The media – and feature films especially – influence how we perceive countries, how we imagine them to be, especially if we haven’t had the chance to visit or experience them ourselves. Apart from “hard” factors such as tax incentives or legal frameworks, a country’s ability to attract visitors, talented professionals or businesses and funding therefore depends on its creative potential and – as Robert Govers illustrates so well in his latest book – on the ability to be imaginative as community.
During our visit of Uruguay we had the opportunity to meet some of the country’s pioneering filmmakers – among them Pepi Gonçalvez.
Co-founder of The Producers Meeting at the International José Ignacio film festival, Pepi in this interview shares her thoughts on Uruguay’s attractiveness for filmmakers and feature film productions.
Pepi, you are the CEO of Motor Films, co-founder of Este Audiovisual and also co-founder of The Procers Meeting at the International Jose Ignacio Film Festival. Do you remember what triggered your interest in film and the cultural industries?
I was born into a family of artists who love cinema. My father is a teacher, painter, writer and a cultural activist. My mother is a sculptor and teacher. Inés, my sister is a visual artist, art director and teacher. I saw “Solaris” by Tarkovsky when I went to school. I chose to study film production in Brazil, inspired by a group of students from Rio de Janeiro who breathed cinema. It was a trip that changed my life.
Looking back now, has your perception of the film production business changed over the years – in Uruguay or internationally?
Our industry reinvents itself every day. There are technological changes, greater access to the Internet, new formats and forms of consumption. Social media open new business opportunities all the time.
It is necessary, as a country with a strong cultural tradition, to develop a versatile audiovisual industry that allows us to export content to the rest of the world.
We are in a good moment now to advance the film business: be more competitive in costs, invest in the international marketing of Uruguayan cinema, strengthen the development of quality products for export, and add creative value.
In Punta del Este we founded Este Audiovisual and The Producers Meeting with the José Ignacio International Film Festival because we live in a perfect place to do business. We want our event to be a reference for the regional and international audiovisual industry for the next thirty years.
Briefly, can you tell us which projects you have been involved in so far, and the main lessons you’ve learned from each, as teacher, director, producer?
I was part of the so-called “New Uruguayan cinema” since 1986. I started as a student and worked for twenty years in advertising cinema. I participated as producer in fiction films, co-productions whith partners from Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Portugal. I also made documentaries with directors from Argentina, Brazil, U.S. and Uruguay. Moreover, I participated providing services for some Hollywood productions.
I learned that, to make movies in Uruguay, you have to open up and be willing to work with the rest of the world.
I worked in the Production Department of the International School of Cinema and TV in San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV), Cuba. There I learned to think about strategies to take the talent of emerging cinematographies to the international market. This is essential to make our industry sustainable. It includes everything: from the training of producers to the regulation of the sector through public policy.
Our activities are strategic for the image and development of the country, but often the political sector does not perceive it. The technological impact of cinema makes it a highly efficient cultural tool to build the country’s brand.
When Prince gave the Oscar to the Best Original Song to the Uruguayan Jorge Drexler in 2005, it was two minutes twenty of free Primetime for our country brand around the world. The impact was immense and it benefited us all.
As film producer based in Uruguay, do you experience the country as particularly open to – and supportive of – cultural projects?
Uruguay is making a slow but conscious process towards cultural industries. Beginning to recognize and value them from the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining and other agencies. We always want it to be faster and deeper, but this is a society that takes time for everything. But the steps are taking place in the right direction.
Imagine you meet a group of international film producers and investors at a conference. They have not heard about Uruguay as location for filming or post-production and just spoke to New Zealand, California and Slovakia about setting up shop there. What would you tell them, in terms of why they should choose Uruguay instead?
Uruguay has the best conditions to film a “low stress project”. Short distances, friendly people, diversity of landscapes and people, very good food and cultural atmosphere. It is the perfect place to work and get away from the noise. It’s an excellent place to create.
In a nutshell, what is the Producers Meeting all about – and which new insights have you gained from this year’s, 2019 edition?
We founded The Producers Meeting and gathered more than seventy colleagues from Argentina, Uruguay and some other countries in the JIIFF, which is my favorite summer festival. The selection of films is one of its high points, next to the landscape where the projections are made.
We have already started working on the next edition of The Producers Meeting, in which we hope to summon more than one hundred colleagues. This is a privileged space for our colleagues in the region to learn about the benefits of co-producing with us, fiscally and also artistically. The installation of an area with tax benefits for the audiovisual industry generates a lot of expectation. Also the creation of new systems of promotion to the industry from the State.
Do you observe growing interest among cultural entrepreneurs and investors from overseas in working and living in Uruguay?
Yes, our country has been capturing for some years relevant figures of international culture who decided to come and live in Uruguay. It has been the case of Julio Bocca, Dominique Sanda or Martin Amis. A greater public investment in the culture of the country also corresponds to greater private investment. We have to be excellent hosts.
You also serve as a juror of cinematographic competitions nationally and internationally. How is Uruguay portrayed or referred to in international productions (if at all)?
Our country is not usually mentioned in the work of foreign artists, although there are some wonderful exceptions, like Simpsons chapters. In the cultural fields the name of Uruguay is not so exotic, generally soccer, writers and some musicians come to mind. The cinema is more recent, but it is contributing to the visibility of this small country.
Looking at the Latin American market more broadly, which trends or developments do you observe, likely to affect Uruguay’s attractiveness as country for film producers to invest in, or for creative talent to move to?
The feature film market is strongly influenced by production costs. Countries with devaluations of their currency may be more attractive to produce films in. This situation is not sustainable over time, but may affect the competitiveness of specific countries in the short term.
How strong do you consider Uruguay’s brand and reputation at the moment, especially with regards to its potential to attract feature film productions?
Our brand is taking its first steps with the circulation of excellent Uruguayan films around the world, like the prize for the Best Direction at World Cinema Dramatic given to the film “ Sharks “ by Lucía Garibaldi, in the last edition of Sundance Film Festival.
There is an opportunity to enhance this brand thanks to strong tax incentives that lead to creating the Punta del Este Film Studios. This project will provide the facilities for international projects of great importance to the country through our spa. This is mainly due to the joint work of the public sector with entrepreneurs.
Your five bits of advice to international film producers considering Uruguay as location to work and invest in?
- Contact the nearest Uruguayan Embassy and express your interest in coming to invest and work in the country
- Contact Uruguay XXI
- Contact the National Direction of Cinema and Audiovisual (ICAU)
- Contact the Office of “Locaciones Montevideanas” in the Municipality of Montevideo
- Contact a local producer
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Together with my colleagues I hope that the Eastern region of Uruguay can be the perfect place for the development of the audiovisual industry in the medium term. We are working with different public and private entities now to make this happen.
Thank you, Pepi.
Connect with Pepi Gonçalvez on LinkedIn.
Our interview with Pepi Gonçalvez is part of our special report on Uruguay. More about the country and why you might want to consider living, working or investing there here.