May 21, 2013
A Colombian fairy tale
By Pablo Suárez
For the Herald
“Colombia Cultural en Buenos Aires” is a remarkable event that is offering porteños an extraordinary chance to get acquainted with Colombian culture in its most popular shapes and colours. Among the many guests, there’s Adelfa Martínez Bonill, the Director of Cinematography of the Colombian Ministry of Education, who spoke to the Herald about the recent (and not so recent) changes in the state of Colombian cinema.
While many factors, both private and public, contributed to the invigoration and awakening of an industry that once was very limited in its scope and growth, some clearly had a bigger impact than others – in fact, a handful of most adequate public policies have proven to be precisely what the sector needed for its renovation and sustained growth. Now, it can only get better.
By now it’s well known that Colombian cinema is experiencing a very positive change.
Yes, we’re going through very good times, and it’s been this way for quite some time now. In the last ten years, we’ve implemented coherent policies that have truly helped make the film industry grow almost non-stop. The Cinema Act passed in 2003 provided two fundamental tools to foster film production in Colombia: the Fund for Economic Development and tax benefits for investors and donors. These measures combined have injected some 55 million dollars into the industry. Before 2003, we had an average of three Colombian movies released per year – after just nine years, we have an average of 23 annual releases. But this is not only about quantity, because there has also been a remarkable improvement in the artistic quality of the films. Not only more, but also better.
How does this place Colombian cinema in the world?
Colombian cinema is starting to appear in the international scene. Our work is being recognized and has a place in many prestigious film festivals such as Cannes, Venice, San Sebastián, and so forth. New filmmakers have their works shown to diverse audiences which have also embraced them, critics and viewers alike. This is a major achievement that has taken lots of hard work. The people of Colombia, have also responded very well: last year alone, we had 3.3 million viewers for local features, an unprecedented figure.
And how does this growth affect directors and producers?
It helps them a lot as regards consolidating potential markets for their productions. However, one of the most important effects is the birth of a new generation of filmmakers. Before 2003, we had three or four major directors who made the three movies we released each year; nowadays many young artists breathe new air into local cinema. The “old” filmmakers can now enjoy a much better prospect for the production and release of their films, whereas the new ones provide novel and highly innovative standpoints, both in terms of aesthetics and contents.
How about film schools and universities?
In Colombia we only have five universities, in five different cities, which offer filmmaking studies. Many others offer courses in Social Communication, for instance, with an emphasis on an area of audiovisual arts. But these courses don’t replace a solid academic background fully focused on filmmaking. This is something we really need to work on, even those five universities have major limitations in their syllabuses.
In the meantime, what are some possible solutions?
The National Film Board, which is in charge of the Fund for Economic Development, offers students scholarships and loans so they can get their MAs in foreign universities. We’ve had this agreement for two years now, and 50 Colombian students are attending foreign film schools. But we are also working with Colombian universities interested in adding filmmaking to their courses to give students yet another opportunity to pursue their academic and artistic education.
How do you stimulate both novel and established filmmakers to come up with new material?
We offer financial support for the entire process, from script development to shooting to the final stages of postproduction. So the interested parties apply to the Board to be eligible for subsidies. We are now giving out some subsidies for the writing of some 20 scripts a year. Any Colombian filmmaker has an open road ahead.
What about the private sector?
Simultaneously, the interested parties can also ask for the support of private investors and backers that might find their projects interesting for many different reasons, including the potential for profit. In order to get their cooperation, the Ministry of Culture examines the project and then declares it a project of national recognition so private investors benefit from a significant tax deduction.
What about using Colombia as a location?
We’ve just issued a new law regarding the territory of Colombia as a filming location. We aim to be a competitive country and draw producers and directors to shoot here. We believe this will help strengthen the economy of the many and diverse companies involved in film production – in all levels, be it technical or artistic. In time, this will mean more business and more jobs.