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Dynamo’s Cristian Conti on Latin America’s Growing Movie Maturity

Launching in 2006, Colombia’s Dynamo has rapidly grown into the biggest and best known of Colombian film-TV production, financing and services companies, the go-to company of choice for both Participant Media, with which it teamed to launch Participant PanAmerica, and Netflix, whose TV series “Narcos” Dynamo serviced. In a Q & A, Dynamo’s Cristian Conti, producer of “The Hidden Face” and Julia Stiles supernatural thriller “Out of the Dark,” discusses the growing maturity of Latin America’s still very young film sector.

You attended Mexico’s Los Cabos Fest. Ventana Sur is entering its final straits. Both events are among the fastest-growing in Latin America, and much of that growth is powered by their status as co-production meets. This growth comes at a time when key Latin American productions –- “Wild Tales” is an obvious example -– are leveraging strong co-production backing, here Argentina’s K & S and the Almodovar brothers’ El Deseo to incorporate values often associated by audiences with mainstream entertainment: special effects, sequences of larger scale, stars, action, high production values.

What you’re saying has been true for the last three or four years. I don’t feel in general that the resourcefulness of producers in Latin America has seen a sudden surge. But there has been a consolidation of relationships across the continent where people are getting ever more used to working and dealing with each other. Those channels are stronger than ever. I know exactly who to call now. I’ve got somebody almost in every territory that I could almost pick up the phone and say well, those are good guys, and those are the guys I’m going to work with, and that’s important. It’s always good for new people to come in, fresher people, but I think this is a preliminary step in terms of the strengthening of the whole arena a little bit, in terms of stronger foundations that allow for younger and more inexperienced producers to step in the game.

It’s a mark of how fast Latin America is growing that while Dynamo is eight years old, Canana, your Participant PanAmerica partner, nine, there’s already a second wave of producers emerging, just from Mexico, Velarium Arts, Pimienta Films, Machete Producciones, Lucia Films, Varios Lobos…

Yes, I think that’s it. I kind of feel like this were a club. You’ve got the older club members, who’ve got their relationships, their shorthand, and I think it’s a good thing, good to have new fresh people coming in and just keep it alive and keep it going.

One key change in Latin America over the last three years has been audiences warming to their national cinemas. For the first time in memory, in 2013, films from Mexico (10.6%), Brazil (18.6%) and Argentina (14.6%) all punched local market shares above 10%.

It’s great, a strengthening of countries’ belief and trust in one’s own cultural fiber, the belief that we’re also actually producing good content. It’s a contrast to Spain, where it cinema has a massive problem with some Spaniards because film is politicized. It’s a shame…

Are there other factors leading Latin Americans to be far more willing to see films that reflect often directly their own reality, because their own reality in many countries has, with qualifications of course, often got better?

Exactly, but as things get stronger and better and people start to do better, there is a much lower percentage of “porno-misery,” as I call it. In terms of projects, what Dynamo is getting now is still often very local, but it’s much more uplifting, it’s at least colorful, not dark and grim. They could be very poignant, very hard, very harsh stories, but at least what is coming at you is not against a backdrop of constant drama and misery. It’s the same story, but told at a middle-class level now.

Also many of the stories are local comedies that often tend to be about the challenges of modernization, so they are films that take as their subjects, for example, rich kids who think real work unthinkable (“We Are the Nobles”) or Mexican men who have have never learned how to parent (“Instructions Not Included”)

And the tone has also changed. If Eugenio Derbez had made “Instructions” 10 years ago, I don’t think he’d be driving a colorful Vespa in Acapulco, or live in a nice sunny apartment.

And he probably wouldn’t win his custody case… Is another key to recent Latin American films’ success the fact that key broadcasters in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina — Televisa Globo, Telefe — are marketing the hell out of local cinema, often very mainstream titles, although in Telefe’s case, they are backing a far wider range of films, such as Santiago Mitre’s “La Patota.” I’m not saying that this has begun this year but it does help explain a more sustained local film industry success.

I also wonder about Dynamo’s own very latest productions, if there is that incorporation of mainstream elements — production values, special effects, sound engineering, marketing — which means that you get, whatever the artistic value of the film, a kind of art-commercial mix that is quite pronounced.

Yes, I agree with that. There are really two factors. One is you just get better at it. You just do your job better. You know more suppliers, and you have more experience and you can compare the past with the present and you know how to do things better. So that is just a natural progression. So that’s one of the reasons I think we’re combining elements better in the movies. And the second one is just taste. I still think a lot of the smaller producers are by defect doing smaller, more intimate, more difficult to access films –- I’m not saying in any way that they are bad. We’re trying to strike a balance. It’s a continuous struggle. We do a bit of everything. We’re kind of in different places in the spectrum; we just don’t go into the pure art-film spectrum. Nobody in the company really embraces it. “Que Viva la Música!” is a very artistic movie, but it’s really pushing the boundaries. It’s really intense, really powerful; it shocks you through and through. And that’s fun. That we enjoy. We enjoy that factor. But it doesn’t leave you depressed.

We often get shown scripts that have great plots, that are great script stories, well written and there are two very distinct readings to the same story. I’m referring to projects coming from smaller producers. There’s the producers’ arty reading to the story, and there is our more commercial take, never mass commercial, but just a more commercial take on the story, on the way you want to put it on the screen, the tonality of the story. When we ask what could be the films’ reference points, we pick very different reference points. It’s just a matter of finding common ground. And that’s probably the best place to be in.

Where would you like Dynamo to be in three years time?

I would like to consolidate the company’s relationship with the big content originators in the U.S, like Netflix or HBO. I’d like us to be the go-to guys, to consolidate that position with global companies like Telefonica. We can generate content for our Latin American footprint with those players. That’s on the TV side. On the film side, we can continue in the direction we are, making films bigger, better, faster.

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