Baja Fest Amps Up Industry Heft (EXCLUSIVE)

Garzon, Paulin join Aguilar at fest helm

Founded last year to forge stronger links between Mexico and Hollywood, and attended by Edward Norton, Matt Dillon, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, the Baja Film Festival has seen an extensive makeover in top execs, industry events and geographic scope.

Alonso Aguilar, previously Baja head of development, was appointed fest’s new director late February. Alonso has tapped two of Mexico’s most experienced international film execs, former Guadalajara market head Alejandra Paulin and Maru Garzon, ex-deputy director of international projects at Mexico’s Imcine film board, as general co-ordinator and head of programming respectively.

Paulin worked on Baja’s inaugural event, where Jorge Sanchez, now head of  Imcine, served as co-artistic director. The second Baja fest runs Nov. 13-16 at the Los Cabos Convention Center.

Fest will launch a call for applications June 1 for subsidies from a new Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund, named after the great Mexican cinematographer. These comprise seven development grants for Mexican features, worth $5,000 each, and two Labodigital Prize post-production awards, valued at $51,620 each. The winners will be announced at Baja’s opening ceremony.

Baja will also create a Work in Progress Mexico for movies in production, plus a Mexico First sidebar of some nine titles focusing on first or second films.

Fest’s 15-title competition will take in films from Mexico and the U.S. and is adding Canada this year. Fiction features and documentaries will vie for a $15,000 cash prize. U.S. and Mexican movies played in different sections last year.

“Last year’s festival was pretty successful in terms of programming and events but the U.S. and Mexican sides were somewhat disconnected,” Aguilar told Variety at Cannes.

The second edition will be “sharper, more integrated and build a much-more industry-focused event.”

Baja’s inaugural edition featured a Mexico-U.S. Forum of panel discussions. This year, Alonso said, “I’d like to transcend just talking about the state of Mexican cinema, invite more sales agents distributors and decision-makers.

“Reaching out to Canada was natural,” Alonso added. “The U.S. is key for the festival, but in many ways Mexico and Canada have more in common.”

Fest will stage international film galas and continue to invite A-list Hollywood talent.

Baja gears up for its sophomore edition as film links between Mexico and the U.S. are escalating, driven by the ambitions of Mexican shingles and Hollywood’s recognition of the importance of the Mexican and Latin American market and talent pool.

Canana, Lemon Films and Alex Garcia all operate out of both Mexico City and Los Angeles. Participant Media’s Participant PanAmerica partners include Canana, which launched joint sales company, Mundial, with Stuart Ford’s IM Global late last year.

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