Fest Traveler: Baja Film Festival 2012

The inaugural Baja Intl. Film Festival is making a play for Hollywood with an ambitious program aimed at forging stronger ties between the U.S. and Mexican film industries. The upstart fest is spearheaded by twin brothers Sean and Scott Cross, co-founders and co-directors of the Vail Film Festival and Colorado Film Institute, who have tapped former Guadalajara film fest director Jorge Sanchez to serve as co-artistic director.

The event’s president-founder is property developer Eduardo Sanchez-Navarro, who is keen to trump two previous attempts at launching a film festival in the tony resort of Los Cabos.

The venue is the spanking new 72,000 sq.-ft. Los Cabos Convention Center, the site of the June G20 summit where finance ministers and heads of government from 20 major economic powers convened, which might allay concerns regarding security in the face of Mexico’s brutal drug war.

“Baja is very safe; this is one of the primary reasons why it was chosen for the G20 summit,” says Scott Cross.

Cash prizes ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 will be awarded to the best pics, docus and shorts in six categories.

“What differentiates us from other festivals is the caliber of the team we have put together and the long-standing relationships in Hollywood and Mexico that we bring to the festival,” says Scott Cross.

Nancy Collet, former AFI director of programming, serves as senior international films programmer. Eva Sangiorgi, who heads the Mexican National U.’s international film fest, has been tapped to program the Mexican Narrative Features lineup.

Industry liaison Alejandra Paulin, who runs Guadalajara Intl. Film Fest’s Iberoamerican Film Market, is working alongside Sanchez to put together a bi-national film forum scheduled for Nov. 16.

“I’m most excited about the pending announcement of a film fund for Mexican filmmakers,” says Sanchez. Said fund, in the initial amount of $138,000, will be unveiled at the forum.

More than 70 features and 40 shorts from the U.S., Mexico and further afield are slatted to be unveiled at the fest, which kicks off Nov.14 with Stuart Blumberg’s sex addiction dramedy “Thanks for Sharing,” and closes Nov. 17 with Pablo Larrain’s “No,” Chile’s foreign-lingo Oscar entry, starring Mexico’s Gael Garcia Bernal.

Considering its maiden nature, the event has lured a notable roster of luminaries and film execs from Mexico and its northern neighbor, with tributes on thesps Edward Norton, Melissa Leo, Virginia Madsen, Diego Luna and Matt Dillon, as well as directors Michael Apted and Nicolas Echevarria scheduled over its four nights and three days.

Other guests include Octavia Spencer and helmer Tate Taylor (“The Help”). Repping Mexico are actors Bernal, Kuno Becker and Diego Boneta, as well as Canana’s distribution head Cristina Garza.

Hollywood execs making the trek include Fox Searchlight’s Tony Safford, QED prexy Daniel Diamond, Lionsgate production VP Matt Kaplan and CAA film finance co-heads Roeg Sutherland and Micah Green.

HIGHLIGHTS
Nov. 14
Opening-night reception, 7:30 p.m., Los Cabos Convention Center
Opening-night film: “Thanks for Sharing” (Stuart Blumberg), 8 p.m., Los Cabos Convention Center
Opening-night party, 10 p.m., Los Cabos Convention Center

Nov. 15
Filmmaker reception, 6:45 p.m., Wirikuta Cactus Garden

Nov. 16
Mexico-USA Film Forum, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Los Cabos Convention Center
Panelists include 20th Century Fox’s Tony Safford, Canana producer Pablo Cruz, Imcine’s Hugo
Villa, Anima Estudios’ Alex Garcia and Alebrije’s Monica Lozano.

Key panels:
10:15 a.m.-11:15 a.m.: Investment and Funding in Mexico & the USA
11:15 a.m.-1:15 p.m.: Challenges, Needs & Opportunities of Mexican Cinema
2:45 p.m.-4 p.m.: Locations & Facilities in Mexico
Art Walk and Hotel Cafe Concert, 7 p.m., Island Marina, Puerto Los Cabos. Followed by an informal dinner and cocktails. Musical performers include Sara Bareilles, Cary Brothers, Harper Blynn, Madi Diaz and Holly Conlan.

Nov. 17
Panel Discussion, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Cabo Convention Center, Actors, directors and producers discuss film industry topics.
Closing Night Film: “No” (Pablo Larrain), 5 p.m., Los Cabos Convention Center
VIP Cocktail Reception, 7:15 p.m.
Award Ceremony Dinner, 8 p.m., Los Cabos Convention Center

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