Epigmenio Ibarra and Marco Antonio Salgado
Photos by: Gilberto Torres/FICG

Mexican production powerhouse drives into movies, series as VOD revolution gears up in Latin America

GUADALAJARA — Mexico’s Argos Cine is teaming with both Bob Yari, producer of “Crash” and “The Illusionist,” to co-produce “Luciérnagas en El Mozote” (“Fireflies at El Mozote”) and with Spain’s Arturo Perez Reverte, author of “Queen of the South,” for a second movie, “The Man From Rome,” an English-language big-screen makeover of Reverte’s Seville-set thriller “La piel del tambor,” in deals that mark out Argos Cine and parent Argos Comunicacion as an ambitious go-to production partner in Mexico for both film and TV.

Moving forward on the series “Burn the Bridge,” Argos Cine struck no fewer than nine co-production deals at Mexico’s Guadalajara Festival, boarding three titles at its Co-production meeting – Chile’s “Another Lake,” Costa Rica’s “Ballroom,” and Mexico’s “Night of July” – and two genre pic projects from Spanish producer Antonia Nava, agreeing to co-produce Ahinoa Menendez’s “Eco” and Gustavo Moheno’s “Melisa.”

Argos Cine is the leading dealmaker at Mexico’s Guadalajara Fest, which wraps March 13; its big new movie announcements come as parent Argos Comunicacion, historically a Mexican producer of telenovelas and movies founded by former war correspondent Epigmenio Ibarra, seeks to consolidate its position as one of Latin America’s top independent content producers.

Argos has already scored in the U.S. Co-produced with Telemundo and Colombia’s Caracol TV, “The Lord of the Skies” was at times the highest-rated show in its timeslot in the U.S., despite being Spanish-language.

Now, however, Argos can benefit from a ramping-up demand for dramas and movies in Mexico and in Latin America’s pay TV/OTT space as its regional giants –Televisa with Blim, Carlos Slim’s ClaroVideo, Brazil’s Globo, foreseeably HBO GO — plunge full-on into VOD in Latin America. Netflix has operated there since 2011. It can also look to a U.S. Latino market that has converted Spanish-language movies into the highest-grossing foreign-language fare in the U.S. in 2013 and last year.

Further projects include, notably, “Burn the Bridge,” a six-seg miniseries about the 1989 El Salvador assassination of Jesuit priest Ignacio Ellacuria.

El Salvador-born and L.A.-based Ernesto Melara is attached to direct “Fireflies,” inspired by a true story of the slaughter of 800-plus villagers by government troops in the San Salvador village of El Mozote. In the film, one boy survives, is taken in by a FMLN guerilla unit in charge of Radio Venceremos, which flies in the New York Times correspondent Randall Walker to cover the massacre as government forces attempt to destroy Radio Venceremos before the U.S. Congress votes on a new round of military aid to El Salvador.

Bob Yari’s Yari Film Group co-produces with Argos Cine. Shooting in Spanish and English, “ ‘Fireflies’ will boast an international cast. Producers are currently in talks with Paz Vega (“Spanglish”) and other international names to star in the movie.

“The idea is to make a film which would be profitable in the U.S. Hispanic market, and move it in English-speaking markets so that it could compete for Academy Award, but in the foreign-language category,” said Marco Antonio Salgado, Argos Cine exec director.

Centering on a Vatican intelligence official sent to investigate a series of deaths at a small crumbling church in Seville, procedural-thriller “Men in Rome” is produced by Wayne Duband and Sergio Dow at Drumskin Productions, Argos Cine, Miguel Torrente and Iñigo Marco at Spain’s Numerica Films and Colombia’s Alina Hleap, at Fundacion Enic Producciones (“Sergeant Matacho”). Colombia’s Sergio Dow writes and directs. A screenplay is completed.

Argos Cine is in talks with Diego Luna and Elena Anaya for “Burn the Bridge” — inspired by a true tragic event, the 1989 assassination of Jesuit priest Ignacio Ellacuria by military forces of an El Salvador government backed by the CIA — which is set up as a co-production between Argos Comunicación and Spanish producer Anton Reixa, Ibarra said.

To shoot year-end 2016, “Bridge,” per Ibarra, is about “the last hot war of the Cold War, a complex co-production and big series with four settings”: the Washington Department of State Situation Room; Managua, El Salvador, and Spain, from where Ellacuria travels to El Salvador.

“Ellacuria thinks he can be the mediator for a negotiation between the FMLN and the government. The military and CIA think the same; so he’s killed,” Ibarra commented.

Argos Comunicion is in talks for series at both Televisa’s Blim and Netflix. Compared to the U.S. or indeed Europe, TV drama production budgets in Latin America remain contained.

Working in a narrow profit margin production sector, Argos Comunicación has sought to diversify its broadcaster relationships to take in operators outside Mexico – Telemundo, notably, and Discovery, Disney, HBO Latin America, ESPN, MTV, Comedy Central — and is tying down talents relationships, including with a new generation of film and TV creatives, and is seeking economies of scale to create acceptable cash flow as it pursues a volume business. If filmmaking is risky, TV is even more so. The margins are limited and there are no incentives. The only way you can sustain a substantial TV business is having multiple deals TV deals every year.

Plowing into content, whose value it hopes may grow in a more competitive market, Argos is also consolidating an infrastructure which, built over the last 20 years, marks itself apart in Latin American TV production.

“Independence has two pillars: talent to make original, successful, sustainable contents and, crucially, the infrastructure to make it,” Ibarra said.

Last October Argos Comunicacion launched service company Caravana, which is constructing four new soundstages at Argos’ new Gabriel Garcia Marquez production center, which opens in May, Ibarra said.

“The idea is to have ever more weight in the film/TV production sector, offering services from screenwriting to co-production, attracting important projects. We think this is an important moment for Mexico and we want to be prepared.”

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