Picture Blurry For Local Prods

Mexico’s film industry is bracing for a year of trial, with the devalued peso inflating production costs and threatening ticket hikes likely to hit national product hardest.

But it’s also a year of expectation, with a new breed of upscale pictures set to debut from media powerhouse Televisa, and a new head appointed at the National Film Institute, IMCINE.

Early omens are good. Two co-productions from IMCINE are set to screen at the Berlin Film Festival. One, “El Callejon de los Milagros” (Miracle Alley), by Jorge Fons, is Mexico’s first competing entry since 1991. Fons picked up the fest’s Silver Bear in 1977.

Televisa’s film devision, Grupo Cine, also wants to build a festival presence. After years of churning out dime-a-dozen churros (B-movies is too complimentary a translation), the studio is finishing three quality pix, including its first million-dollar effort.

“Salon Mexico,” which Televisa hopes to debut at Cannes, recycles an Emilio Fernandez classic from the ’40s – Mexican cinema’s Golden Age. But whether Grupo Cine prexy Jean Pierre Leleu can help rekindle a second golden era depends largely on hard-core issues, like devaluation-prompted inflation.

“We’re nervous, because if exhibitors raise prices attendance will drop and only the big American pictures will be successful,” says Leleu, referring to commercial reliability of Yank fare.

Leleu is banking on boffo response to his new-look features to win back decent theaters. Thanks to short-sightedness by previous Grupo Cine heads and other churro-peddling producers, exhibs have long grown used to shoving domestic fare into flea pits where middle-class Mexicans fear to tread.

Leleu is also trying to set up a financial safety net with an international sales drive. Until recently, Televisa’s film sales were handled by Protele, which generates more than $50 million annually selling soaps, but could hardly pull a nickel on filmed product.

Marcela Green, Grupo Cine’s new sales and acquisitions head, says the company has a catalog of 175 films, and there must be money in some of them. Asian countries like Indonesia, where Televisa soaps rate highly, are one of her target markets.

At IMCINE, which co-funds about eight pix a year, former diplomat Jorge Alberto Lozoya is taking the reins. Appointed Jan. 11, Lozoya says predecessor Ignacio Duran left institute finances healthy, and the new topper intends to start greenlighting productions within a few weeks.

He also wants to cash in on the fruits of Duran’s administration, when IMCINE-aided features such as “Cronos” and “Like Water for Chocolate” scooped an impressive 130 prizes at festivals around the world.

“We have to capitalize on our new prestige, bringing in co-productions and resources from abroad,” Lozoya says.

But Lozoya admits he’ll probably have to make do with an unimproved annual budget, which after the 40% peso plunge is barely worth $5 million, and also subject to a projected 20% inflation in 1995.

‘Commercial viability’

“Now more than ever, readers need to consider commercial viability,” says Lozoya. Yet he adds that IMCINE also needs to maintain its responsibilities as a promoter and preserver of Mexico’s cultural heritage.