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Ochoa leads Colombian pic revival

Behind “Sonar no cuesta nada” (A Ton of Luck), Colombia’s official entry to the Best Foreign Film Oscar race, is a woman at the vanguard of her country’s production boom.

Clara Maria Ochoa’s production shingle CMO Prods. is prepping nine films, among them an adaptation of Nobel prizewinner Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “Of Love and Other Demons” and a sequel to “Sonar.”

“Sonar” has been numero uno at the Colombian box office for the past 12 weeks, with 1.2 million admissions. Pic is based on a true story of Colombian soldiers who found a $46 million guerilla cache and decided to keep it. This level of box office for a local film hasn’t been seen since 1993’s “La Estrategia del Caracol” (The Snail’s Strategy).

CMO also helped develop last year’s hit “Rosario Tijeras,” which attracted 1.05 million admissions.

Now in her 50s, Ochoa has been producing feature films since 1982. She’s had her share of hits and misses, but Colombia’s 1994 film law has made a positive impact on her ability to secure financing. “Clara has been able to make savvy use of new government film funds as well as tax breaks for private (nonpro) investors,” says Claudia Triana de Vargas, head of film fund administrator ProImagenes.

“It’s been a definite plus,” Ochoa says. “I get calls from various people wanting to invest in my films.” These range from stock brokers and logistical support companies to television stations, she adds.

A writer herself, Ochoa has nurtured strong relationships with talent. “Sonar” was adapted from an idea she developed closely with scribe Jorg Hiller. She has produced pics by Colombia’s most beloved helmers, including Jorge Ali Triana (“Bolivar, soy yo”) and his son Rodrigo, who directed “Sonar” and another CMO production “Como el gato y el raton” (Like Cat and Mouse). CMO is in pre-production on Ali Triana’s “Este huele mal” (This smells bad) and developing Victor Gaviria’s “La Cruz de David” (The Cross of David).

“Clara is one of the few genuine producers in Colombia,” says David Melo, head of the national film committee at Colombia’s Ministry of Culture.

Encouraged by the new film law, a new crop of filmmakers have become more conscious about broadening their appeal. As a result, the audience market share of Colombian cinema has been rising quickly, from 3.03% in 2003 to 12.41% in 2005. National output has grown from three or four pics in the late ’90s to roughly eight annually in recent years.

This new breed of cineastas comes at a time when Colombia, especially its capital, Bogota, has been making strides in cleaning up its crime-ridden image.

There is talk of creating a film commission, and some international productions are already shooting there, including Mike Newell’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” and Simon Brand’s “Paraiso Travel.”

“Colombia still needs to make an “Amores Perros” or “City of God” to put us on the global cinematic map,” says Ochoa, who is certainly in the right position to find one.

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