Recently, representatives from the Governor's Office of Film and Television Development were in Lafayette for a seminar showing how we can better prepare Acadiana to take advantage of film and TV production opportunities coming to Louisiana, especially through the state's tax incentive program. Some at this seminar felt that the state bypassed Acadiana in favor of Shreveport who is now hosting "runaway" Hollywood productions who were running away again, this time from Katrina in New Orleans.
To the state's credit, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu commissioned economic research and evaluation of arts and culture in Louisiana. The results were revealing, yet not surprising. Here are a few points from that study that may be useful to us in Acadiana's creative economy.
"One of the most important principles in economic development is to build upon the assets and strengths that you have, and not try to compete in areas where you have limited competitive advantage."
Bottom line, Hollywood is in Louisiana mainly for the tax credits. Our local cultural brand has eroded to the extent that anyone can "download" Cajun and Creole for their own fun and profit. Forget runaway productions; we've got a serious problem with a runaway culture. We must restore the integrity of our cultural brand and begin enhancing its authenticity before no one is left who can de-mystify our so-called "mystique."
"There remains enormous potential in the overseas tourism market, particularly among populations that have a natural affinity to Louisiana and want to experience something other than mainstream American popular culture."
Are we effectively tapping into the global market? Our local Francophone culture remains of great interest to Canada, France and French-speaking Africa. Even in Shreveport they will not deny that our French connection has historically been the main ingredient in the Louisiana brand. If Acadiana really wants to be a player in the film industry, we cannot afford to simply feature our unique culture as a backdrop: it should take a leading role.
"The cultural economy needs fresh talent and provides an attractive avenue for young people to channel their considerable creative energies."
One way to get the attention of film and television producers is to have a trained workforce. We know Louisiana people have a stronger sense of place than anywhere else in the country. When our young people are offered opportunities to truly connect with their culture, fewer and fewer will feel compelled to leave.
The state could do more to promote Acadiana as a film and television site, but Acadiana needs to take the lead in sustaining our local indigenous culture, making it a full partner in this and in all sectors of the cultural economy. This is our greatest resource, and few can compete with it.