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U.S. Virgin Islands’ Film Industry Open For Business After Dual Category 5 Hurricanes

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (9047157d) In this image made from video shows a damage to a post office caused by Hurricane Irma in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, . Hurricane Irma weakened slightly Thursday with sustained winds of 175 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm boasted 185 mph winds for a more than 24-hour period, making it the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm was expected to arrive in Cuba by Friday. It could hit the Florida mainland by late Saturday, according to hurricane center models Hurricane Irma, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands - 07 Sep 2017
Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (9047157d)
Damage to a post office caused by Hurricane Irma in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

 

 

 

 

Slammed by back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes in September, the film industry in the U.S. Virgin Islands is slowly struggling to get back on its feet. “We got hit by Hurricane Irma and then two weeks later by Maria,” said Luana Wheatley, director of the islands’ film office. “That set us back, but we’re open for business. The goal of this office is to put people to work and have an economic impact.”
The islands’ stunning locations have long been a draw to Hollywood filmmakers – The Proud and the Profane, starring William Holden and Deborah Kerr, filmed there in the 1950s, as did Open Water, the 2003 movie about two divers abandoned in shark-infested waters. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button shot there, and so did Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part I. Late last year, The Bachelor filmed an episode on St. Thomas and St. John.

But there hasn’t been any filming activity since the hurricanes struck, leaving five dead and the islands’ infrastructure in tatters. “Two Category 5 storms in two weeks – that’s the really unprecedented part of it,” Wheatley told Deadline. “Prior to the hurricanes, I was having discussions with a couple of folks, but there’s not been much discussion since the hurricanes.”

In March, the islands’ first film incentives were approved, offering up to $2.5 million a year in tax credits and rebates, but so far not one production has applied. “All $2.5 million is available. I just need somebody to take advantage of it.” Wheatley remains optimistic, however. “Assistance from FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers really helped us ramp up our recovery, and 700 linemen from all over the country came to help us rebuild our electrical grid.”

Mandatory Credit: Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (9044834a) A man surveys the wreckage on his property after the passing of Hurricane Irma, in St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda, . Heavy rain and 185-mph winds lashed the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico's northeast coast as Irma, the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured, roared through Caribbean islands on its way to a possible hit on South Florida Antigua Hurricane Irma - 06 Sep 2017
Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (9044834a)
A man surveys the wreckage on his property after the passing of Hurricane Irma, in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda. Sept. 2017

 

 

Power has returned to 80%-90% of the islands’ population, but cell phone and Internet reception is still “spotty” more than three months after the storms. “I have no phone or Internet service at my house. Those services are still spotty right now,” added Wheatley.

English-speaking local crews also are available, she said. “We’ve got assistant directors, camera operators, art and marine departments and production assistants. The dollar is our currency, and we have custom waivers for importing and exporting equipment, which is a significant savings. There’s not a lot of equipment on the islands, so you will have to bring in some kind of equipment package. But we’re open for business, and that’s the bottom line.”

As Reprinted in part from Deadline.

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