It was our first time attending the Cartagena International Film Festival in Colombia, and it turned out to be a memorable experience.
Cartagena reminds us so much of the Philippines with its warm weather, music-and-film loving people, tropical fruits like mangoes, siniguelas, atis and papaya, as well as its tropical plants like sampaguitas.
At the 62nd edition of the Cartagena de Indias International Film Festival (FICCI), we were honored to be invited as one of the speakers in a panel composed of other members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) in an event they dubbed as “Conversatorio: Hollywood Foreign Press Association,” held at the Centro de Formacion de la Cooperacion Espanola (CFCE) Patio Central.
Other HFPA members invited to speak on the panel were Barbara Gasser from Austria, who talked about diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry, the impact and reflection on the Golden Globes as well as the reforms of the HFPA; and Gerardo Prat from Argentina, who talked about developments within the Hollywood industry defining Latinos (Latinx, white Latino, afro Latino), the usual practice in quotas to fit Latinos in productions in the USA; as well as showing some context and perspective on the internal discussion in Hollywood.
This writer talked about the philanthropy of the HFPA, a non-profit organization, and the $55 million that the organization has so far donated as well as the $5 million that the HFPA donated last year to over 90 organizations and educational programs, for the restoration of films that included 128 restored classic films, among other things.
Also present during the event were HFPA members Ruben V. Nepales from the Philippines and Barbaros Tapan from Turkey.
Moderated by Cartagena International Film Festival senior programmer-film curator-festival consultant and producer Hebe Tabachnik, the event is also part of the fifth edition of NIDO, the Colombian Audiovisual Industry Convention.
HFPA members present during the festival also presented the Golden Globe commemorative plaque to the festival general director Lina Rodriguez and the festival artistic director Felipe Aljure at the old FICCI on Calle de Tejadillo at the Old City in Cartagena, Colombia.
This year’s closing ceremony was held at the Teatro Adolfo Mejia (TAM).
In the evening program, a tribute was given to the Cinematographic Clan – the Durán, Mitrotti, and the Ventura families – who, due to their career cultivated a legacy in cinema for the country in each generation. Alexis Duran, Hyalmar Mitrotti and Joyce Ventura received the honors presented by Aljure.
The FICCI and Cine Color Group bestowed the Work in Progress (WIP) awards with $15,000 grants for post-production services to each project, which included, among others: Infra Red Fiction: Goodbye to the friend; Infra Red Documentary: Passengers; Infra Red Short: People like one; and Infra Red Puerto Lab: As four estacoes da juventude.
Centro Ático's short film and WIP awardee was La Marcha del Hambre. The Ibero-American Documentary chosen for the Oscars was El Eco by Tatiana Huezo. Entre las sombras Arden Mundos was the Ibero-American short film selected for the Oscars.
The closing ceremony also screened a selection of Colombian short films, including Color-ido by Estefanía Piñeres; Between the shadows worlds burn by Ismael García; Gualí by Rosa Patricia Perea; Hippomane Mancinella by Ricardo Muñoz; and Tape by Carlos Nieto. These films made Colombian national cinema one of the main protagonists, with stories told by Colombian filmmakers.
Aside from over a thousand members from the national and international movie industry, the festival was also attended by international filmmakers, including Sebastián Lelio, whose A Fantastic Woman won the Academy Best Foreign Language Film and earned a Golden Globe Best Picture – Non-English Language (formerly Foreign Language) nomination, both in 2028. FICCI honored Lelio with a tribute earlier in the festival.
We talked to Rodriguez, who has been the festival general director for 16 years, and artistic director Aljure, who has been in the post for five years. Below are excerpts of our interviews.
What are the challenges of being a director of the festival?
Rodriguez: It's about fundraising. To raise and find the resources and the alliance to make it possible is the most challenging effort. You realize that there are few resources and budgets allocated to culture or cinema. We are a cultural event. We are not entertainment. So, it's not easy in the cultures like Colombia’s with huge inequality and social gaps. It's a difficult reality for us.
Also, we have to put together a whole team, a professional and specialized team.
This city is fairly out of the country. It's not the main capital of the country. We're not Bogota. We're Cartagena. We are in the Caribbean. We are in a small city.
Aljure: It has the gratifying side, of course, when you look at the people during the festival and all the events that we do post and pre-festival because we are not only in Cartagena for five days. We are in Colombia and Ibero-America for 365 days.
Beyond that gratification, which is the engine that moves us and the motivation that gets the festival going and galvanizes us, is the difficulty of financing a free event like this because we don’t charge for anything.
Anyone from any social and economic condition, not to say race and belief, religion or whatever, who’s walking by and sees an empty seat in one of our screenings can just sit down and enjoy a film, can just walk in and enjoy a panel or a conference, can ask questions, and all of that.
It is a festival that aims to transform democracy through the transformation of the individual in an inclusive way. We are not an exclusive festival. We are an inclusive festival, a very sophisticated one. People sometimes confuse exclusive with sophistication. We are not exclusive, we’re inclusive.
Where do you get your films?
Rodriguez: A committee looks for films from all over the world. We have open calls in August, every year.
But the main accent of the festival is [Ibero-]American and Colombian films. We are international, of course, with many films around the world. But the main ones are Colombian and Latin American films. Also films from Spain and Portugal.
How different is this year’s festival from past festivals?
Rodriguez: It's an open festival. It attracts a young audience. It's very special for this festival because you see the people in the theaters, they're young people watching films. And this is amazing because if you go to festivals in Europe or also in the US, the festival goers are older, 30 or 40 and above.
And here, you see young people everywhere. They're curious, they're so hungry for films. And young people in Colombia love cinema.
We're different because we have a very special emphasis on the community. We go to the neighborhoods, schools and public libraries.
Cartagena is full of beautiful houses but an hour from here, you can see all the misery, poverty, very difficult economic situation and reality. We go there and talk to them. And that intention is to connect, to bridge, and to build with the community. And you can feel this is a free festival, an open doors festival.
Last night, we also had our India Catalina Awards which is like our Golden Globe Awards. We had this amazing moment with all the industry people. That happened at the Big Square.
The awards is 39 years old. It is the oldest awards show in the country of Colombia.
Aljure: We are seeing that people are losing their fear. Regulations are relaxing a little bit more than the pandemic year in which we had a suspension that hit us right in the middle of the festival. It was a massive financial blow for the festival. Last year, which was our first normal festival, the 61st edition, and this year which emphasizes Cyber Feudalism in our 62nd edition.
You can see growing numbers of people coming here. You can see the city with youngsters with our festival bags and badges and all that. I certainly see reasons to be more optimistic. But then again, when the virus, the COVID happened, we were very optimistic, and we didn’t see it coming. There was that kind of silent warning inside us, and we thought, “Oh well, we hope it (pandemic) doesn’t happen again.” But it might happen again.
How do you see the future of the film industry in Colombia?
Rodriguez: It’s not easy just like in the rest of the world. I know it's changing so fast and there are many things to watch. The dynamic of the new platforms and the way that this industry is going is scary in a way but Colombian films need to bond with the audience. We have a fracture here because, in Colombia, we like the North American Hollywood content and all that.
For example, my daughter is 16 years old and she prefers to see Hollywood films. And it's difficult for her to go and watch a Colombian film and this is a huge problem. We carry that problem from the past but we have to work on that. Because we have good production values in the Colombian film industry and there are good stories.
The diversity of our narratives is there but people in general, they don't really want to see Colombian or Latin American films. We need to work on that. It's a huge challenge we need to face and work with all in the industry, the governments and the national direction of cinema here in Colombia.
With this entity or institution that promotes all the Colombian films in Colombia and the world, we have to work in a huge collaboration, and everyone has to work hard to achieve that.
How important is it to have organizations like the HFPA attend film festivals like these?
Aljure: From our side, it is very important to obtain not only the amplification, which in the end is the final benefit for us, but also to get the visit so people can see and feel firsthand, not through declarations, the sense of what we do. Because when you give an interview and all that and if you work within a film festival, you can be biased because you love what you’re doing and of course, you’re going to say it’s good.
But when you do get people who come here and go to the different events, go to the academic conversations, the industry events, all the screenings inside theaters and in the streets, and to the Q & As after that, it’s unbeatable. You are here, you see it. It’s your own judgment.
It is also good to have that certainty that what you are writing about, that you saw it. That is something that you can sign up for because it’s not that you are just trusting your source, or getting an interview and saying, oh well, that sounds interesting. No, you were there, and you saw it. The veracity of what you write will be enhanced and will be better. We both benefit from it.
How do you see the future of the festival in a few years?
Aljure: The festival has opened sections to parts of our population that were not included here before like the indigenous cinema, the Afro cinema, the peripheric cinema. And I am not talking about the periphery of the geography only, but the periphery of the cities, the poverty around the city of Cartagena and the capitals and all that. They have their section.
Cartagena didn’t use to have their own section so people were like, hey listen, it’s our town. We are hosting and our films are not being shown there.
We walked away from the attitude of, “Oh, you don’t have quality.” But to an attitude of, “Let us see what is lacking there.”
So, if there is a script failure or something, we promote workshops on script writing. We have workshops on photography and directing, too. And you see in all those categories how those levels have been growing and improving.
Because sometimes people just need an opportunity, a platform. And we have given them that.
Looking forward, we never gave up on our Ibero-American vocation. That’s what we are. The Ibero-American cinema is our core.
A lot of our categories come from those countries. We have cinema of the world, documentaries, experimental sections and animation. We keep promoting Work-In-Progress (WIP) and giving prizes and stimuli to such films.
I would like to attach our future to the development of these processes that will expand, reinforce them and not make changes just to make things look new. Because these processes need not only the opportunity but the time to grow. — LA, GMA Integrated News