New generation follows Cuaron, Inarritu, del Toro

MEXICO CITY — In the last decade there has been a slow resurgence of Mexican cinema, following the near-extinction of local film production in the 1990s. During that time, Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro broke out, drawing attention to Mexican film. In their wake, the next generation is making its mark.

Film production has been steadily increasing in Mexico. Between innovative documentaries and a wave of minimalist features, a distinctly Mexican aesthetic is emerging amid the arthouse scene. At the same time, there is greater diversity of projects, from toons and commercial comedies to sci-fi and fantasy.

But this year will mark a test of whether the market will be able to support Mexico’s burgeoning film production, as more local films fight for fewer spaces amid the glut of global product.

Mexico has been living through a protracted political, social and economic crisis since the ’90s. Its closed economy was pried open and leveled by free trade. Its political system has evolved from one-party rule to democracy. The cultural strife has been fueling cinematic innovation.

Mexico’s most promising arthouse directors like Fernando Eimbcke, Amat Escalante and Gerardo Naranjo and documakers like Juan Carlos Rulfo have found international fans with their fresh takes on a globalized Mexico struggling to find itself.

But so far, Mexico’s cutting edge has struggled to do much business at the home box office. The release of Carlos Reygadas’ acclaimed “Silent Light” was a blip this winter.

On the other hand, the local shingles of Hollywood majors have been producing a string of box office hits, while independent Mexican producers like Lemon Films, with “KM 31,” and Altavista Films, with “Bad Habits,” are showing increasing savvy in putting out commercially successful films.

Still, speaking of Mexico’s film production as an industry is a bit of an exaggeration. Few films see any return on their investment, and only a handful of filmmakers make a living doing film, the rest forced to work commercials or migrate to bigger markets like Hollywood and New York.

But that has begun to change. A tax incentive for film investment has helped spur dozens of companies to invest in film projects. In the mid-’90s, Mexico was putting out a handful of films. Last year, some 48 projects out of a total of 74 feature-length films were funded by a total of nearly $50 million thanks to corporate investors, from steel companies to banks.

However, many of these films are from first-time helmers and were produced through ad hoc production companies without a track record.

“There is going to be a weeding-out process,” say Gabriel Ripstein, head of Columbia’s local production office. “It’s hard to compete if you don’t have the muscle of a major.”

Darkening the horizon, President Felipe Calderon’s efforts at tax reform could soon eliminate the tax incentive.

Monica Lozano, head of Altavista Films as well as Mexico’s independent producers association, says filmmakers will need to make a concerted lobbying effort.

“If the tax incentive isn’t maintained, we could be in a very delicate position,” Lozano says.

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