Fest aims for busy market, more co-productions

The 23rd incarnation of the Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival is striving to carve out a bigger market for Mexico and Latin America’s film industries.

As film production has picked up across the region, from Mexico City to Buenos Aires, and its filmmakers garner increasing international critical attention — most recently at Berlin with Jose Padilha’s “The Elite Squad” and Fernando Eimbcke’s “Lake Tahoe” — both local and international distribution remain difficult.

GIFF director Jorge Sanchez is trying to use Mexico’s most industry-focused fest to change that. He is in year three of a five-year plan to consolidate Guadalajara into the region’s most active film market and a hub for co-productions.

Sanchez rose to fame as a director and producer during the 1990s, served as Mexico’s cultural attache in Brazil and took over GIFF in its 2006 edition. He has both a working knowledge of film production and a bird’s-eye view of the region.

“We are living a crisis,” Sanchez says. “When you look at the shares national films take in their box offices, you want to cry.”

While countries like Mexico and Colombia managed to inch up the share of local films in the box office last year, other countries like Brazil and Argentina saw their shares dip. Few films travel to the U.S., Europe and Asia, and there is minimal trade in films between neighboring countries.

“The circulation of Spanish-language films (between Spanish-speaking countries) is absolutely ridiculous, and it’s something they haven’t been able to change, despite good intentions of governments and international agreements,” Sanchez says. For example, only a handful of Argentine films are released in Mexico every year, and even fewer Mexican films travel to Argentina.

But Sanchez hopes the proper networking between professionals in the region, and a more concerted effort to channel institutional aid, can make a difference.

This year, GIFF is showcasing Argentina and Quebec in its sidebars. Mexican and Argentine film officials will work on increasing institutional cooperation, while meetings between Argentine producers and Mexican distribs could help spur more interests between the markets. Similar work will take place with filmmakers and authorities from Quebec.

Most crucially, Sanchez has managed to drive up the number of buyers visiting Guadalajara’s market, now in its sixth year.

“There is a lot of really creative talent in Mexico,” says Paris-based sales agent Peter Danner. His Funny Balloons outfit handles rights for Eimbcke’s films and last year’s Guadalajara winner “Blue Eyelids,” which also nabbed a prize at Sundance this year.

Danner says Guadalajara’s market allows buyers to put a focus on Mexican film.

“We get to see people all the time, but in Berlin and Cannes it’s always a rush, we never have the time to sit down and discuss quietly some of the projects we have been talking about for months or years.”

Meanwhile, a new administration at Mexico’s film institute is trying to bolster Guadalajara’s aims year round.

Marina Stavenhagen took over at Imcine last year. She says the last administration helped boost the number of productions in Mexico through funding, but her main goal is to help ensure distribution by aligning with small, independent distribution companies.

Like many independent producers in the region, Stavenhagen laments current market conditions in Mexico, where major distributors are releasing more films and more prints of those films; major tentpoles now eat up a third of the nation’s screens with every release.

“The shape of the free market is working against the possibilities for the free offer of ideas and the possibility of diversity,” she says. “We are trying to give Mexican film better conditions to compete.”

TIP SHEET

What: 23rd Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival

When: March 7-14

Where: Guadalajara, Mexico

Web: guadalajaracinemafest08.com

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