Colombian Cinema Is Ready for Its Close-up

By Carlos A. Gutiérrez

After more than a decade, Latin American cinema has surprisingly not shown signs of weariness just yet. It’s as vital and vibrant as it was in the late nineties with the emergence of the “New Argentine Cinema,” which heralded an impressive era for filmmaking from the region. One reason why Latin American film is still going strong lays in the fact that it’s been constantly nourished by the talent of young filmmakers emerging from different countries. In addition to Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil, and more recently Chile, among other nations, have all contributed to this unprecedented era for Latin American cinema. Next up at bat: Colombia.

Two factors have been key for the consolidation of Colombian cinema: the 2003 film law and the Cartagena Film Festival. Following on the footsteps of other Latin American countries, Colombia passed a comprehensive film law in 2003, which offered tax incentives to film production, as well as the creation of a film development fund (Fondo para el Desarrollo Cinematográfico) to support local projects. This legal structure proved to be key to support the incipient local film community and to secure funds for film productions.

Secondly, the Cartagena de Indias International Film Festival (FICCI), the longest-running film festival in Latin America, has also proved key in the consolidation of the local film community. The festival was founded in 1959 by Víctor Nieto, who remained its director until his death in 2008. In 2010, Monika Wagenberg was appointed as new director of the festival and tasked to remake FICCI a major international platform for Colombian cinema (for full disclosure, Monika and I are co-founders of Cinema Tropical).

The coming-of-age of Colombian cinema can be testified by the fact that this year two films will represent the country at the Cannes Film Festival: Juan Andrés Arango’s La Playa D.C., selected for the Un Certain Regard Section of the festival, and William Vega’s La Sirga competing at the Directors’ Fortnight section.

La Playa D.C. tells the story of Tomás, an Afro-Colombian teenager who fled the country’s war-torn Pacific coast, yet faces new difficulties of growing up in Bogotá, a city of exclusion and racism. La Sirga is the story of Alicia, who escaping armed violence ends up in La Sirga with the last relative she has left. Both films participated in the co-production meetings at FICCI.

Last year, Alejandro Landes' Porfirio was the big story of Colombian cinema, having premiered at Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes to great critical acclaim and winning numerous awards internationally, from the prize as Best Film Director and Best Colombian Film at the 2012 edition FICCI to the Golden Peacock at the Goa Film Festival. The film was recently seen at New Directors/New Films Festival in New York City.

Two other films that were showcased at Cartagena this past February and are currently touring the international film circuit are Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza’s Chocó and Carlos Osuna’s Gordo, calvo y bajito / Fat, Bald Short Man. The former tells the story of a Chocó (played by Karent Hinestroza, wife of the director) a woman from the rural areas of the Pacific north coast of the country who is subjugated by her husband and the dominant male tradition, had its world premiere at the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival. The latter is an animated feature film about a lonesome, middle-aged bureaucrat who endures the constant torment at the hands of coworkers and his bullying brother.

Other noteworthy recent titles are from first-time Colombian directors are: Jairo Carillo’s animated film Pequeñas voces / Little Voices; the Sundance-selection Todos tus muertos / All Your Dead Ones by Carlos Moreno; Gabriel Rojas Vera’s Karen llora en el bus / Karen Cries on the Bus; as well as the multi-award-winning films El vuelco del cangrejo / Crab Trap by Oscar Ruiz Navia and Los viajes del viento / The Wind Journeys by Ciro Guerra.

Not only is Colombian cinema is finding its way through the international film festival circuit, some filmmakers have also found local support in the box office. Andi Baiz’s thriller La cara oculta / The Hidden Face released earlier this year had a very good performance at the local box office. That was also the case of Harold Trompetero’s popular comedy El Paseo; Juan Felipe Orozco’s Me saludas al diablo de mi parte / Greetings to the Devil, and Jaime Osorio’s horror film El Páramo / The Squad, which were some of the highest-grossing Colombian films from last year.

Encouraging, too, is the fact that most of the works referred above are first films, which is telling of the diversity of this young generation of directors. It will be crucial that these filmmakers can consolidate a career making a second, third, and more films. Yet for the existing talent and current favorable conditions, it seems Colombia is bound to be the next headliner in world cinema.

Carlos A. Gutiérrez is Co-Founder and Director of Cinema Tropical.