IFF Panama: FiGa Films Is Helping Introduce the World to Latin American Film

Finding and developing new Latin American talent for the global market

El viaje

PANAMA — Alex Garcia, co-owner of L.A.-based (soon to be Miami-based) sales-distribution-production house FiGa Films, is attending IFF Panama to check on the five works-in-progress being unveiled in the festival’s Primera Mirada. Garcia and co-owner Sandro Fiorin find many of FiGa’s films in the fertile hunting ground of festival works-in-progress sections, films that are award winners even at that stage in the production cycle.

As an experienced editor, Garcia has shown that he has a good eye for spotting the more interesting films coming out of Latin America. “We look for stories that are different, characters that are different,” Garcia explains. “We do not acquire films that will simply play to Latin American audiences, but films to show and play to arthouse audiences. It is a small, but still significant percentage of the moviegoing public.”

Garcia and Fiorin have to like a film before they will acquire it. “If you are going to have to live and work with a film for two or three years, you have to be passionate about it,” Garcia says. “We started working with ‘Bad Hair’ back in 2013, and it is still playing and booked to play until the end of 2015.”

An example of FiGa’s tastes would be the critically acclaimed “Sand Dollars” (“Dólares de Arena”), which premiered in Toronto and has been screening in Panama.

A FiGa film that would have been very at home in Panama is “Viaje” by the Costa Rican filmmaker Paz Fabrega, but Garcia explains they could not pass up on the opportunity for the film to have its world premiere in competition in the Tribeca Film Festival’s World Narrative Competition. The first Central American film to be screened in Tribeca’s official lineup has already been spotlighted by the New York Times as one to watch at the festival.

“New York is really the center of everything,” Garcia explains, in terms of launching a Latin American film in the U.S. market. “We launched our first film, ‘Alice’s House,’ in New York in 2008. We were hoping for two weeks and we got five weeks. It put FiGa on the map.”

Garcia cites the importance and influence of the New York media in launching a Latin American or arthouse titles in the U.S. “Besides New York, Miami and San Francisco are also very good markets for foreign-language films. But L.A. is poor, and so is Chicago. In Miami, there are now seven single-screen theaters playing foreign-language and independent movies. Now if you want a country that is very good for Latin American films, it might surprise you when I say it is Poland. But Polish audiences simply love film.”

“Viaje,” which is shot in black and white and makes good use of the backdrop of the Costa Rican rain forest, is the story of Luciana and Pedro who meet at a fancy dress party, strike up a relationship and embark on a spur-of-the-moment journey that takes them into the rain forest. As they explore the beauty of the setting, they discuss their personal beliefs of love, obligations, and attraction.

“We wanted to talk about the things that seem to matter most when you meet somebody,” explains Fabrega, who won a Tiger in Rotterdam in 2010 for “Cold Water of the Sea” (“Agua Fria de Mar”), and is a graduate of the London Film School.

As well as “Viaje,” Garcia and Fiorin will be introducing four acquisitions to the market in Cannes, some of which may or may not end up in official sections of the festival: Uruguayan-Spanish director Federico Veiroj’s  “El Apostata,” a Spanish-French-Uruguayan co-production shot in Spain that was chosen best film at Miami’s Encuentros; “Aspirantes,” from Brazil’s Ives Rosenfield, named best film at Locarno’s Carte Blanche; Francisco Varone’s “Camino a la Paz,” the Argentine road movie that won best film at the PuertoLab in Cartagena and features in the lead Rodrigo de la Serna (“The Motorcycle Diaries”); and “El Primero de la Familia,” from Chilean director Carlos Leiva, named best film at Havana’s works-in-progress.

Garcia is waiting for the ink to dry on contracts before announcing a series of multiple sales prior to Cannes on “Sand Dollars,” “Seashore” (“Beira-Mar”), “The Fire” (“El Incendio”) and “The Man of the Crowd” (“O Homen das Multidoes”). Territories involved include France, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Peru, Costa Rica and Panama.

Once Cannes is over, Garcia and FiGa will be moving from L.A. to set up shop in Miami on June 1. “Miami is more central when you are working across time zones and having to travel a lot,” says Garcia, who notes that after 30 years in L.A. he will be going “back home,” as he was born to Cuban parents in that city.