With a growing economy, diverse locations and an expanding skills base, Colombia is aiming to overcome foreign misconceptions and attract international shoots. By Hugo Chaparro Valderrama

In the past Colombia was perhaps better known overseas for its turbulent politics and crime than as a place to shoot international films. But with a fast-rising economy, a stable political situation — despite ongoing conflict between FARC guerrillas and the Colombian army — and a growing skills base, the territory is positioning itself as a place to shoot international movies, and a rival to other Latin American production hubs.

‘We have good prices and good quality… We have a high artistry and excellent technical quality’

Silvia Echeverri, Colombian Film Commission

Colombia’s diverse locations — which range from beaches to Andean mountains, ancient villages to modern cities — and its multi-ethnic population have attracted major film-makers over the years. These have included shoots such as Gillo Pontecorvo’s Burn! in 1969, starring Marlon Brando, to Roland Joffe’s The Mission and Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde in the 1980s. More recently, films such as Mike Newell’s Love In The Time Of Cholera and Hilda Hidalgo’s Of Love And Other Demons, a co-production between Cacerola Films in Mexico, Alicia Films in Costa Rica and Colombia’s CMO Producciones, have shot in the territory.

Much has changed in the years since Brando declared Cartagena “a tropical city not far from the gateway of Hades”. Four decades later, Love In The Time Of Cholera star Javier Bardem spoke of a country and a city which is “completely the opposite of what people outside the country think”.

The Colombian Film Commission, which is charged with attracting production, must also counter overseas perceptions of Colombia as a place of drug dealers and guerrillas. And while no international features as ambitious as Love In The Time Of Cholera have shot in Colombia since that film, the territory’s production infrastructure is developing steadily.

“Colombia’s audiovisual production is highly competitive,” says Silvia Echeverri, director of the Colombian Film Commission. “We have good prices and a very high quality. That’s one of the reasons why Colombian cinema is right now playing in the most important international film festivals. Besides that, the TV series produced in Colombia are seen in Latin America and our soap operas are sold worldwide because we have a high artistry and excellent technical quality.”

Colombia has a talented crew base which includes directors of photography, art directors, editors, animators, property masters, costume designers, lighting designers and actors. There are equipment companies supplying film and high-definition video equipment and technology, as well as specialised post-production services, digital effects, sound engineering and 5.1 mixing in certified Dolby studios. The territory is lacking a major studio, however, and shoots mostly use locations or TV studios.

“We’ve put tremendous pressure on the city and on the country, yet the people have continued to be warm and receptive to us,” Love In The Time Of Cholera producer Scott LaStaiti said during production. “Over 50% of our crew is Colombian… We got quite a few well-trained technicians out of Bogota who were obviously very good, very skilled technicians, very experienced.”

Changes to the law

Costs of shooting in Colombia are competitive with those of other Latin American countries such as Mexico, Brazil or Argentina. While Colombia has no financial incentive for foreign shoots — its existing incentives are aimed at attracting investment in local films rather than attracting international projects — this could be set to change, with the Colombian government working on a new law designed to attract foreign productions.

Nevertheless, Colombia is attracting international attention. In July 2010, 120 independent producers and executives from companies such as 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Disney travelled to Bogota and Cartagena in a familiarisation trip as part of the Bogota Audiovisual Market (BAM).

‘You can shoot in Colombia with the same knowledge and infrastructure that you would shoot in LA, New York, Miami or Europe’

Warren Keuning, Tribu International

This event, organised by the Chamber of Commerce of Bogota, Proimagenes Colombia and the Film Development Fund (FDC), was a three-day meeting to showcase the country as a place to do business, produce and co-produce, and for the local cinema sector to build links with the international film market.

“Colombia is at a very good level,” says Warren Keuning, the founder of Tribu International, the leading Colombian production services company. “The crews here are very experienced, very hardworking, which I think is the strongest point. You can shoot here in Colombia with the same knowledge and infrastructure that you would shoot in Los Angeles, New York, Miami or Europe.”

Production incentives

The 2003 film law

The Film Law (law 814 of 2003) created tax benefits for investors in, or donaters to, Colombian film projects. A transferable tax credit, it is also open to foreign investments in Colombia. The maximum incentive given to a certified film project by the government is $600,000.

Co-productions are also eligible for incentives included in Colombian film legislation.

To access incentives, the project must be recognised as a national co-production by the Ministry of Culture’s Film Office and current legislation requires that Colombian participation in a co-production is at least 20% of the total cost of the film. Eligibility also requires a certain percentage of Colombian artistic participation.

Most Colombian films produced in 2010 used this incentive.

Film Development Fund

Administered by Proimagenes Colombia, the Film Development Fund offers Colombian productions and co-productions non-repayable grants for development, production, post and distribution.

There are also incentives available for festival promotion and participation. There is also money for education, film conservation and piracy measures.

Ibermedia Programme

Colombia is part of the Ibermedia co-operative agreement, which offers technical and financial assistance to promote the development of co-production projects presented by independent Iberoamerican producers.

Source: Colombia, Blockbuster Country. Production Guide. Colombian Film Commission (2009)