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Colombia packs heavy for Cannes

Stathoulopoulos' 'PVC-1' vying for Camera d'Or

Having seven pics in Cannes is a first for Colombia, where local film production has soared in recent years. Among the four Colombian pics in Cannes’ world cinema showcase Tous les Cinemas du Monde, are last year’s blockbuster “Sonar no cuesta nada” (A Ton of Luck) and comedy thriller “Bluff” by Felipe Martinez.

“PVC-1,” the feature debut of Colombian-Greek tyro Spiros Stathoulopoulos, vies for the Camera d’Or at the Directors Fortnight sidebar. Based on a true kidnapping incident, the 85-minute pic was shot in one unbroken take by Stathoulopoulos, who strength-trained for three months, five hours a day so that he could shoulder the steadicam through the rigors of a four-day location shoot. 

Six out of these seven pics have benefited from the state-backed film fund. Thanks to this fund, as well as subsidies and tax incentives that have spurred private investment in cinema, the number of homegrown releases has quadrupled from a measly two in the ’90s to an average eight in recent years. Sixteen features are now in post. Colombians again have been flocking to see their own films, judging from the rise in local audience share, from 3.38% in 2003 to nearly 14% last year.

Local television support has been pivotal, especially from RCN TV whose marketing and promotional campaigns drove up admissions for “Sonar no cuesta nada,” “Karmma,” “Bluff” and “Al final del Espectro” among others. Rival Caracol TV mainly backs the theatrical releases of Dago Garcia’s popular telenovela-star packed telefilms.

Colombia has also been striving hard to attract more international productions. “A film commission is in the works,” says Claudia Triana, director of nonprofit org Proimagenes, which promotes Colombian cinema, manages the film fund and soon, the film commission.

Because of Colombia’s reputation for drug violence, “Love in the Time of Cholera” producer Scott Steindorff was set to shoot the first Hollywood adaptation of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel in Brazil. But plans changed when Colombian vice president Francisco Santos Calderon called him, inviting Steindorff, helmer Mike Newell and their team to visit Colombia, with a pledge to provide security.

“We went to Cartagena, where the novel is set, and fell in love with it.” Steindorff recalls. Despite the port city’s lack of filmmaking infrastructure, the $48 million production saved at least $20 million, says Steindorff.

“Colombia is becoming a hub for film production just as it is for television,” says Colombian helmer Simon Brand who is in post for his $3 million U.S.-Colombian pic, “Paraiso Travel.” “It is certainly not expensive to shoot here and it is very easy to secure permits,” he adds.

Among other challenges, the country lacks film labs, and English-speaking crew members are scarce. But the industry is working hard to address these issues. Brand even saw English classes under way at an equipment rental company.

When a delegation of some 40 Colombian film industry talent and execs descend on Cannes for Colombia Day May 24, they will have a good number of reasons to celebrate.

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