MADRID – Argentina’s “Natural Sciences,” Mexico’s “Gueros” and Spain’s “Magical Girl” and are among a record 27 titles — including “Wild Tales” and “Libertador,” both shortlisted for a foreign-language film Oscar nomination — that compete for the Cine Latino Award at the 26th Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival.

Prize goes to the best movie from Latin America, Spain or Portugal at the fest, which kicks off today. Sponsored by Mexico’s Guadalajara Festival, its biggest film event, and the University of Guadalajara Foundation in USA, the Cine Latino Award is now in its third year.

The Cine Latino Award’s cash prize has been raised to $10,000, Raul Padilla, president of the University of Guadalajara Foundation in USA, announced Friday. This recognizes and strengthens the fast-building bridges between the U.S. and Mexican film communities, seen in the number of companies operating out of both the U.S. and Mexico and the burgeoning number of U.S.-Mexico co-productions, in which Mexico brings increasingly significant coin to the table.

The hike in the competition numbers is hardly surprising. A road movie-reconciliation tale, Matias Lucchesi’s “Natural Sciences” is just one of 10 first Cine Latino Award fiction features, many from helmers who have debuted to instant recognition, sales agent world sales pickups, and often sales, which have effectively – and sometimes energetically – launched careers.

UDI-repped “Sciences” scooped best Ibero-American picture, screenplay and actress at 2014’s Guadalajara Fest; sold by Mundial, an IM Global and Canana j.v., Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Gueros,” possibly the most laurelled of Latin American freshman outings last year, won Berlin best first feature, San Sebastian’s Horizontes Latinos, the AFI’s New Auteurs’ Audience Award and best film at Los Cabos. Another contender, Brazil’s gay coming-of-age tale “The Way He Looks,” from Daniel Ribeiro, took a Berlin Teddy; acquired for sales by France’s Versatile, social-divide drama “Gente de Bien,” directed by Colombia’s Franco Lolli, nabbed a special mention at San Sebastian’s Horizontes Latinos. Mexican Catalina Aguilar Mastretta’s “The Hours With You” won a Fipresci nod at 2014’s Guadalajara.

Cine Latino Award entries also feature a clutch of films which rep significant steps-up in ambition or recognition for their directors: on Films Distributions’ sales slate, Carlos Vermut’s “Magical Girl” won San Sebastian’s Golden Seashell as critics hailed the confirmation of an original voice in filmmaking.

Picked up by Film Factory, a move to the mainstream for Chile’s Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’ “To Kill a Man,” also at Palm Springs, won a Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury Prize; starring as independence fighter Simon Bolivar in “Libertador,” also a Mundial movie, gave vet Venezuelan helmer Alberto Arvelo a double-digit million dollar budget. Mexican Jorge Perez Solano’s “la Tirisia” won lead actor (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) at Guadalajara, Thessaloniki’s Golden Alexander, Chicago’s Roger Ebert Award.

“Futuro Beach” earned Brazil’s Karim Ainouz a Berlin Competition berth. Trans-Atlantic love story “10,000 KM,” Spaniard Carlos Marques-Marcet’s debut, scooped a SXSW special jury prize for leads Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer. Sold by FiGa, “Sand Dollars,” from Israel Cardenas and Laura Amelia Guzman, stars Geraldine Chaplin in a turn that has won not only won a Chicago fest actress nod for Chaplin but also sales for FiGa. “Flowers,” from Spain’s Jon Garaño and Jose Maria Goenaga, was the first film shot in Basque to make San Sebastian’s main competition.

“Their stories, genres and production values have garnered these films both critical and audience recognition at the most important festivals all over the globe. This will be indeed a very competitive year for an award that is acquiring more and more prestige worldwide,” said Ivan Trujillo, Guadalajara festival director.

“What does it mean to be Latino or Ibero-American? The best answer can be found in the movies: Increasing power of visual language and an innovative spirit –this is what our film industries have in common!” added Hebe Tabachnik, Palm Springs Fest’s Ibero-American programmer.

The Cine Latino Award’s jury includes Josep Parera, entertainment editor at Los Angeles’ La Opinion; Tom Davia, founder and managing partner of Cinemaven Media; and Nacho Carballo, director of Spain’s Gijon Festival.

In all, Palm Springs screens seven Latin American foreign-language Oscar submissions: Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales”; “Liberator”; Quixotic buddy dramedy “Mr. Kaplan,” from Uruguay’s Alvaro Brechner; Colombia’s conflict-set “Mateo,” by Maria Gamboa; Cuba’s school drama “Behavior,” from Ernesto Daranas Serrano; “To Kill a Man” and “The Way He Looks.”

But the selection also has the virtue of highlighting less-known movies: “A Moonless Night,” a tale of small-town solitude from Uruguay’s writer-producer-turned-director German Tejeira; or “Mother of the Lamb,” a second-chance drama from Chile’s Rosario Espinosa Godoy and Enrique Farias.

The Cine Latino Award contenders underscore building trends in Latin American filmmaking. One is regional cinema. Produced out of Brazil’s Pernambuco, and sold by FiGa, Gabriel Mascaro’s “August Winds,” another standout debut that played in competition at Locarno, taking a special mention, is not only a slice of life movie set against characters’ building perceptions of natural cycles, but also a film set on the borderlands between documentary and fiction, a Pernambuco cinema hallmark.

Some titles – Perez Solano’s unwanted motherhood drama “La Tirisia,” Hector Galvez’s “NN,” a Peruvian “Bones,” with few easy fixes – are fairly straight-arrow social dramas. Spaniard Hermes Paralluelo’s Colombia-set “Not All Is Vigil,” a docu feature, charts an aging couple’s response to infirmity. Mike Ott’s U.S. indie movie “Lake Los Angeles,” the third film in his desert trilogy, charts a friendship between a middle-age Cuban and a 10-year-old Mexican girl, both immigrants chasing the American Dream in the titular location.

But an increasing number of Latin American movies – Chus Gutierrez’s Bollywood-ish salsa-school romantic comedy “Ciudad Delirio” and “One for the Road,” from Mexico’s Jack Zagha Kababie, about three aging friends’ last escapade — lie close to the mainstream. A scathing but gleeful satire of Mexico’s media elite, Luis Estrada’s “The Perfect Dictatorship” has touched a national nerve, grossing $13 million through Dec. 16.

And others mix social concerns – Latin America’s and Spain’s great movie tradition — with more generic tropes, a newer departure.

“Magical Girl” plays sometimes like Ken Loach meets Quentin Tarantino, delineating Spain’s punishing economic crisis in the shabbiness of the lead’s flat, for instance. But its characters often seem just a hair-trigger from ghastly violence, which can by set off by the most involuntary of comments.

The Palm Springs Festival runs Jan. 2-12.

(Emiliano Granada contributed to this report.)