Standing at the Crossroads

by Jean Detheux

The Fourth Crossroads of the e-mage of the Indian Ocean (4ème Carrefour de l'e-mage de l'Océan Indien) was held from January 29 to February 2, 2001, on Reunion Island. This island is situated 500 miles off the east coast of Madagascar, but is a genuine European region, part of France, in the Indian Ocean! (A "DOM" -- a "département d'outre-mer" -- as the French call it, an overseas district.) The population is about 730,000 inhabitants, and the island enjoys the typical infrastructures found in most European regions.

Arriving there, one is struck by a strange sense of "déjà vu;" one knows the plane left Paris 11 hours ago, yet one could have landed somewhere on the outskirts of Nice! The cars are the same (North Americans miss a lot in not having access to all those terrific small compact Peugeot, Renault, Citroën, VW, Fiat, Lancia and other well designed, well made, attractive and efficient models), the road marks are the same, even the billboards and houses seem -- almost -- similar. Yet, if there are strong similarities between Saint-Denis de la Réunion and a generic Southern French city, there are also striking differences: first, at this time of year (summer "down there"), the heat can be overwhelming, especially if it comes with the humidity only the monsoon regions can produce. The plants are different too, and if one has a chance to step out of the car and listen, the bird sounds are unmistakably "tropical."

La Réunion's beach, late afternoon. All photos courtesy of Jean Detheux.

Yet, this is Europe, and France.

A Unique Status
Being part of France and Europe, la Réunion benefits from some formidable aid programmes; programmes that could make the difference between a remote "third world" status and a vibrant "first world" economy opened to the new technologies. The decision-makers of la Réunion have decided to invest heavily in the new technologies and are extremely pro-active in trying to create the kind of infrastructure and economy that could take the island out of its present state -- suffering from between 40 and 50% unemployment -- and usher it into the new millennium.

In place for several years, the strategy is focused on a two pronged approach: develop the infrastructures (including lines of communication) while training the local labour force so that they can sustain and meet the needs that the new technologies bring to the island, and find and bring home all the possible forms of help which can be used to attract potential investors. In this regard, Europe, France and la Réunion can pack quite an attractive punch designed to lure (in the good sense of the term) those looking for new places to do business in animation cinema and fiction cinema production.

Scenes near the beach at dusk.

The island has already shown that it can meet the demanding standards of CD-ROM production and 2D animation. It is now aiming its sites at 3D animation, Web technologies and fiction cinema, with substantial aid for partial financing of local productions now available. La Réunion has some absolutely smashing and varied landscapes (from tropical shores through strange alpine meadows all the way to moon-like volcanic craters) which ought to attract companies looking for unusual shooting locations (the light too is quite unique).


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