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Monday, 13 August 2012 19:15

Finding Cinematic Heaven in South America

Written by  Nathan Hoturoa Gray
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pre_southamerica_columbia_3_2_2197South America is a continent of vibrant culture blessed with an abundance of dynamic natural vistas and archeological sites, all of which provide filmmakers with a desired slice of cinematic heaven. P3 Update takes a closer look at the production perks currently offered by Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Peru in 2012.


From the azure seas of the Caribbean coastline to the blinding beauty of the Andes Mountains, Colombia has it all. Its scenic diversity, breathtaking landscapes and dynamic ethnic variety are just some of the country’s alluring qualities; there’s also an endless list of sublime vistas that include sprawling deserts, moonscape peaks, dense jungles, waterfalls and volcanoes. This production paradise

is interspersed with an array of historical and cultural treasures, not to mention the dynamic metropolitan buzz of Bogota, Cali and Medellin. Filled to the brim with incredibly beautiful, hardworking and talented people, this world-class destination is just waiting to get rediscovered. Hosting big-budget features like The Motorcycle Diaries, Love in the Time of Cholera and The Next Three Days, as well as the upcoming boxing film Hands of Stone (starring Robert De Niro and Gael Garcia Bernal), Colombia is indeed a bright star in a Latin American constellation.

Colombia has strong drawing power with its low production costs in food and lodging, transport, specialized local talent, extras, equipment rental and studio hires. And most of the country’s scenery has yet to be used in large and medium-scale international audiovisual productions. Colombia lacks a tax incentive for international productions, but legislation is currently before Congress to offer a cash rebate of 40 percent of film production expenses hired or paid to companies established in Colombia or to Colombian citizens. There’s an additional 20 percent for transport (including plane tickets bought in Colombia), catering and lodging costs paid to Colombian companies. “We hope to have the rebate in place by 2013,” states Silvia Echeverri of the Colombian Film Commission. Recent film productions shot in Colombia include The Hidden Face, Pablo Escobar, Skinny Dip, Broken Kingdom, The Squad and the ballet documentary First Position.




Chile offers a huge variety of landscapes ranging from the driest deserts in the world to millennia-old glaciers. With its cultural diversity and steady economic growth, the country is both stable and metropolitan, especially the capital city of Santiago. Another major drawing card for shooting in Chile is the low-cost talent buyouts of all ethnicities, not to mention the expertise of its film crews. You’ll also find more European and North American settings here than in any other South American country. This year is looking healthy for Chile as a Hollywood project by Phoenix Pictures is in the works, inspired by the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean mine in 2010.


“Chile doesn’t have direct incentives for filmmakers,” states Raimundo Alemparte, location and information manager at the Chilean Film Commission, “but if you co-produce with a Chilean production company, they will usually not charge you the VAT or IVA of 19 percent, or the local partner can request the reimbursement afterwards.” Furthermore, Chilean private companies can donate up to 2 percent of their net profits to cultural projects and recover 50 percent of such donations through a tax credit, although the project must be previously approved by the Cultural Donations Committee and must be presented by a non-profit NGO. “This is only for co-productions and is not used that often in the film industry however,” says Alemparte. Recent productions shot in Chile include “Profugos” for HBO and Sundance winners Violeta and Young and Wild. Current projects include Magic Magic (starring Michael Sera and Juno Temple), No (starring Gael Garcia Bernal) and Aftershock. 



Due to its mega-diversity, Peru is regarded internationally as the land of one thousand faces. With a total land area of 1.28 million square kilometers, it’s a country of tropical coastlines, high sierras and Amazonian jungles as well as ancient sites and cities, such as Machu Picchu and Cuzco. Containing 84 out of 104 ecosystems found in the world today, Peru is home to almost 10 percent of all mammals and reptiles and more than 20 percent of the Earth’s birds.


One of the latest productions shot in Peru is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “The Real Avatar: The Nature of Things.” “We provided all production services for segments done on locations in Lima and in Amazonas,” reports Marggie Castellano, a producer and consultant at FilmPeru. “FilmPeru specializes in complex and challenging productions; advising our clients how to clear customs; helping charter planes, jeeps and boats for scouting target locations and actual production shoots; coordinating film and fees permits, especially with sensitive indigenous peoples in fragile eco-systems; hiring local crew and organizing accommodations; as well as coordinating interviews with governmental and private top executives.”


While there are no tax incentives for international productions, a proposal has been presented to the Peruvian government. “They are currently in the process of creating a Bill to exonerate all taxes for any international production coming to Peru, and that will probably come into operation in 2013,” Castellano explains. “I hope it comes through, as there are two potential features for next year, but the producers really want these incentives passed [or], otherwise, they will head to Mexico.” Recent productions shot in Peru include “Python Hunters,” The Bad Intentions, Report 51, Postales, Cementerio General, Law of the Jungle and City of Gardens.



Populated by 190 million, culturally diverse citizens and named as one of the top-ten economies in the world, the powerhouse of Brazil is certainly a cinematic force to be reckoned with. Boasting over 5,000 cities of eclectic architecture and a wealth of heritage and archeological sites ripe for location shooting, the country is currently the fourth biggest movie market for the U.S. FilmBrazil works in closely with international associations and government institutions to promote film and television projects with over 300 movies launched in 2010 alone — and the pace of production has yet to slow down.

The Brazilian Audiovisual Market presents several tax-credit mechanisms specifically conceived to finance international co-productions. In 2011, deals were made with production teams from the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Austria, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Scotland, Sweden, Nigeria and South Africa and other countries. The sponsorship and government funding available include additional income prizes, public biddings, the audiovisual sector fund and the incentive program for the improvement of quality of Brazilian cinema. Many film projects continue to enhance Brazil’s worldwide production-friendly reputation, including Fast Five, The Expendables, A Prophet and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn.


With a mix of classic European and modern architecture, small lost-in-time towns, outstanding lakes, mountains, deserts and some of the most dynamic waterfalls on Earth, Argentina will please filmmakers and tourists alike. The Comision Argentina de Filmaciones promotes and develops the cinematographic and audiovisual industry abroad, and there are a whole host of reasons to film here, including cost-effective production rentals, talented and experienced crewmembers, state-of-the-art infrastructure, exciting culture and year-round shooting from north to south. Some of the more recent productions shot here include Stealing Summers, The Last Elvis, Phase 7, Sidewalls, Chinese Take-Away and Patagonia.

The film industry is truly blossoming throughout South America, and there is much to be said for basing your production in this undeniably vibrant locale. And with the advent of greater government funding and tax incentives that are currently on the table (especially in countries like Colombia and Peru), it’s looking like the continent will continue to play a big role in cinematic history in 2012 and beyond.


pre_southamerica_columbia_13898Exploring the Peaks and Seas of Columbia

I had the privilege of spending eight weeks in the emerging economic powerhouse of Colombia earlier this year, and I witnessed an abundance of to-die-for, scenic filming locations. The country has recently experienced much social change — the government moved in five years ago to stamp out guerrilla and contraband dissidents and help pave the way for a tourism market, which is blossoming at well over a million visitors each year. With a host of film classics shot in some of the country’s more renowned scenic spots, Colombia now has a burgeoning film market that saw over 300 films, documentaries and short films in recent years. With its build-up of production infrastructure, crew expertise and experienced talent, Columbia possesses a year-round climate that’s ripe for filmmaking, especially now that an ongoing government investment is set to expand and grow annually.

Some of the stand-out places to visit in Columbia are the sprawling deserts of Punta Gallinas (based at the northern-most tip of South America) and the lush, green mountain-coffee plantations with their unique palm-tree groves of the Cocora Valley. The diversity in terrain was especially highlighted with moonscape-like vistas, spectacular peaks of Sierra Nevada del Cocuy (reaching over 5,000 meters in altitude), and the azure seas and jungle beaches of Tayrona National Park. Columbia is a country that offers every conceivable natural experience interspersed with a myriad of perfectly preserved colonial towns, such as Mompox, Barichara, Cartagena and Villa de Leyva.

The major cities of Bogota and Medellin possess a definite metropolitan vibe that’s most noticeable during the political and soccer rallies that take place on a regular basis in the plazas. And, in this population of dancers and entrepreneurs, one can’t go past the electric nightclubs where salsa reigns. The warmth and open-heartedness of the locals, particularly in the smaller townships or pueblos, make Colombians some of the most special people I have ever encountered during my worldly travels.

Nathan Hoturoa Gray is the best-selling author of Penguin Books’ “First Pass Under Heaven,” which describes his 4,000 kilometer trek along the Great Wall of China. See for a copy of his book and DVD as well as access to his photo galleries from around the world. If interested in purchasing his latest book “The Age of Fire,” which looks at where our species is heading in the ensuing 50 years, just click on the link below. 



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