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If you’re looking for proof that Hollywood is building ties to the rapidly growing Mexican film industry, one of the most vibrant in Latin America, look no further than the 29th Guadalajara Festival, which unfolds March 21-30 in the Jalisco city.

Companies set to attend the fest include Mundial, a joint venture between Canana and Hollywood-based indie IM Global; AG Studio, which has companies in Los Angeles, Mexico City and now Brazil and Colombia; and U.S.-based Fox Intl. Channels, said festival market and industry director Estrella Araiza, who added that European shingles including Global Screen (Germany), Imagina (Spain) and Elle Driver (France), also will be on hand.

There’s good reason for the interest. In 2013, Mexican box office shot up 11.5% to $901.6 million, per IHS Screen Digest, making Mexico the 10th largest theatrical market in dollar grosses in the world, fueled by a new phenomenon — local blockbusters, led by “Instructions Not Included.”

Yet only roughly 20 million Mexicans out of a 115 million population bought Mexico’s total 229 million cinema tickets sold in 2012.

So Guadalajara Festival’s biggest recent achievement, argued its director Ivan Trujillo, has been to consolidate its Guadalajara Expo Center H.Q., as a “meeting place for all visitors,” which has opened the festival up to the whole city.

In its drive to get more Mexicans to see films in theaters, Guadalajara will also see offshoots this year in fellow Jalisco state cities of Puerto Vallarta and Lagos de Moreno.

Mexico made 23 features in 1998. 68 Mexican films bowed in Mexico in 2012, 105 in 2013, said Luis Vargas, Rentrak managing director, Mexico. Colombia, Venezuela and Central America.

It’s a wave driven by improved funding and emerging talent: Capped at 700 million pesos ($53.0 million), tax-break coin is 40% up in 2014. A new wave of film directors is being trained by a growing number of film schools (and inspired by a local hero, Oscar winner Alfonso Cuaron, as well as Guillermo del Toro).

The growth of the country’s filmmaking community also is apparent in the Guadalajara fest lineup: 12 of the 16 Mexican movies competing for the Mezcal Prize — one of the top awards at the festival — are from first- or second-time helmers, most notably debutant Max Zunino, whose “Open Cage” topped both the 2013 Guadalajara and Ventana Sur pics-in-post competitions; and Sebastian del Amo, whose “Cantinflas” marks a follow-up to biopic “The Fantastic World of Juan Orol.” The directors saw their films chosen from among more than 100 local entries.

“Many of Mexico’s film policies have first been discussed at Guadalajara,” said Trujillo, citing the event’s industry debates. This year, these focus on how to turn to date one-off local hits into a sustainable industry trend, he added.

Canana producer Pablo Cruz (“Miss Bala”) marveled at the growth of the local biz. “Today, Mexico’s is a completely different industry,” he said. “There’s money, resources and an appetite for Mexican storytelling in Mexico and beyond, which will definitely increase the potential of working with the U.S.”

In pioneering outreach, Guadalajara organizes its own annual Mexican film season, FICG in L.A.

“In the past, there was reticence on both sides, skepticism. More recently, links have developed naturally. There’s been a kind of re-discovery,” Trujillo said.


Chilean Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’ Locarno and Sundance winner “To Kill a Man,” Spaniard David Trueba’s “Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed,” a Palm Springs and Goya victor, and Brazilian Fernando Coimbra’s “A Wolf at a Door” – which triumphed at San Sebastian, Rio, Havana and Miam – look like the frontrunners in a classy Ibero-American Competition.

New industry events include a new two-day TV Forum, analyzing state-backed DTT. Cannes Market will hold a Guadalajara Producers’ Network, a model for fast-tracking industry networking.

In Guadalajara’s Ibero-American Co-production Meeting, watch out for Mexican Daniel Castro Zimbron’s “The Darkness,” just selected for Cannes Atelier, Colombian Juan Andres Arango’s “X Quinientos,” Brazilian Gabriela Amaral’s “The Father’s Shadow,” and “In the Shade of Trees,” from Chile’s Matias Rojas, another Atelier project.

As Guadalajara’s guest territory, Quebec will bring a delegation to Mexico. It’s not just the U.S. that is looking south of the Rio Grande.