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Ecuador: An Audiovisual Sector Seeking to Organize for New and Future Generations

Various historians agree that the beginnings of cinema in Ecuador date back to 1901 with the first exhibition in the city of Guayaquil. According to sociologist and researcher Wilma Granda, the 1920s saw a “small golden age” of Ecuadorian cinema, during which about fifty documentary and fiction films were made. Notable examples include El tesoro de Atahualpa (1924), Se necesita una guagua (1924), and Un abismo y dos almas (1925), all directed by Augusto San Miguel. These productions remain lost to this day.


In fact, this history inspired the film Augusto San Miguel Ha Muerto Ayer, which narrates the myth of this filmmaker who reportedly requested to be buried with the reels of his films. Another significant period for Ecuadorian cinema was between 1960 and 1970, during which numerous films were produced in collaboration with Mexico, totaling two or three productions per year. Unfortunately, this productive chain did not consolidate over time.


“After the industrial era, Mexican cinema entered a crisis, and producers turned to co-productions from the early '60s to the mid-'70s. These were Mexican films produced in Ecuador, more commercially oriented but very interesting as they depicted the country at that time,” explains Manolo Sarmiento, a director, journalist, and lecturer of the Film program at the University of the Arts in Guayaquil who directed Problemas personales (2002) and La muerte de Jaime Roldós (2013).



Although Ecuador was not part of the new Latin American cinema movement, the 1980s saw a “boom” in short films with more ethnographic or political themes, which are still considered part of the local cinematic heritage. Following this wave of new productions, director Camilo Luzuriaga, in the 1990s, took his first steps in what later became known as modern Ecuadorian cinema. Amid a severe national crisis, he produced fiction feature films and secured international co-productions, laying the foundation for a new level of development for Ecuador’s audiovisual sector.


“Although Luzuriaga is a pioneer, modern Ecuadorian cinema is considered to have emerged with Ratas, Ratones y Rateros, directed by Sebastián Cordero,” Sarmiento notes, referring to this iconic film presented in 1999, which marked the beginning of a steady production of films by young filmmakers depicting the lives of urban youth.


Sebastián Cordero, Ecuadorian director (right), and mountaineer Iván Vallejo presenting "On the other side of the fog" at EDOC Festival
Limited State Support

With the advent of the 21st century, Ecuador’s audiovisual sector began to emerge slowly but steadily, not only in producing new cinematic works but also in advocating for policies to support audiovisual creators. The period between 2005 and 2006 saw a revitalization of Ecuadorian cinema, maintaining a more sustained film production. However, the peak came almost a decade later, between 2014 and 2016, with around six to seven films produced annually, including both documentaries and fiction.


In 2006, Ecuador achieved the approval of the Institutional Film Promotion Law, leading to the creation of the National Cinematography Council the following year. This council began to promote film production more consistently and enabled the country to join the Ibermedia program. This Promotion Law ended arbitrary allocations, and public support for production became regulated and accessible through competitions.


Manolo Sarmiento and Nene Nenquimo on the set of The Name of the Plants, a film still in production (ph: Daniel Andrade)

This Promotion Law ended arbitrary allocations, and public support for production became regulated and accessible through competitions.


However, due to the pandemic, the government aimed for fiscal savings and merged the Film Promotion Institute with another arts promotion entity. This decision led to budget cuts for the audiovisual sector, and during 2021 and 2022, the number of calls for proposals significantly decreased.


“There is now a recovery process,” Sarmiento tells AV Creators News. Additionally, the former director and one of the founders of the International Documentary Film Festival Encuentros del Otro Cine (EDOC) mentions a recent development: Ecuadorian film producers have mobilized to demand policies not only from the cultural sector but also from the industrial and foreign trade sectors.


Lisandra I. Rivera and Manolo Sarmiento, directors of The Death of Jaime Roldós at its premiere at the EDOC 2013

 (ph: EDOC Festival)

This effort resulted in the approval of a new regulation to promote “cashback,” a model similar to one in Colombia. This system involves refunding part of the production costs and offering tax exemptions on expenses like personnel, hotels, and other costs.


The New Generations

Many of the new generation of Ecuadorian audiovisual creators are young people who were or are students at INCINE, the school founded by Camilo Luzuriaga in Quito. In the era of social media, a group of students created Enchufe TV, a YouTube channel where they upload comedic sketches, achieving resounding success with millions of followers and views.


José Luis Torres Leiva, director and screenwriter (ph: Festival EDOC)

Moreover, Sarmiento mentions another phenomenon gaining prominence in Ecuador: the movement of indigenous Ecuadorian filmmakers, who have increasingly produced films in indigenous and ancestral languages. “The internet has allowed indigenous cultures to express themselves massively, which was previously impossible due to the implicit censorship that existed,” he asserts.


Organization

Regarding the organization of Ecuadorian audiovisual creators, Sarmiento says, “We are in the early stages of organization.” The Association of Independent Film Directors and Screenwriters of Ecuador (AGD) has been created. Sarmiento explains that directors and screenwriters aim to follow the path of producers grouped under the Corporation of Audiovisual Promoters of Ecuador (COPAE) or audiovisual technicians organized under the Ecuadorian Association of Cinematographic Technicians (ATEC).


“We want to establish a legal association to fight for the collection of remuneration for the author’s rights of directors and screenwriters,” details the filmmaker. He adds, “In Ecuador, only producers, actors, and musicians currently collect royalties.”


Meeting of the members of the Association of Independent Screenwriters and Directors of Ecuador (AGD)

Besides this struggle, the Ecuadorian audiovisual sector must also organize to address the crisis facing theaters and the lack of investment from local television in cinema. “There is no television that produces or invests in cinema, not even in documentaries, which weakens the chances of consolidating a market or a production and financing system,” laments the director. He adds, “They claim the market is too small, and it’s true that television advertising has significantly decreased. But historically, Ecuadorian television has never liked either Ecuadorian fiction or documentaries.”


Looking to the Future

For Manolo Sarmiento, the future of audiovisual production in Ecuador “generates much hope considering the technological advances of the present, driven by the internet and new platforms. We must take advantage of this because that’s where the future lies,” he asserts.


The director emphasizes that “it’s evident that the world of cinema and audiovisuals is growing” and believes it is opportune to fight “to enter and secure a share of this vast consumer market.”


Filming of The Name of the Plants, a film by Manolo Sarmiento to be released in 2024 (ph: Daniel Andrade)


“When I see students from schools or many others writing projects and imagining films, I also feel optimistic because there is enormous energy and a great desire to make films,” he comments.


Indeed, Sarmiento believes that consolidating an association of directors and screenwriters will be crucial in acting as a Author’s Rights Management Society and advocating for the remuneration recognized by the Author’s Rights Law. “And above all, to be a development factor for the sector, providing support and encouragement to all new creators who are being trained and developing their films,” he concludes.


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