French mart takes stand in Latin America

Cannes Marche takes biz know-how to Buenos Aires

Ventana Sur won’t be just another new market.

Unspooling Nov. 27-30 in Buenos Aires, it’s by far the biggest and most ambitious Latin American film market ever, as well as the first full-fledged attempt by the Cannes Festival’s Marche du Film to export its brand, know-how and know-who.

It’s a joint venture of Argentina’s film institute, Incaa, and the Marche. Ventana Sur literally means “South Window.”

“Because it’s a market, it looks like a commercial venture. But it’s not totally that,” says Cannes Festival delegate general Thierry Fremaux. “We’re preparing for Cannes’ future.” That includes growing in areas beyond Cannes. “We’re not saying we’re the greatest festival in the world. But Cannes is a trademark and we have duties.”

One duty, Fremaux says, is “helping people around the world when sometimes (their) cinema (industry) needs help.”

Ventana Sur could be a “trial” for other markets worldwide, Fremaux adds.

Cannes’ Ventana Sur involvement is crucial. “From the get-go it creates a strong European-Latin American axis,” says Filmax’s Vicente Canales.

But the creation of Ventana Sur responds to other issues.

In a decade, Latin America’s pic output has tripled from 102 films in 1998 to 312 last year, according to Screen Digest.

“Latin American film and TV are growing every day in quality and quantity,” says Incaa prexy Liliana Mazure.

But fest play and distribution is another matter, with only a small percentage of Latin American films unspooling at established big fests, she argues.

As for distribution, even just a few years back a wide range of titles commanded arthouse auds. Now, however, a small clutch of big-name auteurs and breakouts drive the market.

“We can hope the market improves or new media starts to offer real returns. Distributors may then open up,” says Cannes Marche director Jerome Paillard.

But, as things stand, “You have to meet a lot of people because you don’t know where the next film hit might come from,” says Nicole Mackey, senior VP at Fortissimo.

Also, says Memento Films’ Nicholas Kaiser, “There are fewer bigger markets. There aren’t many markets where you can meet everyone. So you need to get out and reach them.”

So sales agents are traveling as much as ever before. And regional markets where they can nurse deals in tough territories and track new projects — Haugesund, Rome, London — are on the rise. Attendance was up 16% over 2008’s numbers at October’s Rome Business Street mart.

As broadcasters slash acquisitions budgets and banks cut credit lines, distributors’ T&E budgets are under pressure like never before. A regional market like Ventana Sur, which covers buyers’ costs, proves particularly attractive.

Also, Latin America currently calls for special attention, given its status as one of the world’s fastest-emerging regional cinemas. Some countries, such as Chile — which had four productions in 1998, and 22 in 2008 — are ramping up production. Others like Brazil and Argentina, have seen local-pic B.O. rallies.

In Argentina, “The Secret of Their Eyes” had held the top spot through Oct. 25 for 11 consecutive weeks, selling 2.1 million tickets. Other strong draws include “The Widows of Thursdays.”

“Ventana Sur follows early second half of the year where much local production in several Latin American territories, above all Argentina, is achieving audience levels far above normal,” says Ventana Sur director Bernardo Bergeret.

Ventana Sur comes at a time when Latin American governments are reaching out to the international film biz with incentives and funding programs, such as Brazil’s P&A financing scheme.

“Latin America has new, talented directors and new government film support systems, and European companies can bring significant coin to productions,” says Frederic Corvez, prexy of France’s U Media, which this September inked a three-year co-production and international sales agreement with Brazil’s Dezenove.

“Even if of course many Latin American films are arty and not very easy films, they are becoming more and more fashionable,” Paillard says.

Paillard also argues that most Latin America films are low-budget fare, and that fact may be helpful for some smaller distributors, who know how to survive without releasing films on 50 prints.

It will be interesting to see how a pure-play market works without a buzzmaking festival around it.

Not all distributors, at least from Europe, will have made the trip to the AFM.

“We’re going in part to meet Latin American producers. It’s a much better way to get access to them,” says Kaiser.

The Incaa/Marche Ventana Sur contract runs three years. But for the region, the market is more than selling and networking

Says Mazure: “We’re revaluing Latin American film and TV — for Latin Americans, and for the world.”

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