Incentives spur Latin American film biz

Most of the Latin American pics vying for a foreign-language Oscar nom this year are feature debuts, heralding a sea change sweeping through Latin America’s film industries.

“I travel to a lot of film festivals, and I’ve been surprised by the number of films from countries that rarely make them: Nicaragua, Guatemala, Paraguay,” says Paula Barreto, who produced Brazilian foreign-lingo Oscar entry “Lula, the Son of Brazil,” a biopic about Brazil’s former prexy that her brother, Fabio Barreto, helmed.

More government incentives, savvier producers, inexpensive technology and robust international support are spawning new filmmakers across the region.

Fabio Barreto is among the few vet helmers, along with Chile’s Matias Bize (“The Life of Fish”) and Argentina’s Pablo Trapero (“Carancho”), whose pics are foreign-language Oscar contenders.

“More countries have recently joined the Ibermedia program such as Panama, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Uruguay,” observes producer Mariana Secco, board prexy of Uruguay’s producers org Asoprod and its rep on the Iberoamerican Producers Federation.

The program manages a film fund and fosters co-productions among its 18-member countries, among other functions.

Tyro helmer Hilda Hidalgo’s “Of Love and Other Demons” is the first Costa Rican pic to tap the Ibermedia program. Colombia’s CMO Prods. co-produced Hidalgo’s adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novella. It’s only the second pic that Costa Rica has ever submitted to the Academy Awards. (“Caribe” was the first, in 2004.)

“A new film law has a good chance of getting passed early next year in Costa Rica,” says Hidalgo, who points out that local film production has nonetheless grown considerably.

Nicaraguan entry “La Yuma,” a female boxing drama written and helmed by Florence Jaugey, is reportedly the first pic to emerge from this Central American territory in more than two decades.

“I think their financing structures are free from creative imposition and that oftentimes the projects come backed by very significant development programs (such as Sundance) that mature the films in the minds of these first-time writer directors,” says Cristian Conti, senior fund manager and co-founder of Colombian private film fund Dynamo Capital.

Dynamo backed Peru’s Oscar entry, Javier Fuentes-Leon’s ghostly gay drama “Undertow” (Contracorriente), which secured U.S. distribution soon after winning the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Prize at Sundance.

A raft of incentives aimed at helping newcomers exist across the region. Colombia, where production growth has been dramatic thanks to a 2003 film law, requires exhibs to screen local shorts before a regular feature screening.

“In Venezuela, funds to new filmmakers from the national film institute CNAC are double the norm,” says Marcel Rasquin, whose feature debut, “Hermano,” reps the country.

Brazilian unions oblige production shingles to hire newbies, who must comprise at least 10% of the crew. “There are few film schools here, so most people learn on the job,” says Paula Barreto.

Support from European shingles was key to getting some of these Oscar entries off the ground.

“Crab Trap,” from rookie Oscar Ruiz Navia and selected by Colombia’s newly formed Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, was co-produced by French shingle Arizona Films. Ruiz Navia is also set to participate in the Cannes Film Festival Residence program in October to develop his next pic. Spain’s MediaPro and Versatil Cinema backed Uruguayan romantic comedy “A Useful Life” (La Vida Util), Federico Veiroj’s second pic.

But sometimes, films are made thanks to scrappy local producers who struggle against the lack of solid infrastructure and coin.

Sonia Fritz and Frances Lausell of Isla Films made Rafi Mercado’s psychological thriller “Miente,” which reps Puerto Rico, for less than $1 million. While buoyed by generous tax credits and perks that have boosted both foreign and local productions, the realities of showbiz are not lost on them.

“People think the film business is glamorous,” says Lausell, “but it’s a lot of hard work.”

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