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The Screening Room

Funding fuels rebirth of Colombia cinema

By Matthew Knight, for CNN
The picturesque setting inside the old walled town in Cartanega, Colombia. Who wouldn't want to set their film here?
The picturesque setting inside the old walled town in Cartanega, Colombia. Who wouldn't want to set their film here?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Latin America's longest running film festival, Cartagena celebrates its 50th anniversary
  • Colombian cinema thriving after several years of funding from government
  • Colombian directors starting to replicate the recent successes of Brazilian and Mexican cinema
RELATED TOPICS
  • Colombia
  • Movies

(CNN) -- In recent years, Colombian cinema has struggled to keep up with the likes of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico in making films which gain international recognition. But there are now signs that the tide is turning as the Colombian government's ongoing financial support of the film industry starts to bear fruit.

It was back in 2003 that the government first introduced laws to support cinema and established a film fund to help Colombian productions get off the ground.

Speaking at this year's Cartagena Film Festival, Paula Marcela Moreno, Colombia's minister of culture told CNN: "The film strategy has been developed with an eye on the international market. We want a lot of films to be filmed here with favorable conditions for international investors."

Claudia Triana, director of the Colombian film promotion fund, Proimagenes en Movimiento, says the money has been a blessing.

Video: Cartagena Film Festival
Video: Colombia's new cinematic era

"More or less, we have given through this fund like $22 million in six years. This year again we have $5.5 million that will be given to the producers.

"Now we have films, now we have crews and now we have low costs at a moment when everyone is looking for new locations and Colombia is more or less a secret," she added.

Cartagena is Latin America's longest-running film festival and this year it celebrated its 50th anniversary.

It has always attracted some of cinema's biggest names. But this year, it was Colombia's greatest author Gabriel Garcia Marquez who was the star attraction at the opening ceremony.

The Nobel laureate's 1985 novel, "Love in the Time of Cholera," was adapted for the big screen in 2007 by UK director Mike Newell and Cartagena was chosen as the location for the unnamed port city which featured in the book.

Situated on Colombia's northern coast, Cartagena has hosted a number of big-budget productions. In 1986, the Oscar-winning film "The Mission," starring Robert De Nero was filmed in the city and in 1969 Marlon Brando was there shooting "Queimada" ("Burn").

French film director Alain Monne, whose film "Cartagena," starring Christopher Lambert and Sophie Marceau, opened this year's festival believes it is a special film location.

"Cartagena, for me, is like an actor -- there are actors with talent, there are actors lacking talent, some have none at all. It's the same with cities and countries. For me Cartagena is a city with unbelievable talent," Monne told CNN.

This glowing, if somewhat curious tribute, is proof of the passions that the old colonial city can stir.

Colombian cinema is undoubtedly back on track. Film production is up 500 percent and although many Colombian pictures aren't turning a profit yet, they are catching the eye of critics around the world in 2010.

Cali-born director Oscar Ruiz Navia won a the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) prize at the Berlin Film Festival for "El Vuelco del Cangrejo" ("Crab Trap").

"Los Viajes del Viento" ("The Wind Journeys") written and directed by Ciro Guerra won best Spanish language film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and scooped best Colombian film at Cartagena.

This success extends to Colombia's private film backers. Dynamo Capital helped fund "Contracorriente" ("Undertow") -- by Peruvian director Javier Fuentes Leon -- which won an audience award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

The task of rebuilding Colombia's film industry extends to the country's cinemas -- many of them are still using comparatively old-fashioned equipment. But according to Munir Falah, CEO of Cine Colombia -- an independent cinema owner -- this is changing.

"We've been one of the first countries in Latin America to start converting to digital projection and also 3-D."

Installing new projectors will make it a lot easier to bring new products and new titles to Colombia, Falah says.

But perhaps the most enduring legacy from Cartagena will be a social scheme encouraging children to make their own films.

"We give them cameras, training and support and they go and make their own short films," festival director, Ricardo Velez Pareja said.

Hailing from some of Cartagena's poorest neighborhoods, these children are "totally transformed by the art form," Pareja says.

"You can see how they gain self-confidence, how they begin to think in relation to their family and their neighbors and how they fit in to it all," he added.

Pareja, who took over as director after festival founder Victor Nieto died in 2008, hopes that the project will inspire children to pick up a camera instead of a weapon.