Peru Filmmakers Moving From Serious Dramas to Genre Fare

Cinema in Peru, long a bastion of weighty dramas that focus on issues like terrorism, poverty, class differences and race, is undergoing a revolution of sorts as a growing number of filmmakers tap into the tastes of local audiences and find fresh financing schemes to bring their pics to plexes.

“Several filmmakers are distancing themselves from the usual serious drama that used to populate local productions, and moving into traditional, straightforward genres like animation, comedy, suspense and horror,” says Jorge Licetti, whose New Century Films distributed local hit “Asu Mare!” which stars comedian and thesp Carlos Alcantara as he relates his life through his mother’s point of view in a mix of standup routines and re-enactments. The laffer, directed by Ricardo Maldonado, grossed $12 million at the Peruvian box office last year, surpassing the country’s previous all-time B.O. record-holder, 2012’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” at $9.6 million.

At least 15 homegrown films are expected to bow this year, with some sources saying there are nearly 30 in the pipeline — a big bump over the past couple of years, which saw Peru release an average of eight movies annually.

In a country where government film incentives are still small, producer Miguel Valladares of Tondero Films used product placement to fund nearly all the $800,000 budget of “Asu Mare!” And in another ambitious move, he sold a package of four pics and a play to investors for  $1.5 million. Valladares’ gambit, plus the upturn at the B.O. for local pics, has spurred a virtuous circle, in which more films are being made, and more private investors are willing to fund them.

“Average film budgets in Peru range between $40,000 and $1 million,” says Javier Fuentes-Leon, whose noir thriller “The Vanished Elephant,” now in post, saw 20% of its roughly $1 million budget funded by product placement. The rest was covered by Tondero Films, Colombia’s Dynamo and Spain’s Cactus Flower.

Pierre Vandoorne, audiovisual head of Peru’s Culture Ministry, says that while filmmakers are exploring genres, auteur cinema continues to grow.

Yet many new movies are trading on thrills and laughs.

Dorian Fernandez-Moris’ horror pic “General Cemetery” (Cementerio General) outpaced several Hollywood imports last summer, earning $2.6 million theatrically on 727,000 admissions. A local film is considered a hit when it surpasses 400,000 admissions, says producer Gustavo Sanchez.
By that measure, the first homegrown pic to bow this year, Daniel Rodriguez Risco’s suspenser “The Womb,” is well on its way to reaching hit status, with 215,000 admissions (good for $680,000) in its sixth week.

Others are joining in. Spurred by his experience in production on Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno,” shot in the Peruvian Amazon, Sanchez has produced his first horror pic, “Face of the Devil” (La cara del diablo), helmed by Frank Perez-Garland, which debuts April 17.

Even actors have been inspired to direct. Salvador del Solar, who toplined “The Vanished Elephant,” is helming Tondero Film’s $600,000 drama “Magallanes,” which he wrote. Thesp Bruno Ascenzo is also directing his first pic, high school reunion comedy “At 40,” which includes “Asu Mare!” lead Alcantara. “There’s an air of optimism in Peru, perhaps stoked by an economic resurgence and the growing international recognition of Peruvian cuisine and culture,” says Del Solar, who also points to the popularity of summer’s Lima Film Festival, which has been playing to packed screenings.

Licetti, however, adds a note of caution: “The long-term contribution of Peruvian filmmaking is still to be proven,” he points out. “Films like ‘Asu Mare!’ and ‘Cementerio General’ are still the exception rather than the rule. But if this (success) happens a few times each year, then we can talk about a lasting phenomenon.”

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