3 on 1: Adapt, Persevere and Thou Shalt Premiere

Bruno Bettati examines Latin American independents from the angle of producer, festival director and de facto industry historian…

Director of the Valdivia International Film Festival Bruno Bettati (left) and GFI Director of Programs Santhosh Daniel at the 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam

Five years ago I had the serendipity to meet Santhosh Daniel and establish a relationship between the Global Film Initiative and Valdivia International Film Festival (FICValdivia).  Over that course of time, our institutions have both witnessed and contributed to the steady rise of the Latin American film industry. GFI eventually became a sponsor of FICValdivia activities for film professionals. Recently we met by chance on a distribution and production workshop while in Gijon, Spain—after which i felt compeled to say a few words about the evolution of Latin American film and our joint contribution to the production and distribution of these films.   – Bruno Bettati

Against all odds, Latin American film producers continue to show a vitality to get their movies done. Perseverance and adaptation are key; with 36 months the average time it takes from the start of development until the festival première of a fiction feature film, the endurance of the producer is at permanent stake.

It was 2002 when two European film festivals, Toulouse and San Sebastian, joined efforts to come up with a contest for Latin American unfinished films. This was a alarm call of the incapability of producers to achieve enough funding to close a much-larger-than-average gap,  but it was also a sign of the enthusiasm of directors to shoot, even if the money seemed not to be enough. Thus, a range of quality, unfinished films began to pile up, and it became an evident necessity to avoid the waste of such talent and ensure completions. Slowly, what was an emergency plan actually became a standard practice, the work-in-progress method of funding. Thus a new rule, endemic to Latin America, established itself among producers: ensure you have enough cash just to do the shoot and the offline, and go for it before the creative energy wanes away.  A first cut will provide enough base to garner further investments and complete the film.

Next, several audiovisual laws appeared between 2002-2005; Colombia, Chile and Uruguay gave themselves new film bodies with a granted budget from the State, securing a more stable yearly volume of production and post-production. Countries quickly doubled or tripled their annual film harvest, thus enhancing the overall performance of the film sub-sector, now enriched with technicians and actors growing in expertise and specialization out of stable film jobs.

Seeing the future: moving Latin American independents out of the "red" and into the black

It was a matter of time for Latin American film to mature artistically and then shine on international film festivals. Argentina, Uruguay, México, Colombia, Perú and Chile each have had a set of film gems being awarded in Rotterdam, Berlinale, Cannes, Locarno, Venice and Habana. Biarritz, München, Amiens, Calgary, Viennale, IndieLisboa screen every year a strong set of Latin American helmers. Recently, Telluride, Toronto and Sundance have included some of our titles in their selections, opening up the usually forlorn North American territories. Yes we can.

Funding strategies have sprouted in a diversity of ways; first, via selective aids for productions from “the south” (a polite expression referring to the ex-third world), coming mainly from European festivals and NGOs, among which Fonds Sud, Hubert Bals Fund, Goteborg Film Fund, Visions Sud Est, World Cinema Fund and Amiens deserve more than just a mention, as well as the Global Film Initiative, a beacon of hope from the U.S. Next, tax incentives, a new kind of public policy in the region, has slowly channeled private investment into the film business, where the cases of Brasil, Colombia and México deserve closer attention. Finally, the contribution of provincial governments inside the countries, be them federal or not, on their own have stimulated the migration of film crews from capital cities into locations more secluded, albeit more original.

Producers nowadays have a wide array of non-reimbursable funding sources to build up a financial scheme. Some have even began taking risks in terms of capital, applying for loans and private equity to complete now smaller gaps for bigger budgets.

The only lacking element is, alas, presales. Public TV stations around the continent refuse to buy film, and when they do, it is only national titles. The DVD market is stuck and in some countries it agonizes due to piracy. VOD and streaming have increased but their payments are still residual.  The best news come from pay TV channels; HBO and I-Sat, and above all MovieCity/LAPTV have made notorious efforts to acquire latin american films and exhibit them to panlatinamerican audiences.

Established on 1999, Ibermedia multilateral fund’s greatest contribution has been the consolidation of a network of producers that have worked with each other. The network was further reinforced by festival coproduction markets, mainly the BAL at Bafici, followed by Valdivia’s Australab and Guadalajara’s market. In this new context of diverse funding sources beyond Ibermedia and interconnected producers, unexpected bilateral coproductions are shaping up, with a smart and adaptive approach.

Energy of synergy: Ibermedia-GFI-Cinergia funded FAITH (Photo: Ceibita Films)

An interesting example is FAITH by Alejo Crisóstomo. I met this filmmaker from Guatemala during the workshop of Taller de Proyectos Cinematográficos Colón by the TYPA Foundation in Entre Ríos, Argentina. It was november 2008; Guatemala had just entered Ibermedia and it seemed a good idea to support this project from Central America with Chile as a minority partner. Kine-Imágenes, an independent post-production facility from Chile joined my company and we sent the camera, the optics, the DIT operator Sérgio Béjares and our favorite DOP, Inti Briones, to contribute technically and artistically to the shoot, which took place february 2010. Ibermedia took their chances and supported the project.

The rushes looked amazing, particulary the awesome locations of Río Dulce shot under Inti’s experienced eye on natural light. Nevertheless, the first cut was not sharp enough. We applied, as expected, to every work-in-progress option available, but none favoured us and the year went by. Afraid the film’s freshness might decay, early 2011 I proposed the director to redo the whole cut in Santiago de Chile, with the aid of Soledad Salfate, a chilean well-established editor, and financed this part myself. It was a keen intuition. In the blink of an eye and simultaneously, Cinergia fund and Global Film Initiative each approved a grant on september 2011 for FAITH, closing the gap; the film quickly finished the postproduction and deliveries, and had a well received avant-première in Guatemala on November 24th of last year.

I am happy to say, from a minority standpoint, that the Chilean contribution to this Guatemalan title really did its part, exporting talent and machinery to aid a fellow partner on country that needed some stimulus. Our next challenge? Circulation. For starters, the commercial release in Chile, which could be supported by the Chilean government. I will distribute the film myself.

Bruno Bettati is the director of Valdivia International Film Festival. He is a versatile film producer with several credits under his company Jirafa, based in Valdivia, Chile. Fellow Chilean producers elected him president of the National Film and TV Producers’ Association for 2008-2012. He travels extensively in order to cover his myriad responsibilities.

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