Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Virgin Islands International Film Festival: "The Festival of the Americas"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Virgin Islands International Film Festival: "The Festival of the Americas"

Article excerpt

A famous international film festival, transplanted lock, stock and barrel to a distant locale, scores a spectacular success in its Caribbean debut

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands

I step off the plane at the St. Thomas airport and am dazzled by the sight. Stretched across the facade of the air terminal is a gigantic banner with huge letters proclaiming: "WELCOME TO THE VIRGIN ISLANDS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL". The sun shines in golden radiance on mountains covered with lush green vegetation, backed up by a Technicolor-blue sky full of puffy clouds. The temperature is a perfect 72 degrees, cooled by the gentle trade winds. Inside the terminal all is color and excitement. The spectacular posters of the festival adorn all the walls. Streamers of multi-colored material festoon the ceiling. There is a vibrant, almost Carnival atmosphere - vital, colorful, alive! Young aides and guides of the Festival surround the welcoming booth. Two of them - a his and hers - recognize me and say they have come to "collect" me and take me to my hotel. They welcome me, find my luggage, load it into the car - and we are off.

We drive past the magnificent crescent of St. Thomas harbor, where seven gleaming white cruise liners and countless smaller boats float on the turquoise-colored water. The traffic flows on the left side of the street (British style), but all the vehicles are left-hand drive (American style) - enough to drive a proper Englishman up a stump. The license plates read: "U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS - AMERICAN PARADISE". A "paradise" they assuredly would appear to be - any lotus-eater's dream of a tropical never-never land. And "American" they are, too - a territory, not a state - but very foreign in many ways - barring the ubiquitous MacDonalds, Dairy Queen and Colonel Sanders. The older architecture is definitely European - evidence of the several flags which have flown over these islands through the centuries (Spain. England. France, Holland, the Knights of Malta, Denmark).

The town of Charlotte Amalie - the only town on St. Thomas - was named after the consort of a Danish king in the 18th Century and shows vestiges of several cultures, mixed in with the modern buildings. The natives, anything but restless, are friendly, smiling, hang-loose folk who move to a beat that matches the lilt of their calypso speech.

But what am I doing here? And what's all this about a film festival? Well, for the first time in the history of such events, a major film festival (the erstwhile Atlanta International Film Festival) has moved lock, stock and barrel to another locale.

But why the Caribbean?

Why not? Looking about me, I'm convinced this is a perfect place for a film festival, an orgy, or whatever else you may have in mind.

J. Hunter Todd, the Festival's ebullient President and Founder, explains: "The Festival is moving for two major reasons: First, unprecedented backing, support and interest from all sectors of the U.S. Virgin Islands, including government, business, the private sector and concerned individuals. And second, the Virgin Islands offer to the film-maker a fantastic and unique setting for an international festival and Film Market. The beauty and excitement of the United States Virgin Islands exceed that of the locale of any other world film festival, including the Riviera."

I'll go with that.

"But where the hell are the Virgin Islands?" I asked myself, when first I heard of the move. The word "virgin" sounded vaguely familiar, an echo from my distant past. But where are they?

"They" (and there are British Virgin Islands nearby, as well) are at the eastern extreme of the Caribbean Sea, with the Atlantic Ocean on the other side of the islands.

To be a bit more specific, the United States Virgin Islands lie approximately 1,450 miles southeast of New York, 1,000 miles east of Florida and 40 miles east of Puerto Rico. They consist of three large inhabited islands (St. …

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