‘Jackie,’ ‘Blind Christ’ Make Big Splashes for Burgeoning Chilean Film Business

Chile’s unprecedented dual presence in the Venice Film Festival’s official competition, and presence at Toronto, can only attest to the wealth and breadth of its burgeoning cinematic talent.

Venice’s and Toronto’s official lineup included “Jackie,” the first English-language pic from helmer Pablo Larrain, whose pics “No” and “The Club” repped Chile in the past two consecutive years at the Oscars, and whose recent “Neruda” preemed at Cannes and also reps Chile at the upcoming Oscars. The Lido fest also featured a relatively unknown Chile-born talent, Christopher Murray, and his sophomore pic, “The Blind Christ.”

Darren Aronofsky’s search for someone to direct the long-gestating “Jackie” project ended when he saw Larrain’s Berlinale grand jury prizewinner “The Club” while presiding over the Berlin festival jury last year. Natalie Portman, who plays the titular role of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during the first four days after the assassination of her husband, President John. F. Kennedy, saw Larrain’s priest-scandal drama in Paris, and was equally captivated. With Pablo’s brother Juan de Dios Larrain of Chile’s Fabula co-producing along with Aronofsky and his partner Scott Franklin at Protozoa Pictures, “Jackie” went into production by late 2015 with Larrain directing from a screenplay by Noah Oppenheim (“The Maze Runner”).

Portman’s performance has generated much Oscar buzz in Toronto.

L.A.-based LD Entertainment and China’s Bliss Media boarded the pic in December. Wild Bunch’s L.A.-based sales company Insiders — in which Bliss Media nabbed a stake earlier this year — began selling international rights to “Jackie” at the Cannes Film Festival while CAA handled domestic rights.

Friendship and funding were pivotal in getting Murray’s “The Blind Christ” onto the big screen. Co-producer Thierry Lenouvel of Cine-Sud Promotion, in his first foray into Chilean cinema, first heard of the project from his old pal Bruno Bettati at Rotterdam’s co-production market, CineMart, four years ago while Bettati still headed Chile’s Jirafa Films.

“We’d always talked about producing a film together; I liked Murray, a singular director, and the subject of his film,” says Lenouvel, who has backed three Colombian projects that have competed in Cannes, including Cannes 2015 Camera d’Or winner, “Land and Shade.”

“I think Chile and Colombia have the most interesting new talent,” adds Lenouvel, who says that he’s now eyeing other Chilean projects.

Partly because of its touchy subject matter about a man who believes he has experienced a divine revelation and can perform miracles, it was not easy to raise private funding in staunchly Catholic Chile. “We needed to tap other co-producers and film funds, such as Ibermedia, CineFondation and the Torino Film Lab, without which it would have been impossible to make,” says Lenouvel.

Jirafa Films is now led by Augusto Matte, while Bettati, who took on a government post, is an executive producer in the drama. Barcelona-based Film Factory Entertainment handles international sales.

Scant support from the TV industry, limited state support (an annual film fund of just $11.8 million) and an exhibition market of only 343 screens, mostly dominated by U.S. fare, pose challenges to Chile’s ever-growing number of filmmakers scrambling for distribution. Per the National Arts Council CNCA, the number of homegrown releases have risen sharply over the past 14 years, from 10 in 2000 to 43 in 2014 but saw a downturn to 25 last year.

Only broad comedies such as this year’s No. 2 all-time blockbuster “No Filter” by Nicolas Lopez (“Aftershock”) beat out studio hits. “No Filter” took 1.3 million admissions. Remake rights to the femme-centered comedy, also the first Netflix co-production in Chile, have sold to the U.S., Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, China, and Spain.

Larrain’s biopic about Chile’s beloved poet Pablo Neruda, “Neruda,” in association with Participant Media, came a distant second at the local box office with 43,000 admissions.

More often than not, Chilean films fare better in Europe than at home or even in Latin America, a region-wide phenomenon. Fabula’s 2013 hit “Gloria” — about a divorcee rediscovering herself — was a rare exception, winning acclaim and box office glory at home and abroad, albeit still skewed towards the international market. Asked what advice he would give to those hoping to replicate “Gloria’s” success, Juan de Dios Larrain says: “find a universal theme and aim for an impeccable execution.”


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