Ecuador’s fledgling film biz has undergone a mini-boom in recent years, but now it’s struggling with second-phase growth pains. Apparently the novelty of indigenous product has worn off and audiences are shrinking for homegrown pics.

Last year, 16 local releases lured a paltry 84,000 admissions, a big drop compared to the annual average of some 200,000 admissions since 2009. The reasons behind the slump are as complex as they are divisive.

The first scapegoat is Hollywood. Blockbusters dominate Ecuador’s 300 screens as they do in most parts of the world. Exhibitors have had to spend their own coin to digitize their screens and the quickest way to recoup their expenses is with major releases, says producer-sociologist Jorge Serrano, who led national film institute CnCine for seven years and was the country’s vice minister of culture for one.

CnCine executive director Juan Martin Cueva agrees that Hollywood pics overwhelm Ecuador’s screens, which are concentrated in 22 cities. “We need to find alternative circuits, new outlets for Ecuadorian films create a national system of distribution,” he says.

Others point to a few bad films last year, which some feel should never have been released and probably turned off moviegoers to local fare. Ironically, Ecuador has produced more gems that have recently triumphed in the fest circuit.
With no alternate exhibition circuit or screen quotas, it’s tough to compete with blockbusters, says producer Isabel Carrasco, who is producing Alfredo Mora’s biographical documentary “Silverfish,” currently in production.

Whereas Tito Molina’s evocative “Silence in Dreamland,” the fourth local pic submitted for Oscar foreign-language consideration in this country’s young cinematic history, attracted some 6,000 admissions last year; Javier Andrade’s family saga “The Porcelain Horse,” Ecuador’s entry for foreign-language Oscar consideration in 2014, lured a respectable 53,000 admissions in 2013.

This year’s box office is also looking bleak for homegrown pics, unless a breakout hit surprises the industry.
Despite the admissions setback, a host of new talent is developing richer and more varied projects, energized by a beefed-up film fund and more incentives, including a communications law that obliges national TV networks to invest 5% of their annual revenue to acquire local pics.

The filmmakers whom CnCine has taken to the Cannes Market represent a cross-section of the talent emerging from Ecuador. “CnCine’s objective is to have Ecuadorian cinema seen not just at home but on an international scale,” says Cueva, who’s hoping this select group finds co-producers, sales agents or distribution in other markets.

Indigenous auteurs led by Rocio Gomez (“Los flauteros de Cotocollao”) and Eliana Champutiz (“Mejor morir luchando”) are also finding their voice, as well as femmes such as Ana Cristina Barragan (“Alba”), Micaela Rueda “(UIO”) and Gabriella Karolys (“Flores negras”).

“Last year, local films were released too close together and the subject matters were all too similar,” says Cueva, who also points at the growing distractions posed by the Internet with its plethora of services including Netflix, VOD, YouTube etc.
As Serrano pointed out in a recent opinion piece, Ecuadorian pics take an average of four to five years to complete, so the majority of the stories are personal, even biographical or self-referential.

“Here’s hoping that once our filmmakers get their first-person stories out of their system, that Ecuadorian cinema will open up to riskier and widely different themes,” Serrano wrote. “This new cycle is bound to surprise.”