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Chile Feels the Oscar Effect After Sebastian Lelio Win for ‘A Fantastic Woman’

Ripples from ‘A Fantastic Woman’s’ Academy Award win playover industry 

“I’m on Jupiter,” director Sebastian Lelio said in March minutes after winning a best foreign-language film Oscar, Chile’s first-ever, for “A Fantastic Woman.”

Two months later, Lelio was back to earth, doing press for the U.S. premiere of “Disobedience” at the Tribeca Film Festival. The Oscar effect, however, continued to play out for Lelio, producers Pablo and Juan de Dios Larrain at Chile’s Fabula, and the Chilean industry at large.

The Academy Award continues to deliver a powerful lift to Chile’s entertainment industry — especially for independent filmmakers and an international film industry.

“The main change has been with amount of attention paid to anything that the team which made ‘A Fantastic Woman’ is now doing,” says Lelio, adding: “This interest could make it slightly easier to make things happen,” whether financing or other forms of project implementation.

The win for “A Fantastic Woman” may have also prompted Chilean lawmakers to revive and pass – through its lower house – a transgender rights bill, an “amazing” and “particularly inspiring” side-effect of the film, he adds

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In the U.S., the Oscar threw a spotlight on “A Fantastic Woman,” which earned near 60% of its $1.94 million box office after the win, despite playing five weekends before the awards.

Through mid-April, it ranked as the third-biggest U.S. foreign-language release of this year.

Lelio and the Larrain brothers are already known in Hollywood. Lelio crossed over to English-language filmmaking with women’s love story “Disobedience,” starring Rachel Weisz, and the English-language remake of his “Gloria” with Julianne Moore. Pablo Larrain garnered attention with “Jackie,” starring Natalie Portman.

That said, “We feel more secure, confident out exploring certain things and material without panicking about whether it’s going to work or not,” says Juan de Dios Larrain. “Our movies are now seen differently. The Oscar has expanded the frontiers of the possible.”

The win also provides further validation for Lelio – and indeed Pablo Larrain’s – career paths and what has become a Holy Grail for many international filmmakers of moving into a specialty films that wins not just festival plaudits but reach broader audiences.

After edgier or more minimalist dramas, Lelio and Pablo Larrain made this move quite consciously with 2012’s “No” and 2013’s “Gloria.” Larrain’s “No” topped 2012’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, grossing $10.3 million worldwide, per Rentrak, a strong showing for a Spanish-language specialty pic; “Gloria” earned Paulina Garcia best actress at Berlin in 2013 and $9 million in global revenue.

“A Fantastic Woman” was tracking through April 15 at $6.75 million, with 10 territories still to open, reports its sales agent, Peter Danner at Funny Balloons.

Now other filmmakers may follow.

“With this Oscar in Chile, there are a lot of people, Fabula, Forastero, myself, who are looking to make another type of film like ‘A Fantastic Woman,’ that can go well at festivals but also be sold to different countries, and perform well in the North American market,” says producer Giancarlo Nasi.

“The Oscar closes one era, and opens another, where the focus is more on industrialization,” says Constanza Arena, director of Chilean film-TV promotion org Cinemachile.

Indeed, Chilean cinema’s challenge is to consolidate diverse production models as not only a low-budget festival-friendly auteur cinema but also an independent force in Hollywood. Chilean filmmakers are also targeting the mass market via remakes.

Nicolas López has already seen large success with remakes of his Chilean B.O. smash hit “No Filter” in Mexico and Spain.

Above all, for Chile’s industry, the Oscar win is an opportunity.

“It’s not like we won an Oscar and suddenly things got better. But we have the chance to battle for things to get better,” says Nasi.

But film and TV producers association APCT wants more. One issue is public film funding. Allying with other film trade bodies, it has secured a micro-budget film fund, called La Generación. One proposal could be an Argentine-style levy on cinema tickets which would grow funding without eating into education or health budgets, Nasi says. Currently, public film funds only support about seven films a year, which is clearly not enough, he says.

If the Academy Award suggests anything at all it is that the best Chilean films are worth seeing. But few are seen in Chile at all.

“A Fantastic Women” made just 80,000 admissions in Chile.

“The Oscar points up the huge contrast between the performance of Chilean cinema abroad and at home. We must work to reduce that contrast,” says Arena.

Promotion of Chilean cinema in Chile could be another hallmark of the post-Oscar era.

 

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