Central American cinema is slowly coming into its own. After decades of being dwarfed by its neighboring film industry in Mexico, and paling in comparison with the budding cinema scene in countries such as Colombia, Chile, and Venezuela (let alone industry giants of the region like Brazil and Argentina), there have been signs that the Caribbean and Pacific-lined countries of the region are ready to step onto the global cinema stage. We saw it just last year with Jayro Bustamante’s masterful Guatemalan feature Ixcanul. Set in the foothills of a volcano and focused on a young Mayan girl’s story, the film went on to be named Guatemala’s Foreign Language Oscar Film submission and while it didn’t get that coveted nomination, it got critics and audiences alike looking to the growing film community in Central America.
At the heart of that community, and hoping to further its ambitious and its reach is the Costa Rica International Film Festival (CRFIC). Now in its fifth year, the bustling fest has shown itself eager to work closely with local filmmakers to help produce and showcase their work, not only screening national films but also setting up a number of workshops and labs to give directors and producers alike the chance to thrive in what they hope will be long-running careers. Lest you think CRFIC is only focused on Costa Rica, the international flavor of its offerings as well as its broader mission statement should put you at ease. This is especially the case when it comes to the work of their neighboring countries in Central America. “I think we have a responsibility to support new directors from there,” the festival’s industry coordinator Karina Avellán Troz told Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “They don’t have the support of their governments.”
There can be no healthy film industry without a strong roster of movers and shakers. Namely: producers. Directors and actors may get the bulk of our compliments when we catch a movie, but behind every project that makes it to a film festival, let alone to a multiplex near you, is a savvy producer who worked tirelessly to make that happen. Wanting to get a better picture of the budding industry in the region, we took a look at the people making deals and championing the work at the Costa Rica Film Festival. For that we browsed the Presentaciones Especiales and the Competencia Centroamericana de Largometraje sections while also peeking at the Works in Progress projects present at the fest. Featuring some seasoned vets as well as some rookies to watch, here’s our list of 10 Central American movie producers you should know.
Jayro Bustamante (Guatemala)
This Guatemalan director turned heads when his first feature film, Ixcanul, screened at the Berlin Film Festival, earning him the Silver Bear award. It quickly became one of the most well-regarded projects to come out of Central America in the past decade, becoming Guatemala’s Oscar submission in 2015. It was the culmination of a string of successes for the director who’d studied at the Conservatoire Libre du Cinéma Français in Paris and had earned awards for the many short films he’d directed. He’s producing 1991, a French-Guatemalan co-production directed by Sergio Ramirez which is set in the Central American country during that war-torn year.
Mariana Murillo (Costa Rica)
Murillo, who studied Film Production at ECAM, won the Best Producer Award from the short film festival Cortogenia in 2011. Her first project as a producer, El sonido de la cosas premiered as part of the Moscow International Film Festival where it won the Kommersant Weekend Prize. She’s currently producing Ceniza negra, directed by Sofía Quirós, a magically realist tale with a twelve year-old protagonist, and Zanfona, Ariel Escalante’s second feature.
Julio López (Mexico)
Born in Mexico but with deep roots to El Salvador and Guatemala (where his mother and father are from, respectively), López slowly gravitated towards documentary filmmaking after falling in love with photojournalism while in college. As his projects suggest, he’s very drawn to the violence that ravaged Central America in the late twentieth century He directed La batalla del volcán, a nonfiction film dealing with the 1989 Ofensiva hasta el tope (“To the top offensive”) which was the major skirmish of the El Salvador civil war. He also produced Marcela Zamora’s El cuarto de los huesos, about the forensic team set to identify the many remains in the country’s mass graves from that very same conflict, as well as her follow-up, Los ofendidos, which deals with a more personal facet of that civil war history.
Paz Fábrega (Costa Rica)
One of the most promising filmmakers in her native Costa Rica, Fábrega studied Communication at the Universidad de Costa Rica and Photography at Colegio Universitario de Alajuela. She earned recognition with her first film Agua fría de mar. Her film Viaje premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and made her the first female filmmaker to finish a second feature in the Central American country. She’s serving as a producer on Alexandra Latishev’s Medea, a film that bills itself as a look on a young female rugby player who’s living in denial of her own pregnancy.
Alexandra Latishev (Costa Rica)
Born to a Russian father, this Costa Rican filmmaker is a graduate of the Nueva Escuela de Cine y Televisión at Universidad Véritas. She first came to prominence due to the strength of her short film Irene. In 2011, she co-founded with Nicolás Wong, La Linterna Films, a film production company committed to developing new projects. As she gears up to direct her first feature film, Medea, she’s also serving as a producer on Paz Fábrega’s next film, Desasosiego, which looks to continue the two filmmakers’ interest in feminist-driven stories about the female body.
Joaquín Ruano (Guatemala)
Having studied screenwriting at the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica in Mexico and film production in the Brighton Film School in England, Ruano set his eyes in the burgeoning Guatemalan film industry. He established Producciones Concepción as part of that mission, producing Sergio Ramirez’s first feature film Distancia, which played festivals around the world. He went on to produce La Asfixia, Guatemalan director Ana Isabel Bustamante’s debut documentary film. He’s also currently working with Andres Rodriguez producing his film Zafra, about “the return of a traveller, an immigrant back from the north.”
Ernesto Jara (Costa Rica)
Jara studied photography and film production in Costa Rica. In 2003, he founded La Pecera productions through which he’s produced various films, both fiction and nonfiction. His first documentary, El codo del diablo, won the Public Award at the 2014 Costa Rica International Film Festival. He’s currently producing the documentary Asi nacemos, an intimate look at three women’s birthing experiences as a way to ask how modern-day medicine has changed our notion of that most precious life-giving moment.
Isabella Gálvez (Panama)
This Panamenian producer is part of the collective Mente Publica which has been mixing educational programs (including free series of film workshops in Production, Directing and Editing) alongside a more traditional film development and distribution. She produced the weed comedy Kenke as well as the Panama City real estate documentary Caos de la ciudad, both directed by Enrique Pérez Him. She’s most recently worked on Ana Endara’s La felicidad del sonido, which is, as its title suggests, a documentary about the joy of sounds.
Camila Yglesias (Costa Rica)
Having studied visual arts in the Universidad de Costa Rica, Yglesias eventually moved into a career in P.R. before founding La Comuna, a production and film collective. She’s currently co-producing Nicolás Pacheco’s feature film La pasión de Nella Barantes, which centers on a woman who, upon playing Mary in a local procession decides to dedicate her life to helping the poor, if only she could keep her sanity in the process.
Gloria Carrión (Nicaragua)
The Nicaraguan filmmaker has written and directed a series of short documentary and fiction films that have been screened in national and international film festivals. She has a Masters Degree in Documentary Filmmaking from Universidad del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina; a Filmmaking Diploma from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University; and a Msc. in Environment and Development from the London School of Economics, United Kingdom. Carrión has been serving as a producer on her first full length documentary feature, Del fuego que seremos (also known as Heredera del viento). The personal doc looks challenges the myth of the Sandinista Revolution through a look at her personal family story.