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Nicolas Puenzo on Argentine Eco-Thriller Series ‘Cromo’

Noirish eco thriller plays to buzz at Mexican Fest

Relevant, marking the entry of the Puenzo family’s Buenos Aires-based Historias Cinematograficas into TV, and sold by Pyramide International, a prestige Paris-based art film sales company, “Cromo” is an Latin American TV series which marks several milestones and was reportedly attracting interest from major TV players at Los Cabos Festival. Airing on Argentina’s TV Publica, a driver of new Argentine scripted drama, “Cromo” will screen at Paris’ Series Mania.

Set in the Antarctic and Argentina’s wild North, the timely 12-hour eco-thriller “Cromo” turns on an idealistic scientist, Valentina, who sets out to expose environmental crimes in the dangerous and exotic wetlands of Argentina’s North. But something goes wrong. Her husband and lover, work colleagues, investigate what’s happened to her and through that, what’s happening to the region’s rivers.

With every episode directed by Lucia Puenzo (“XXY,” “The German Doctor”), Nicolas Puenzo, cinematographer on “The German Doctor,” and Pablo Fendrik (“El Ardor”) and the production shooting with two units simultaneously, “this wasn’t a writers’ desk, it was a directors’ desk,” enthuses Nicolas Puenzo, who talked to Variety at Los Cabos, where “Cromo” screened to buyers.

Over the world, the film industry has moved into TV production. But how similar is it to make a film and TV series?

Some things are similar, but the structure and other things are not. It’s a learning process. Certainly, we can explore more than in films. When you do your 90-minute feature, you work hard to get the money and everything is very tough, every minute counts and so you are thinking, you are conscious of everything, decisions are tougher.

We’d never made TV before. We thought: “We’ll do what we do, but we’ll just have to be faster.’ If we shoot two minutes a day for a film, maybe we’ll now have to shoot up to 15. That’s something I discussed a lot with Lucia because as a cinematographer you want to light every shot perfectly. She said: ‘You can’t do every shot like that: Move on.’ Also, we said: ‘We see series on Netflix we enjoy, if we do one ourselves we should enjoy making it to, have fun.’

How did you finance “Cromo”?

Over the last years, Argentina has developed a cultural policy that has been very interesting in terms of funding audiovisual content. We won a prize, a grant, last December from Argentina’s film-TV agency, INCAA, to make ‘Cromo’ for a prime time slot on the country’s Television Publica, a free-to-air state-backed channel. The grant implies that rights in Argentina are owned by the TV Publica, but gives producers a four-year window from seven months after the end of its broadcast run on Television Publica to sell and receive revenues from international sales. If you have a sales agent of the caliber of Pyramide International on board, this is a very good deal indeed. We also received a lot of support from Argentine institutions, such as Conicet, the Ministry of Culture, lots of institutions.

What is, for you, the market for the TV series?

I wouldn’t think this just in terms of business, but in terms of our dreams also. We’d like to have the series on the Internet, streamed, on Netflix or similar services.  It’s the way people want to watch it, at the speed that you want, in two days, if they want. When we made “Cromo,” we were thinking about the digital window.

“Cromo” is both eco-thriller and relationship drama….

We have the Guarani Aquifer, the biggest underground water resource in the world. It’s a huge water reserve connected to a river. European and American companies, mainly European, work under protocols that are not legal in their own countries, and they are polluting the Aquifer. A paper factory, under the Argentinean laws, can do things that would be illegal in Sweden. But this is a complex issue. One example: The very people who are working for the company responsable for the pollution are its first victims. In these towns, it’s not so easy to see who is the victim and who is the killer. Obviously, the owner of the corporation who flies around in a helicopter is not a victim, but the factory workers are the same people that live in this town. England went through the throes of radical industrialization, which destroyed the land but helped turn it into a financial power. Ecology and economic development need to find an intelligent compromise.

In terms of personal relationships, in “Cromo” a woman betrays her husband with one of his work colleagues. Is there a parallel with the actions of the company that contaminates its environment, a breaking of a social bond?

I wouldn’t like to make a spoiler. What I could say is that one thing I like very much about “Cromo” is its portrayal of the relationship between the two men, once former friends.

The landscape is dramatic…

We didn’t want to shoot a beautiful landscape but rather a beautiful landscape that has been polluted. So Patagonia is cold, blue, sharp, and only blue and white, and the Northern marshlands are greens, reds, lots of colors. Because the series is jumping from one place to another, we needed a color scheme to flag that.

Do you see the future of Historias Cinemtograficas as combining film and TV?

I see the future of the whole sector as doing this, not just Historias Cinematograficas, Film, TV series: I’m not sure we should even use different names for them. They’re the same thing: Storytelling.

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