Hollywood pirates ripped us off, claim St Vincent islanders

By Diane Taylor
Saturday 28 February 2004 01:00

With nominations in five categories, the makers of Pirates of the Caribbean have every reason to look forward to a night of glory at tomorrow's Oscars ceremony.

But on the Caribbean island where it was mostly filmed, there will be more than a few locals hoping that Johnny Depp, Disney and the rest of the team behind the movie go away empty-handed. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl may have earned $750m (£400m) last year, but not everybody in the former British colony believes the money was shared equitably.

Basil Williams, 50, an occasional resident of St Vincent who runs a social welfare charity in London, owns a chunk of Wallilabou Bay where much of the film was shot. He said he was approached by First Mate Productions Inc, a company he had never heard of, in 2002, who explained that they were filming a "small project" on the island. They asked if he would be willing to rent his 3.5-acre part of the bay to them for six months. Williams explained he had a holiday cottage on his land which he rented to English people for £250 a week. He claimed the company agreed to cover this cost, even though his cottage would not be needed. But when filming started, it was used by a member of the crew.

"At first they wanted to pay me £40 a week," he recalled. "When they asked the price I charge for the cottage they thought I meant 250 East Caribbean dollars, of which there are five to the pound. They even used the phone in the cottage - my 80-year-old mother Keturia, who lives in St Vincent, had to chase them afterwards to pay the phone bill.

"I had no idea that Disney was involved in this," he continued. "I thought this was a project to benefit the island. When I found out a big Hollywood studio was involved, I realised I had been ripped off. But by then the contract had been signed."

Gwyneth Edwards, whose land was used by the film company to park a trailer, is also unhappy with Disney. She said the £1,500 she was paid had to be spent on repairing boundary poles. "It seems to me that Disney don't care about the people on the island," she said.

Patricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern, said this is not the first time that filming in "paradise island" locations has generated controversy. The Beach, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, which was filmed on the island of Phi Phi in Thailand, was criticised for relandscaping the beach, removing natural vegetation and installing palm trees which fulfilled Western perceptions of how a paradise island should appear. "Like the Thai government, the government of St Vincent saw a good opportunity in having filming on the island but local people are often the last people to be consulted," she said.

Disney and First Mate Productions Inc are both registered at the same Californian address. A Disney press officer refused to comment, but Rene Baptiste, minister of tourism and culture for St Vincent and the Grenadines, was full of praise for the Hollywood film company, its boost for tourism and the economy - and added he would welcome a sequel.

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