Ecuador's film industry sees boom in productions

By Irene Caselli

media captionTrailer for No Autumn, No Spring

It took Ecuadorean director Ivan Mora five years to raise enough money to make his first feature film.

His initial break came in 2007 when he received a $10,000 (£6,200) grant from Ecuador's newly-formed National Film Council to work on his script.

He still had to raise a further $600,000 but without these first funds, Sin Otono, Sin Primavera (No Autumn, No Spring) might never have been made.

Mora's film is one of more than a dozen that are being released or going through post production this year in Ecuador.

This unprecedented boom is largely due to the film council, established in 2006.

"The National Film Council has changed the way films are produced in Ecuador," says Mora. "It was like night and day."

Every year, a jury made up by film-makers from all over Latin America meets to grant prizes to local projects on behalf of the council. More than 40 feature films and documentaries have received grants so far.

image captionNo Autumn, No Spring was filmed in Ecuador's biggest city, Guayaquil

"Since funds are limited, access is competitive," says Jorge Luis Serrano, the council's director.

"In the past six years, Ecuadorean cinema has become a sort of laboratory for Latin America."

National productions have gone up by 300%, he says, making cinema the most dynamic cultural sector in the country.

This is a huge step forward for a country with a short and scanty cinema history, compared with other Latin American countries.

Punk ballad

Ecuador's first feature film, El Tesoro de Atahualpa (Atahualpa's Treasure), came out in 1924 and recounted the mystery surrounding the treasure of the last Inca emperor.

All that remains of the film are reviews in newspapers from the time; legend has it that director Augusto San Miguel asked to be buried with the only copies of his work.

In the 1990s, there were only five feature films made. But one from 1999 - Ratas, Ratones, Rateros (Rodents), by Sebastian Cordero - won international acclaim and is seen as the start of the new cinema era.

No Autumn, No Spring is an example of the quality films that are now being made.

The film, which Mora defines "a punk ballad," tells the stories of several middle class youths in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city.

The film has an intricate structure, full of flashbacks and fast forwards, to portray the sense of confusion in the protagonists' lives.

"We know the film takes some risks that other films don't usually take," says Mora.

"A complicated sex scene, a masturbation scene, a lot of violence… perhaps this isn't a blockbuster movie."

image captionNico is about to be expelled from school in On The Line

A more conventional film out now is La Llamada (On The Line) by David Nieto Wenzell.

It tells the story of Aurora, a middle class woman in Quito juggling her responsibilities as an employee, a mother, a daughter and a sister.

And a variety of films will be released in 2013.

Ecuador's first film in the Quechua indigenous language, Killa (Moon), is in post production.

The first science fiction production, Quito 2023, is also nearing completion. Set in the near future, it portrays a rebellion against a military dictator.

Besides the National Film Council's direct investments, producers say the government is also to thank for developing a strong public relations sector.

According to the opposition-leaning Citizen Participation Corporation, since 2007 President Rafael Correa's administration has spent an average of $4m a month on getting its message across.

The government denies these figures, but whatever the exact amount, film producers agree that more equipment is now available. The government also uses audiovisual experts more to produce and edit official material. This in turn has let to better training in the sector.

Home-grown talent

But cinema in Ecuador still faces major obstacles.

With $700,000 available per year, the National Film Council has limited funds.

"The fund is on hold, it doesn't grow," says its director Mr Serrano. "This creates difficulties."

He says Ecuador's government is rightly investing in other sectors it considers of higher priority, such as health, housing and education, but believes more funding is necessary.

"It is still impossible to make a living as a director, not with a movie every four, five years," says Paul Venegas, producer of On The Line.

"The possibilities of financial return, which would allow producers to reinvest their money in new productions and to become less dependent on the government, don't exist."

Distribution and publicity also remain problematic.

image captionNewspaper cuttings are all that remain of Ecuador's first feature film

With only 220 cinemas nationwide, scheduling of premieres has been an issue this year with so many Ecuadorean productions coming out at once.

Local movies represent 4% of what is shown in the country's commercial cinemas. Every new film has to compete with major Hollywood productions to grab the public's attention.

But film-makers seem motivated.

Ivan Mora partly financed himself by working as an editor on another film during the production of No Autumn, No Spring.

"In this moment in Ecuador, the reason to make films is a honest reason," says Mora. "People are not searching for money. If you want money in Ecuador, you don't make a film. It's a few people trying to tell stories."

Genuine, diverse stories remain a hallmark of Ecuadorean films. But with a small home market and limited funding and distribution, Ecuador's cinema might have to capture audiences abroad in order to grow into a full-blown industry.

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