Raindance: Mexico’s Film Industry Shows International Ambitions

Eight movie projects from Mexico’s youngest generation of producers presented at Raindance.

LONDON – Welcome to Mexico’s crossover industry. The 23rd Raindance Festival’s pioneering Focus on Mexico Co-Production Forum gave a London producer audience the chance to discover the energy and ambitions of one of, challenges aside, the world’s flourishing national industries.

Many of those ambitions, if the eight projects presented by Mexican directors and producers, are anything to go on, now run through the U.S.

Five titles are in some way Mexican-U.S. crossovers. Though all made by Mexican filmmakers, two are set totally in the U.S, one off its shore, another couple straddle Los Angeles and Latin America. Two Raindance project directors – Grau and Ezban – have been signed up by Paradigm Talent Agency.

The question at the Focus on Mexico was to what the burgeoning Mexico-U.S. film axis could interest potential U.K. co-producers.

Montserrat Larque’s “Over There,” a cutting-edge emigration comedy, is set in Los Angeles and Mexico and will shoot in English and Spanish. Also a potentially crowd-pleasing romcom, it pictures a L.A.-based Mexican emigré who returns for the first time ever to his native village in Mexico to claim an inheritance. He discovers his place in the world. “The film talks about the question of identity. “‘Who Am I? Where do I come from,’” Larque said in London.

Set up at Barrie Dowdall’s Dublin-based Film & Television Production, Kevin de la Isla’s “Next of Kin,” is being structured as a co-production with screenwriter Shane McCabe’s L.A. agency Grandview Management, Dowdall said. But, a “suspense thriller drama,” in De la Isla’s words, turning on an ex-FARC Colombian kidnap victim struggling to come to terms with normal life in L.A., it will shoot its Colombian scenes in Mexico, the director added.

Set up at Mexico’s Avanti Pictures, Jack Zagha’s “A Useless Puddle,” unspools in a Northern town in the U.S., would shoot in English, is Avanti’s most ambitious film yet. Jonathan Ostos Yaber’s “The Morphable Man,” a fantasy comedy, teams Mexican outfits Linterna and Red Elephant with U.S.-based Morphable Studios, turns on Adio, a young Mexican who lives in Austin Texas.

Revolving around two drug mules, awaiting a shipment off the Miami coast, Jorge Michel Grau’s “Yamaha 300 ” is a movie that melds U.S. genre tradition –it’s a suspense thriller with action elements – English-language and a U.S. location with a Latino-U.S. subject, Mexican source material, a stage-play, and a Latin American director’s singular auteurist concerns.

Itandehul Jansen’s “In Times of Rain,” takes place in the town of Nochistian, in the southern state of Oaxaca, records the challenge faced by Soledad, a traditional healer in an indigenous community, when her still young daughter Adela, who left five years ago to work in Mexico City, asks for Soledad to send her Jose, her five year-old-son whom Soledad has cared for, to join her in the city. But its co-production structure is again cosmopolitan. Jensen is based out of the Netherlands, producer Marisa Polin, also Mexican Dutch, ha set up her production company, FilMar, in London. Angeles Cruz (pictured, “The Violin”) will play Soledad, Jensen said in London.

Mexican cinema’s soaring international ambitions is just one sign of its build. A Raindance Focus on Mexico panel analyzed others.

When the Guadalajara Festival launched, Mexico produced about a dozen films, recalled Ivan Trujillo, its longstanding director. Now Mexico produces about 130, he added. Reasons? “We have problems with distribution, but little by little our audience is watching more Mexican cinema. A new generation of filmmakers is breaking through. Of the directors at Guadalajara’s Mezcal competition, dedicated to national films, “about 50%” are first-time directors,” he added.

Some recent stats for the Mexican film industry are so spectacular as to seem just plain wrong. One example: According to Imcine’s Mexican Film Statistics Annual, attendance for Mexican films plunged from 2013’s 30.3 million to 24 million last year. Yet, that’s still way up on admissions before 2013 that from 2000 have wavered between 7.1 million in 2005 to 14.7 million in 2002. Tix sales now seem to be in another league.

Elliot Grove, Raindance Fest director, described how he was “blown away” when he visited the Guadalajara Fest this year. “This is the Cannes of Latin America: it is massive. Just meeting all the Latin American and Mexican filmmakers in Guadalajara, I realized there’s a big difference with the level I see back here with the British filmmakers.”

“Latin American filmmakers are as young and as energetic as any I meet in London. Their producing skills are superior when dealing with Los Angeles. Endeavor and the big agencies in Los Angeles are busting themselves trying to sign as many Latin Americans as possible,” he continued, citing Mexico cinemas two Best Director Oscar winners – Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu – two Cannes winners – Carlos Reygadas and Amat Escalante – and box office for select Mexican films Stateside. “Instructions Not Included” was famously the highest-grossing foreign-language film in the U.S. in 2013; “Cantinflas” the second biggest non-English language film last year.

Twinning U.K. and Mexican film finance is another matter.

Mexico and the U.K. lack a formal bilateral co-production treaty.

That is not to say that they are inaccessible. Hugo Villa, a specialist in Mexican regulation, drilled down on details. Mexico has two state funds, Foprocine (for artistic films) and Fidecine (for more commercial title), via which its Imcine Film Institute takes equity in national movies, and Efecine tax coin. To access either Foprocine or Fidecine, a film must be a majority Mexican co-production and its director Mexican. Efecine, a tax incentive scheme, offers up to Pesos 20 million ($1.2 million) and 80% of production costs, Villa said.

At least 70% of that money must be spent in Mexico and the films financed have cast, creative personnel and/or key craft from Mexico,” added producer Yossy Zagha.

That’s substantial funding. These days on U.S. indie-Mexican movies.it’s Mexico, not the U.S. which is increasingly coming to the table with money, and the U.S. with development expertise, key creative elements. The days of Mexico as a dirt-poor film power look over.

London’s 2015 Raindance Festival runs Sept. 23 through Oct. 4.

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