Local filmmakers recapture B.O. mojo

Colombian cinema has regained its box office mojo after a steady decline in recent years. Not since 2006, when Rodrigo Triana’s military drama “Sonar no cuesta nada” (A Ton of Luck) made $6 million, has there been a genuine local blockbuster. Then on Christmas Eve, Harold Trompetero’s family road trip comedy “El paseo” (The Trip) had a boffo opening and went on to shatter “Sonar’s” record with $7.5 million and counting.

Two other pics have been drawing big auds since: Jaime Escallon’s comedy “El jefe” (The Boss) has made $1.2 million and Carlos Cesar Arbelaez’s multiple fest-winner “Los colores de la montana” (Colors of the Mountain) has notched up $1.6 million and still counting. To put this in context, only three local pics made more than $500,000 last year.

With at least 14 more films set to open, the market share of Colombian cinema is expected to rise steeply this year. “Because it was more of an arthouse film, ‘Colors’ box office success was totally unexpected, it doubled our projections,” says Julian Giraldo, head of RCN Cine, the film arm of web RCN TV, which has backed a slew of pics since “Sonar.”

“We were really worried last year about losing our moviegoers but we seem to have won them back,” says Claudia Triana of non-profit org Proimagenes en Movimiento, which handles the state film fund, the national film commission and pic promotion.

Hefty tax incentives, international co-productions and generous TV support has spurred a surge in film production but finding ready coin remains a challenge. TV duopoly RCN and Caracol are a lifeline to many as they continue to invest coin and marketing savvy into homegrown fare.

To address cash-flow issues, more producers are jumping into television production and/or offering production services to Disney, Fox, Sony and other companies ramping up TV production in Colombia. For some, making TV commercials has kept coffers filled for pet film projects.

Others are venturing into English-language pics to break into the fickle U.S. market. To this end, RCN Cine recently backed Simon Brand’s English-lingo, found-footage thriller “Default,” now in post. Alejandro Arango’s Contento Films executive produced John Leguizamo romantic comedy “Fugly” and horror pic “Psychophonies,” both in English.

Clara Maria Ochoa (CMO) Prods. made “Regreso a la guaca,” a hit TV spin-off from its “Sonar,” and inked a TV content production deal with Caracol TV in February.

Per CMO executive producer Ana Pineres, CMO has wrapped drug-mule TV drama “Correo de inocentes” (Traffic of Innocents) for RCN TV and is also developing guerrilla war-themed feature “Esperame en el cielo, capitan” (Wait for Me in Heaven, Captain).

Dynamo Capital, producers of Andi Baiz’s “Bunker: La cara oculta” (The Hidden Face) with Fox Intl. Prods, is prepping Baiz’s historical pic “Roa” as well as Carlos Moreno’s coming-of-age adaptation of cult novel “Que viva la musica” (On With the Music), by author Andres Caicedo.

It has provided production services to Spain’s Antena 3 TV skein “Karabudjan” and the web’s upcoming miniseries “Corazon del oceano” (Heart of the Ocean). Dynamo Capital aims to create a $150 million-$200 million private equity fund to invest in Latin American film, TV and animation companies. It launched Colombia’s first private film fund, worth nearly $10 million, in 2008.

Meanwhile, Rhayuela Cine, makers of buzz pic “El Paramo,” is prepping Wall Street/Mafia drama skein “Stop Loss” with U.S. cable networks in mind.

While many Colombian films continue to be set against the background of drug trafficking or the current conflict between the FARC guerrillas and the army, a number of them are coming in from new angles. Rhayuela’s upcoming “Maria,” in pre-production, deals with the fate of a female guerrilla fighter who flees to avoid being forced to abort her baby or give it up for adoption.

Jaime Osorio’s “El Paramo” adds a horror twist to a military drama while Juan Felipe Orozco’s hitman tale “Saluda al diablo de mi parte” (Greetings to the Devil) is also a psychological thriller.

Given the quality and quantity of pics primed for release, Colombian cinema is certainly on an upward trajectory.

SPOTLIGHT: COLOMBIA
Colombia gets creative | Up and coming names | Colombian cornucopia

Click here for full coverage of the Cannes Film Festival

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more