MEXICO CITY – Seeking a greater penetration of Latino markets, French film promoters, producers and performers converged on Mexico City and Acapulco last week for Mexico’s inaugural French Film Festival.

The brainchild of Daniel Toscan du Plantier, head of film promotion org Unifrance, the event partially replaces the late Sarasota Fest, which for seven years beckoned U.S. indie distribs to Florida to review breaking French fare.

Unifrance plans to resume a U.S. festival presence from 1997, with a roving event to take place in three different cities each year. But there’s a general feeling that Gallic fare has more or less plateaued in the U.S.

Latin America, with its greater cultural proximity to France and its growing thirst for non-Hollywood fare, offers much greater growth potential.

“Latin America probably represents under 10% of the international market for French films,” Toscan du Plantier says. “We think our business here can be multiplied by two or three over a 10-year period.”

The topper believes Latino pay TV growth, especially with the recent launch of direct-to-home TV in the region, will play a significant role. Indeed, film nets Cinecanal (backed by UIP and Fox) and HBO Ole (Warner and Sony) have both this year begun casting about for non-American fare to help round out multiplexed versions of their signals.

As well as encouraging French producers to meet Latino distribs, the Mexican fest also allowed Mexican filmmakers to huddle with the French. Some are seeking production coin, but a more pressing issue for most is the revision of a Franco-Mexican co-production accord.

Since the event coincided with Thanksgiving – to be remedied next year – few U.S. execs made the trek to Acapulco.

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