The last time members of Bisonte Productions needed funding for a short film, they held a raffle.
To cut costs, parents and friends with cars drove the young filmmakers to and fro during the shoot. Restaurants and mothers donated meals for the working crew.
It’s shoestring movie making at its best. And it’s done by a group of film students trying to make careers in a country where a future in the movie industry remains limited.
That doesn’t matter to them, though.
“It’s a way to show your work,” said Andrés Campos, a director and one of the eldest of the 19-member group.
They work hard because of their love of movies, Campos added, and the need to express themselves. Those efforts have spun off success that’s helping members of Bisonte reach their cinematic goals.
In the past couple of years, shorts produced by Bisonte have won awards and ranked high in film festivals in Central America and beyond.
Most recently, a short by Iván Porras placed on the finalists’ list of a competition on the AXN network, a cable channel in Latin America run by Sony Entertainment.
Porras’ short was the only one to place from a Central American country; the rest were from Mexico and South America. His short cost just $250 to make.
The group’s success has helped some members to be accepted at prestigious film schools abroad, building the groundwork for a more promising future in movies.
“You have to believe,” Porras said. “If we’re going to see cinema, we have to make cinema.”
Started in 1999 as a loose group of artists looking for venues to showcase their work, Bisonte’s focus shifted to the audiovisual arts as more cinema-leaning members joined.
The group is now in its third generation. Sitting on steps at the communications building at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro, six members joked around with each other as they spoke about their goals and making movies.
“I think all of us came in thinking we’d be journalists,” Porras said.
Many of them met through classes at UCR’s communications school and Channel 15, the university TV station. UCR doesn’t offer a film major, though it gives classes in the audiovisual field.
Group members gravitated toward each other and, sure enough, script and story ideas began to emerge and be discussed.
On one occasion, two members of Bisonte took out a loan to fund a project. Soliciting donations from businesses and film organizations has also been a way to find the money needed.
Things have improved, though, since they began, with word of the group’s accomplishments and methods spreading,members said.
It “brings certain credibility and (a body of work) that demonstrates professionalism in our process,” Porras said.
And now they can show results.
Earlier this month, Porras’ friends, coworkers and family gathered at El Observatorio, a restaurant and event venue in the eastern San José neighborhood of Barrio California, to watch his short air on AXN.
The crowd burst into applause when the host of the special credited Porras for the film. And in May, about 600 people packed Cine Magaly in downtown San José for a screening of Bisonte shorts. The event was most welcomed by parents, members said, because many of them had reservations about their children’s chosen professions.
“But when they see the theaters full at the premieres, it helps them understand,” said Bisonte member Karolina Hernández.
A Motley Crew
Bisonte is an eclectic group with movies as the common denominator. At present its members include one composer, a lighting technician, cinematographers and aspiring producers and directors. All their specialties come together to create the shorts.
Through their efforts, they have become a close-knit group of friends.
“We’re turning into a religion,” Porras said.
Those ties remain strong, even if a member leaves Costa Rica for greener cinematic pastures.
Nicolas Pacheco now studies film at the Singapore branch of New YorkUniversity, home to one of the top film schools in the world, with Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone among its alumni.
“Even if I’m abroad, I’m still part of Bisonte Productions,” Pacheco said in an email.
“It’s the same for others abroad. Thanks to the group, many of us have found opportunities to study in other countries where there are more developed film industries.”
Of Bisonte’s members, four are now studying at the International School of Film and Television in Cuba, a school founded by renowned Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez. Another two are in Argentina and Spain, while Pacheco is in Singapore.
It’s almost necessary to leave, members said, to continue learning.
“In Costa Rica, the possibilities to specialize don’t exist in academia,” Porras said.
“Film is definitely learned by doing it, but the classroom experience is valuable for personal growth.”
However, the Costa Rican government’s recent efforts to create a film industry, Costa Rica Audiovisual (TT, Sept. 27), is a step in the right direction, Bisonte members agreed.
But for the time being, members of Bisonte have their sights set abroad to continue learning cinema.
Campos is headed to Argentina, while another member, Laura Avila, is applying to universities abroad, including the University of California Los Angeles.
Still, the idea, Pacheco said, is to come back to Costa Rica afterwards and work on a project with the old crew.
For the ones staying in Costa Rica, their work making movies continues.
“We want to make Tico cinema,” Avila said, “and tell our stories.”
To view Iván Porras’ short, “Recuerdo Prestado,” a finalist in the AXN Channel competition, and Andres Campos’ “La Alcoba,” visit www.redcultura.com/expos/Bisontes/index.html.