Latin pix make for spicy mix

Annual fest now includes more experimental pics

MADRID — As the 50th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival bows Sept. 19, the most obvious innovation under director Mikel Olaciregui, now in his second year, has been a Films in Progress section presenting producers, distribbers and facilities companies with unfinished pics from Latin America and Spain.

This builds on a Spanish-lingo Made in Spanish section that has grown this year to include experimental works such as “Exxxorcismo” from Jaime Humberto Hermosillo and Raoul Ruiz’s “Cofralandes, Rapsodia Chilena.”

If the San Sebastian Festival has a current heart, it is as a showcase for Spanish-lingo films. Of the five main contempo pic sections (Official Selection, Zabaltegi, Made in Spanish, Films in Progress), nearly half the films are Spanish-language, including seven of the 18 competish titles. Four are co-productions between Spain and Latin America. In the ’80s, co-productions between Spain and Latin America were largely driven by a cultural mandate. Now, despite — or perhaps because of — everything, Spain’s Latin-American filmmaking connection is thriving.

Producers can bring money to the table and turn a modest profit on films that, by Spanish standards, rarely rise above middling budgets. “I’ve produced principally with Mexico, Argentina and Cuba. The films have all earned profile at festivals, then sold worldwide. Single-deal figures might not be spectacular but they can accrue to cover costs,” says Wanda Vision’s Jose Maria Morales.

Wanda Films is prepping two co-prods with Cuba’s ICAIC — Gerardo Chijona’s “Perfecto amor equivocado” and Fernando Perez’s “Suite Habana,” plus Argentinian Luis Puenzo’s “La puta y la ballena.” Latam co-prod pioneer Tornasol has another ICAIC co-prod moving forward: Juan Carlos Tabio’s “Aunque estes lejos.” Francisco Ramos’ Alquimia Cinema is co-producing Marcelo Pineyro’s “Kamchatka.” Telefonica has kickstarted MiraVista, its Latin pic production venture with Disney, with “Ladies Night.”

If a film really clicks, the upside can be considerable. Produced by Mexico’s Alameda Films and Wanda, Carlos Carrera’s “The Crime of Father Amaro,” a San Sebastian competish player, is not only Mexico cinema’s all-time top B.O. grosser. Samuel Goldwyn Films has taken North America and, buzz was last week, Columbia TriStar has acquired most of international.

Mexico used to be Spain’s poor cousin, but that’s no longer the case. Co-producing with Mexico can add overseas distribution muscle. “It’s opened up territories which we would never have thought of reaching,” says Angels Masclans at Oberon Cinematografica, which teamed with Mexico’s Altavista Films to make Antonio Chavarrias’ “Volveras” and Agusti Villaronga’s co-directed “Aro Tolbukhin: In the Mind of a Killer,” another San Sebastian competition film.

The partners now plan another pic: Hugo Rodriguez’s “Cigarillos, desamores y 20 diamantes,” teaming with Televisa’s Videocine. Above all, producers can unearth, nurse or even rediscover talent.

Carlos Sorin, director of San Sebastian competition film “Historias minimas,” co-produced by Wanda, last made a film in 1989.

“The key thing is talent,” says Plural managing director Luis Fernandez. “Last year two pics from Latin America — “The Son of the Bride” and “Nine Queens” — knocked the spots off most Spanish films,” he argues. “We’re very serious about cinema and linking to Latin America to make it,” echoes Plural prexy Jose Vicuna.

Plural has just boarded Televisa’s “El tigre de Santa Julia,” from Alejandro Gamboa.” Word is that Plural, Spain’s Origen and Televisa are developing an adaptation of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s latest novel, “La reina del Sur.” It seems only time before Spanish production companies tap production and distribution conduits into the Latino U.S., with or without Mexico. One already exists, U/Arenas combo, Arenas Entertainment, which is co-producing U.K./Spanish pic “Imagining Argentina,” starring Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson and with Myriad on board.

More U.S. forays will surely follow.

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