Sundance Channel Moves Into Latin American

Pay TV service snares Latin American movies ‘Leones,’ ‘Flying Fish’

BUENOS AIRES – Giving Latin America’s movie industry cause to tango as it assembles en masse today at Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur, AMC’s new Sundance Channel in Latin America has moved into the region’s movie biz, acquiring

Latin American first-run pay TV rights to Jazmin Lopez’s “Leones” and Marcela Said’s “The Summer of Flying Fish.”

“Leones” has also been acquired for Spain and Portugal, Canada, Dutch-Benelux and Asia.

The move is part of a far larger picture for AMC/Sundance Channel Global: Starting in France and Benelux in 2009, it has rolled out Sundance Channel in Spain, Portugal, Eastern Europe and the better part of Asia, among territories.

With the two pick-ups, however, Sundance Channel joins the select ranks of players such as HBO, Fox’s LAP TV and Netflix whose competition for premium pay TV rights for Latin America to movies from the biggest U.S. indie titles to art house gems has galvanized the value of the Latin American movie market, driving up prices paid for the region by indie distributors, and creating significant incremental revenues stream for local producers.

The acquisitions come just a couple of months after AMC/Sundance Channel Global allied with DirecTV Latin America to launch Sundance Channel on Sept. 17 ito launch a Sundance Channel in seven Latin American countries: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

A Portuguese-language Sundance Channel feed for Brazil “is very much on the horizon, although we don’t have a specific date,” Harold Gronenthal, AMC/Sundance Channel Global’s EVP, Programming and Operations, said on the eve of Ventana Sur.

A 24/7 linear Spanish-language service, Latin America’s Sundance channel will air first-run original drama, indie pics and docus catering to the region, AMC/Sundance Channel Global said last summer.

First-run original shows for Sundance Channel include “Rectify,” starring “Killer Elite’s” Aden Young, the Sundance Channel’s first wholly-owned scripted series. Now

Lopez’s “Leones” and “Flying Fish” have been added to the mix.

An Argentine allegorical fantasy-suspenser owing a heavy debt to the country’s magnificent tradition of fantasy literature – think Jorge Luis Borges –  “Lopez” unspools after four young friends suffer a probably fatal car crash. It premiered in Venice’s new film trends themed 2012 Horizons section.

Produced by Bruno Bettati’s Chile-based Jirafa Films, “Fish,” which played Cannes’ Director Fortnight this year, sets a coming-of-age tale against a background of indigenous civil unrest. It screens at Ventana Sur.

Both are striking fiction feature debuts by two of Latin America’s most prominent on-the-rise distaff directors. Neither, however, are straight-arrow Latin American social issue films of yore.

“We are looking to bring smart independent new-to-market premiere festival titles to the Sundance Channel: High-quality, thought-provoking films which are cast-driven, have great stories and cinematographic values, films that catch you just enough off-guard so that you want to come back to the next film on the channel, ” said Gail Gendler, AMC/Sundance Channel Global senior director of acquisitions, who is attending Venana Sur.

At this year’s Sundance Festival, Gendler already acquired Mexican Sebastian Hofmann’s fantasy feature “Halley,” about a night guard who’s dead and can no longer hide it, for Sundance Channel Global’s international pay TV channels.

Sundance Channel’s acquisitions come as Latin American pay TV homes, 54.9 million in 2012, look set to grow to 84.6 million by 2018, per Digital TV World Household Forecasts, driven by the region’s swelling middle-classes.

“There are gaps in the market for a festival-based channel, with high-end quality films, scripted dramas and other programming such as documentary films. We know there’s a Sundance audience in Latin America, Gronenthal said.

Sundance Channel Global hasn’t set any specific goal for the number of Latin American films it will acquire next year.

“We’ve only been going two-and-a-half months. We’ve probably brought 50 premiere title to the market from the U.S., Europe and Asia during that period, But we’re still sizing up the Latin American market,” Gronenthal said.

Both “Leones” and “Fish” look set to air first quarter 2014.

AMC/Sundance Channel Global is looking at its ability to offer curated editorial content about Latin American film for the region’s Sundance Channel.

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