Monday, March 21, 2011

Lights, Camera, Inaction: Film in Mallorca

On Thursday and Friday, a conference will be held at the Chamber of Commerce centre in Palma. Its theme will be that of the cinema and tourism. It will look at how film can benefit tourist destinations. The conference has been arranged by the Mallorca Film Commission, an organisation within the Mallorca Tourism Foundation, and one charged specifically with promoting the opportunities associated with the visual media in Mallorca.

Amongst the speakers at the conference will be Stefan Roesch, author of a book entitled "The Experiences Of Film Location Tourists" and a leading expert on film tourism. In his book he presents case studies regarding film tourism and which concern three films (or film franchises) - "Lord Of The Rings", "Star Wars" and "The Sound Of Music".

The filming of "Lord Of The Rings" in New Zealand received enormous publicity and resulted in a boom in tourism, even to parts of the country that previously had not experienced high levels of tourism. The tourist wanted to see locations, although any evidence of filming itself was no longer apparent.

There is, though, an immediate and obvious issue with each of these films. They were not any old film. The fact that parts of New Zealand and Tunisia ("Star Wars") might have benefitted from tourism doesn't seem that surprising, given the blockbuster nature of the films. Much tourism to the city of Salzburg continues to be solely due to "The Sound Of Music", over 40 years since the film was released. Other films mentioned by Roesch that go back in time to the first film which had a real impact in terms of film tourism, "Mutiny On The Bounty" in 1935 and subsequent tourism to Tahiti, are similarly either epic or huge box-office successes.

The question is, therefore, how does a destination derive benefits from a film if it isn't a major cinematic event. The fact that a conference on film tourism is taking place in Palma indicates intent, that of extracting benefit, but unless a film comes along that has genuine box-office appeal and international exposure, then does it really make that much difference? Moreover, how does Mallorca go about ensuring that it is the location, even assuming a producer has a film he or she deems suitable for filming on the island? It would be good to find out because the recent record of Mallorca and film does not inspire much confidence.

Yes, we may have had "The Inbetweeners" and "Mad Dogs" (on TV), but so what? Other efforts have come to very little. Take as an example the case of Al Pacino's "Betsy And The Emperor".

In December 2009, the environment ministry rejected the use of the island of Cabrera for the film's shooting. The reason given was that the island's ecology was too sensitive to have film crews and actors tramping all over it. The reason was probably fair enough; Cabrera is a protected nature area as it is. But the rejection was symptomatic of how differing priorities can scupper what might be beneficial projects. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Chamber of Commerce's building has been chosen for this week's conference. It was this body which was the fiercest critic of the environment ministry's decision.

There are other examples. A film with obvious Mallorca connotations, "Mr Nice", was not filmed in Mallorca, but in Alicante. Another film, "King Conqueror", about Jaume I of Aragon and starring Jude Law and Tim Roth, appears to have sunk without trace (if it hasn't sunk, then perhaps someone could let me know).

Also sunk has been the Mallorca International Film Festival, a victim of funding being withdrawn by the tourism ministry and a huge embarrassment as a consequence, not least to the admirable Colm Meaney who was present at a grand launch of the festival in London. The festival would seem to be returning in some guise later this year, but it is not the same. Meaney, who was filming last year on the island for Toni Bestard's "The Perfect Unknown", would have every right to feel let down, given the support he has looked to give the local film industry.

Were a serious film to come out of the island, the benefits for Mallorca would be significant and especially, you would think, for out-of-season tourism. The number of visitors that might wish to tour around sites of inland or coastal Mallorca would almost certainly be of a scale to make out-of-season excursions viable exercises, which at present they are not.

If Mr. Roesch and the other speakers at the conference have got some sound advice as to how such a boost to tourism might be effected, then it will be worthwhile hearing it. The trouble is whether anyone, not least the odd producer with a mega-millions budget to chuck at a Mallorca-based blockbuster, will be listening.

Any comments to please.

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