Pic is 2nd-best domestic grosser of all-time

MEXICO CITY — Local filmmakers raised their eyebrows when CIE teamed with the venture capital arm of financial conglom Inbursa (owned by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim) to form Estudio Mexico Films in January 1999.

A little over a year later, any lingering doubts were dispelled when production arm Altavista Films burst onto the international scene with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Amores Perros” (Love’s a Bitch), which won the Intl. Critics Week at the Cannes Intl. Film Festival, and was subsequently tapped for a best-foreign-language Oscar nom.

“Love’s a Bitch,” an edgy urban drama of three-intersecting storylines linked by dogs and a ferocious car accident, went on to become Mexico’s second-highest domestic grosser of all time, with local B.O. of $9.5 million.

Beyond its performance, the pic represents a stylistic and generational break from the cine d’auteur that dominated in the past — and kept auds away.

“The difference between today’s filmmakers and those of 10 years ago is that now they are thinking about the audience the whole time,” says Marta Sosa, exec producer of “Love’s a Bitch”.

Altavista released two other pics last year, humorous crime-victim revenge drama “Todo el Poder” (Gimme Power) and “Por la Libre” (By the Free Road), about two mismatched cousins’ efforts to fulfill their grandfather’s last wish. Together the pics grossed $10 million.

Altavista’s success is all the more striking considering that two years ago, a pic taking in more than $1 million was considered a hit.

But Altavista has adopted an unashamedly commercial approach. It sets budgets at around $1.5 million, a level execs feel allows them to recuperate their investment locally. Foreign sales are icing on the cake.

Altavista CEO Francisco Gonzalez Compean anticipates making around five films a year, often co-produced with Spanish or other Latin American companies.

“The emphasis will be on quality not quantity,” he says.

This year, Altavista releases will include road movie “Sin Dejar Huella” (Without a Trace), starring Spanish thesp Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, and “Atletico San Pancho”, a kid’s movie about a disastrous amateur soccer team.

Meanwhile, distrib arm Nu-vision has seen its pics gross more than $80 million in 17 territories throughout Latin America since its first release 20 months ago.

“Major producers were just giving away movies for Latin America because they didn’t want the hassle of dealing with the 17 different territories. Independent distributors, on the other hand, were not getting the big movies,” says CEO Pedro Rodriguez.

In 1999, Nuvision handled 10 movies, mainly in Mexico. Last year, that number shot up to 22, of which 12 went outside Mexico.

In addition to Altavista titles, it handled other champs from the Mexican new wave such as Luis Estrada’s “La Ley de Herodes.” At the same time, it acquired Latin American rights to U.S. pics like “What Women Want,” “American Pie” and “Family Man.”

“We analyze the difference between the different territories in Latin America and try to adjust the campaign for each film slightly. We don’t go with one massive U.S.-style campaign for the whole world,” Rodriguez says.

This year, Nuvision will release 36 films in Mexico, and of 24 of those will be brought out across Latin America. Rodriguez aims to become one of the region’s top five distribs, along with the likes of 20th Century Fox, Warner, UIP and Columbia TriStar Intl.

And he would like to expand north of the Rio Grande.

“There is certainly an interest in figuring out how Spanish-language movies can be distributed in the U.S. using the Hispanic market as a base,” observes Rodriguez, “but the puzzle has not yet been solved.”

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