'Buena Vida' takes top prize

HUELVA, Spain — The Huelva Film Festival, which wrapped Saturday, underscored both the strength of Latin American filmmaking and the vital role such events play in the foreign-language pic biz.

The top prize at the fest, one of Europe’s leading showcases for Spanish and Portuguese language pics, was won by Andres Wood’s Chile-Argentina-Spain co-production “La Buena vida” (The Good Life).

While this was great news for the producers, of equal importance is the fact that Golem, one of Spain’s top artfilm distributors, is closing Spanish rights on the pic.

“It’s a small film. We’re negotiating details. The prize helps us remain on the same page for a deal,” said Golem’s Josechu Moreno.

Foreign sales agents face the need to stage a world tour of festivals, selling films territory by territory off the back of upbeat local reaction.

The winner of Huelva’s first film award, Mexican helmer Enrique Rivero’s study of solitude “Parque Via,” was acquired by Spain’s Wanda at San Sebastian in September, after it won Locarno’s top kudo in August.

Wanda is also a pic producer and has been focused this year on selling Spanish emigrant drama “14 Kilometers” in foreign markets.

“Prizes help at lot. On ‘14 Kilometers,’ for example, director Gerardo Olivares accompanied the film to multiple European festivals. That helped sales agent Latido place it in practically all of Europe,” Jose Maria Morales, head of Wanda, said.

Sales on “14 Kilometers” include France (Colifilm), Germany (Kairos), Italy (Universo) and Benelux (CNC).

Directors also use fests like Huelva to float new projects, with the press and the industry alike. Wood told Daily Variety he is working on a film about Chile’s best-known folk singer Violeta Parra.

Huelva’s prizes emphasized the vitality of the Latin American production scene.

As well as the wins for fellow South American pics “Good Life” and “Via,” Paula Hernandez’s Argentine drama “Lluvia” took the special jury prize and the actress kudo for Valeria Vertuccelli. Three Colombian pics won awards. Screenplay went to “Dog Eat Dog,” the audience award to “Paradise Travel,” and the Freedom Key Award to “La Milagrosa.”

The only winner among the Spanish pics was “Esperpentos,” which nabbed actor for heartthrob Juan Luis Galiardo, and cinematography for Jose Luis Alcaine and Javier Salmones.

The Mexican production biz seems especially healthy.

Like many Mexican directors — think Guillermo del Toro or Carlos Reygadas — “Via” helmer Rivero is assuming production duties on pics by up-and-coming compatriots. His Una Comunion label is in production on “Stroke,” the feature debut of Daniela Schneider.

Aided by hiked tax breaks, and the need to register in an ever more saturated world market, Latin American directors are becoming more ambitious.

Also from Mexico, Rafa Lara, whose narco-thriller “La Milagrosa” played to a largely upbeat reaction at Huelva, has psycho thriller “El Quinto mandamiento” and romantic comedy “Latin Gringo” in post, and is moving forward with a higher-bracket narco-actioner “La Mala sangre,” which he aims to structure as a Latin American-U.S.-Spain co-production.

Huelva also hosts Spain’s principal co-production meet. The 9th Huelva Co-Production Forum, which ran Nov. 20-22, saw a clutch of projects generating buzz. Among them:

* Spain’s $6 million “El Dragon de fuego,” produced by Alta Realitat and to be helmed by Ferran Audi, a 50s thriller set on the U.S.-Mexico border;

* “Enemigo Legal,” a Mexican legal thriller produced by Amecidi, from helmer Ernesto Yanez;

* Panamanian comedy “El estado plasma,” from Jaguar Films.

Fest ran Nov. 15-22.

And the winners are…

GOLDEN COLOMBUS
“La Buena vida” (The Good Life), Andres Wood, Chile-Argentina-Spain

SPECIAL JURY AWARD
“Lluvia,” Paula Hernandez, Argentina

SILVER CARAVEL, FIRST FILM
“Parque Via,” Enrique Rivero, Mexico

SILVER COLOMBUS, ACTRESS
Valeria Vertuccelli, “Lluvia,” Argentina

SILVER COLOMBUS, ACTOR
Juan Luis Galiardo, “Esperpentos,” Spain

PHOTOGRAPHY
Jose Luis Alcaine, Javier Salmones, “Esperpentos,” Spain

SCREENPLAY
Carlos Moreno, Alonso Torres, “Dog Eat Dog,” Colombia

AUDIENCE AWARD
“Paradise Travel,” Simon Brand, Colombia

FREEDOM KEY AWARD
“La Milagrosa” Rafa Lara, Colombia

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