Colombia is in vogue, and its presence in global political and economic scenes is ubiquitous. Beyond the country being chosen by The Economist as its “country of the year” for 2016 and named the second best country to visit in 2017 by Lonely Planet, Colombia is also rising as a cultural and social epicentre in the Latin American region. This trend is especially pronounced when it comes to Colombia’s ever-growing movie and TV show industry – including all the productions based on the country or filmed in the Andean nation.
An Infamous Figure
When the conversation at many dinner tables throughout the world revolves around TV series, the name Colombia comes up immediately. That may well be because of Narcos, the hit Netflix original series that chronicles the life of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and his influence as he became one of the most powerful men in the country in the 1980s until his death in 1993 (no spoiler there). The series is filmed from the point of view of two members of the US Drug Enforcement Administration as they hunt down the narco-terrorist. What Narcos has boosted is a seemingly unstoppable Pablo Escobar-themed trend in contemporary pop culture – obsession with a drug lord whose presence and actions had much of the world on edge. Building on its popularity, the series is expected to release its third season in August or September of 2017.
Meanwhile, Spanish director Fernando Leon de Aranoa is working on a movie about the same notorious drug lord, called Escobar – a Spanish/Bulgarian co-production starring Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. Leon de Aranoa wrote the script based on the book Amando a Pablo, Odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar) by Virginia Vallejo, a well-known journalist and television anchorwoman, who for a while was the drug kingpin’s lover. The book was published in 2007 and recounts her version of the narcotics and drug situation in Colombia, as well as Escobar’s role in the country and his ties with leading political figures, the military and guerrillas. Vallejo was granted political asylum in the US in 2007, where she still lives today. It is likely that Escobar’s tale will continue to grow as his impact on Colombia has proved long standing. He is already becoming a global pop culture figure in a similar way that Al Capone did in the US during the first half of the 20th century – a man who’s been the theme of so many books, movies and research.
The Silver Screen
Beyond the tales of Colombia’s most infamous drug lord, the country is seeing its movie industry take off. In 2016 El Abrazo de la was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the US Academy Awards. The film represented the first foreign language nomination for the South American country. Guerra is currently working on Pájaros del Verano (Summer Birds), his new movie which will be released in 2018. The filmmaker will also bring J M Coetzee’s award-winning book Waiting for the Barbarians to the big screen at a later date.
Another vivid example of the momentum Colombian directors are experiencing and the growing recognition of the domestic film industry took place at the 2015 Cannes Film Awards, when Colombian director César Acevedo won the prestigious Caméra D’Or award for Best First Feature with the movie La Tierra y la Sombra (The Land and the Shadow). That year, he returned to the Andean nation with four awards from one of the largest movie festivals in the world.
While new talent continues to emerge, a lucrative incentive programme has increasingly attracted foreign productions to the country. In 2012 the government passed Law 1556 intended “to promote the Colombian film industry, promoting the national territory as an element of cultural heritage for the filming of audiovisuals and through these, the tourist activity and the promotion of the country’s image, as well as the development of the national film industry.” Since then, more and more foreign directors have chosen Colombia as the stage for their films. Through the Colombian Film Commission, a division of government promotion agency Proimágenes, the country offers cash rebates to producers of up to 40% of film expenses and 20% of logistical expenses up to 22 weeks after the end of the film. The commission promotes Colombia as a destination for audiovisual production, and encourages the development and improvement of the country’s audiovisual services and talent. Among the services they provide are a walk through of the country’s highlights, information on the cash rebate, and advising on Colombian legislation regarding taxes, financing, hiring, Customs, permits, visas, co-production and other regulatory needs.
Since the law was implemented in 2013, more than COP86bn ($25.8m) in income has been brought to the country, when COP28bn ($8.4m) was invested by the government. Sandra Howard, the deputy minister of tourism, said in a press release that Colombia “has generated compensation by international productions of up to three times the investment made by the ministry in film and tourism services.”
Among the films that have taken advantage of shooting in Colombia are The 33, a 2015 film about the trapped Chilean miners in 2010; director Doug Liman’s American Made, to be released in September 2017; and The Lost City Of Z, written and directed by James Gray; as well as the Narcos TV series.
To The Future & The Past
A country of approximately 49m people, Colombia is the third most populous in Latin America, but its film industry is still incipient – especially when compared to regional peers such as Argentina and Brazil. Yet as the country enters a new era, which began in November 2016 with Colombia’s Congress approving a peace accord with FARC – the country’s largest armed rebel group – to end an over 50-year conflict, expectations are high that the movie industry will continue to grow. Greater security and stability will undoubtedly lead to a larger international movie industry, which will likely be backed by the increasing number of tourists visiting a country that has access to both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Colombia is also set to experience growth in the number of documentaries telling the story of its current events, a promising sign considering the magnitude and implications of the peace accord as the country goes through a moment in time that will change its history. There is much to narrate when a 52-year war that left 220,000 dead and millions displaced reaches its end.
In the last days of 2016, the Foundation for Press Freedom made available on YouTube the documentary In the middle: the silence within Colombian journalism.
The film speaks about the years of fear that newsrooms and journalists witnessed, as they have been direct victims of the violence generated by the country’s armed conflict, which led in many cases to self-censorship. Natalia Orozco, a Colombian director, approached this theme with the documentary El Silencio de los Fusiles (The Silence of the Rifles) that asks what kind of life exists on the other side of the war, and talks about the peace process and the transition to democracy and civilian life of FARC guerrillas.
In the course of 2017, Ed Vulliamy, a journalist for The Guardian and The Observer newspapers, and author of Amexica: War Along the Borderline, and John Mulholland, editor of The Observer, are set to release The Battle for Peace, a documentary that narrates Colombia’s history with FARC. The documentary will tell of the civil war the country experienced, and include the opinions of members of government and FARC, as well as exclusive statements from delegates who participated at the peace negotiation table for over four years in La Habana, Cuba to reach a final agreement.
Movies and series either about Colombia or based in the country are flourishing as local directors and actors gain recognition at home and abroad. It is difficult to say if the film and media industry will be able to truly portray Colombia as it stands today; large and multi-ethnic, and one of the countries with the most biodiversity in the world. It is in the hands of Colombian producers, cameramen, editors and artists to tell the world Colombia’s story, as complex as it is, through the lens of movies, TV shows and promotions.
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