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Allure of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is going after co-productions in a big way with tax breaks and a new $ 10 million film fund to encourage foreign film producers to shoot on the island.

The Puerto Rican government has passed new legislation that will give local investors powerful tax credits for financing feature films. Not only can a portion of their investment be written off while a film is in production, but from 80% to 90% remains tax exempt after a picture begins recouping its costs.

Spurred by this strong incentive, the locally based Clark Melvin Securities Corp. is raising $ 10 million for a government-licensed film fund. It will be administered by Clark Melvin’s CEO, Cesar Montilla, lawyer Letvia M. Arza Goderich and her husband Juan Gerard Gonzalez, who is the executive director of the Puerto Rico International Film Festival.

A first round of projects will be selected no later than April 15, for tax reasons. At that time, organizers expect 60% to 70% of the fund to be committed.

According to Arza Goderich, a project must already have at least 50% of its financing in place in order to be eligible for co-prod funds. Producers also must demonstrate they have a distribution program ready, a completed screenplay, a referenced director and cast commitment, so that “recouping the investment is relatively secure,” said Arza Goderich, who will supervise the selection of projects with Gonzalez. “We expect to see films in the $ 1 million to $ 2 million range.”

Other conditions include shooting no less than 60% of the picture in Puerto Rico and using as many local facilities, resources and secondary actors as can reasonably be employed.

In addition to running the festival and film fund, Gonzalez and Arza Goderich are also producing a film, “Shortcut to Paradise,” by Spanish director Gerardo Herrer. Stars Charles Dance and Assumpta Serna were filming in the town of Ponce while the fest was going on. Half the $ 2.2 million budget was raised in Puerto Rico. “What this production experience taught us,” noted Arza Goderich, “is that shooting is about 20% cheaper here than in the U.S.”

The fest, which unspooled Nov. 10-21, screened more than 100 feature films. Admissions were forecast at 45,000, a 30% increase over last year. The program, concentrating on the major fest films of the season, slipped in a number of new South American productions, though a lack of subtitles or translations was an obstacle to offshore press.

Gonzalez said he’s actively courting Latin American producers and distributors for next year, particularly from Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia. Among the U.S. distribs present or expected this year were reps from Cinevista, Trimark and Angelika Films.

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