Over the past decade no region has seen such dramatic local industry growth as Latin America except China.
Weathering economic downturns in Mexico and Brazil, production levels in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela — the eight countries surveyed by the European Audiovisual Observatory — are only down 2.7%, with 477 features in 2014, double 2006’s figure.

That momentum looks set to play out in Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur market, a joint venture of the Cannes Festival and Market and Argentina’s Incaa Film Institute. It’s Latin America’s biggest biz event, where growth remains the order of the day.

Film agencies such as Brazil’s Ancine and Colombia’s Proimagenes have created funding mechanisms for minority co-productions. Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile have launched bilateral co-production funds, boosting Latin American pan-regional co-production.

“It’s important to have this exchange of film culture and work: These co-financing arrangements create that environment,” says Rodrigo Teixeira of RT Features.

Another factor pushing production is public support; muscular marketing from local broadcasters such as Argentina’s Telefe, Mexico’s Televisa or Brazil’s Globo; and the emergence of a new generation of producers and directors that “hasn’t given up on artistic ambition but have a clear market ambition,” said Lucrecia Cardoso, president of Argentina’s national film body Incaa, at the recent Mar del Plata Fest, pointing to Lucrecia Martel’s 2016 big-fest candidate “Zama.”

“Zama” joins films such as Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales” and Pablo Trapero’s “The Clan” as part of the new breed of powerful art films with wider audience ambitions, boasting bigger budgets, multiple partner co-production structures, often star presence or directors, big fest potential, vfx or action scenes and use of genre to drive narrative.

As more European producers look to Latin America for co-financing, there will be more European producers at Ventana Sur, says its co-director Jerome Paillard. Euro trade organizations UniFrance, Italy’s Anica and Spain’s Icaa will for the first time have an official presence in a European Lounge.

But the focus of Ventana Sur remains on Latin American film sales, Paillard says.

On that front, buyers will encounter ever more diversified offerings.

Take, for example, Bloody Works in Progress, the feature-in-post competition of Ventana Sur’s Blood Window genre market. The movies in that program range from a psychopath’s fantasy in Brazil’s “A percepcao de miedo” to a psychological thriller in Mexico’s “Veronica,” a good old-fashioned slasher in Argentina’s “Terror 5” and a suspense pic in Chile’s “Cameleon.”

Despite some drop in box office for local films — at 62.4 million, admissions to local films in Latin America dropped in 2014 by 16.9% from 2013, per the European Audiovisual Observatory, although that is above Latin America’s box office levels prior to 2012 — even Latin America’s smallest territories are firing up their film industries.

Both Paraguay and Panama will host booths for the first time at Ventana Sur. A new initiative, Ventana Caribe, which is part of a joint initiative with the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival’s Caribbean Film Mart, sees four films from the English-speaking Caribbean, all in post-production, being presented by their producers, says Ventana Sur co-director Bernardo Bergeret.

To further boost that region’s films, 30 titles from the Caribbean and Central America, which includes Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Costa Rica, will screen at Ventana Sur’s Cinemark theater or be available in its video library, Bergeret adds, noting that sponsors for Bloody Works in Progress and the Primer Corte works in post-production sidebar have grown.

Yet challenges remain. Mexico is a case in point. Through Nov. 8, admissions for Mexican films stood at 16.5 million, 34% down on 2014, reports Rentrak’s Luis Vargas. But, with nine more Mexican movies yet to open in the last part of the year, market share, currently at 6.4%, will rise. But how much is the volatile variable.

Latin American cinema won two of Berlin’s top three prizes, two of Cannes’ main four sections and a Venice Golden Lion. But fest laurels, building over the past decade, still have to translate into substantial box office abroad.

“In the last five years, only seven good Brazilian films traveled,” Teixeira points out.

Just which films could join these travelers will be, of course, buyers’ main concern at 2015 Ventana Sur.