EmptyWhen Argentina's "The Secret in Their Eyes" won the Oscar for best foreign-language film this year -- and when Peru's "The Milk of Sorrow"was also nominated -- it signaled that South America is witnessing a remarkable revival in filmmaking.
While giants Argentina and Brazil continue to dominate the region in terms of production output and market share, these days it's impossible to talk about the territory as a whole without also including Chile, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay. True, none of these smaller nations boasts the infrastructure of Argentina or Brazil, but each is making a serious effort to strengthen co-production ties, promote locations and sweeten filming incentives.
Here's a closer look at some of South America's top film industries.
Long considered the mecca of Spanish language cinema in South America, Argentina in 2009 saw its largest boxoffice take for domestic fare in a decade, helped by the fact that indigenous production receives a percentage of boxoffice revenue and video rentals.
Last year also brought the inaugural edition of the Buenos Aires film market Ventana Sur, an international industry gathering dedicate exclusively to sales of Latin American titles. Ventana was formed through a joint venture between Argentina's film institute, INCAA, and the Festival deCannes'Marche du Film.
"We had an excellent turnout," Ventana Sur executive director Bernardo Bergeret says. "We were expecting about 800 guests and had nearly 1,600, with about 200 from Europe and North America. It takes place about six months after Cannes, so you can find titles in the video library that haven't been in any other market."
Several of those titles come from native helmers. Given its reputation for developing some of the continent's most renowned filmmakers, Argentina regularly maintains a strong presence on the international festival circuit. Pablo Trapero's "Lion's Den" vied for the Palme d'Or in 2008 and his latest drama, "Carancho," starring Ricardo Darin ("The Secret in Their Eyes"), is poised as a strong festival contender.
Argentine cinema travels well to Europe and some parts of Latin America, but, with few exceptions, it has struggled to crack the U.S. Latino market. While "Secret" was a huge boxoffice success in Argentina and has been sold to more than a dozen territories, Sony Pictures Classics is giving the film only a limited U.S. theatrical release.
"The U.S. Latino market is very peculiar," director Juan Jose Campanella says. "In the U.S., the film is going to be released on the art film circuit, so it will attract mostly cinephiles. Just about every popular foreign film is released in the U.S. as if it were an art film."
Many filmmakers rank Brazil's generous tax incentive program as the most attractive in Latin America, allowing producers to invest 3% of their owed income tax toward a local project. Additionally, any foreign producer or distributor exporting content from Brazil can redirect up to 70% of the withholding tax for investment in a Brazilian production.
"It's a very ample law," film financier Alex Garcia says. "The combination of both incentives gives producers the possibility of getting up to $3 million -- and it doesn't just apply to movies; it applies to the entertainment industry in general."
Garcia partnered last year with Argentine producer Eduardo Constantini and Brazilian producer Vania Catani of Bananeira Films to form Costa Films Brazil. The first movie they produced under the joint venture was "Lula, the Son of Brazil," a biopic about Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.
Before forming their company, Garcia and Constantini created film fund Latin American Film Co. with the Weinstein Co. and Brazil's Otero Group. The fund backed Jose Padilha's Golden Bear winner "The Elite Squad," a boxoffice success that now has a sequel in production.
Among Brazil's highly anticipated releases this year is the Conspiracao Filmes co-production "Lope." The biopic, directed by Andrucha Waddington ("House of Sand"), chronicles the life of Spanish playwright Lope de Vega. The spiritualist drama "Our Home," from director Wagner de Assis and lensed by "The Day After Tomorrow" cinematographer Ueli Steiger, has also generated buzz as a potential blockbuster. Fox will release it in September.
At Cannes, Brazil will introduce the upstart Rio Content Market, an audiovisual mart to be held in Rio de Janeiro in mid-November. Organizers of the three-day event aim to position Rio as the region's leading market for buyers and sellers of multiplatform content and new media.
Film production in Colombia has been growing steadily during the past seven years, thanks in large part to a film law enacted in 2003 that established a state-run fund. On average, the nation now produces about a dozen features annually and, more important, the production quality has vastly improved.
While no direct fiscal incentives are available for foreign producers, Colombian partners can apply for tax credits of up to 42% and Colombia offers a 16% value-added tax devolution on production services.
Dynamo Prods. producer Andres Calderon says that now, more than ever, foreign film and TV shingles are reaping the benefits of shooting in Colombia.
"You can get all these tax benefits," he says. "And we don't have unions here, so people work hard and really long hours. That's why (outsiders) are coming here."
Mike Newell filmed "Love in the Time of Cholera" in the coastal city of Cartagena and Paul Haggis recently shot scenes in Colombia for his latest thriller, "The Next Three Days."
As Colombia looks to draw more runaway production, the industry and government alike have turned to promotional campaigns aimed at countering the nation's violent image. RCN-owned production services company Shoot Colombia addresses lingering concerns with the slogan "We won't shoot you, you will shoot us." The modern-day reality is that Colombia delivers on its promise to offer a safe work environment.
The country's production boom has paid dividends for a new generation of filmmakers as well. Recent victories on the international festival circuit include Oscar Ruiz's freshman feature "Crab Trap," Ciro Guerra's music odyssey "The Wind Journeys" and the Colombia co-production "Anger," a romantic thriller directed by Ecuadorian helmer Sebastian Cordero.
One of the most eagerly awaited releases is the Colombia-Spain co-production "The Stoplight Society," which has received support from numerous funds, including Fonds Sud Cinema.
Just when things were turning around for the Chilean film industry, a devastating earthquake rocked the nation in late February, forcing the government to shift its attention to emergency relief and rebuilding efforts.
"Chile is in a complicated situation after the earthquake because the priorities of the country have shifted in every sense," says Sergio Gandara, executive manager of film and TV producers' association Cinema Chile. "The industry is being affected in terms of logistics and possibly the amount of public financing available because entertainment is not a priority for the country right now."
Several shoots were postponed because of the earthquake, including "Profugos," the first HBO series to be filmed in Chile.
In spite of the recent setback, Chile's film industry finds itself in a much better place nowadays than it did a decade ago when the nation was releasing one domestic feature a year; it averages about 10 local releases annually.
Cinema Chile, an initiative created to promote the country's film and TV industries, is lobbying Congress to implement a sorely needed tax incentive program to boost domestic production and make Chile a more attractive filming location. One of the goals is to draw more large-scale foreign shoots like "Quantum of Solace," which was shot on Chilean turf in 2008.
One of the most notable titles to come out of Chile recently is Sebastian Silva's drama "The Maid," which was acquired by Shoreline Entertainment just before it won the Sundance jury prize last year. Projects in the works include "Post Mortem," from director Pablo Larrain; "El Futuro," a feature from Alicia Scherson based on a Roberto Bolano novel; and an untitled biopic about Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra from helmer Andres Wood.
Peru has been producing films on a constant basis since the 1970s, but 2010 has shaped up as a breakthrough year.
First came the news that Javier Fuentes-Leon's gay-themed drama "Undertow" had won the Sundance audience award. A month later, Claudia Llosa's second feature, "The Milk of Sorrow," snagged a foreign-language Oscar nomination.
Peru also claims fame for making Latin America's first animated 3D film, the Alpamayo Entertainment-produced "Piratas en el Callao."
While Fuentes-Leon says it would be a stretch to say Peru actually has an industry when comparing its infrastructure to other South American territories, it still manages to produce about half a dozen features a year. These films have found ways to reach foreign audiences -- like "Undertow," picked up by Shoreline.
"The film never makes a reference to where it was shot," Fuentes-Leon explains. "It's a universal story and we saw it as an opportunity to not limit the film specifically to Lima or another town, so that audiences can identify with their own towns. (It) can travel to Mexico, Colombia or even South Africa."
Uruguay makes a much stronger contribution to South American cinema than its population of 3.3 million might lead one to expect -- even though, during the 1973-85 military dictatorship, the industry was on the brink of extinction.
The future looks bright as Uruguay now releases about half a dozen local features a year, many of which have fared exceptionally well at home and abroad. At the forefront of the nation's cinema revival, Montevideo-based Control Z Films has produced the Cannes FIRPESCI prize winner "Whisky," the Rotterdam Tiger Award recipient "25 Watts" and the Berlin Silver Bear winner "Giant." In September, filming begins on "Tres," the latest feature from "Whisky" co-director Pablo Stoll.
The results have been encouraging enough that private investment in Uruguayan cinema has grown sixfold, says Martin Papich, director of the government-run film and audiovisual institute. Papich's agency manages a $6 million public fund, a small amount even by Latin American standards, though Uruguayan pictures tend to get produced on much smaller budgets than those of the region's larger industries.
A large chunk of the growing private investment comes from abroad, and about 90% of Uruguayan films are co-productions. "Uruguayan cinema wouldn't exist if it weren't for the co-production system," Papich says.