Ventana Sur: Buzz, More Growth, Headwinds

Latin America’s biggest film market still evolving as it kicks of its 7th edition

Buzz Titles, Growth and Challenges at
"Animal Race" Courtesy of Ventana Sur

BUENOS AIRES — Galvanized by Latin America’s ever larger film ambitions and its extraordinary 2015 big fest success, the 7th Ventana Sur unspools Nov. 30 through Dec. 4 now firmly established as Latin America’s biggest and most must-attend mart-meet for business in the region.

These days that counts. Once, in the 1990s, Asia was the go-to region for the hottest movies on the world cinema scene. By common consensus among big festheads, Latin America has largely inherited that mantle.

Fest juries seem to agree as well. In 2015, Latin American cinema swept two of Berlin’s top three prizes – with Pablo Larrain’s “The Club” and Jayro Bustamante’s “Ixacanul” – two of Cannes main four sections and a Camera d’Or, thanks to Ciro Guerra’s “The Embrace of the Serpent,” which topped Directors’ Fortnight, Santiago Mitre’s Critics’ Week winner “Paulina” and Cesar Acevedo’s “Land and Shade.” Capping off an annus mirabilis, Latin America won Venice’s Golden Lion with Lorenzo Vigas’ “From Afar,” walked off with best director with Pablo Trapero’s “The Clan.” Meanwhile Mexico’s “600 Miles” and “Chronic” took Berlin’s Best First Feature and Cannes’ screenplay plaudit.

Fest kudos is not everything. But, created by Cannes Festival and Film Market and Argentina’s INCAA Film-TV Institute, Ventana Sur can be seen not only as a showcase for change but an industry growth accelerator.

Launched 2009, the inaugural Ventana Sur flew in 200 sales agents, distributors and TV buyers, mostly from Europe, to Buenos Aires for its first truly international dedicated Latin American film sales market. That critical mass of often top-flight executives marked a Latin American milestone.

Numbers count. “Bringing so many people from Europe and around the world has helped reinforce relationships between Latin America and the rest of the world,” said the Cannes Film Market’s Jerome Paillard, Ventana Sur’s co-director.

Before 2009, few Latin American movies made sales agents slates. 2010’s 2nd Ventana Sur saw companies confirm sales pick-ups on 15 titles. This year, 50 of the 146 completed Latin American films unspooling at Ventana Sur’s screenings have sales agents. 25 companies handle at least one film. New companies have moved into Latin American film sales: IM Global-Canana’s Mundial Sales, at Ventana Sur with “Las Elegidas” (The Chosen Ones) and Film Factory, wrapping up final sales on “The Clan.” Others – Habanero Film Sales, with five titles, such as Falvio Florencia’s “Made in Bangkok,” and Latido Films with six – Arturo Ripstein’s Venice player “Bleak Street” for instance – have not moved out. For sales agents, selling Latin American movies has become much more of a normal practice.

Among Ventana Sur buzz titles are “The Spider Thieves,” co-produced by Chile’s Altirofilms and Luis Puenzo at Argentina’s Historias Cinematograficas and playing pix-in-post section Primer Corte, selected by Georges Goldenstern; and in Beyond the Window, Ventana Sur’s genre pic project mart, Brazil’s “Animal Race,” from Vania Catani’s Bananeira Films, and Catalan Eugeni Guillem Darne’s “Children of Saturn,” billed as a zombie skew on “Lord of the Flies.”

In Bloody Work in Progress, there’s upbeat word-of-mouth on “Terror 5,” a fresh genre omnibus movie, and “Veronica,” boasting reportedly tour-de-force two hander perfs from its leads.

In Films in Progress, a pix-in-post video library selection, some of the pick of the bunch may be, for more mainstream tastes, hit woman action-suspenser “Madraza” and, produced by Brazil’s Querosene and Paris Filmes, Lionsgate and Globo Filmes, “La Vingança,” which like a building body of laffers – “Welcome To the Sticks,” “Spanish Affair” – riffs off one people’s historic prejudices about another, here Brazilians’ ancestral rivalry with Argentina.

There’s also some good word of “Keyla,” the feature debut of Colombia’s Viviana Gomez Echeverry, set on the Caribbean island of Providence, and “The Devil’s Magnificent” Chilean Nicolas Videla’s follow-up to “Naomi Campbel.”

“As a buyer and seller of Latin films, Ventana Sur has become essential in making new relationships, cementing old ones, and catching up with what I might have missed, and what is happening in the next six months,” said Paul Hudson’s at U.S. distributor-sales agent Outsider Pictures. “It’s a forum to discover new films, and also sell to those buyers genuinely interested in what Latin film-makers have to offer.”

As Latin America’s youngest generation of filmmakers plough into genre and thrillers – it’s the kind of cinema they want to make, whatever the market prospects – Ventana Sur has moved smartly to create Latin America’s biggest genre mart, Blood Window, whose 2015 edition is both its most compact and most packed.

Another novelty, also put into place several editions back, has been the video-library FIP, “a feature incorporated by other festivals around the world,” said Ventana Sur co-director Bernardo Bergeret.

Also, from 2010, a tsunami of often-young Latin American producers hit Ventana Sur, avid to meet not just sales but potential production partners. As Latin American co-production ramps up, energized by the creation of bilateral and minority co-pro funds, Ventana Sur has become a key venue for Latin America’s youngest generation to meet one another, rather than their European counterparts, as at Berlin or Cannes.

Welcoming distributors and producers who may feel daunted by the world’s biggest markets, Ventana Sur has helped not only Latin American films but also producers to travel.

“Ventana Sur has helped us develop a much more intimate and personal relationship with the Latin American industry which is very important. And there’s been an explosion of attendance from all countries in Latin America,” Paillard said.

The keynotes of 2015’s 7th Ventana Sur are continued growth, a larger reach, and diversification.

Launched 2013, Blood Window has added special presentations and a Catalan film strand, featuring “Rem,” “Savant” and “Children of Saturn.”

Co-organized by the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTIFF), Ventana Caribe, a new initiative, will showcase four productions, pitched on Dec. 2. Ventana Sur will load up on more non-Spanish language Caribbean titles next year, said Ventana Sur co-director Bernardo Bergeret, “opening up to a interesting national industries rarely seen in international.”

About 30 titles from the Caribbean and Central America – Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba y Costa Rica – will screen at Ventana Sur’s Rio Plata-side Cinemark theater or be available in its video library, he added.

Though Ventana Sur’s focus remains firmly set on Latin American movies, its European Screenings of European Films run now every day at one screen at meet’s Puerto Madero Cinemark multiplex. Euro trade orgs UniFrance, Italy’s Anica and Spain’s ICAA will for the first time have an official presence in a European Lounge. Spain’s presence looks a significant step-up on the past. And as even Latin America’s smallest territories fire up their film industries, Paraguay and Panama will host first-time booths at Ventana Sur.

Just how far Latin America has come of late can be seen in 2014 and 2015 stats.

At 62.4 million, admissions to local films in Latin America nose-dived in 2014 a hefty 16.9% on 2013, per the European Audiovisual Observatory. But that stat is still “well above” Latin American cinema theater ticket sales before 2012, per the EAO.

Mexico is a case in point. In 2015, through Nov. 8, Mexican films’ admissions, at 16.5 million, were 34% down on 2014, reported Rentrak’s Luis Vargas. But, nine more Mexican movies that may drive up share, currently 6.4%, still have to open. And 16.5 million is significantly above Mexican movies’ highpoint this century before 2012: 14.7 million for all of 2002.

That’s not to say that Latin America doesn’t face headwinds.

Even Latin American art films hits hardly earn enough at the box office to do more than allow their companies to make more arthouse films.

Moreover, though building over the last decade, fest laurels still have to translate into substantial box office abroad.

“In the last 5 years, only seven good Brazilian films traveled,” Brazilian producer Rodrigo Teixeira pointed out.

This is par for the course for Latin America and indeed most foreign-language national cinemas.

There is, however, if still highly select, a new generation or producers and directors “which hasn’t given up on artistic ambition but have a clear market ambition,” said Lucrecia Cardoso, INCAA president, pointing to Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama.”

The market will also be tracking “Neruda,” yet another step up in scale for Chile’s Pablo Larrain (“The Club”). Both “Zama” and “Neruda” may be ready for Cannes. This week’s Ventana Sur may well give early warning of other big fest contenders – Daniel Burman’s “El Rey del Once” is one instance – throughout 2016.