUENCES festival, an opportunity that was coordinated by the Culture et Avenir think tank;  and

- active communication with various public bodies such as the police, local collectives, customs, etc.

Regional cultural cooperation

For the first time, the project created a platform of cooperation with neighbouring countries, namely Reunion Island and Mozambique. The objective was to highlight Indian Ocean cinema by pooling the resources of their respective countries, in order to cast a spotlight on an often-forgotten region on the World cinema map. Lonbraz Kann wanted to emphasise the common identity of Indian Ocean countries. The regional network of talent and skill that was put in place has laid the foundation for genuine regional cooperation. "We are also asserting our common commitment to bring to life an Indian Ocean cinema," explains Constantin.

In terms of production, the capacity of the fund recipients and their partners has been substantially increased, and for the first time these companies are able to successfully direct a complex international co-production, which means navigating different public support structures and working with a number of different financial partners.

Network of technicians

As a result of this film project, a network of experienced technicians has been established between Mauritius, Reunion Island, Mozambique and France. This network also stretches to South Africa for technical equipment and includes actors trained specifically for the film Lonbraz Kann. This network also consists of contractors providing accommodation, catering services, vehicle hire, etc. For the first time, these contractors have been able to adapt their services to target the demands of film production.

This network which was at first disorganised, is now structured through many different discussion platforms such as:

- the Facebook page, which is the method of communication most frequently used by members of the network;

- the professional directory of filminmaritius.com (managed by the Board of Investment);

- the professional directory of Images Francophones;

- the professional directory of the Association Porteurs d'Images, which is an association of local film actors who set up an online directory of films and resources related to local cinema.

Additionally, after the film screenings have concluded, the producer will convert the website www.lonbrazkann.com into a resource site for local and regional productions.

Translated by Matthew Glasgow

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October 6, 2015
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