Cartagena showcases Colombian culture blend

Homegrown works at heart of film festival

The Cartagena Film Festival is about bringing down walls — and getting Colombian films and TV programs to the masses. Held since 1960 in the walled city of Cartagena, located in northwestern Colombia, the festival has broadened its focus from highbrow content to reaching out to the poorest segments of Colombian society.

Referred to as the oldest and one of the most important film festivals in Latin America, the "for the people, by the people" festival is mounted on a budget of less than $600,000 and the work of about 200 volunteers. This year's edition runs Feb. 29-March 7.

The festival, which continues in its 48th year to be headed by 92-year-old founder and director Victor Nieto, screens films from around the world, and this year features the Latin American premiere of Wong Kar Wai's first English-language feature, "My Blueberry Nights."

The fest's primary focus is on Colombian television programs and Latin American films. The competition sections are open to homegrown productions and works from Latin America, Spain and Portugal.

The best Colombian film will be chosen from the 12 in contention, and Colombia's best national TV shows will be highlighted in 20 categories, with prizes of $10,000 each going to children's program, community TV production, science and technology production, university production, project under construction by an independent producer, TV documentary and journalistic or opinion program. The public will chose the best film from the 18 in the official Ibero-American competition, and there's also a prize for best short from Colombia.

"One of the purposes is to showcase Colombian films and to show that Cartagena is one of the most (photographic) towns in the world. It's a great place to film," festival board member Salvo Basile said. "It's also an outlet to show the cultural importance of South America. Colombia is more than a country at war; Colombia also has people of culture."

The 2008 festival opens with the Lisandro Duque-helmed "Artists of Conflict," which portrays Colombia in political flux.

There are a number of new initiatives this year, most aimed at boosting the Colombian production industry, which during the past five years is on the upswing following a cultural development plan financed by the government. The country has jumped from annually producing two or three films for theatrical release to 12-18 today.

New for 2008 are a film-in-progress award that will allow a Colombian to produce a short, and the first Colombian Caribbean section that includes a special tribute to Luis Alberto Arocha. The later recognizes the pocket of artists residing on the Colombian coast facing the Caribbean Sea.

The festival also is expanding its reach to include outdoor screenings in downtown plazas under the Films Under the Stars banner, the installation of a giant screen on Cartagena's beach and the presentation of documentaries at academic venues and public places.

"Cartagena will open its walls to receive filmmakers from all over the world and give their works to the people of Cartagena," Nieto said.

Out-of-town festival participants normally are lodged in the tourist area of Bocagrande, location of the Caribe Hotel, which serves as the festival's headquarters. Films are screened in several theaters in Cartagena, at the Getsemani Auditorium and the Convention Center.

Norma Reveler