Claudia Triana is the director of Proimágenes, the state entity in charge of film promotion and development. During the week Cartagena hosted its annual film festival, FICCI, Triana spoke with The City Paper regarding an industry that keeps growning in audience, and offers more diverse content for local and international audiences.
The City Paper (TCP): How do you see the current state of the Colombian film industry?
Claudia Triana (CT): Over the last three years we have seen films released through the National Film Development Fund (NFDF), and producers are finding other mechanisms to finance their projects. Last year, of the 38 Colombian productions that were released, only 13 relied entirely on the support of the NFDF.
Government tax incentives are helping the industry, but while there are new avenues for films to reach audiences, there is also increased competition for space in theatres. More screens have also translated into more films, and in Colombia, we went from some 200 being shown in theatres every year to 350.
International productions, some arriving in 3D, backed by strong international publicity, as well as Hollywood blockbusters have more visibility these days than homegrown productions. There is a transition going on, and we have to understand the platforms available out there to promote Colombian films.
There is also the phenomenon of the popular comedy, which previously drew large audiences. These aren’t working as well anymore. How we adapt to new platforms is one of our biggest challenges, and how we interpret what is happening with circulation and content has to make us more assertive in reaching audiences.
TCP: Audiences in Colombia tend to associate their homegrown films with violence, displacement and tragic stories. Does the narrative influence how audiences react to Colombian cinema?
CT: I think there’s a bit of everything. Our stories have matured. There may be a perception that all our films are about drug trafficking, violence or the displaced. But, the film that is opening the International Film Festival of Cartagena (FICCI) this year, as one example, is a personal story based on four half-sisters who get to know each other at their father’s funeral, and told by the youngest, Angela. Just by mentioning the storyline, however, there is already a sense of, ‘Oh, how difficult a subject.’
Laura Mora’s film Killing Jesus had lots of international visibility, and it also took on a difficult subject of personal loss as a result of senseless violence. We do see, however, a diversity of themes in Colombian cinema and this is something we want to nurture. During a recent seminar with internationally renowned scriptwriters in Villa de Leyva, we realized that many of our films address reconciliation. Not necessarily reconciliation as a nation, but between fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, broken relationships. This is a very interesting leitmotif. It also shows a level of maturity of our screenwriters: who don’t have to write about the obvious, but the implicit, from different vantage points.
TCP: Young directors know Proimágenes exists and with the growth of the industry, do you envision even more young people entering the sector?
CT: There has been an exponential growth, and we sense this in our universities from where we receive many requests from students to work in the audiovisual sector. We offer grants for postgraduates through Colfuturo, and we also offer direct grants in universities to help aspiring directors finish their projects. A new generation of storytellers is emerging in the country, and this is always a positive sign that the industry is expanding.
TCP: How much interest from overseas is there to shoot in Colombia?
CT: Law 1556, which we call the Location Law, reimburses up to 40% of all money spent in the country on a film project, and this was an important trigger to attract larger productions. Our films here cost around US$1 million to make, but we have never made a US$10 million budget film, which is the equivalent of a small independent U.S production. Much larger films are coming here and they find that we have talent, that there are people willing to learn, and that costs are much lower than in Brazil or Mexico.
What has helped us also is the depreciation of the peso against the US Dollar. After the Netflix ‘Narcos’ series four years ago, more series are now being shot here, and HBO, Amazon-Paramount are looking to develop more local content. Series that have nothing to do with the tax stimulus are generating jobs in the industry. The challenge ahead is to better train those crews in order to meet the demands of these large productions.
TCP: What have been some of the reactions from these large production companies regarding the overall services that are provided?
CT: I have heard directly from the producers of at least five companies that are working constantly throughout the year in Colombia, and this type of permanence is what is needed. The industry has to be sustainable so that people can become more specialized and make a living.
TCP: How is ProImágenes participating this year at the International Film Festival of Cartagena (FICCI)?
CT: We are a non-profit entity that promotes the national film industry and preservation of the country’s film heritage. We are also the administrators of the two funds that support the industry, the local Fondo Cinematográfico designated for productions, and Fondo Fílmico de Colombia that oversees the Location Law and gives back the 40% rebate.
What we are doing in Cartagena is launching the call for national submissions, which are public and overseen by a committee of industry experts. In Colombia, all films that are produced – including those without financing from the Development Fund – receive an incentive in order to be shown in theatres. As these are public funds, it’s important that we tell our stories as a nation, and that they impact society. Therefore, to have diversity in our stories is something we look for. It’s also very important for us to have feedback on what is happening around the world in cinema.
TCP: Are there any incentives for the privately-owned theatres with 1,100 screens in this country to show Colombian films?
CT: Yes. The Development Fund also offers incentives to distributors, even though there is no obligation for theatres to screen local productions. Across the value chain, we feel is it important to have a ‘national vision’ when it comes to our young and established talents.
TCP: The international market for films is highly competitive. How do you get Colombian films to a global audience?
CT: Sales agents are responsible for giving films visibility internationally, and in order for us to showcase what is happening in our industry, we make our approach. Once we have established a connection, we often invite them to Colombia to participate in networking events such as BAM – Bogotá Audiovisual Market and FICCI. The broker remains a key player in the industry. This is the case of NEON, a global distributor interested in the new film by director Alejandro Landes, Monos. There is a lot of competition so it’s important to be seen at festivals, and for Colombia to host its own festivals. We want people to have an open mind when it comes to Colombian films, and for us, to be top-of-mind.
TCP: One of the pillars of this government is to foster more growth of the so-called Orange Economy. What is needed for this to happen?
CT: The Colombian Film Fund consists of $30,000 million pesos (US$10 million), which isn’t very much when one considers the number of high-quality films and documentaries produced every year. In Cartagena, we are also going to launch the seal “Cine Crea Colombia Crea Cine” (Films Create Colombia Creates Films) which reads as a circle, and a message that our filmmakers are nation-builders.
As one expression of the creative industry, what we need in the country is to make all platforms easier so more projects can get done. We have managed over 20 years to create a set of incentives for the film industry, but there are many other sectors out there that don’t have incentives, such as the performing arts and music.
TCP: So, are you optimistic about the future of this industry?
CT: We do very well at independent film festivals, and last year, 23 of these festivals selected Colombian films. This is why we offer many incentives for producers and directors to attend these festivals. It’s a process, but we are still an emerging industry. We are also seeing the country participating in major co-productions at all levels.
Above all, when production companies use Colombia as a location, and leave with a positive impression of our country due to the quality of the services they receive and the professionalism of the crew, it is very rewarding. We have the resources available for this year and the tax rebate. Colombia is open for films.