Platino Awards: Latin America, Spain Up Ante on Artistic, Audience Ambition

‘Wild Tales,’ ‘Marshland,’ now ‘The Clan,' ‘Zama’ create new breed of crossover movies as local blockbusters bloom

Wild Tales Cannes 2014

At 62.4 million, admissions to local films in Latin America nose-dived a hefty 16.9% on 2013, the European Audiovisual Observatory announced at Cannes.

Yes, Argentina punched a 17.8% national market share, a modern record, thanks to “Wild Tales.” But Brazil’s local movie share plunged to 12.9%, Mexico’s to 10%.

So, as it gathers in Marbella, in Spain’s Andalusia, for the second Platino Awards, will the Ibero-American film industry be in a downbeat mood?

Not really, or certainly not totally. The state of film industries in Spain, Latin America and Portugal – Ibero-America for non map-meisters – is much more cross-grained than that.

Certainly, cultivating local interest in local films remains an imperative concern in Latin America. In contrasting results, Venezuelan films took 14.9% of a rapidly contracting national box office.

With the extraordinary exception of Peru (9.7%), smaller key territories in Latin America — Chile (2.8%), Colombia (4.8%), Uruguay (2.3%) – saw much smaller shares for their films, per EAO stats.

Yet, it’s a mark of just how far Latin America’s movie industries have already traveled this decade that 2014’s 62.4 million ticket sales (registered for eight major Latin American territories) is, as the European Audiovisual Observatory observed, “well above” Latin American box office levels prior to 2012.

Even 2014’s drop has upsides. Exhibit A: Mexican movies punched a 10% share without any true-blue blockbusters – at least in the line of  “We Are the Nobles” or “Instructions Not Included.”

Though down by 2.7%, production levels in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela — the eight countries surveyed by the EAO — are at 477 features, double 2006’s figure.

Equally, select Latin American and Spanish films do sell: “Wild Tales” the world over, “Marshland,” also handled by Vicente Canales’ Film Factory, to all its 15 major sales territories, save Mexico, South Korea and Russia. Deals include a recent U.S. sale.

Handled by FiGa Films, headed by Sandro Fiorin and Alex Garcia, “Bad Hair” has been licensed to 38 territories in total, including the U.S., France, U.K., Germany, Italy, Brazil and Spain, and proved a blockbuster in its native Venezuela, punching near 1 million admissions.

“That to me is the biggest validation of them all: a local film full of political opinion, praised by festivals and critics, and yet popular enough to lure a regular audience,” Fiorin said.

“Behavior” has just closed France, with Bodega Films, and South Korea, with CAC Ent., the distribution branch of the Busan Intl. Film Festival, adding to a nine-territory sales trawl.

Memento Films Intl. (MFI) has sold “Mr. Kaplan,” produced out of Uruguay, Spain and Germany, to 10 further territories, including North America, Brazil and Australia, and struck pay TV deals for Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and Middle East and North Africa, said MFI’s Mathieu Delaunay. In other words, one way or the other, outside Asia, it has licensed most of the world.

Challenges, however, remain, and huge ones at that.

One, which holds true for art or foreign-language film the world over,  is to carve out substantial box office outside a film’s main country of origin.

In general, for Spanish-language films, as foreign-language movies in general, “It’s more and more difficult to secure theatrical releases for films,” said Canales.

The destiny of most of Latin America’s 477 movies from its highest-profile eight territories looks, ever increasingly, to be paid festival screenings, niche pay TV and VOD distribution.

Industries and indeed governments across Ibero-America are, however, reacting. A new, if still highly select, breed of powerful cross-over movies is emerging in Latin America and Spain: Platino Awards front-runners “Wild Tales” and “Marshland,” Pablo Trapero’s upcoming abduction thriller “The Clan,” which Fox bows Aug. 13 in Argentina, Lucrecia Martel’s existential epic “Zama,” now in production.

Powerful art films with more mainstream tropes and wider audience ambitions, they boast amped-up budgets, multiple partner co-production structures, often star presence or star directors, big fest potential, vfx or action scenes, use of genre to drive narrative. Three of the four are also co-produced by Pedro and Agustin Almodóvar’s El Deseo, a strong affidavit of support for distributors and audiences alike.

Reasons for this crossover build cut several ways.

“Unless a film’s from a consecrated director, it has to be ever more special in order to secure a theatrical release,” said Canales.

“In the last 10 years, Hollywood’s studios cut down yearly production from near 30 films to less than 15 on average, drifting away from mid-size features and focusing on either tentpoles or tadpoles,” Telefonica Studios director Axel Kuschevatzky wrote in a guest column in Variety’s Ventana Sur Dailies.

“This strategy had a side effect – the movie targeting adults became a rarity,” and one outcome of the gap has been the rise of the “local blockbuster,” Kuschevatzky continued, citing “Wild Tales,” which sold 3.45 million tickets in Argentina, and “Spanish Affair” (“Ocho Apellidos Vascos”), which punched €55.1 million ($60.1 million) in Spain.

Both topped their countries’ 2014 box office charts, besting anything Hollywood could throw at them.

As Kuschevatky observed, “Both had also similar tools: Studio distribution (Universal in the case of “Spanish Affair” and Warner Bros. for “Wild Tales”), co-production with some of the leading TV networks (Telecinco in Spain and Telefe in Argentina) lending generous on-air promotion, and last but not least, both were comedies, commenting on the state of affairs.

Per Kuschevatsky, the rise of the local blockbuster “is happening not only in Madrid or Buenos Aires: local features in Korea, Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela, Mexico are making more and more room for themselves in spite of the [Hollywood] global product. In Latin America, stars like Ricardo Darin, Guillermo Francella, Stefan Kramer, Carlos Alcantara or Eugenio Derbez are selling many more tickets than their Hollywood counterparts.”

Recent stats back him up. In Europe last year, per the EAO, market share for European films in the E.U. leapt from 26.2% to 33.4%, the highest level since the Observatory started to calculate European market share in 1996.

As practiced by Telecinco Cinema, Atresmedia Cine, and Telefonica Studios/Telefe in Argentina, broadcaster backing — where networks have more skin in the game, co-producing, not just distributing — has indeed proved a game-changer.

Meanwhile, over much of Latin America (think Gerardo Naranjo with “Miss Bala,” Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’ “To Kill a Man,” Alicia Sherson’s “The Future”), a generation which broke through with edgy, minimalist, radical, shoestring or intimate or quirky dramas now has a clutch of films under its belt, often fest faves and critical raves, and wants to step up into something larger, more mainstream, sometimes incorporating genre tropes, seeking to reaches broader audiences, and are confident about their technical elan.

Demanded by the film, “Marshland” has 125 sequences, some elaborate one-shots, some multi-shot set ups, producer José Antonio Felez observed.

Both “Wild Tales” and “Marshland” are their directors’ first films to score widespread theatrical distribution in international, Canales observed, “Marshland” opening last week as the top new arthouse bow in the Netherlands.

Scaling up on artistic and audience ambition, bulwarked by broadcaster and co-production backing, limiting risk exposure and anteing up on exposure in general, movies can tap into a seemingly halting but significant sea change in how local audiences view their national cinemas.

In Mexico last year,  “More Mexican films made more money,” said Luis Vargas, at Rentrak, adding that Mexican films’ average first weekend B.O. was 99.5% up on 2013.

Rolling off its Cannes Critics’ Week top Nespresso Grand Prix, Santiago Mitre’s “Paulina” has punched 108,508 admissions, three times the trawl for his debut, “The Student,” four years ago.

In Spain, Spanish films’ 2014 domestic market share hit 24.05%, their best result since 1977. “Spanish Affair” was the driver, but other titles helped pull the train: “El Niño” (€16.3 million: $17.8 million), “Torrente 5: Operation Eurovegas” (€10.8 million: $11.8 million), “Exodus: Of Gods and Kings” (a Spanish co-production, €8.8 million: $9.6 million), “Marshland” (€6.1 million: $6.6 million), “Mortadelo and Filemon Mission Implausible” (€4.6 million: $5.1 million).

“Ten years ago, Spain made the same number of good, bad and regular films. The public’s attitude has shifted. It’s seen that it’s worth supporting Spanish films,” Spanish Academy president Antonio Resines said this week in Madrid, analyzing the 2014 Spanish Cinema Yearbook.

Raising the bar, big local films have a chance of recouping a significant chunk of net budget from their own territory.

Straight is the gate. The number of films from Latin America, Spain and Portugal that slay at their local box office is highly limited: In 2014, no local film made the top 10 last year in Brazil, Mexico or Chile, though Argentina had two. But enough movies hit big numbers to encourage big crossovers. That is a new paradigm in an ever-evolving landscape.