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IFF Panama: The Dominican Republic Builds as a Production Hub

PANAMA CITY — Fueled by one of the strongest film tax incentive schemes in the world – with a 100% break for national productions, 25% break for international productions, and 1.5% withholding tax – the Dominican Republic has seen a surge in film production since the new film law was enacted in 2010.

This phenomenon has been further leveraged by the creation of the Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios, operated by Lantica Media, as part of a partnership with the Pinewood Studios Group.

The favorable fiscal climate has attracted a rising number of English-language shoots including Netflix’s series “The I-Land,” the BBC-NBC three-part series “The Long Song,” and Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

The Dominican Republic’s film industry, with around 25 films produced per year and average budgets close to $1 million, stands out in the Central American and Caribbean region, where filmmakers are often forced to resort to guerrilla filmmaking techniques to get their films made.

The Global Film Festival, programmed by Luis Rafael Gonzalez, has become a must-visit event for European sales agents, who have cherry-picked recent films such as José María Cabral’s “Carpinteros” (Film Factory) and “The Projectionist” (Media Luna), Juan Antonio Bisonó’s “Mosh” (Media Luna), Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas’ Berlin-player “Holy Beasts” (Latido), Guadalajara double-winner and IFF Panama-player, “Miriam Lies” (Latido), Matias Bize’s “En Tu Piel” (Intramovies) and Alejandro Andújar’s “The Watchman” (Habanero).

Local films recorded a 21.8% market share in 2017 – one of the highest shares in Latin America this decade.

Frank Perozo’s romcom “Que Leon,” released in November 2018, is one of the country’s biggest-ever hits, with over 400,000 admissions in the Dominican Republic and over 100,000 spectators in the U.S.

Other recent hits include Frank Perozo’s 2017 romcom “Colao” with 340,000 admissions and Archie López’s 2015 comedy “Tubérculo Gourmet,” with over 500,000 admissions.

Streamers are keen to cash in on the tax breaks available in the DR.

Colombian streaming platform Claro Video recently completed spy thriller trilogy “Rubirosa” co-directed by Argentina’s Hugo Rodriguez (“La Hermandad”) and Colombia’s Carlos Moreno (“Dog Eat Dog”) with a pan-Latin cast, including Colombian actor Manolo Cardona (“Narcos”).

The main players in the DR include Lantica Media, which produces both arthouse projects (“Hotel Copellia”) and commercial films (“Cinderelo”, “La Barberia”), and the Bou Group which has produced recent hits such as “Que Leon,” and “Trabajo Sucio” as well as arthouse projects such as Héctor Valdez’s “Malpaso.”

 

Other key companies include producer/directors Roberto Angel Salcedo (“Super Dad 2”) and Francis Disla (“El Fantasma de mi Novia”).

Valdez’s third feature, “Malpaso,” is screening in IFF Panama’s Primera Mirada pix-in-post sidebar. He says that the DR’s incentive scheme has been essential to getting his film made.

“Many new filmmakers have been able to enter the business whose voices aren’t necessarily for profit, but that are very needed to address key social issues in our country.”

Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada, are attending IFF Panama with “Miriam Lies,” repped by Latido, which recently won the critics’ award at Toulouse and has been sold to HBO USA.

They say that there is pressure from local investors to choose mainstream projects, that can be combined with marketing and product placement strategies.

They are now developing their next project, “The Last Action Movie,” to be co-produced with Pablo Mustonen, which addresses some of these tensions.

It is about a local filmmaker who studies at a film school in Europe and returns with the hope of making an art film but instead is given the chance to direct a mainstream film with an aging actor, who was a big star in the 1980s.

CREDIT: Martin Dale

Cabral and Estrada think that their film will provide an entertaining insight into the conflicting pressures of “Dominiwood.”

Luis Rafael Gonzalez, an independent distributor and programmer of the DR’s Global Film Festival, who is attending IFF Panama for the seventh year running, is now considering starting a production house.

Gonzalez primarily distributes foreign titles – such as Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters.” In the case of some titles he acquires rights solely for Puerto Rico, such as Javier Fesser’s Goya-winner “Champions,” which Universal distributed for the rest of Latin America. It has been playing successful for six months in Puerto Rico and has clocked up $180,000, only topped in the rest of Latin America by $400,000 in Mexico.

Gonzalez believes that streaming platforms will progressively eliminate independent distributors and sales agents.

“Netflix has changed the model. I used to be a video owner with several stores in the Dominican Republic. The massive change that occurred to home video is now spreading to the rest of the business. The digital platforms are democratizing access to the cinema and intermediaries are being squeezed out. Sales agents used to negotiate deals all around the world. Now producers just need one deal with a streaming platform. And that’s it. I think it’s positive because the money is going directly to the producer. That’s why I’m thinking of entering into production.

Stephan James as Fonny and Brian Tyree Henry as Daniel star in Barry Jenkins' IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.
CREDIT: Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Picture

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