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Dramatic Growth Brings New Day for Ecuadorian Cinema

Pic production boosted by coin, schools and user-friendly technology

Film production has undergone a seismic shift in Ecuador, where output has jumped to five to six pics annually compared to a single pic every three years in the ’90s and early 2000s.

Key factors behind this dramatic growth include the creation of film institute CnCine, a film fund, digital technology, more film schools and a new generation of savvy multihyphenates. For the first time, Ecuador is sending a contingent to Cannes’ Producers Network.

Pivotal support from Ecuador president Rafael Correa led to the founding of CnCine (Consejo Nacional de Cinematografia) in 2006. Since the annual film fund of $700,000 kicked in the next year, the org has backed 97 narrative and non-fiction features, per CnCine head Jorge Luis Serrano. “We hope to back at least another 15 films in 2013,” he says.

Tack on the annual contribution of $300,000 from Ibero-American film support program Ibermedia and Ecuador has $1 million to dole out to filmmakers, Serrano says.

It may seem a paltry sum in the Hollywood scheme of things, but the growing use of affordable digital cameras has kept production budgets small. Being a nascent industry, most filmmakers multitask and their themes are generally personal. “We dwell on what we know,” says Saudade helmer-scribe Juan Carlos Donoso.

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In many cases, these talents produce, edit, write, helm and even compose their own soundtracks as in the case of award-winning pianist Ivan Mora, who shot his feature debut “Sin otono,” sin primavera with a 7D Digital SLR Canon, as well as assumed editing and film score duties.

A communications bill pending ratification in late May could be a game changer. If approved, Ecuador’s five national TV channels would be obliged to back at least two local pics a year, spending at least 3% of their net income. They would also have to fulfill a 40% programming quota of homegrown product, of which 10% must be acquired from indies.

“This means an additional influx of some $8 million toward film production, an exponential leap from the total of $7 million that has been has invested in local films so far,” Serrano says.

Also pending congressional approval is intellectual property legislation, which aims to give more protection to thesps and ensure the proper collection of intellectual property rights.

Piracy is rampant in Ecuador as it is elsewhere across the region but the film industry persuaded bootleggers five years ago to support local cinema by buying their wares and then selling the DVDs at a reduced price of $5, compared to $8-$10 among commercial retailers, per helmer-scribe Tania Hermida.

“At least, this way, Ecuadorian films are getting wider distribution,” Hermida says.

On the downside, flourishing piracy has brought down admissions. Furthermore, a growing middle class is setting up home-entertainment systems and opting to watch pics at home.

Back when Hermida’s road movie Que tan lejos drew a record-busting 220,000 admissions in 2006, Ecuadorian pics were still a novelty, says producer Isabella Parra. “The interest is still there but the novelty has worn off.”

Given Ecuador’s paltry 225 screens serving a population of 15.5 million, local pics struggle to stay in theaters once their admissions dip.

More filmmakers are looking beyond Ecuador to make up for the shortfall in domestic earnings. Arturo Yepez, helmer Sebastian Cordero and thesp-scribe Andres Crespo have banded together to form Carnaval Cine with the mandate to develop, produce and distribute more pics with international appeal.

First out the gate is Cordero’s Spanish-language corruption tale “Sin muertos no hay carnaval,” which is seeking an international cast and co-producers aside from Argentina’s Aeroplano.

“We have film schools but we need more training in scriptwriting,” Yepez says.

To that end, Carnaval Cine has teamed up with La Orquidea Cuenca Film Festival and Mexican producer Bertha Navarro to organize the first screenwriting lab for Andean countries in Ecuador, slated for November.

Whereas narrative features are still in their infancy in Ecuador, the presence of the 12-year-old international docu fest EDOC (Encounters of the Other Cinema) in Quito has nurtured and developed a robust pantheon of documakers. In 2011, docu “Con mi corazon en Yambo” (My Heart in Yambo) — a searing account by helmer Maria Fernanda Restrepo about her family’s decades-long fight to unearth the truth behind her two brothers’ disappearance — lured an unprecedented 160,000 admissions and caused quite a stir, forcing authorities to reopen the case.

Many Ecuadorian docus are introspective treatise on families, memories and tradition, but the shift to more outward looking projects has begun with Amaia and Aitor Merino’s Asier and I, which recently picked up major awards in Guadalajara. This Spanish-Ecuadorian co-production explores a more international issue, the conflict in Spain’s Basque Country.

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