One of the staunchest champions behind Colombia’s first-ever best foreign language Oscar nominee “Embrace of the Serpent” is Colombia’s Caracol TV, one of just two private broadcasters in this Andean nation where local film production has grown exponentially.
“We’d been searching for years to find a story about the Amazon,” said Alejandro Bernal, general manager of new channels and film at Caracol Television. After meeting helmer Ciro Guerra and his producing partner Cristina Gallego about their black-and-white Amazon-set drama, they jumped in from the onset, putting up at least 30% of the $1.4 million budget. On top of that, it spent an estimated $500,000 on the film’s marketing and promotion at home and abroad.
“We gave them all the freedom to make the film we knew they could do, as we were familiar with their earlier work,” he said. Guerra’s first two pics have also been critical hits, starting with his debut feature “Wandering Shadows” and followed by “The Wind Journeys,” both of which repped Colombia in the foreign Oscar races of the 78th and 82nd Academy Awards, respectively.
“Embrace of the Serpent” will have been screening in Colombia for 40 weeks by the time the Oscars roll in. “It’s one of the longest — if not the longest — theatrical runs ever for a Colombian film,” said Bernal. The drama, inspired by the real-life journals of two 19th century Amazon explorers, has clocked up to 400,000 admissions, not as much as a broad comedy produced by Dago Garcia, an associate producer of “Serpent,” but notable for an arthouse pic.
Caracol allots at least $2 million a year to its film investments. “We’re looking for films that resonate with audiences; from simple comedies to more complex dramas; they need to be universal,” he said. The broadcaster backed up to nine films last year including Josef Kubota Wladyka’s “Manos Sucias,” which has been nominated for best first feature and best editing prizes at the Independent Spirit Awards. This year’s investments include the upcoming Dynamo-Patagonik co-production “Malcriados,” a remake of Mexican hit “Nosotros los Nobles,” and 64A’s “Fragmentos de Amor.”
Meanwhile, another division run by Felipe Boshell produces low-budget mainstream Colombian films with local producers, and co-produces or provides production services to international films that tap the country’s generous 40% cash rebates for filmmaking services and 20% for logistical expenditures.