BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Small- and medium-budget film projects like The 33 – a movie starring Spanish actor Antonio Banderas that tells the story of the Chilean miners who were trapped in a mine for 69 days in 2010 – have begun shooting in Colombia in recent months.
In addition, there are great expectations due to announcements of new shoots with producers like U.S. actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, who visited Santa Marta and Cartagena in February, searching for locations for a film called Escribana (The Scribe).
“Today, there’s a lot of interest in filming in Colombia,” said Lina Sánchez, assistant director of the Colombian Film Commission, a government organization that promotes the development of audiovisual productions in the South American country. “Independent producers, especially from Latin American countries, are very interested in [shooting here].”
The advance is largely the result of a recent legislative effort that resulted in the adoption of Law 1556 of 2012, also known as the Film Law.
Inspired by similar statutes promoted in countries like Hungary and in U.S. states like Louisiana, the law promotes filming audiovisual productions in the country by reimbursing the costs incurred by producers in Colombia.
The Colombian government created a fund to return 40% of expenditures by international filmmakers on contracting Colombian services related to pre-production, production and post-production, and 20% of expenditures on hotels, meals, and transportation in Colombia.
Producers must commit at least US$600,000 to receive these reimbursements.
The law was implemented in the second half of 2013.
Since then, five film productions – including The 33 – have chosen Colombia, largely attracted by the benefits offered in the new legislation, according to the film’s producers.
“I want first to congratulate you all and President [Juan Manuel] Santos for the initiative you have taken to bring filming to Colombia, an incredible and diverse natural area,” Antonio Banderas said in a press conference in early December. “It is an opportunity to make movies, something that not only enriches the film industry, but everything that it moves, and in one way or another, changes the image of the country.”
In December and January, The 33 production spent about $8.75 billion pesos (US$4.2 million) on Colombian companies for catering, accommodation, pre-production, production, transportation and other expenses, according to the Colombian Film Commission.
According to the Ministry of Culture, the other four film projects approved in 2013 will spend a total of $9.1 billion pesos (US$4.4 million) in 2014.
“The stimulus we are providing will very much promote not only our industry, but also professions in our technical and creative sector,” said Adelfa Martínez, the Ministry of Culture’s director of cinematography. “We are going to generate new business that didn’t exist before, and at the same time, exchange technology and expertise in the field of cinema.”
Martínez expects that between five and seven additional projects will be approved in 2014, depending on the productions’ budgets.
However, there’s no certainty about what might happen, and even less certainty about the financial benefits the law may bring about in coming years, according to Sánchez.
“It’s a very recent issue, so we still don’t know about the economic impact,” she said. “So far, it has been in operation for only six months, so we have to see what happens and then evaluate the results.”
On the other hand, the fund still lacks sufficient resources to attract big-budgeted Hollywood productions.
In 2013, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, allocated $25 billion pesos (US$12.24 million) for reimbursements on services rendered that year.
Given the percentages for reimbursements established by the Film Law, there wouldn’t be sufficient funds for a production that intends to spend more than $62.5 billion pesos (US$30.6 million) on Colombian services related to pre-production, production and post-production.
“In the mid-term, after we demonstrate that we are doing well and have the capacity to bring major productions to the country, this will certainly grow much larger,” Martínez said. “Then, the government will explore the possibility of increasing the budget.”
Colombia competes in terms of film production with countries like Brazil, Argentina, Panama, Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico, which also have laws to promote filmmaking.