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Three Latin fests emerge as vital talent and deal pools

Argentina and Mexico’s main film festivals have emerged as hotbeds for Europeans to find co-production projects in Latin America.

The main attractions of these events in Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata and Guadalajara are the fresh and personal voices emerging from the region. These new directors “aren’t trying to imitate commercial cinema, but they have an urge to tell their own stories,” says Dutch producer Ilse Hughan, who organizes Buenos Aires Lab (BAL), the co-production market component of the Buenos Aires Intl. Festival of Independent Film (Baifif).

As it turns out, Hughan’s Fortuna Films represents one of six countries that backed director Paz Encina’s “Hamaca Paraguaya” after the Paraguayan filmmaker hooked up with the various production entities at Baifif.

Hughan describes BAL as “a first step to get a project known and out into the world.”

More industryites are paying attention. BAL tripled its invitees to 75 this year from the previous edition. They heard pitches for 35 projects selected from more than 200 proposals, with a greater emphasis on Latin America.

France’s Elise Jalladeua found “El custodio” at Buenos Aires, which she ended up co-producing with outfits from Argentina, Uruguay and elsewhere. Directed by Rodrigo Moreno, “Custodio” has picked up prizes at Berlin, Guadalajara and Sundance.

“It is a festival for finding young talent,” says Pascual Condito, president of Primer Plano Film Group, a distributor-producer in Buenos Aires.

Argentina’s Mar del Plata added a co-production event to its market this year, helping attendance surge 60% to 400 participants. Eighty projects — 60 from Argentina and 20 from elsewhere in the region — were presented to 100 local and 30 foreign companies including Filmax and HBO Latin America. Some producers took home as many as 60 projects to consider, organizers say.

The fest wants to take the place of Havana’s Film Festival of New Latin American Cinema as the vehicle for promoting Latin-American filmmakers and films, says Argentine filmmaker Miguel Pereira, organizer of the past four editions.

To do this, he slashed the lineup this year to 200 films from 310 in 2005 and gave greater focus to Latin America, with more than 10 features from the region making their world premiere and six in the main competition.

Argentina’s fests haven’t escaped criticism. Mar del Plata suffered organization gaffs, while participants say Buenos Aires needs a system that allows producers to meet directors more efficiently. Earlier confirmation of attendees as well as more and bigger players would also help, they say.

Also giving Havana a run for the money is Mexico’s Guadalajara Intl. Film Fest, which is heading into its 21st year and widened its competition to films from Latin America and Spain for the first time in 2004.

Veteran Mexican producer Jorge Sanchez took over the reins late last year. With only several months to prepare for the fest last March, Sanchez managed to engineer a quantum leap in the level of buyers at the fest, drawing more European and U.S. players than ever, and offering more than 450 titles.

His focus for next year will be to further raise the level of both buyers and sellers at the market. Another prime objective is to consolidate the fest as a launching pad for Mexican co-productions with Latin America and Europe.

“This first year was just the base for next year,” Sanchez says. “We are focusing, with strategic clarity, on generating the interest among professionals to be here in Guadalajara.”

Newbury reported from Buenos Aires, O’Boyle from Mexico City.

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