U.S. distrib bows with Latin beat

'Santitos' to kick off slate

TORONTO — Former Universal Pictures acquisitions exec Ted Perkins and Hispanic marketing specialist Juan Carlos Nieto have formed Latin Universe, a new U.S. distrib that will focus on Spanish-lingo and Latino pics.

The company’s overhead, acquisitions and P&A will be fully financed by Brener International Group, the investment company of billionaire entrepreneur Gabriel Brener.

Beginning with the critical Mexican fave “Santitos,” which premiered at this year’s Sundance festival, Latin Universe intends to release 10-12 theatrical pics per year, on as many as 150 screens.

The company wants to take advantage of the growing wealth of the Latino population in the U.S., which boasts more cinema admissions per head than any other ethnic group in the country. However, while Latino-targeted initiatives in television, radio and print have proved lucrative, film has yet to be fully exploited.

“Hispanic media is a booming industry,” Brener said. “Univision and Spanish-language radio regularly beat Anglo ratings in major markets. We think that it’s time to bring the movie experience to U.S. Hispanics in their language of choice — Spanish. We look forward to a long association with Latin Universe’s founders, and are financially committed to its long-term success.”

Perkins becomes president and CEO of the new venture, Nieto executive VP of marketing, while exhibition vet Mike Doban will run distribution. Brener will be chairman of the board, with Perkins serving as vice-chairman.

The company launch comes as this year’s Toronto Film Festival gears up, where an unprecedented number of Spanish and Latin American titles are on display, including a whole sidebar devoted to Spain. The latest opus from Fernando Trueba (“Belle Epoque”), “The Girl of Your Dreams,” has a gala screening.

Both Perkins and Nieto are well-versed in Spanish and Latino filmmaking. Perkins previously headed international acquisitions for U, buying a number of Latin American and Spanish film rights. “With the creation of Latin Universe, we aim to resurrect an industry which flourished up until the early 1980s, then disappeared due to lack of product,” Perkins said. “There is a sizable and growing demand on the part of U.S. Latinos for film in their own language, and a great supply of quality Spanish-language films to meet that demand.”

Further down the road, Latin Universe has aspirations to move into film production, talent management and music publishing and licensing. The company will be based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., with offices also in Miami and Mexico City.

Its launch comes during a general resurgence of Latin American filmmaking, particularly in Mexico, where local pics such as “The Other Conquest” and “Sex, Passion and Tears” have topped the local box office in recent months.

Romantic comedy “Santitos,” which was directed by Alejandro Springall, was produced by New York-based Goldheart Pictures and exec produced by John Sayles. Latin Universe is skedding the pic for a domestic release in early November.