Film production in Colombia has been on the uptick thanks to the country’s 2003 film law — and may be about to get yet another boost. Colombia’s pic-friendly government is now turning its attention to luring international projects with a bill that may be ratified in the summer.

Bill sets up a film fund of some $12 million to allow a 40% cash rebate on production-related expenses and a 20% cash rebate on expenses in catering, transport and lodgings for film and TV-movie location shoots in the country.

Still, the current lack of incentives for foreign shoots hasn’t deterred some large projects from shooting on location in Colombia. It was Mike Newell’s $50 million “Love in the Time of Cholera,” shot in Cartagena in 2006, that spurred the creation of a film commission. The head of that org, Silvia Echeverri, has been conducting a series of familiarity — or “fam” — tours with the help of former studio exec Jason Resnick.

Resnick believes that the tours have been effective in dispelling people’s preconceptions about the country’s culture and even its location. “Some people think Colombia is as far away as Brazil and that the time difference is as bad as with Europe,” he says. In fact, Colombia is only two hours ahead of the U.S. West Coast. Recent foreign shoots there include Spanish-French co production “Operation E” and USA Network TV movie “Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe.”

But international players have also been venturing in to co produce local pics, most recently Fox Intl. Productions (FIP), which partnered with Colombian shingle Dynamo for Andi Baiz’s slick psychological thriller “The Hidden Face,” a box office hit last year. “It was a very positive experience and we look forward to making more movies in Colombia,” says FIP prexy Sanford Panitch.

Participant Media (“The Help”) co-developed and holds worldwide rights to supernatural thriller “Out of the Dark,” an upcoming English-language co-prod with Dynamo, Spain’s Apaches and U.S. based XYZ Films. “Although it will be a Latin American film, being in English will give it as much exposure and traction as a U.S. film,” says XYZ’s Nick Spicer, who executive-produced the Edgar Ramirez-toplined “Greetings to the Devil.”

XYZ is also co-producing “The Scribe of Uraba” with Jhonny Hendrix’s Antorcha Films; brothers Michael and Jeff Zimbalist (“The Two Escobars”) are helming.

“If the new bill passes, the future influx of international productions will help us mature as an industry and make us more competitive on the world stage,” says Hendrix, whose popular “Choco” opened the 52nd Cartagena Intl. Film Fest in February and was the first local pic to feature Colombia’s indigenous people. “I just hope that we don’t lose sight of our personal, Colombian stories.”

“There seems to be an upsurge in films dealing with indigenous themes and shot in ever more remote locations,” says Claudia Triana of nonprofit org Proimagenes, which handles the state film fund, the film commission and pic promotion. Cannes Directors’ Fortnight selection “La Sirga” was shot in La Laguna de la Cocha, a stunning but little-known area near Ecuador. Un Certain Regard entry “La Playa” centers on an Afro-Colombian lead. “Colombian filmmakers are beginning to find their own cinematic language,” says Diana Bustamante, a co producer of both “Sirga” and “Playa.”

TV support remains the backbone of many local pics, with duopoly RCN and Caracol providing coin and promotional support. RCN Cine’s Julian Giraldo is spearheading a push into English-language pics starting with Simon Brand’s found-footage thriller, “Default,” now in post. Other such projects in the pipeline include Cuba-set “Sheltering Grounds” and “Operation Checkmate,” based on the rescue of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt from Colombia’s FARC guerillas, with Greg Shapiro. “We back four to five films a year, contributing between 20% to 50% of a film’s budget,” says Caracol Cine topper Alejandro Bernal.

“El Paseo,” the latest comedy from Caracol production VP Dago Garcia, whose pics are released on Dec. 25 every year, lured 1.2 million out of 3 million admissions to Colombian pic last year.

Foreign and local admissions combined have jumped 40% in recent years, “from 27 million in 2009 to 38 million last year,” says Munir Falah of exhib/distrib Cine Colombia. More screens are going up in this underscreened territory — 627 screens for a population of 46 million — with more than 50% expected to be converted to digital by year’s end. Mexican exhib Cinepolis has erected an initial 43 screens in Colombia.

“Exhibition growth has not quite kept pace with local production,” says Elba McAllister of indie distrib Cineplex, “but the rise of new talent and keen support from the government, television and exhibitors will sustain Colombian cinema for a good long while.”

Cannes Daily Spotlight 2012: Colombia
Film fund, fam tours boost biz | Up & comers | 1118053993
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