It’s a new dawn for Chile’s audiovisual industry. When Gabriel Boric, Chile’s youngest (at 35) and most left-leaning president since Salvador Allende, was elected in December, his pledge to more than double the state’s contribution to the arts was greeted with great fanfare.
After all, Chile’s prodigious film output this past decade has been remarkable despite the scant public support it has received.
“If everything we have achieved in the last 10 years was done with so little money, imagine what we can achieve with an increase in audiovisual funding!” says Constanza Arena, executive director of Chile’s film promotion org, CinemaChile.
In recent years, Chile has triumphed at the Oscars, starting when Pablo Larraín’s “No” was nominated for international feature in 2012, and culminating in an Oscar win for Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” in 2017. Last Academy Awards season, Maite Alberdi’s documentary “The Mole Agent” was shortlisted for international feature and nominated for documentary.
Larraín, Dominga Sotomayor, Matías Rojas and Claudia Huaiquimilla premiered films in Venice, Cannes, Tallinn and Locarno respectively with Larrain’s “Spencer” getting notable Oscar buzz this season, especially for Kristen Stewart’s performance as Princess Diana who was nominated.
Chile’s participation at the Berlinale is led by doc “The Veteran,” by Jeronimo Rodriguez, selected for Forum. It investigates the urban legend of an American priest living in a coastal town of Chile and rumored to have been involved in the bombing of Hiroshima. Another doc, “Alis,” vies for the top prize in Berlin’s Generation 14plus sidebar.
“For every peso that the state has invested in our cinema, the sector has managed to raise 3,” Arena says. “The investment made by the state is tripled in the hands of the sector due to financing that comes mainly from abroad and from private investors.”
Boric has pledged to nearly double the budget of the Ministry of Culture, currently between 0.3% and 4% of the federal budget, to 1%. This may seem paltry but translates to a leap from $328 million to $821 million. Currently, its audiovisual fund, which ranges between 2% and 3% of the ministry’s overall budget, receives $6.7 million. This money goes to anything from development to production and post-production as well as distribution, exhibition, promotion, training and research of audiovisual projects. Only $1.1 million is allotted for the production of feature films. TV series development receives some $50,000.
“Securing funding is also slow and bureaucratic; it’s much easier to get foreign funding than local aid,” says Giancarlo Nasi, Quijote Films producer and founder-president of Chile’s Academy of Cinematographic Arts. “Boric is the same age as me!” he points out. Previous governments promised to increase funding for the arts and failed to do so. “We’re hopeful it will be different this time,” he says.
Nasi will be seeking at Berlin financing partners for LGBTQ+-themed project “La Misteriosa Mirada del Flamenco,” the feature debut of Diego Céspedes who won Cannes’ 2019 Cinefondation with “The Summer of the Electric Lion.”
The country is still reeling from the impact of the pandemic on its economy but a Bloomberg report in January said, “Chile is proving more resilient than many had forecast, with its economy growing 12% in 2021,” per its central bank, “marking the fastest pace on record.”
This bodes well for Boric, to be sworn in on March 11, and his ambitions for the country. Already more than half of Chile is triple vaxxed.
TV support for local cinema has also been paltry, with some occasional pickups of mainstream or high-profile films including “The Mole Agent.”
“When I worked for TVN between 2004 and 2011, there was a policy in place that included the acquisition, programming and investment in national cinema [but] that no longer exists,” Arena recalls. Unless there is a government mandate as in some countries, the situation won’t change, she adds.
Given the negligible support from both the government and TV sector, Chilean filmmakers have learned to navigate the international co-production and funding process, Arena says.
Thanks to the Ibermedia fund and other support mechanisms as well as partnerships with producers and sales agencies from France, Germany and Spain, among others, Chilean cinema has continued to thrive. Its film industry only has bilateral pacts with Argentina and Venezuela at present; however, Argentina’s perpetual economic crisis has delayed the disbursement of funds, and the devaluation of the Argentine peso makes it a weak partner at the moment. Venezuela is even worse off. Brazil was a great strategic partner but that support dried up dramatically with the government of Jair Bolsonaro slowing the country’s once-robust audiovisual incentives.
“Our sector requires a new institutional framework and [a creative economy law] that involves not only the Ministry of Culture but also the ministries of education, economy and finance, with the objective of developing, promoting, encouraging and protecting the creative industries, and the cultural sector in general,” says Gabriela Sandoval, Storyboard Media CEO-producer and president of national film and TV producers association APCT.
“We must advance our pending co-production agreements, enact a real cultural endowment law that can finance our productions, offer a permanent tax rebate and a film commission. Demand for local production services is up; we have to promote the diversity of our landscapes as well as the professional and artistic talent of Chile,” adds Sandoval.
Arena concludes: “We need to signal to our international partners that Chile is worth investing in and partnering with. We are far from short of creative and managerial talent.”