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Mario Mitrotti: A lifetime of creation and advocacy for the rights of audiovisual authors in Colombia

Mario Mitrotti has just turned 80 years old and stands as Colombia's most seasoned audiovisual creator. Born in Panama and a Colombian by adoption, he has spent over fifty years in the industry, producing three feature films, dozens of shorts, music videos, soap operas, and over 1500 commercials.

Precisely, one of his commercials, created foar the multinational Pepsi Cola, catapulted actress Sofía Vergara to stardom, known for her roles in series like Modern Family and the recent Netflix production, Griselda.

Throughout his career, Mitrotti has directed three films: El Candidato, Las Cuatro Edades del Amor, and Mujer de Fuego. He also directed and produced the politically satirical short film Al Paredón in 1972, which won 14 international awards, as well as Corralejas de Sincelejo, which garnered 17 awards, to name a few of his acclaimed works. Additionally, he directed Pandillas Guerra y Paz, Unidad Investigativa, Hilos Invisibles, Hermosa Niña, Los Victorinos, Ojo por Ojo, and Flor Salvaje.

Alongside his extensive and prestigious career as an audiovisual creator, Mario has actively participated with a huge compromise in various guilds aiming to enhance the activity and rights of his colleagues, which lead him to play a foundational role in numerous filmmaker associations such as REDES or DASC, of which he has been the president since 2012.

Under his leadership, DASC recently acquired its own headquarters and played a significant role in the passing of the Pepe Sánchez Law, which grants audiovisual authors the right to remuneration for the public communication of their works.

- When a film director dedicates themselves to defending the rights of their colleagues, is there any time left for creation? How has it been in your case?

- Throughout my life, aside from making films, soap operas, writing, etc., I've always been involved in guilds. I've founded several, and I've been president of some multiple times. In 2011-2012, Teresa Saldarriaga (current vice president of DASC) and I organized congresses on author’s rights law, even though we had no idea what author’s rights law was. But we wanted to hold congresses to have it explained to us. At the second congress, where people already knew what it was about, people from DAC attended, as well as the CISAC representative for Latin America. In 2012, when we traveled to Buenos Aires, I met Carlos Galettini (current president of DAC) who asked me, "What is Colombia?" And I told him that Colombia is strong in television and not so much in cinema. We produce about 45 soap operas with a hundred episodes each for television. That's a lot of hours. And in cinema, we make about 40 feature films. So, I came back to Colombia, and about two months later, Carlos Galettini called me to say that he was going to help us and advised me to go to Argentina to take a course at DAC. When we returned to Colombia, we began to do all the necessary things. But with the law we had, it wasn't possible. We had to change the law. So, in 2014, we began to change the law. And in 2016, the law was approved, which we called the Pepe Sánchez Law, named after a very good director, actor, and scriptwriter. Pepe was Miguel Littín's assistant director in Chile when El Chacal de Nahueltoro was made. Pepe helped us, but two months before the law was promulgated, he passed away. That's why we know the law by his name.

The realization of a dream

The brand new Director's House, inaugurated in recent days by DASC, was made possible by utilizing 10% of reserved funds from Social Welfare, which the organization had not used in recent times. After requesting permission from the National Author's Rights Office to use that money for purchasing the property, they managed to acquire 200 square meters spread across three offices in a building that also includes an auditorium for about 150 people, which can be used by DASC.

Approval of the Pepe Sánchez Law in 2017.

Regarding the achievement, Mitrotti told AV CREATORS NEWS, "According to the National Author's Rights Office, we are the only management society in Colombia to have our own headquarters in 5 years of operation, as all the others took much longer to have their own headquarters. But aside from this, there are 7 management societies in Colombia, and all have their own headquarters. The Social Welfare money we used to buy the headquarters wasn't just from last year but accumulated over several years. We spent about 1.5 billion pesos (approximately 375 thousand dollars) to buy and refurbish it. So, we still have some money left."

- How has the Pepe Sánchez Law influenced the recognition of talent and contribution to the cultural industry by directors of film and television in Colombia?

- First and foremost, to enact the law, we had to gather numerous directors from both film and television, each with their own standing. This was a very difficult task initially. However, as we progressed with the law, more people joined us. Furthermore, we crafted the Pepe Sánchez Law alongside audiovisual writers. Both scriptwriters and TV writers formed their management society due to the Pepe Sánchez Law (REDES). We, as audiovisual directors, are two different societies. As the law became more successful, more people started affiliating themselves, both in Redes and DASC. Nowadays, we have 300 affiliated directors, and Redes must have around 500 writers. Writers always outnumber directors.

- How has DASC ensured that these benefits reach directors represented by the management society fairly and equitably?

- For artists to enact a law is like crossing the Sahara desert on foot. A politician knows how to do it. We had to learn all the political maneuvers to succeed in passing this law. Nowadays, we have a much stronger position in the Colombian cultural society than we did 6 or 7 years ago. We are now a well-formed, united entity. In the five years of our operation, we have distributed approximately 7 billion pesos, which is a lot of money, to both our members and sister societies like DAC. This year, we expect to close with some new users, which are very important.

- What does it mean for DASC, but also for you, to be part of the Board of Directors of a Confederation like AVACI, of which you are also a founding member?

- It's a great project. It's very challenging to try to unite different thoughts. The Latin Americans who invented AVACI are very united, but the Europeans still have that colonialist spirit. We believe in pluralism. We believe that all nations have intelligent people because AVACI was invented in FESAAL, a Latin American invention. Therefore, it should continue to be managed - at least initially - by characters from management societies in Latin America. So, we are firm in that development.

- At what stage is the audiovisual industry in Colombia, in terms of producing series, soap operas, or films?

- Television has been very strong; many series have been produced here. Some are Colombian, others financed by Netflix, Amazon, etc. But when it comes to cinema, it's still under debate. A comedy that works very well in Colombia at the audience level might emerge. But other themes haven't had a good response from the public. Some of them are excellent films, winning awards, international festivals, but besides winning awards, you must connect with the audience because if there's no response from the audience to your films, it's very difficult to build a thriving industry. Regarding television, it's a thriving industry in Colombia. But cinema is very individual efforts, although last year about 50 feature films were made. Most of them are quite good, some flawed, but all technically perfect. That technical aspect has been surpassed many years ago.

- Do you have state support like the Colombian Film Institute?

- We have a film law, but very little money for production. Two, three, four films a year are funded by the state by 80%. The rest is individual effort. And so, it's very difficult because exhibitors are not exactly the best friends of Colombian cinema.


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