Encuentros concentrates on Ibero-American film

MIAMI — With a record number of films and record attendance figures, the Miami Film Festival is growing by leaps and bounds under director Nicole Guillemet. The same cannot be said for Encuentros, the market component added by the former Sundancer to the historically consumer-oriented fest.

The 22nd annual Miami fest wrapped Feb. 13 with attendance just north of 60,000, up from approximately 50,000 in 2004. The numbers “show that people are supporting the festival,” Guillemet says. Auds also had far more choices: She programmed 86 features and feature-length docus this year, up 43% from the 53 full-length films unspooled in 2004.

This year’s fest was Guillemet’s third at the helm, and she attracted bigger names to judge the festival’s three competitive sections, among them Ted Hope and Bob Rafaelson.

The Encuentros program also marked its third anniversary. Focused specifically on Ibero-American film and aimed at forging contacts between directors and producers and U.S. distributors, participating projects are selected by Encuentros director Diana Sanchez, who determines the final cut in consultation with Guillemet.

This year Sanchez was able to bring nine projects to Miami, up from seven the past two years. In contrast to the earlier Encuentros, “the projects are all in later stages of development, in direct response to the distributors’ request,” Sanchez says. She also introduced five first-time feature helmers to the mix, vs. just one in prior years.

While Sanchez noted the first-time attendance of Elena Vilardell, repping Iberoamerican film financing fund Ibermedia, the emphasis at Encuentros is on networking.

“We were told not to expect to make deals here,” said Uruguayan helmer Federico Veiroj, who aims to make his feature debut with “La Coproduction” (The Co-production). “But it was very, very positive. It was good to include the producers because they represent the financial side of the project, while the director handles the creative.”

Attendee Rob Williams, manager of acquisitions at Wellspring Media, buys only finished films. Even so, he returned to Miami in 2005 because “Encuentros is a great way to get to know producers and directors I may not have met otherwise,” he explains.

“I found the meetings quite useful for educating filmmakers about our role as both production partner and distributor,” says Sony Pictures Classics’ Dorie Begley.

Santiago Guerrero, an associate producer on “Maria Full of Grace,” is one of the Colombian producers on first-time helmer Andi Baiz’s psychological drama “Satanas.” Beyond the distribs, “it was good to meet the other filmmakers from South America who are critical to making co-production agreements,” says Guerrero, who plans to start drumming up financing in March.

Encuentros “is one step for the filmmakers. No miracle is going to happen overnight,” Guillemet acknowledges.

Encuentros was able to expand its sponsorship roster this year to include the likes of the William Morris Agency, yet Guillemet recognizes the need to build up more financial support.

“I believe in a slow buildup of the program,” she says. “Until you have full resources, you need to work with quality, not quantity.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more