For a few days last November, the Southern Screen Festival once again united film industry professionals and fans from Acadiana and across the globe for a weekend of entertainment, inspiration and education in Lafayette. Local musicians and restaurants also joined the party to round out a uniquely Louisiana experience for everyone involved.
The 11th annual incarnation of the festival was a hybrid event, with virtual programming available online, and in-person sessions at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in downtown Lafayette. Festival goers were treated to several feature length films, including the much-anticipated “Roadrunner,” a documentary on the life of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, and the documentary “The Neutral Ground,” which explores the controversy surrounding Confederate monuments across the South, including in New Orleans.The festival also featured “The Sparks Brothers,” a film detailing the long musical career of brothers Ron and Russel Mael, the duo behind the band Sparks, and “Mayday,” a 2021 action/drama starring Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth and Juliette Lewis.
More Than Mere Entertainment
While many attend the multi-day event to see screenings of major releases, the festival also showcases blocks of short films from independent filmmakers, many from Acadiana and south Louisiana. One of the goals of festival organizers is to inspire established and aspiring filmmakers to make their visions come to life in Acadiana. “Southern Screen has been a staple in the filmmaker, musician, and artist community for many years,” says Julie Bordelon, founder and executive director of the festival. “We have continued to be a platform for quality educational opportunities and programming. Most up-and- coming filmmakers in the area have participated in one way or another and still do to this day. Some are still here, some have moved away, but most, if not all, still credit Southern Screen for helping them advance in their career. It’s an event that brings artists together to network and appreciate their craft. It helps build a scene and inspire future projects.”
According to Bordelon, the festival’s influence reaches beyond Acadiana. “I received a message today with a photo of a filmmaker from Lafayette who now lives in Rome, and a filmmaker from Rome who now lives in Los Angeles,” she says. “They met at Southern Screen a few years ago and are now talking about working together. This is not the first time this has happened, of course, but it’s still amazing when it does.”
Good Business for Louisiana
Louisiana is one of the top locations in the world for film production, which is great news for the state. According to a report by the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association, $945 million was spent on film productions in Louisiana in 2018 alone. The industry has created 7,500 jobs and $331 million in earnings for Louisiana residents, the report claims.
One of the financial incentives filmmakers use to produce films in Louisiana is the state’s Motion Picture Production Tax Credit. The program provides up to a 40 percent tax credit for productions in Louisiana, according to a report from the consulting group Camion 310. To be eligible for the tax credits, there is a $50,000 minimum in-state expenditure requirement for Louisiana-based productions and a $300,000 minimum in-state expenditure requirement for productions from outside the state. “Louisiana’s Motion Picture Production Tax Credit has been instrumental in the development of a self-supporting motion picture production industry by encouraging job creation and investment within the state of Louisiana,” the report reads.
Another goal set by filmmakers at Southern Screen is to grow those numbers by building on a foundation that has already been laid. “Lafayette is a great set,” filmmaker John Paul Summers says. “It can be the setting for a lot of different things. We take Cajun country for granted because we live down here. It’s very visually rich. It’s a great place to make movies. We have awesome crews, awesome people. Southern Screen is a place where you can show that off.”
Summers says Lafayette is in a great position to help grow the film industry in the state, and he compares his vision for what Acadiana can become to the roots of the studio system in Hollywood. “Lafayette is in a unique position to solve a few different problems at the same time,” Summers explains. “Because of our culture and our proximity to New Orleans, I think we can develop a small studio environment. Like in Los Angeles, all the actors can drive to work in the morning, go to the studio, shoot their thing, and go back home at night. And the crew get to reap that benefit, as well.”
Fostering a Culture
Filmmaker Allison Bohl says one of the challenges for Louisiana’s film industry is keeping people in the state. “A good goal would be to retain the talent as it develops,” she says. “If you wanted to be a DP (director of photography) on Hollywood films, it’s actually better to move to Los Angeles and then come back and be hired on as a DP in New Orleans, versus living in New Orleans and trying to be hired on as a DP. There’s that disconnect of, ‘Yes, we’re producing major motion pictures, but in order to launch a career, you have to move away,’ which I think is confusing.”
New Orleans filmmaker Darcy McKinnon, who produced “The Neutral Ground,” taught local filmmakers about how to budget for making a movie. She contends the success of Louisiana’s film industry is opening doors beyond the tax credits from small, independent projects. But, she says, it still takes some digging. “People outside of Louisiana are definitely noticing the thriving filmmaking community in New Orleans,” she explains. “In the narrative space, I have had success with finding grants outside of Louisiana. I’ve also gotten really good at learning to make things with nothing. That is sort of how I built myself as an artist. There’s good things and bad things about there being very little funding, like getting creative for where to find resources.”
Bohl asserts the issue is bigger than just where to find the funding for making movies in the area. It’s also a matter of financial literacy for the crew.“They have to know, ‘I don’t have to live hand-to- mouth. This is a good day rate that will feed my family, that will help me save for taxes,’” she says. “All those concepts that are very adult. It’s easy to think that’s not important, but as you get older and you want to continue, those things are important. It can be kind of scrappy here, which can be damaging. It’s why people leave.”
High (Financial) Impact
Summers says events like this event can create opportunities for the filmmaking community and the community at large.“I think there’s a real financial benefit for the city,” he claims. “We can make movies very economically because of the scale at which we make them. But we can do it at a really high quality. Southern Screen can be a place to showcase our work and get local people excited about Lafayette as a place we could make movies. We can bring in writers, producers and directors to work with us, but we have to have a base in place here.”
Bordelon supports the notion that a strong film community in any part of Louisiana helps the entire state. “It creates jobs, money, and a strong artists economy,” she says. “Acadiana already has a filmmaking community, but there are lots of now-established professionals who are interested in moving home. By investing, growing, and nurturing our local industry, we offer a viable place for them to stay and to come home to and to continue working in the profession they want to be in.”
Local Impact of Industry
In 2018, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority studied the impact of the film industry on the city and on Lafayette Parish. Among the findings:
• Two local production companies, Active Entertainment and Curmudgeon Films, spent $4.7 million in Louisiana on a total of five films.
• Those five films had a total economic impact of $19 million in Louisiana.
• The five films created $3.2 million in new income for Acadiana residents.
• For every dollar that Active Entertainment directly spends, an extra $0.33 is generated and put back into Acadiana.
• A total of 78 jobs were created by those projects.