In a year when one Mexican movie, Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included,” finally cracked the U.S. Latino market, and two titles — Gary Alazraki’s “We Are the Nobles” and “Instructions” — raked in a combined 940.6 million pesos ($71.6 million) at the Mexican B.O., the country, its market and its filmmakers have become a new Hollywood obsession.
What the Mexican industry has really achieved, and what it still has left to achieve, is a different — and much debated — question.
Some giant steps forward are obvious. In 2002 Mexico produced 14 features; in 2013 it was 126, the highest number since 1959. And intriguingly, 60% of 2013 productions were debut features.
Hikes in Imcine Mexican Film Institute subsidies certainly bear significant credit, with $18.3 million set aside for 2014. Also offering a boost is the Eficine tax break investment, capped at $53.3 million in 2014, up 40% on 2013.
“One of Mexico’s biggest breakthroughs is the fiscal incentive, which launched an entire generation of new filmmakers: Gerardo Naranjo, Michel Franco, Amat Escalante, myself,” Alazraki says. “New producers are being professionalized and becoming more sophisticated in their relationship with studios, trying to understand arrangements for working with different distributors. That’s generated an entire schooling — really necessary to get an industry going.”
The reach of homegrown production companies has spread. A clutch — Lemon Films, Canana, AG Studios, Alazraki’s own Alazraki Entertainment — operate offices in Mexico City and L.A.
At Cannes, since 2010 Mexico has won the Camera d’Or (“Leap Year”), director (“Post Tenebras Lux,” “Heli”) and Un Certain Talent (“La jaula de oro”).
“We’ve seen the development of a double proposition in filmmaking: the festival arthouse indie market and then genre mainstream filmmakers,” Alazraki says.
Along with Mexico’s 5,578 screen count, local movies are still driving Mexico’s market boom. Thanks to “Nobles” and “Instructions,” Mexican films’ market share stood at 10.1% last year, a large increase from 2012.
Aided by chick pic “Get Married if You Can,” which opened Feb. 14 to $12.8 million, total box office is up 14.4% this year, totalling $258.2 million through April 20, says Luis Vargas, Rentrak managing director, Mexico.
“I don’t know if any movie this year will hit the heights of ‘Instructions,’ but film by film they should perform better this year. People in Mexico are saying that Mexican films are different now. We are at a wonderful moment,” he says.
“What definitely changed with ‘We Are the Nobles’ is the boldness of the Mexican distributors who are willing to push Mexican films as if they were tentpoles from the U.S.,” Alazraki says.
The real challenge now is not just to finance and produce films but to ensure they’re seen.
Producer Edgar San Juan says“Before, Mexican films focused on poverty, inequality, conflict, and were made for external markets. Now, stories and issues are changing a lot and we are trying to stay in contact with our constituency, our home market base,” San Juan will present Nicolas Pereda’s “The Absent” at the BAL Goes to Cannes showcase on May 20.
The Mexican government is helping. In 2014, distributors can tap into $3.8 million in tax breaks, capped at about $300,000 per picture, to release Mexican films. “The real challenge,” however, says Imcine director Jorge Sanchez, “is not distribution or exhibition, but Mexican citizens’ access to Mexican films.”
With that in mind, Imcine will launch a VOD website offering citizens up to 250 Mexican movies or shorts by year-end, Sanchez says.
And starting in June, a trial service in drug war-ravaged Michoacan will install Internet services in 150 public libraries, culture centers and high schools, and offer open-air digital projections of Mexican films in 104 municipalities, accompanied by a book buses and local storytellers, who will entertain the primarily young public before screenings.
The initiatives aim to encourage “people to return to public spaces, generate social interaction,” Sanchez says.
And then there’s international.
“Right now, it’s arthouse, indie films, which are marketed in the landmark theaters in the U.S., which travel well. Mainstream films don’t. That’s something we still need to build,” Alazraki says.
When it comes to arthouse movies, Mexico is already punching above its weight, expanding into Latin America and even Europe.
“We want our films to be seen in multiple territories. Co-productions can help that,” says Velarium Arts co-founder Mayra Espinosa Castro.
Mexico’s market is booming, but its top companies want access to a larger picture.