In an industrial-style building in the southeastern San José district of Zapote, part of Costa Rica’s hope for a healthy film industry is waiting to graduate.
That building is VeritasUniversity, a private art, design and architecture college that houses the only full-fledged film school in Central America.
Those waiting are the seven students who make up the film school’s first class and the more than 100 to follow who are now enrolled.
“There’s a lot of excitement from people,” said Jérico Guerrero, a second-year student.
“They want to see local movies.”
For the many involved in attempting to ignite a film industry in Costa Rica, the graduation of the first classes at Veritas marks an achievement in a multi-front effort to have more movies produced locally.
Costa Rica’s movie industry lacks trained talent in all aspects of filmmaking, and Veritas will attempt to fill that gap.
“The cultural development of the audiovisual and cinema industry can only be achieved if there are trained professionals in different areas of this business,” said Mercedes Ramírez, director of Centro de Cine, the Costa Rican Center for Film Production.
“VeritasUniversity plays a leading role in the training of such professionals.”
According to Veritas President Ronald Sasso, a film school “was needed in the region.” But starting a film school in a country with no industry was a bit of a gamble, he acknowledged.
When Sasso and his associates decided to create the school about four years ago, they brought in teachers and staff from abroad because there wasn’t enough local expertise.
For those first seven students, including Federico Lang, being in the inaugural class was a bit unnerving.
“It has been a bit hard being the first generation opening a way that had not been explored before,” Lang said.“Everyone always asks, ‘What are you going to do for a job?’”
But so far, the gamble is paying off for Veritas, Lang and Guerrero.
Students in the more advanced classes have begun working in audiovisual fields.
One student worked as an assistant in a French-Spanish production here. Lang has found a job with a marketing company that makes commercials.
Also, students from universities abroad are coming to study at Veritas.Many of them are from Central American countries, said Vicente Gonzales, the film school’s director.
Gonzales is one of the talents brought in from abroad. He is from Cuba, a country with a long history of movie production.
“When I arrived, I was impressed at the attempts being made,” he said.
But more work is needed, he added.
The country lacks teachers with enough training to teach students. Gonzales hopes that some of the graduated students will remain to teach younger classmates.
The television industry here, Gonzales said, could vastly improve. He also feels there could be more cooperation within the country’s small industry.
Veritas will try to continue helping students and productions as best it can, he said, by providing students to work on productions.
The school’s officials know full well the limitations of the industry here and in the rest of Central America, and in response are preparing students with wide-ranging skills in the audiovisual field to find jobs not only in movie making, but also in television and publicity, Gonzales said.
Besides, he added, it’s rare that a student will go straight to making feature-length movies.
For now, however, students at Veritas are churning out short films by the bushel.
Along with lectures and class courses, Gonzales said Veritas tries to train its students with as much hands-on practice as it can. The school has enough equipment for all students to get a chance to shoot.
Lang has worked on 20 shorts in various roles, including audio technician, cinematographer and director, in his four years so far.
“Veritas gives you the tools you need to develop,” he said.
In one recent exercise for a course on directing, a group of students had to shoot a five-minute short in 12 hours.
Guerrero, 24, took his first stint at directing. Like many of the students at Veritas, he decided to pursue filmmaking because of his love for movies, even though he already had a degree in chemistry from the University of Costa Rica (UCR). He did not study cinema at UCR because the university does not offer courses. When he heard about Veritas, he applied.
He said it was worth paying Veritas’ relatively high tuition, some $4,500 per semester.
That’s a reasonable price to pay for film school, said Alberto Zamora, another second-year student, who served as assistant director in Guerrero’s short.
“Veritas is the cheapest-priced school in the world,” Zamora said, half joking.
Both he and Guerrero say they are happy with the training they’ve received. Zamora has worked on 10 shorts, Guerrero on four.
They said the teachers at Veritas work closely with students, and that’s helpful for the aspiring filmmakers.
“I believe Veritas will be important in the development of an industry in Costa Rica,” said Lang, who is now focusing on finishing his thesis.
The film school first class is expected to graduate in March.
“The health of a university is measured in years, decades,” Gonzales said. “I think the future of Costa Rican cinema is more promising than ever.”