Dominican Republic Poised for Post-Pandemic Return
Art and Experience: The Dominican Republic’s lauded film law marks its 10th year amid general elections set for July. Fortunately, the three main candidates are said to be pro-cinema.
“The law is up for a review, but we don’t think there will be too many changes,” says film commissioner Yvette Marichal.
As the country gears up to emerge from its COVID-19 lockdown by July 1, it is still unclear when productions will restart and shuttered cinemas reopen. Nevertheless, pre-production on some shows is in full swing.
Set construction for a big-budget supernatural thriller by a major Hollywood director has begun at the world-class Pinewood Dominican Republic water filming facility, albeit with health and safety protocols in place. Another supernatural thriller, “Geechee” from Stuart Ford’s AGC Studios, will resume production at Pinewood DR by the end of July.
A Rupert Wainwright-directed drama based on the Florida boating accident of three NFL players, “Not Without Hope,” restarts production on the facility’s horizon water tank in early September, per Albert Martinez, COO of Pinewood DR and Lantica Media, which operates the facility in partnership with the U.K.-based Pinewood Studios Group.
“We’re in the designing phase of building a fourth soundstage and a covered indoor tank,” says Martinez, who notes that their 2.4 million-gallon outdoor tank fills up in 12 hours compared to others that take days to complete.
These and other projects have been lured to the Dominican Republic not only by its stunning natural resources and production amenities, but also by the country’s generous financial incentives stipulated in the 2010 Film Law.
International productions spending a minimum of $500,000 (encompassing film, documentaries, scripted and non-scripted TV, music videos) can tap a 25% transferable tax credit on qualified expenditure.
Since last year, the withholding tax of 27% levied on foreigners working in the DR was reduced to 1.5%, leading to an upsurge in filming. International producers are also exempt from paying the 18% Value Added Tax (VAT). Furthermore, equipment imported for the location shoot is exempt from payment of duty.
Last year was so busy that at one point, 10 productions were filming at the same time, according to Marichal. “We had to bring in crew from Mexico and Puerto Rico,” she recalls.
“We should see ourselves as allies, not rivals,” notes Ana Aizenberg of the Latin American Film Commission Network. With Puerto Rico, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Cuba either mulling or already offering incentives, the competition in the region will only heat up. “Cooperation is key,” Aizenberg adds.
With the current pandemic forcing producers to minimize their locations and travel, it is likely that the Dominican Republic will see more back-to-back filming. In fact, since 2014, contestants from as far afield as Turkey, Greece, Estonia, Brazil, Hungary and Romania have been flown into the island to film the various country versions of reality competition series “Survivor.” Other TV shows expected to shoot this year include reality competition show “Exathlon,” Caracol TV’s “Desafio Super Regiones,” Cuarzo Prods.’ “La Isla de las Tentaciones” and “Malibu Games” from VICE ApS, Denmark.
Thanks to incentives for local filmmakers, the country has also seen a dramatic uptick in homegrown production. There have been more than 195 Dominican films produced in the past 10 years, compared to 101 films in the 88 years spanning 1922 and 2010. Article 34 of the film law offers a 100% income tax deduction to private investors in local cinema, not to exceed 25% of the total amount due.
Film fund Fonprocine, with an open call slated between May 18 and Aug. 8, doles out aid to local shorts and feature-length projects in development and production. Among the high-profile Dominican films helped by this fund are “Cocote,” “Sand Dollars” and the much-anticipated feature debut “Candela” by newcomer Andres Farias.
Last year, 27 Dominican films were theatrically released, a dramatic leap from just six in 2011. Many have scored well at the local box office, outpacing even blockbusters from Hollywood. The market share of Dominican Films, 21% in 2018, ranks highest in Latin America, even beating that of the largest country in the region, Brazil (15.1%) or, in the Spanish-speaking world, even Spain (15%).
Despite the setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dominican Republic is likely to bounce back fairly quickly. Lantica Media is producing a couple of local films that will shoot at the Pinewood DR studio in August and September respectively, a Pablo Giorgelli-directed (“Las Acacias”) immigration drama “La Encomienda” and Pablo Chea’s coming-of-age dramedy, “El Chroma Kid.”
“We have a very solid pipeline of projects for the next 10 months, so our focus right now is to shoot safely in times of COVID,” says Martinez.
The lockdown “has given filmmakers time to polish their scripts, spend more time in developing their projects, and that’s a good thing,” says Omar de la Cruz, head of the DR Global Film Festival.
“Our wealth lies in our cultural heritage, we don’t have oil reserves to fall back on,” says Marichal who estimates that some 8 million tourists a year are lured to the country after seeing projects shot in the Dominican Republic.