When Ariel Escalante Meza is Domingo and the mist premiering at Un Certain Regard on Wednesday, it will be the last appearance at a major festival for a Costa Rican filmmaker after the world premieres of Clara Sola at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs last year and land of ashes at Critics’ Week in 2019. After years of relative obscurity, filmmakers from the tiny Central American country are delivering on the promise of trailblazers like Paz Fabrega, whose Cold sea water (Agua Fria De Mar) won the Tiger Award in Rotterdam in 2010.
Costa Rican filmmakers form a close-knit community, sharing their expertise and often switching roles in each other’s films. Funding remains an ongoing battle. The local Fauno fund allocates around $300,000 to $400,000 a year to local talent, which barely moves the dial on all but the most micro-budget productions, leaving bigger movies like Clara Sola rely on international co-productions.
Local filmmakers, many of whom have studied and trained overseas, cite the need for a film law to direct financial support to the community. Offering Hope is a new incentive package that comes into effect this month, granting an 11.7% tax reduction and exemption from local taxes on materials and goods. An enthusiastic local community sees this as a start, but hopes there will be more support in the years to come.
Escalante Meza received support for its small budget Domingo and the mist the Doha Film Institute and the Panama International Film Festival. The film was set up as a Costa Rica-Qatar co-production and shot in Costa Rica for three and a half weeks about a year ago with a
crew of seven. “It was a very punk experience that we’re all very proud of,” says the devout Marxist, who studied film school in Cuba and Montreal. The story follows a man who refuses to give way to developers and mixes reality with magical realism.
“It’s difficult for a film to be entirely Costa Rican; many have been international co-productions,” adds Escalante Meza. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a 100% Costa Rican film travel beyond our borders. Other countries in South America can produce their own films entirely, and that’s something I look forward to.
Today, Costa Rica has a film school – at Veritas University in San José – but it’s private, making attendance prohibitive for some. “Every country committed to seeing itself through its cinema needs a state-funded film school,” he notes.
Escalante Meza DP and producer Nicolas Wong Diaz studied at Veritas, while many people he knows attended other film schools in the region, such as the Cuban Institute of Art and the film industry. “There was this influx of young people in their twenties who were coming back to Costa Rica with a broader perspective on the world of cinema,” explains Wong Diaz.
Alexandra Latishev, whose Medea was released in 2017, also studied at Veritas and cites Fabrega and Hilda Hidalgo (Of love and other demons) as sources of inspiration in his career. “As a director, it was very important for me to have other female directors as direct references,” she says.
Latishev raised funds for Medea through a crowdfunding campaign and private investment, and set up a co-production with Chile under the San Sebastián works-in-progress program, which helped with post-production. She is currently working on her second film Delirium, a drama about a daughter and her mother who go to live with a grandmother who has dementia. The project has elements of thriller and psychological horror and is set to premiere in early 2023.
Nathalie Alvarez Mesen Clara Sola was a Sweden-Costa Rica co-production that took advantage of the filmmaker’s dual nationality. Producer Marcelo Quesada Mena of Pacifica Gray notes that the production received international funding before local funding. “It helped the film garner a much larger budget than the average Costa Rican film,” he says. “We were lucky enough to work there, with amazing producers from Sweden, Belgium, the United States and Germany.”
land of ashes Director Sofia Quiros raised the money for her film through state funding, co-production, and lab support. She is working on her second film Mother Pajara, which will focus on a young boy who grows up with a sick mother who fantasizes that her neighbor could be his new mother. This project will follow the same funding path.
“There are films that are made without co-production, only with the [El Fauno] funds, but they are very intimate films with few places and few characters. I would love to do a more guerrilla film in the future, but right now my stories require other forms of production,” says Quiros. “Each time a national film triumphs, we all grow and celebrate.