Antiguan-Canadian husband and wife filmmaking duo, Howard and Mitzi Allen, are inviting other filmmakers who are looking for a tropical backdrop to consider location shooting in Antigua and Barbuda.
Howard and Mitzi, the team behind HaMa Films, produced their first independent film, The Sweetest Mango, a romantic-comedy set in Antigua, in 2001. The first feature-length film to emerge from the Eastern Caribbean, it is archived at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Lightbox reference library along with HaMa’s The Skin (2011).
The filmmakers are now in the middle of promoting their fifth and latest production, Deep Blue, which will premiere at COMMFFEST on September 16th, 7:30 pm at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto. The film, an environmental love story, depicts the clash between a marine biologist set on helping the residents of a small fishing village preserve their way of life and a resort developer wanting to build on their land.
Mitzi noted that location filming in the lush tropical setting of Antigua and Barbuda has allowed their independent films to look more polished and authentic than studio equivalents.
“Our underwater scenes are (actually) underwater. We didn’t shoot it in a tank,” she noted “This is all real and natural beauty. We shot a lot of the film (Deep Blue) on the southern side of the island which has some of the most picturesque beaches.”
Howard added that there are some advantages to shooting in Antigua and Barbuda where the film industry is nascent and regulations are limited.
“Because it is pretty much new terrain you have full reign,” he said. “We can talk to the police commissioner and get a whole street blocked off so we can shoot.”
Bert Kirchner, Antigua and Barbuda’s Film Commissioner, said the government can provide certain waivers to incentivise filmmakers to shoot there.
“We are not charging productions for certain costs such as location fees, importation duties on all film related items, no work permits, accommodation support and possible transportation support for large groups,” Kirchner noted.
Antigua and Barbuda is no stranger to both large and small Hollywood productions, as Benh Zeitlin’s Peter Pan adaptation Wendy (2020) was shot on the islands. Going back as far as the late 70s, Firepower (1979), staring Sophia Loren, James Coburn and OJ Simpson, was filmed there, as well as The Island (1980) starring Michael Caine. IMDB has a running list of films shot in Antigua and Barbuda.
The Allens noted that there are some production personnel available on island such as cinematographers and makeup artists, who are looking for opportunities to practice their craft, but noted that some skilled people will have to be brought in from outside.
“Even when there are people with those skills, they go abroad to find work, so when you need them they may be in another country working,” Howard said.
He added that filmmakers will likely have to bring their own equipment as there is no rental facility on island for cameras, cranes and the like. The filmmakers advised that proper planning and organisation will help any production company intending to shoot on the islands overcome these hurdles.
“What I would advise is to take a trip to Antigua spend a week, and learn about the benefits of being on location here instead of using CGI,” Mitzi said.