PAMPLONA, Spain — In an early and memorable dramatic beat in “Invisible Heroes,” a Original Series of Finnish broadcaster YLE, in partnership with Chilean network Chilevision, the former head of international trade under Chile’s Salvador Allende clambers over the garden wall of the chalet of a Finnish diplomat to seek asylum after Augusto Pinochet’s bloody 1973 military coup.
Suitcase in hand, he looses his footing,, and falls straight into Tapani Brotherus’ swimming pool.
Much admired at MipTV by those who caught it, “Invisible Heroes” opened to warm applause on Monday night at Conecta Fiction, the world’s foremost Europe-Latin America TV co-production forum, which runs June.17-20 in Pamplona, Northern Spain.
Chile is one of Conecta Fiction’s two 2019 countries in focus. If the quality on paper of some of its projects is born out by their pitches, in public events or one-to-one meetings, it will also be one of its stars.
“Invisible Heroes” is now a flagship example of what Chile can bring to the TV table as the country, already boasting a highly successful film industry, as it pushes into high-end drama production.
Nobody’s taking that challenge lightly. “The production of high-end international drama is now as important for Chile as what it has achieved in the last decade in cinema,” says Constanza Arena, at CinemaChile, which brings a near 40-strong delegation to Pamplona.
“Invisible Heroes” is a true-events based story of how Finnish diplomat Tapani Brotherus, ignoring his own safety and his government’s insistence on strict neutrality, helped secure asylum in Europe for more than 2,000 Chilean citizens after Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup.
In what seems a very happy collaboration, it was penned by playwrights Tarja Kylmä from Finland and Manuela Infante from Chile, and directed by Finland’s Mika Kurvinen and Chile’s Alicia Scherson. Finland’s Kaiho Republic and Chile’s Parox produce for Finnish pubcaster YLE and ChileVision, owned by Turner Latin America.
“Invisible Heroes” underscores that there’s talent in Chile, in writing and direction and most especially maybe actors, which are up to international standards,” said Leonora González at Parox.
Indeed, three Chilean actresses – Catalina Saavedra (“The Maid”), Paulina García (“Gloria” and Daniela Vega (“A Fantastic Woman”) -were included in a 2017 Indie Wire selection of the the 25 best female movie performances of the 21st century. Another actress, Nathalie Portman,was selected for a performance directed by a Chilean.
But it also underscores Chilean TV challenges On “Invisible Heroes,” Parox snagged all the TV funding a producer can raise in Chile – Corfo, CNTV – plus broadcaster backing from ChileVisión, but was still a very minority investor in “Heroes Invisibles,” Parox’s Sergio Gándara points out.
As they have battled in a bitterly competitive market for exiguous TV advertising, Chilean TV networks have turned to produce telenovelas, not international-standard series.
The good news is that from 2019, Chile’s Consejo Nacional de Television has opened up all its financing lines to international co-productions, rather than running one dedicated financing line. The number of international co-productions applying for CNTV funding has doubled this year, says the CNTV’s Ignacio Villalabeitía.
The bad news: There’s been a 27% decrease in CNTV funding for 2019, to a total $4.6 million. “We hope, however, that this drop will be reversed in 2020, given that we’re working with the Finance Ministry to boost and increase our Fund,” Villalabeitía adds.
Chile has stepped up hugely its TV ambitions, the first fruit of which is visible. results are being seen.
“The sector’s taking large steps towards the world, says producer Sebastián Freund, president of Chile’s APCT producers org., citing “Invisible Heroes,” “Mary & Mike,” from Invercine & Wood, produced with Turner Latin America, “La Jauría,” a Fabula-Fremantle co-production, and soccer corruption scandal thriller “El Presidente,” made by Fabula and Gaumont (“Narcos”) for Amazon.
Meanwhile, Mega, Chile’s top broadcast network, which has made its name of late producing or airing telenovelas, Turkish or Chilean, is moving into producing higher-end series, such as “La Cacería.” Mediapro Chile is launching at Conecta Fiction its first drama series, with another in the works. Fable has created offices in L.A. Others may follow.
“The question now is how do we channel the energy, the drive for quality of our cinema into the creation of scripted content for a whole range of platforms, free-to-air, traditional pay TV and the streamers,” says Matías Almocaín, at Fabula.
Though still nascent in terms of broadcast results, Chile’s high-end drama surge suggests some clear trends.
One is the use of history.”Invisible Heroes” begins a year or so before Pinochet’s bloody coup, as Brotherus is dispatched to Chile, though suspected of leftist sympathies by his hawkish boss, to seal a trade agreement. Based on Isabel Allende’s novel, “Inés del alma mía,” another Chilevision project portrays the courage and contradictions of a rare woman conquistador, as she befriends and then betrays Chile’s indigenous population to protect Spanish interests in Chile.
“Chilean TV often a strong historical base. It’s as if instead of writers creating a series from scratch, history can do some of the work for you, and in a marvelous fashion,” says Freund-
But the contradiction remains. In most of the world – Spain, Brazil, Germany, Mexico – financing, employment is now no problem. What is a problem is accessing the talent to make the shows the quality broadcasters or platforms demand.
Chile is the other way round. There is talent: Witness the huge success through late May of “Pacto de sangre” on Canal 13. But “Chile has scarce funding in terms of state funds,” Freund insists . That makes it ripe for international co-production. “We must, out of necessity, co-produce, exchange talent, stories with the world, so that they can be developed and produced,” Freund adds. Conecta Fiction is ideal to further this international partner drive.