Costa Rica wants in on runaway production.
Despite the lack of tax incentives or a film commission, the Central American nation of 5 million has managed to attract international projects, most recently “Paddington.” Now, the government is finally taking the first steps to create a sweeping film law that would make the politically stable country attractive for foreign shoots, and lure producers away from its Latin American neighbors.
Legislation would also boost local filmmakers. Costa Rica has produced more pics since 2000 than it did in the entire previous century, said Costa Rican Second Vice President Ana Helena Chacon on a visit to Los Angeles in early December to support the nation’s foreign-language Oscar entry, Laura Astorga’s “Red Princesses.” It’s the first time such a high-ranking official has traveled to L.A. to endorse the nation’s Oscar hopeful. (Unfortunately, the film didn’t make the shortlist.)
But for Chacon, who led a contingent that included Minister of Culture Elizabeth Fonseca, this was a personal mission. Seven years ago, when Chacon was a member of congress, she presented the draft of a film law that went nowhere. Now that her party’s in power, and she has the ear of new center-left President Luis Guillermo Solis, a historian and writer, the likelihood of such a law passing has grown exponentially. As in other countries, official support of local cinema invariably starts at the top.
Astorga, whose movie debuted at the Berlin fest in 2013, is encouraged by the official backing. “I feel I have won an Oscar just having the government support my film,” she said.
Key to the law’s eventual ratification this year is the unprecedented dialogue that authorities initiated during a confab with the film community at the Costa Rica Intl. Film Fest in November to help develop the draft’s language. Present at the two-day Audiovisual Congress were distributors, exhibitors, filmmakers, animators and policy makers from Colombia, Ecuador and other countries.
Work groups that were formed in a second meeting on Nov. 24 will meet again Jan. 19, said Luis Carcheri of Costa Rica’s Romaly Distribution, which releases movies from Paramount, Universal, Disney and some of the independents in the country.
The new film law will aim to include production and distribution incentives; a tax rebate for private investors in Costa Rican pics; the creation of a film fund; a film commission; and location filming incentives for international projects.
Making the nation more attractive when added to any incentives, said Max Valverde, head of the Costa Rican Film Institute, is the country’s infrastructure, as well as a small but diverse range of locations and a proven record in production services. Up to 7,000 people work in the audiovisual sector now.
Still, Costa Rica has to play regional catch-up with nations such as the economically booming Panama, which in 2013 launched a national film commission and has instituted production subsidies of up to $700,000 per movie, with 15% rebates on a foreign shoot’s local spending. Also among the list of neighboring rivals: the better-established Dominican Republic, with its 25% transferable tax credit for features and TV series, a $500,000 minimum to qualify and an expedited customs process. The U.K.’s Pinewood has also built a studio in the island nation, with 50,000 square feet of soundstage space, support facilities and an eight-acre water-effects building, complete with water tank.
Valverde said Costa Rica’s preliminary goals are to produce 10 films and accept up to a dozen international projects a year. He added that screen quotas for local movies, which are already on the books, may eventually be enforced when pic production increases to warrant it.
But Romaly’s Carcheri pointed out that while the country has only 110 screens, there are few local films to fill them. “Film quotas work if local film production is high, but Costa Rica makes only two to three films a year,” he noted.
Ultimately, Carcheri said, Costa Rican filmmakers will have to strive to improve their craft.
“Perhaps 15 years ago, when local movies were still a novelty, people flocked to see them,” Carcheri related. “Now, audiences demand better performances, content and quality overall. A fund should not only help local filmmakers produce their movies, but send them to workshops to help them hone their craft.”