Colombia is one of the most exciting emerging markets in Latin America, with a diverse range of films breaking out on the international stage. Hugo Chaparro Valderrama explores how the territory’s new wave of directors are combining local support with international savvy

One of Latin America’s fastest-rising cinema hotspots, Colombia is attracting investors, co-producers and festival programmers from around the world.

Like similar new waves in the Philippines, Romania, Argentina or Thailand, the current crop of Colombian directors grew up in the turbulent 1970s and =980s and are now coming of age with new technology at their disposal and an awareness of the world stage. As Diana Sanchez, international programmer of the Toronto International Film Festival wrote in the event’s 2010 programme: “The best film-makers of the next decade will be from Colombia.”

The territory’s crop of hot directors includes such diverse talents as Oscar Ruiz Navia, whose debut feature Crab Trap [pictured] had its world premiere at Toronto in 2009 and was selected as Colombia’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar this year; Carlos Moreno, whose All Your Dead Ones was selected for Sundance and Rotterdam this year; Jairo Carrillo and Oscar Andrade, whose animated documentary Little Voices had its world premiere in Venice Days; Andres Baiz, whose highly anticipated murder mystery Bunker is being co-produced by Fox International Productions; Carlos Cesar Arbelaez, whose football drama The Colours Of The Mountain world premiered at San Sebastian in 2010; Spiros Stathoulopoulos, the Greek-Colombian director whose PVC-1 screened in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2007; Carlos Gaviria, whose Portraits In A Sea Of Lies played in Berlin’s Generation14Plus sidebar last year; and Ruben Mendoza, whose The Stoplight Society screens at the forthcoming Cartagena International Film Festival.

Against the backdrop of a steadily rising local economy, Colombian film-makers have been boosted by a transferable tax credit which is attracting private equity investment to the production sector. Introduced by the government in 2003, the Colombian Film Law offers an income-tax deduction to investors in — or donators to — Colombian films or co-productions. For every $100 invested or donated, the taxes for which the contributing company is responsible are reduced by $41.25. Investors may participate in profits if agreed by the investor and producer.

The maximum incentive given by the government per project is  $600,000 and there must be 20% Colombian financial participation as well as Colombian artistic and technical involvement.

The investment or donation must be administered by the producer through a trust fund, which ensures the money is destined to categories established by the Colombian ministry of culture. Once the fund is spent, a certificate of film investment or a certificate of donation is issued by the ministry. This is a negotiable security which can be used by the investor or sold to another individual or company which pays income tax in Colombia, so long as it is used during the same fiscal year as the investment.

Foreign investors are also eligible for the incentive. The Colombian Film Commission website (www.location states “multiple foreign investments in Colombia are eligible for this tax benefit, whether in the form of standalone trusts inside the country to be used in this type of project, or in the form of capital contributions to taxpaying companies in Colombia.”

Production growth

The introduction of the credit has led to a significant rise in production. In the 1990s, Colombia produced just one or two films per year; now it produces between 10 and 12. More than 60 features and eight shorts — most of the Colombian films produced after 2003 — have utilised the tax credit. At the same time there has been a growth of production companies in Colombia, helping create infrastructure and outlets for film-makers. These include CMO Producciones, Laberinto, Ciudad Lunar, Dynamo, Antorcha, 64-A Films, Contento Films, Dia Fragma, Fundacion Imagen Latina and Rhayuela Cine.

‘Co-production is a guarantee, for us colombian film-makers, of finishing our products’

Andres Baiz, director

The new generation of Colombian film-makers are savvy about attracting overseas co-producers. Crab Trap was set up as a Colombia-France co-production between Arizona Films in France, and Burning Blue and Contravia Films in Colombia, while Javier Fuentes-Leon’s Sundance award winner Undertow was a Colombia-Peru-France-Germany co-production between Dynamo (Colombia), El Calvo Films (Peru), La Cinefacture (France) and Neue Cameo Film (Germany). And Fox International Productions is co-producing Andres Baiz’s psychological thriller Bunker with Colombia’s Dynamo, along with Cactus Flower and Avalon from Spain.

“Co-production is a guarantee, for us Colombian film-makers, of finishing our projects,” says Baiz.

“We have a system to support Colombian cinema,” says Crab Trap’s Oscar Ruiz Navia. “Nevertheless, we need more money. For us, co-production is a very important thing. We must get in touch with producers from Europe and Latin America.”

Attention from abroad

Overseas sales agents are also showing an interest in Colombian titles, such as Jaime Osorio Marquez’s thriller The Squad for which Wild Bunch is handling international rights. Films Boutique handled Little Voices while M-Appeal sold Crab Trap and is handling Karen Cries In A Bus, a world premiere in the Forum section at Berlin. Others include Juan Felipe Orozco’s Espectro (Salt) and The Colours Of The Mountain (UMedia).

Colombia is also attracting producers such as Maja Zimmermann. An independent producer who works in acquisitions for sales agent Altadena Films, Zimmermann says her love affair with Colombia began in 2008 when she saw Carlos Moreno’s Dog Eat Dog at Sundance and met the producers Diego Ramirez from Antorcha Films and Diego Ramirez Schrempp from Dynamo Capital.

Zimmermann is now on board as a producer on Alejandro Landes’ Porfirio, currently in post. Produced by Antorcha Films, the project also includes producers from Spain, Uruguay and France.

“I probably had the impression Colombia is a dangerous place, a difficult place to do business,” says Zimmermann. “Then when I met the Colombians abroad, I had a very different impression… I was thinking this would be a great place to do business.”

Colombia, at a glance, 2010

Population: approx 46 million
Admissions: 33,640,000
Per capita cinema visits: 0.74
Total cinema sites: 137
Total cinema screens: 570 (78% of screens are in five cities: Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga)
Total cinema seats: 200,000
Ticket price for 2D film: $4.83
Ticket price for 3D film: $7.04
Number of television sets: 15 million (estimated)
Total number of films released in Colombia: 200

Sources: CADBOX, SIREC, DANE, Colombian Film Commission