A constellation of prominent filmmakers, festival directors and film executives from all over the world have signed a petition to protest the Colombian government’s tax reform plan, which would adversely affect current film incentives, in place since 2003.
Signees as of April 22 included Cannes Festival head Thierry Fremaux and Critics’ Week’s Charles Tesson; Venice’s Alberto Barbera; San Sebastian’s José Luis Rebordinos; Pyramide Films’ Eric Lagesse and filmmakers from as far afield as Iraq (Abbas Fahdel), Thailand (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) and Europe, led by Luc Dardenne, Laurent Cantet and Romania’s Bianca Oana. The petition is also backed by the European Film Academy and sales agent org Europa International.
“The tax reform project presented on April 15 by the government of Colombia threatens the organization of the Colombian model for the support and development of its audiovisual sector,” the petition read. “Outside of Colombia, film professionals who have been witnesses, and sometimes actors, of the dynamism of Colombian cinema express their great concern,” it added
The petition called on the government and the Congress of the Republic of Colombia to reconsider the film funding aspects of its tax reform project and guarantee the existence of a model that has demonstrated “tangible and successful achievements since the 2003 law,” the petition continued.
“The support of the Colombian state will be indispensable to allow Colombian cinema to emerge from the crisis hitting the world of culture,” it added.
Colombia’s film incentives, which has served as a model and source of envy across Latin America’s film industry, are now at grave risk as the Colombian government seeks to plug a multi-billion-dollar hole in its budget, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tax reform law could scrap a fiscal incentive that has encouraged a slew of companies and individuals to invest in Colombian cinema. This consists of a deduction of 165% of the value invested or donated to a Colombian film at the time one files an income statement. So, if a person invests one million Colombian pesos ($275.40) in a local film, they can deduct around 1,650,000 million pesos ($454.22) from their income statement.
“The system that allows [films] to flourish and that was built with patience, consultation, adaptability, and a continuity of political will, must be protected and strengthened. As film professionals, but above all as cinephiles, we are extremely concerned that the current pandemic justifies a return to the past,” the petition added.
It is feared that some tweaks to a film law that has encouraged international location shoots could also be impacted.
“All the ministries will have to weigh in on the debate as all the incentives will be up for discussion with the audiovisual sector,” said CMO V.P.-producer Ana Piñeres, who also presides over the independent producers association Asocinde and rights org. Egeda Colombia.
With most cinemas closed during the pandemic, no box office receipts have been feeding the FFC film fund, which the government is thinking of funding as a solution. However, the audiovisual sector is opposed to the idea as it will then be subject to the whims of whichever government is in power. Presidential elections are looming.
Exhibition-distribution giant Cine Colombia is opening its cinemas on May 1 but some smaller circuits have not survived at all.
Half of Colombia remains in lockdown and several restrictions are still in place, with vaccination rates woefully slow. Filming is exempt from outdoor movement restrictions so location shoots are underway, including a series that Piñeres is making for Netflix, which will open an office in the capital of Bogota this fall.
The streaming giant announced plans for 30 new projects through 2022 as part of its “local content investment of more than $175 million since 2014 through this year.”
“Our location filming incentives have lured all the big guns,” said Piñeres who lists Netflix, Amazon Prime, Movistar, Mediapro, Telemundo – and soon HBO – with projects in the country.
According to the Film Law, foreign production companies of feature films and TV movies investing over $600,000 in Colombia can receive a 40% cash rebate on local qualified film spend and a 20% cash rebate on logistical expenses such as hotels, catering and transportation.
A new second option is a tax credit whereby the foreign production company receives a certificate amounting to 35% of its expenditure in the country. It can then sell this certificate to a tax-paying local who can use it as a tax rebate. A set of limits and caps and the total amount of credits available will be defined when the law is regulated.
These incentives have attracted some 40 film and TV movie projects in the past four years, including pics starring A-list actors Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Oscar-winning Spanish actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.