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Carlos I. Benavides on Costa Rican Cinema Today and ‘Red Princesses’

Carlos I. Benavides on Costa Rican Cinema Today and 'Red Princesses'


“Princesas Rojas”
(Red Princesses),
directed by Laura Astorga, is Costa Rica’s submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film 2014. It is the first feature of
Laura Astorga through which she recreates her own childhood mixed with elements of fiction.

The story begins at the Nicaraguan border in the 1980s. 11 year old Claudia and her younger sister experience the street fighting first-hand outside their
car window. Their parents are Sandinista activists and, although the family is now escaping Nicaragua to neighboring Costa Rica, the struggle continues.
Their parents fire off terse commands and the girls are packed off to their relatives. There’s no other way. Claudia hordes her treasured collection of
revolutionary badges and longs for the time when she was a young pioneer. She doesn’t really know what her parents do. Passports are forged, there are
nocturnal meetings and car number plates are switched. One day, her mother disappears. They say she’s gone to Miami. The children piece together fragments
that give them an insight into their parents’ dilemma of trying to balance their political struggle with family life. The film focuses on the point of view
of the two sisters who are very close, as they learn more than they are able to cope with, but too little really to understand. The film is of
revolutionary struggle as seen through the eyes of children.

“Red Princesses”
was supported by Cinergia, the Audiovisual
Promotion Fund of Central America and Cuba) in 2007 in script development and again in 2010 in the category of Feature Film Production. The project was
first presented internationally at the International Film Festival of Guadalajara (FICG[1]) 2012 En
Construye (Works in Progress). It was one of four productions which received support from Ibermedia in 2013. It was a coproduction of Costa Rica, Spain and
Venezuela.

The film had its world premiere at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival in the section dedicated to children and adolescents, Generation 14plus. It later competed as part of the official
selection of feature films from the 25th International Festival Cinelatino: Rencontres de Toulouse, held in the French city of Toulouse in March 2013, one
of the most important film festivals in the world for Iberoamerican film coproduction.

It went on to receive awards in the category of Debut Film in Festivals in Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF), in Venezuela (Festival
de Cine de Margarita), at the Festival de Cine Paz con la Tierra San José Costa Rica where it won the Audience Award, and the Awards for Best Art Direction
and Best Production, Icaro where it won for Best Script and Best Art Production. It has also shown in Festival Filmar Switzerland, and Festival
Internacional de Cine de Mar del Plata.

This writer met producer Marcela Esquivel Jiménez and Carlos I. Benavides,
credited as the film’s Technical Director, when they attended FICG Market in March 2013 where they were presenting their newest work in progress and
showing “Princesas Rojas” (Red Princesses) in the official selection.

Marcela Esquivel Jiménez and Carlos Benavides work with other recent film school graduates. The following interview with them gives an insight into the
state of film today in Costa Rica, and by deduction, the state of the art in all the Americas in the near future.

Although Costa Rica has no formal film commission, the government through several different agencies has always been very supportive of film activities and
audiovisual production in Costa Rica. Non-union Costa Rican film crews, no minimums on foreign crews, competitive rates on rooms, and easy international
access offered by all major U.S. airline carriers make Costa Rica a location destination to consider. [2]

SL:
What stands out in my mind as we talk about what you all are doing, is the idea that many people — together since film school — from all over Latin
America are working together as a team in a company. It is not the mere fact of coproduction which is unique as much as the mix of people which is unique.

Carlos:
I’ll explain: Bisonte Producciones is a collective we founded about ten years ago. Its members are all from Costa Rica. We met while studying here and
started making short films. After a while, many of us went to study in different schools and countries: EICTV, NYU in Singapore, Chapman University while
others went to work and study in places like Spain, Argentina and México. A couple of years ago, many of us returned to Costa Rica, and we have continued
working together with short films under the Bisonte banner. We are also working on each other’s feature films and commercials. And on top of all that, many
of us are preparing our own first features as well.

There is another group named BEST Picture System. This is a production company founded while I was studying in Cuba at EICTV. (EICTV stands for Escuela
Internacional de Cine y TV, also known as Los Baños. It is the international film school founded in1986 by the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez with
his Nobel Prize money on land donated by Fidel Castro in San Antonio Los Baños, Cuba just outside of Havana.) The faculty and student body includes people
from Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Venezuela, México, Panamá, Cuba, Costa Rica. While I was with them, I worked as a script supervisor in Puro Mula[3],
directed by Enrique Pérez of Panamá, written by Pérez and Ariel Escalante of Costa Rica and shot in Guatemala, and Ovnis en Zacapa (UFOs in Zacapa),[4]
another Guatemalan film, directed by Marcos Machado of Costa Rica and written by Pérez of Panamá which raised money on Indiegogo. Vilma
Liella from Puerto Rico produced both films.

SL:
Who are other key people in these production companies?

Carlos:
Marcela Esquivel, the producer of Princesas Rojas, a film which premiered at the 2013 Berlinale, trained at EICTV as I did.

SL
: Red Princesses was a first for everyone. The director, co-director, producer and DP were all classmates together at EICTV?

Carlos
: Marcela, Julio Costantini (DP) and I were classmates at the EICTV and had worked together on many of our school projects. Marcela and I met Laura
Astorga, the director of Red Princesses, here in Costa Rica when we began working on the film. Oh, for which I was
credited as Technical Director.

SL
: Red Princesses was a first for everyone. The director, co-director, producer and DP were all classmates together at EICTV? [5]

Carlos
: Marcela, Julio Costantini (DP) and I were classmates at the EICTV and had worked together on many of our school projects. Marcela and I met Laura
Astorga, the director of Red Princesses, here in Costa Rica when we began working on the film. Oh, and the credit I have in that film is
as Technical Director.

Red Princesses

is the first feature of Costa Rican filmmaker Laura Astorga, and through which she recreates her childhood. It’s my story, yes, but mixed with elements of
fiction, she says.

This Costa Rican-Venezuelan coproduction in 2013 received awards in the category of Debut Film in Festivals in Los Angeles (LALIFF), in Venezuela (Festival
de Cine de Margarita), at the Festival de Cine Paz con la Tierra San José Costa Rica where it won the Audience Award, and the Awards for Best Art Direction
and Best Production, Icaro where it won for Best Script and Best Art Production. It has also shown in Toulouse, Berlinale Generation Plus, Festival Filmar
Switzerland, and Festival Internacional de Cine de Mar del Plata.

SL
: I understand that the filmmakers are currently [at the time of this interview] developing a thriller called The Hunt. Can you tell me
about it?

Carlos:
It is the first new noir film in Central America. In this film the characters are based in Costa Rica where the investigator, a stripper and a doctor (so
as not to reveal what’s going on) play in an obsessive story in the underworld in which each undergoes a transformation.

The script’s third draft was just completed this April [2013]. The Hunt is co-writtenEnrique Pérez Him, the Panamanian whose earlier film, Puro Mula[6], was a box
office success in Guatemala and which was picked up as one of twenty films by Ibermedia for TV throughout Latin America in a program launched a couple of
years ago. The writer-director of Pura Mula, Enrique, is also the writer of UFOs en Zacapa, now in post. Enrique and
Carlos will cowrite it.

Although the film is not “ethno”, it is still very Latin American. However, the issue of funding this $400,000 film is more difficult. This is not a
“typical” Latin American film which means that the typical European funds will not be available for it. The filmmakers might raise 15% for development from
Ibermedia and the rest of the development money from Costa Rica, plus in-kind work. They might look for coproduction partners in Colombia and perhaps
México, going to the pre-markets offered by those countries. Perhaps a special European producer, interested in Latin American coproduction could come
aboard if only they could find that person.

They might crowdfund from Vodo which is a sort of cross between Kickstarter and Netflix. They will first fund a short film to try that out and to
have as a calling card.

SL
: Thank you so much for this insight.

SL:
At the rate you all are going, I expect to see you succeed in making that long sought-after American Latino indie which will be smart enough to grab a
large Latino set of moviegoers from all the countries. Your English is fine and you are an integral part of such cross cultures as Argentina, Spain,
México, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and Cuba all working together to bring your visions to appreciative audiences throughout Latin American and the
world. If anyone can make that ever-elusive, ever-sought-for Latino film which brings that unique mixture of Latinos for all countries, including those who
are living in the U.S., I would say you and your colleagues would be the one to do it.

Suerte!!



[1]
Festival Internacional de Cinema at Guadalajara

[5]
EICTV stands for Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV, also known as Los Baños. It is the international film school founded in1986 by the Colombian
Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez on land donated by Fidel Castro in San Antonio Los Baños, Cuba. For more information see the chapter on
Cuba. For more information, see the Chapter Seven on Cuba.

[6]
Pura Mula

Director: Enrique Pérez Him (Writer-Director Chaos in the City aka Caos en la ciudad)

Writers: Ariel Escalante (Editor on Pura Mula, Editor on El Huaso) | Enrique Pérez Him

Producers: Vilma Liella | Vilma Lopez

Cinematographer: Arturo Juarez (DP on Chaos in the City)

Editor: Enrique Pérez Him

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