Local movies gross more than $20 mil

MEXICO CITY — Riding a slew of box office champs and fresh money from new investors, Mexican film production is on a roll.

Last year, the country made 31 pics, compared with 16 in 1998. At the same time, domestic product took in around 14% of the national box office, up from roughly 3% in 1998.

Fueled by an increased demand created by a wave of glittering new multiplexes, movies — including 2001 Oscar nominee “Amores Perros” (Love’s a Bitch), “Todo el Poder” (Gimme Power) and “La Ley de Herodes” (Herod’s Law) — grossed more than $20 million.

Until 1998, Mexican filmmakers had limited options for raising coin. Most movies were funded by the state-sponsored National Film Institute, Imcine, or privately by Televicine, Televisa’s film arm. The few exceptions were extremely low-budget.

Then, in 1999, came the breakthrough pic “Sexo, Pudor y Lagrimas” (Sex, Shame and Tears), Mexico’s domestic all time box office champ.

Suddenly, distribberies realized there was a market for Mexican film if sold properly. Given doubts about new President Vicente Fox’s commitment to state-funded cultural policies, homegrown cinema appears to have found its feet just in time.

Indie producer Argos, which previously focused on TV sudsers, is following the success of “Sex, Shame and Tears,” which it co-produced, with several projects in the pipeline.

And Altavista, the production arm of Latin American live entertainment giant CIE, is starting to churn out films at the rate of almost one every three months, including “Amores Perros.”

Financing for its projects is coming from Sinca Inbursa, an investment capital outfit of Carlos Slim Helu, reputed to be Latin America’s wealthiest individual.

“Great Expectations” helmer Alfonso Cuaron’s latest Mexican effort “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (Your Mother Too), which finished shooting late last year, was partly financed by a Guadalajara-based health products company, something unthinkable five years ago.

Nevertheless, many smaller industryites remain wary of the new success.

“I would not say that raising money is easier, just that it is not as hard,” says Ernesto Rimoch, prexy of the Mexican Assn. of Independent Producers.

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