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Dominican Republic Production on the Rise

Variety logo Variety 4/2/2017 Anna Marie de la Fuente
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Releasing an unprecedented average of 20 homegrown films a year since 2014, the Dominican Republic held its first cinema confab, the Congreso Nacional de Cine, over March 24 – 25, where authorities and the audiovisual sector convened to hammer out ways to build on some of the most impressive gains in the Caribbean or Central America.

Per findings from public-sector film entity DGCine, the Dominican Republic made a profit of nearly $50 million from combined earnings stemming from foreign location shoots, box office sales of local pics, and taxes collected between June 2011 and June 2016.

“Our film fund has been sourced from DGCine’s operating budget and we’re exploring ways to grow it,” said DGCine film commissioner Yvette Marichal of the 20 million peso ($422,967) per annum FonProCine fund that currently backs only two full-length features, two documentaries and four shorts per year as well as some projects in development.

Thanks to the 2010 film law’s tax incentives for local and foreign productions, more filmmakers have tapped private investors to make their films. The Dominican Republic film law offers a freely transferable tax credit of 25% based on a minimum investment of $500,000 on qualified international productions in the country. VAT and custom duties are exempted from eligible production-related expenses.

Investors in Dominican features may deduct 100% of their investment, subject to a cap of 25%  of the income tax otherwise payable.

The results of increased private investment in local cinema are more than dramatic in a country that saw an average of two-to-three homegrown films a year for nearly three decades prior to the film law. “I couldn’t have made my film without the support of the law,” said Jose Maria Cabral, whose latest pic “Carpinteros” (“Woodpeckers”) is closing IFF Panama and is the first Dominican film ever to have competed at Sundance.

“Being able to secure more funding allows me to invest in more shoot days, more crew, and make riskier projects,” he said, although he has made broader more box-office friendly comedies to reassure investors as well. Film Factory, which boarded “Carpinteros” at Ventana Sur is about to close two to three deals for the pic.

The country has seen a glut of comedies in recent years, many of which have outperformed Hollywood pics. In 2015, glutton comedy “Tuberculo Gourmet” outdid “Fast & Furious 7.” Its sequel “Tuberculo Presidente” was also number one in the box office last year, outpacing “Batman vs. Superman,” which came in at number three.

“Some of these comedies aren’t very good, they imitate the worst of Hollywood, but some good documentaries are being made,” said Nelson Carlos de los Santos whose drama “Cocote” is competing at IFF Panama’s first-look section, Primera Mirada.

“We are living exciting times in DR filmmaking, in 2017, we finally won access to class A film festivals,” said Marichal, listing Cabral’s “Carpinteros” at Sundance; Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas’ “Samba,” in competition at Tribeca and Yanillys Perez’ (“Jeffrey”) acceptance at Cannes’ L’Atelier for her project in development, “Candy Town.”

Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios, a state-of-the-art water tank facility run by Lantica Media, is building smaller sound stages to accommodate limited-budget productions. Led by VP Alberto Martinez, two of Lantica Media’s films have recently shot there, “Amigo D” and “La Barberia,” with more local productions in the works. In January 2016, “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” made use of the studio. Jonas Cuaron’s “Z” (“Zorro”), a reboot of the Zorro franchise, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, “will most likely start principal photography in the fall,” per a Lantica Media spokesperson.

Pinewood DR has also been actively training crew, especially for its water tanks. Six film schools have popped up, the latest being the Altos de Chavon Film School, which opened in January. DGCine has invested up to 34 million pesos ($719,000) in audiovisual-themed workshops, seminars and courses between 2014 and 2016.

“A whole new generation of talent is emerging; we’ll have to increase the film fund or deploy other measures to accommodate them,” said Marichal.

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