Lions Gate makes play for Hispanic auds

Lions Gate Entertainment has forged a joint venture with Panamax Films, the new production shingle of former Telemundo prexy-CEO Jim McNamara.

Under the deal, aimed at reaching the burgeoning Latino audience in the U.S., Lions Gate and Panamax will co-produce six to eight films in the next 18 months. They will be released theatrically and on DVD by Lions Gate.

Budgets will range between $1 million and $3 million, McNamara said.

Venture dovetails with Lions Gate’s ongoing strategy to target underserved niche auds. Projects under the deal will reflect the same mass-appeal themes that have turned the telenovela format into a ratings hit for the Univision and Telemundo nets.

New alliance kicks off with Lions Gate’s Jan. 27 release in at least 12 cities of Ricardo de Montreuil’s “La Mujer de mi hermano” (My Brother’s Wife), starring popular telenovela thesps Barbara Mori (“Rubi”) and Christian Meyer (“La Tormenta”). Romantic drama, for which 20th Century Fox has all Latin American rights, has done boffo biz in Mexico since its Nov. 4 bow.

With the new venture, Lions Gate plans to follow the same approach it has taken to deliver product to the African-American, faith-based and horror genre auds.

“We are making a big commitment in terms of our strategy to grow the company,” said Nick Meyer, prexy of Lions Gate Intl. “We are bringing our antistudio mentality to a market with great growth potential.”

McNamara, whose company has offices in Miami and New York, said, “Our main goal at Panamax is to take what we learned from our experience in television and apply it to the film business.””We aim to make films with high production values and natural built-in hooks,” he added.

Panamax’s head of creative development is Ben O’Dell, who wrote Spanish-language screenplays and telenovelas while living in Colombia for eight years.

Next on the Panamax slate but not yet part of the Lions Gate venture is the $3 million “Reggaeton,” a romantic drama revolving around the hot music trend that has sent ratings surging at radio stations that have switched to the format. Lions Gate is close to finalizing a deal with Panamax on the project.

“Reggaeton” will be directed by helmer-scribe Agustin, whose recent pic “El Vacilon: The Movie” has been playing to sellout auds in the New York area, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Principal photography is targeted for February.

Exec producers include Spain’s Plural Films and Hispanic marketing company Latin World Entertainment, which will collaborate on marketing strategy. UTA reps Agustin and Latin World Entertainment.New Line and “El Norte” helmer Gregory Nava embarked on a similar pact for Spanish-language productions in 1999 but that deal fizzled for unknown reasons.

Nava and Jennifer Lopez’s Nuyorican Prods., Mosaic Media Group and Mobius Entertainment finally co-produced a project that was supposed to fall under the deal, “Bordertown,” starring Lopez, but that pic has no domestic deal as yet.

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