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In Building an Entertainment Biz, Ecuador Plays by the Script

Amid a pic boom, film festival bows programs that include a filmwriting lab in order to nurture local talent

Ecuador is experiencing a mini production boom, churning out four to five pics a year compared with one every two years before 2007, and one every four years before 1999. Local hits such as Sebastian Cordero’s “Pescador” (2011) and the country’s foreign Oscar entry this year, “Mejor no hablar de Ciertas Cosas” by Javier Andrade are in the vanguard.

A lot of young talent is eager to get into the film biz, be it via graphic design, writing, directing, acting or producing. “Now that we’ve increased our output, we need to work on the quality of our films,” says producer Arturo Yepez.

To address this issue, the third edition of the Festival de Cine la Orquidea, held last month in the city of Cuenca, launched its first screenwriting lab for the Andean region in conjunction with Carnaval Cine, founded earlier this year by Ecuadoran helmer Sebastian Cordero, Yepez and thesp/scribe Andres Crespo, as well as Mexican producer Bertha Navarro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Cronicas”), who has directed a script lab in Mexico for two decades. Other mentors included Anthony Drazan (“Zebrahead”), Laura Esquivel (“Like Water for Chocolate”) and Jeremy Pikser (“War, Inc”).

Yepez says the workshop received 52 scripts, and chose six participants (one of whom dropped out for health reasons). “We expect a bigger lab next year,” he says.

The lab was among a range of master classes and workshops organized by festival director Mauricio Cadena to complement the fest’s packed, free screenings. Festival attendance has climbed from 10,500 the first year and 11,500 last year to an estimated 16,000 this edition. Sci-fi thriller “Europa Report,” Corderos’ first English-language pic, led a lineup of features, docus and shorts from some 15 countries, which included Singapore’s Oscar entry “Ilo Ilo”; Mexico’s “The Amazing Catfish,” which took home the festival’s picture and actress nods (the latter for Lisa Owen); and the first-ever screening in Ecuador of Frtiz Lang’s “Metropolis” with a live accompaniment by the Guayaquil Symphony Orchestra.

Paul Federbush, international director of Sundance’s Feature Film Program, was on hand as a mentor and observer. “Latin America is a priority for us,” he says.

Federbush adds that one of Sundance’s missions has been to set up a script lab in a territory and then leave it in the hands of people on the ground. “We started (a lab) with (Navarro) in Mexico 20 years ago, and it’s still running; that’s one of our success stories,” he says, adding that Sundance is looking into the possibility of a formal sponsorship of the Andean script lab in the future.

Meanwhile, a three-day movie poster/marketing campaign workshop, offered each year at the fest since its inception, was again run by New York-based James Verdesoto, creative director and co-founder of Indika Entertainment Advertising. Verdesoto, who was born in Ecuador but left at the age 5, has won awards for the design of such iconic pic posters as “Pulp Fiction” and “Ocean’s 11.” His aim at the festival has been to help young artists become less dependent on authority, and be more self-sustaining. Each of the 34 students paid a $75 fee.

“It can be no more gratifying than when a student tells me that he’s learned more in two days in my workshop than a whole year in his (graphic design) class,” Verdesoto says.

In a country where world-class education is a rarity, this kind of feedback is priceless.

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