With rising admissions and an expanding exhibition sector, Colombia is trying to confront piracy and build on the success of the 3D phenomenon. Hugo Chaparro Valderrama reports

Against the backdrop of an economy which keeps growing despite the global recession, the Colombian cinema sector has made big strides in recent years, with ongoing cinema construction and rising ticket sales. The territory’s box office was worth $139m in 2010 — up 30.3% on 2009 — while admissions increased by 24.3% to hit 33.6 million.

Colombia’s screen count rose 10.3% last year and the territory is attracting overseas investors such as Mexican exhibitor Cinepolis, which opened a nine-screen multiplex in 2008 in Bogota, and US company Cinemark, which opened a 10-screen multiplex in 1999 before expanding further to build a 13% market share. Leading exhibitors include Cine Colombia, Procinal and Royal Films. Growth is being driven by factors including the popularity of 3D and the building of multiplexes in smaller cities such as Neiva in the south and Santa Marta in the north.

The market is dominated by US studio product: last year’s highest-grossing film was Toy Story 3 which earned $10.3m, largely from 3D showings.

Meanwhile, the independent distribution sector is struggling. “People don’t like to see arthouse movies,” says Elba McAllister, co-founder of indie distributor Cineplex. “They prefer Hollywood action or 3D films. Whatever, our goal is to buy good-quality cinema.”

Independents’ way

Set up in 1993, Cineplex pioneered independent releasing in Colombia with such titles as Farewell My Concubine and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy. Other leading independents include Babilla Cine, Venus Films and VO Cines, which focus on arthouse and more commercial independent fare.

Films from auteurs such as Wong Kar Wai, Mike Leigh and Lars von Trier always attract interest from Colombian buyers, as does work from Mexican directors and films about Latin American society and politics. Recent pick-ups include Another Year, The Rebound, Garcia, Cell 211 and La Zona.

Cineplex and other independent distributors are also committed to giving local and Latin American cinema greater exposure. And there have been breakout successes, such as Andres Baiz’s Satanas, which earned $1.9m in 2007. In 2008 the highest-earning local film was Paraiso Travel with $3.9m, followed by Dog Eat Dog with $1.2m. Last year, In Fraganti earned $1.6m.

Such success prompted Cine Colombia, the main Colombian exhibitor, to open a distribution arm headed by Pia Barragan. As well as In Fraganti, the company released local titles including Crab Trap, Portraits In A Sea Of Lies and Of Love And Other Demons.

Creative knowhow

Producers and distributors of local fare must be creative to gain traction in a crowded market and make the most of limited p&a budgets. For the release of The Wind Journeys in April 2009, producer Diana Bustamante Escobar and distributor Cineplex premiered the film in Valledupar, a city in the north of Colombia, during a music festival. It built on its success there to take $600,000. Similarly, Escobar and Cine Colombia premiered Crab Trap in Buenaventura, the port where the film was shot. “We must release our films knowing we have 2% of the budget of a big Hollywood movie,” she says, “but with the passion and professionalism our cinema deserves.”

Colombia, however, is ravaged by piracy. Original DVDs are expensive and cinema-goers can pick up the latest releases at the same time as theatrical. Two pirate DVDs can be purchased for the price of a cinema ticket — an incentive in a country where the average monthly salary is $260.

With tickets for 3D films on average 45.8% more expensive than for 2D, the format is proving a gold mine for distributors and exhibitors. Only 112 of 570 screens in Colombia have 3D capability but exhibitors such as Cine Colombia are expanding fast in this area.

Studio distributors in Colombia

UIP: represents Paramount, DreamWorks, Universal, Sony (Columbia-Tristar)
Cine Colombia: represents Fox, Warner, New Line Cinema
Cinecolor Colombia: represents Disney
Leading independent distributors: Cineplex, Babilla Cine, Venus Films, VO Cines

Exhibitor market share*

Cine Colombia: 39%
Procinal: 18%
Royal Films: 15%
Cinemark: 13%
Independent: 12%
Cinepolis: 4%

*2010 exhibitor market share by screen count

Distribution and exhibition

Box office (Jan 1-Dec 21 2010): $139m
Admissions: 33.6 million
Number of theatrical screens: 570

Distributor share*

Disney: 24%
Warner: 20%
Paramount: 14%
Cine Colombia: 13%
Columbia: 10%
Fox: 7%
UIP: 6%
Cineplex: 5%
Others: 2%

*2010 box-office share by distributor

Top 10 films at the Colombian box office, 2010*

RankTitleLocal distributorGross
1Toy Story 3Cinecolor Colombia$10.3m
2Alice In WonderlandCinecolor Colombia$7.1m
3Shrek Forever AfterUIP$6.6m
4Clash Of The TitansCine Colombia$5.9m
5Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1Cine Colombia$4.1m
6Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of TimeCinecolor Colombia$3.9m
7The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn TreaderCinecolor Colombia$3.8m
8The Last AirbenderUIP$3.3m
9InceptionCinecolor Colombia$3.1m
10Resident Evil: AfterlifeUIP$3m

* $1 = peso1.872