Colombia can be a very cinematic place. There’s a story waiting to be told on every corner, unchartered locations and plenty of talented cinematographers, directors, actors and extras to choose from. If you happen to find yourself in Cartagena this week, chances are, you’ll find a lot of the talent sipping mojitos at Café Havana.
With the launch of the 54th edition of the Cartagena International Film Festival (FICCI) Thursday, Colombia’s participation in the cinematic arts continues to prosper and gain recognition from a curious international film community. This year, British actor Clive Owen graces the Caribbean seaside resort as the guest of honor of the FICCI.
While having international film celebrities in Colombia’s most showcased and photographed city makes for high profile media coverage, the event this year launches (besides its traditional screenings) a ‘Midnight Cinema’ section with the premier of two Colombian horror movies – Gallows Hill (Encerrada), filmed in Colombia, and directed by Víctor García, and Demental, a full feature by David Bohórquez.
With such privileged geography, from rainforests spanning the Pacific, a gateway to the Amazon, pristine Caribbean islands and plenty of ‘Django Unchained’ deserts, one might have thought that Colombia was on the international map for movie studios heading south from Hollywood. But it’s still very much a work in progress.
Mexico and Costa Rica are favorite substitute countries for creating ‘genuine’ Colombian settings. And how many times has one had to endured the opening titles of movie which boasts ‘Somewhere in Central Colombia,’ with tequila bars, donkeys, trumpet blowing mariachi and a thriving street market that ends up getting blown to bits by a surface to air missile.
For many years the difficult internal security situation meant directors avoided Colombia. But it wasn’t just a question of safety for themselves and their crews, but the fact that Colombia had plenty of bureaucratic obstacles for production houses wanting to temporarily import expensive equipment to overcome. Needing to fill out special import permits, as well as being charged local and state sales tax on services and salaries, there were few reasons to shoot in Colombia. Hence the misrepresentation of the country went on, and so did the donkeys and machine gun-toting mariachi.
The government of President Juan Manuel Santos set out to boost Colombia’s role in movie making and cut red tape by pushing a 2003 law – 814 – known as the Film Law (Ley de Cine). With several objectives on how to bring more foreign film companies to Colombia, the law essentially eliminates certain tax surcharges so that the supply chain benefits an entire industry and one, which can become sustainable and grow.
And it’s not just foreign production companies who can benefit from the law by receiving incentives from the government, locally-based companies and private investors who donate money to Colombia’s Film Development Fund – Fondo para el Desarrollo Cinematográfico (FDC) will receive a special tax deduction when it comes time to declaring the annual Renta – income tax.
With Law 814 providing a legal framework for the financing, production and distribution of locally-made films, Bogotá is also becoming more than that murky “cartel” capital on the Hollywood screen. Networking events such as the annual Bogotá Audiovisual Market (BAM) foster greater co-production and integration between international and national film companies – with a particular eye toward drawing in foreign investment. A combination film festival and networking event, BAM is more the business side of celluloid, while Cartagena the tropically-infused fanfare.
Colombian films are increasingly striving for authenticity on screen. And this is an aspect of the country visitors to the FICCI will appreciate with a total of 14 official Colombian entries tackling a wide range of subjects. There’s the drama of illegal gold mining in ‘Marmato’ (director Mark Grieco), to drug trafficking in ‘Manos Sucias’ (a Spike Lee produced film by Josef Kubota Wladyka) and not missing out on the action, a film about kidnapping entitled ‘Paper People’ by Andrés Felipe Vásquez.
With young versatile directors finding their own stories to put on screen, Hollywood producers will start seeing a very different society at festivals such as the FICCI than the one depicted in the Colombia of ‘Mr & Mrs Smith,’ which has cashed in on clichés and lazy way of country assassination.