When Ecuadorian filmmaker Diego Araujo was growing up in the eighties and nineties, his country would produce around one good movie a year. More recently, however, that figure has risen to at least a dozen.
This week’s inaugural edition of the Ecuadorian Film Festival in New York (EFFNY) provides a window into that emerging renaissance. Ecuadorian cinema has been on the rise in the last decade and a half. This surge can perhaps be traced to the breakout hit, “Ratas, ratones, rateros,” the 1999 directorial debut of Sebastián Cordero — the country’s most famous filmmaker — and EDOC, the all-documentary film festival that just completed its 14th edition in May.
When it started in 2002, EDOC screened only four Ecuadorian films; the 2015 edition contained 13, along with a record attendance of 15,730 guests in Quito. The EFFNY opens with Dario Aguirre’s touching documentary “César’s Grill,” which chronicles his efforts to reconnect with this father and save his family’s dying restaurant. Other highlights include Diego Araujo’s superb “Feriado” (“Holiday”), about a teenager’s infatuation during a family crisis; “Eighty Seven,” directed by Anahí Hoeneisen and Daniel Andrade, about a trio of friends reconnecting years later; and the documentary “The Importance of Being Satya Bicknell Rothon,” by Juliana Khalifé Ponce, which addresses LGBT rights when a lesbian couple adopts a child.
Indiewire spoke with EDOC’s Artistic Director María Campaña Ramia, filmmakers Sebastián Cordero, Diego Araujo, Javier Andrade, and María Fernanda Restrepo to elaborate on these 10 reasons why Ecuadorian cinema is on the rise.
1. Ecuador has a film institute.
According to Cordero, the biggest reason for the growth in Ecuadorian cinema was the creation of the Consejo Nacional de Cinematographia, CnCine Film Institute in 2006. The institute started a simple system of providing public funds to support local cinema. It was part of a plan to put Ecuador more on the map in terms of arts and culture as well as tourism. Although the funds are helpful, they cannot finance a whole film. Ibermedia and other organizations can assist, especially with international co-productions.
2. One company can go a long way.
Cordero also co-founded Carnaval Cine, a company to develop, produce, and distribute films with international appeal. “We want to take it beyond just a production company and develop the industry here,” he said. “We’ve had access to things that I want to share with the people here.” Carnaval Cine hosts an annual screenwriting lab in Cuenca to provide mentoring, lectures, and master classes for 5-6 projects. “We hope to see fruits of that,” Cordero said. “It has a lot to do with a general need to want our industry and [film] activity to develop more. There are a lot of great projects, but we have to break through.”
3. Newcomers have new resources.
EDOC also has a mentoring program, EDoc-Lab. María Campaña Ramia explained that the EDOC festival has had a noticeable impact on how films and filmmakers are seen. “The festival brings to Ecuador the idea of creative documentary at a time when there were no fiction film festivals,” she said. Traveling from Quito to Guayaquil to smaller cities, EDOC is like a school for students and filmmakers to shape their view of the world. “Attendees are exposed to quality documentaries from around the world, and get the chance to talk to and share experience with filmmakers and colleagues,” said Ramia, citing a 2009 visit by documentarian Ross McElwee as “a flashpoint. After he came to EDOC, there were several first-person documentaries.”
4. Film festivals have been receptive to more Ecuadorian films.
Filmmaker Diego Araujo emphasized festival exposure as a way of getting more visibility for Ecuadorian films. On the festival circuit, he explained, “initially, you meet European producers, who are interested in you because there was virtually no one. It was Argentina and Mexico, because they had not heard of any Ecuadorians. Most people had not seen any of our films. That has changed. We have had films in international festivals. It’s still small compared to, say, Chile, but we’re on our way.”
5. Ecuadorian cinema is developing its own unique identity.
Araujo said that there was a “novelty factor” when he started making films. “People wanted to see themselves on the screen, especially when 90% of what is showing in Ecuador are American films. Now, when you have one Ecuadorian film each month, or three to five playing at the same time, I feel that in a way we’re all sharing the pie. Most of the films being made in Ecuador now are by first-time directors, telling personal or even autobiographical visions, like auteur visions. They are intimate, independent films. Some do have broader appeal, but they are more niche. It’s really exciting to be part of this moment. My logic is to work in Ecuador because it’s an interesting time.”
6. The new generation of Ecuadorian filmmakers is coming home.
Javier Andrade, who earned his MFA in film at Columbia University in New York, said that an influx of talent returned to Ecuador after schooling and started working in various aspects of production on the homefront. “Mike Leigh spoke at Columbia and told us ‘Whatever you can do, make sure it’s something only you could make,'” Andrade said. He took that to heart, and went back to his hometown of Portoviejo to make a film that “reflected my upbringing and curiosities that were awakened there. It was a true crime film about love, family, and punk rock that happened blocks from my home.” That film, “Porcelain Horse,” was Ecuador’s 2014 Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film.
7. The country’s filmmakers are a diverse bunch.
Filmmakers are from the country and the city, and have all different points of view. There are political and personal films from different geographic regions, in different genres. Notably, the female to male ratio of filmmakers is roughly 50:50, and also evenly split between documentary and features.
8. Ecuadorian documentaries are consistently strong and reach a wide audience.
María Fernanda Restrepo indicated that people tend to watch more Ecuadorian documentaries than features. “Our documentaries are unpretentious stories told in a simple and direct way,” she said. “They talk about our history and personal stories. People tend to watch more documentaries because they are interesting, and touch more people than fictional films in Ecuador.” In addition to Restrepo’s “Mi Corazón en Yambo,” documentaries like “La Muerte de Jaime Roldós” by Lisandra Rivera and Manolo Sarmiento, about the death of Ecuador’s president, have been integral to the success of Ecuadorian cinema on a local and international scale.
9. Digital video has made a difference.
Restrepo said that digital video certainly makes shooting a documentary cheaper, but it does not make it easier. “There are a 10,000 ways to make a documentary,” he said. “It requires more time than a fiction film, but it is important to find the right way to tell a story. Having digital video, you can go with the flow and be ready with your camera so you don’t miss an opportunity. It’s direct cinema.” Meanwhile, the ability to work on the cheap has helped countless filmmakers overcome the relatively sparse resources. One of the better-known instances is Iván Mora Manzano’s 2012 feature “Sin Otono, Sin Primavera,” which the pianist-turned-filmmaker shot with a 7D Digital SLR Canon as well as taking on editing and scoring duties.
10. Ecuadorian cinema is a country of new voices, and they’re still battling to be heard.
Most of the filmmakers raising Ecuador’s profile have been celebrated for their first efforts. Their next steps will be critical. But that is where this national film industry hopes to sustain its initial success and progress. The challenge is already coming together: In May, Variety reported that 16 national titles released last year garnered only 84,000 total admissions — more than 50% less than previous years. Like everyone else, Ecuadorian filmmakers are battling with the ubiquity of Hollywood in theaters around the world. Fortunately, they still have the aforementioned resources to keep their careers active. The first cycle has ended — and it has shown promise. Now Ecuadorian filmmakers must give their audiences more reasons to come back to the theaters.
The Ecuadorian Film Festival in New York will take place June 17-20 at the Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick Street. More information is available here.