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Fiction narratives on regional public TV

narrativas de ficciónRegional public TV emerged in Colombia in the eighties with the creation of the channel of the department of Antioquia, Teleantioquia in 1985; today, with this there are eight public regional channels operating in various regions.

Mg. Luis Fernando Gutiérrez Cano*
Mg. Luis Jorge Orcasitas Pacheco*

The programming of regional channels in Colombia has been characterized mainly by an offer of spaces of the informative genre (newscasts, documentaries, reports and debate programs, among others); also for variety programs (magazines), sports, cultural, musical and humorous.

Until recently, regional channels had little explored formats related to the fictional genre, among other reasons due to the high production costs they demand and an audiovisual industry still in the making; however, thanks to the support of state entities such as the Ministry of Culture, the Fund for the Development of Television, FDTV, and the now defunct National Television Authority, ANTV, producers and filmmakers from the different regions of Colombia have been able to venture into the serialized fictional format, with stories and characters typical of the different ones.

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Therefore, viewers have been able to enjoy productions of remarkable quality such as Déjala morir and Aníbal 'Sensación' Velásquez (Telecaribe), Débora Arango, la mujer que desnudó a Colombia, La primípara, La cuadra, DJ El Propio, La casa de colores and Con olor a Azucena (Teleantioquia), Tu corazón será mío (Canal 13), Cimarrona (Telecafé), Labels (Telepacífico), and El juicio de conde (Televisión Regional del Oriente, TRO).

Precisely, to learn more about the success of the dramatized regional channels, we interviewed Mario Mantilla Barajas, director of the series El juicio de conde, recently premiered at the TRO, with a remarkable audience index throughout eastern Colombia.

How was the process of making the series The Count's Trial, winner of the National Call of the ANTV 2019, from the origin of the idea to the culmination of the project?
Mario Mantilla: We are trying to feed on those characters and curious stories that we have nearby in our region and that we think may also have a possibility in a national format and, to that extent, because Count Cuchicute had always caught our attention, a very recognized and referenced character in the department of Santander, especially in the municipality of San Gil. He was always a character that caught my attention and also the producer of the series, Luis Fernando Orduz, and so we began a process of debugging information. How much of those stories about the character were true, how much they were the product of the collective imagination.

In this research process, after asking many people and listening to them, we found the doctoral thesis of Juan Camilo Rodríguez, entitled El solitario, which helped us to detail the data, with dates, route of his life, as it had been. In this way, we find a main narrative line, distant from the biopics, and we chose a specific moment in the life of the count that is when he decides to file a lawsuit against his brother to return some properties, because all the properties that he had given him years ago in exchange for a lifetime pension.

The creation of the project took a process of almost three years, from when we conceived the idea until when it obtained the first place in the CALL of the ANTV. Later came an arduous process of realization, because it was a series of times, and from there, begin to capture what we had already been working, there came to work the department of art and production very united to form all that atmosphere of a Bogotá of 1936 and some farms owned by José María Rueda, Count of Cuchicute, in Santander.

To embody the main character we needed a character actor, a trainee, and we had several actors in our sights. Finally, Hernán Méndez was chosen, a great film and television actor, who as soon as he received the script loved the character and understood it.

How do you see the narratives that are taking place in the regions of Colombia? What is the Narrative landscape? What does regional television offer the country?
Mario Mantilla: What regional television offers the country with all these fiction series is a piece of identity, all this is forming the Colombian identity. Of course, these series that we have seen in Telepacífico, in Teleantioquia, in Bogotá and, of course, us, is a way to contribute to the country being seen from different angles, from the local. For example, we made Pienta, an epic series that helped to enhance and turn the look Santander So, we are rediscovering ourselves as a nation through these fictional series.

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Beyond the stories of these well-known characters in the different regions, what other types of themes can be narrated from the region?, what other type of narratives could the region and regional channels bring to Colombia?
Mario Mantilla: That is something that has been going around in my head for a while and it is a bit the representation of cities in the cinematographic, in the audiovisual in general terms, look how one has a cinematographic image of New York, Rome, Mexico City, London, even Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and it's because of the movies. This seems very interesting to me and we could also work from the regions giving emphasis to the location. Even Santander is selling itself as a great stage because for all that exuberant geography it has, but if you ask me personally I am working more in the sense in that representation of the city through the audiovisual. And that's what any kind of genre is for.

Other. It is a matter not to stay in something costumbrista, but that in any case we see ourselves as a little part of the world where romantic stories can happen, action, where different types of stories can happen to develop. In that I think we can also contribute. Anyway, the strength of the local is in their stories, it is time to find those wonderful stories that become universal and that we have around the corner.

Mario, is it feasible in the short, medium or long term that the fictional genre of regional television can be consolidated precisely as one of the fundamental contents in regional television?
Mario Mantilla: Yes, absolutely. A diagnosis that was made in the TRO channel in 2012, showed that 80% of the programming grid was made up of non-fiction format and most of them journalistic, magazines, newscasts, news, opinion programs. We did Pienta in 2014 and it had the first place in the rating in April 2015, when it was presented as a form of marathon. That means that fiction does have a place, of course, and other types of historical series began to emerge, especially at that time which was what the National Television Authority was supporting.

It's a process. We started with miniseries, five chapters, then we went up, as is the personal case, from 8 to 10 chapters, which is like a kind of standard of these national calls. Projects continue to be presented every year, and series are made, which has also moved the industry in the regions.

On the other hand, I believe that, if national policies to support the audiovisual industry continue, this need not stop; on the contrary, we must continue to examine formats and also explore web series, which in themselves are already being done, what is missing is how to also find that own language.

How was the reception of the Santanderean audience, a particular case of you who are in Bucaramanga with the TRO, in front of these fiction series?, is it likely that in the regions fictional productions can be consolidated and that they become daily in the programming grids of the regional channels?
Mario Mantilla: I can tell you by say some measurements I have of my product. I do not have much reference to the other fiction products, but as I said, Pienta, who spent a holiday Monday in a row on an Afternoon in April 2015, had the first place of tuning above the newscasts and in schedule that was not prime. This shows that there is an audience for this type of format.

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For example, this year that we spent El juicio del conde in the different channels of public television in Colombia, in Señal Colombia every day we marked within the first 15 programs of public television; we managed to reach the fourth place, which for us is a very big success; however, we continue to lose against the national news but we are moving forward and it seems to me that the television language must be applied very well there anyway, so we must study very well the television language for television series and in that way, I am completely sure, that fiction will surpass the news that they continue to be and, rightly so, the leaders of the audience because people want to be informed of what is happening in their locality, but we must continue to review, support and work more on dramatic structures for television.

Regarding programming and promotion, the financial, how can it be analyzed?
Mario Mantilla: Ideally, not only should we depend on the stimuli of the national government to be able to make fiction production, but also that private enterprise should see in this means of expression an opportunity. One understands that private enterprise has commercial objectives and that the State has as its mission very defined objectives, that is, I believe that they must follow the stimuli is a way that the regions are represented and that they identify themselves as a valuable element of the national identity, but at some point we have to fly and make the producers manage to excite private companies to invest in these products.

Equally, there must be a series of stimuli, not as the Film Law does, I mean something for those companies that participate in fiction television programs and that decide, at least in the first years, to participate economically, that they understand that it is also a very beautiful industry, very interesting and also stimulate advertising. However, if you look at it from an economic point of view, you have to understand that this is a risky industry. If we're going to invest, we're going to sell a series, and you have to invest in good writers, good directors, good production team, great actors, art, locations, and that also becomes an interesting industry.

What do you consider to be the strengths of regional production in the field of fiction and what are the weaknesses to improve?
Mario Mantilla: This is an industry that is just beginning in the regions, therefore, we have had to overcome; first, the professionalization in many technical areas that have already been achieved by several universities, several technical institutions, and today already that generation that five, eight or ten years ago were students, are now true professionals, with a technique that surprises one. That's a strength, this whole process.

On the other hand, there are other areas involved in audiovisual production, which are always susceptible to improvement; for example, in acting, we have a tradition of good theater actors, universities have great directors and have trained interesting guys, but the transition from theater to audiovisual is different, call it cinema or call it television. We would lack in the audiovisual field to have more training in acting for the camera.

And from the point of view of the industry, you have to work the promotion, distribution and marketing of these products. Usually the people who promote audiovisual products, who are the creators of history, sometimes we are happy that we can develop it, realize it and there we stay; producers must be very clear that they are not only the three stages of production, but they are more. Investment should be made in promotion, marketing and distribution.

In our case, with El juicio del conde, one of the great prizes we had is to have the copyright of that series, so we are at this moment, which has already been exhibited, by logical commitment to the public television system in Colombia, in that marketing process, trying to distribute it for digital platforms and for other public televisions in Latin America. It's something we're doing a little more empirically.

*The magister Luis Fernando Gutiérrez Cano and Luis Jorge Orcasitas Pacheco are professors of the Pontifical Bolivarian University of Medellín.

Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Periodista de la Universidad de Antioquia (2010), con experiencia en temas sobre tecnología y economía. Editor de las revistas TVyVideo+Radio y AVI Latinoamérica. Coordinador académico de TecnoTelevisión&Radio.

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