IFF Panama: Central America Records ‘Unbelievable’ Box-Office Surge in 2015

Local films slowly secure a stronger foothold in their domestic markets

Courtesy of Edgard Tenembaum

PANAMA CITY — The Central American and Caribbean film industries recorded significant advances in 2015, in terms of overall box-office and admissions in the region, and the commercial and critical success of select local films.

“If I had to use one word to describe box-office growth in the region in 2015 it would be – ‘unbelievable,’” said Luis Vargas, Rentrak’s managing director for Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, Colombia and Venezuela.

Boosted by multiplex construction, Central American box office has rocketed over recent years, $96.06 million in 2012, $108.2 million in 2014, and a massive 19.87% hike in 2015 to $129.7 million, per Vargas.

The Central American region is comprised by six territories – Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, with El Salvador recording the highest growth – 28.9% and Honduras the lowest growth – 18.7%.

In 2015, nine multiplexes opened in Costa Rica, five in Guatemala, two in Panama and one in Honduras.

Unlike some Latin American countries, such as Venezuela and Argentina where inflation is rampant, Central America has very low inflation rates, many around 2%.

Notwithstanding numerous economic and political difficulties, the region has enjoyed rising prosperity, with an increasingly stable middle class, which has also fuelled cinema-going habits.

Vargas considers that the main driver of box-office growth in 2015, was the strength of U.S. blockbusters released, in particular “Furious 7,” which he says is the highest-grossing pic ever released in Latin American history.

The three top pics in 2015 in the Central American region were “Furious 7,” “Minions” and “Avengers – Age of Ultron,” all of which also played in 3D releases.

IMAX films are also gaining ground in the region, and recorded an average of 13.16% growth in box-office and 10.6% in attendance. Pics released in IMAX format in 2015 included “Furious 7,” “Avengers – Age of Ultron,” “Jurassic World”, and “Star Wars.”

The surge in Central American box office provides increasing potential for local films to make inroads into their domestic markets, although U.S. films continue to dominate.

Each Central American territory releases around 150-200 titles. The highest number of local titles was recorded in Costa Rica, with seven local films released in 2015, compared to four in 2014.

Guatemala released four local films, compared to two films in 2014 and Hondurus and El Salvador, five and three titles respectively.

In Panama and Nicaragua, the number of local titles fell in 2015 – two and one respectively – compared to four and five titles respectively in 2014. This was primarily the result of a stall in production funding in 2015.

Comedies are the strongest performing local titles in their home territories, led by the break-out phenomenon of Costa Rica’s comedy, “Maikol Yordan: Traveling Lost,” – about a farmer who travels to Europe to raise money to save his farm from foreclosure – which is the highest-ever grossing Costa Rican pic and was the country’s third most popular film in 2015, even though it was released in early December 2014.

In Honduras, the biggest local hits were the comedies, “One Crazy Summer” and “One Crazy Christmas” which were ranked No. 13 and No. 27  at the local box office.

Homegrown dramas and documentaries continue to attract local audiences, but at lower positions in B.O. charts.

The top three local films in El Salvador, in 2015, were Arturo Menéndez’s debut feature, “Malacrianza” in 72nd position, and the documentaries “El Salvador: Lost Archives of the Armed Conflict, Vol. II”, ranking No. 107 and “El Salvador: Lost Archives, Vol. 3”, in 145th position.

In Guatemala, Jayro Bustamante’s feature debut “Ixcanul,” that won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize at 2015’s Berlin Festival, was ranked in 45th position, Chris Kummerfeldt Quiroa’s romantic comedy, “Hunting Party,” in 103th position, and Marcos Machado’s supernatural drama “UFOs in Zacapa” in 147th.

In Nicaragua, the five-documentary compilation project “Memories of the Revolution” was ranked in 152nd position, and Daniel Rodríguez Moya’s and Ulises Juárez Polanco’s documentary about poetry readings, “I Like Poems, and I Like Life” occupied 160th position.

In Panama the top titles were Enrique Perez Him’s comedy “Kenke,” in 113th position, “Box 25,” by Delfina Vidal and Mercedes Arias, in 146th position, and the 5-shorts compilation pic “Panama Canal Stories,” by Carolina Borrero, Pinky Mon, Luis Franco, Abner Benaim, and Pituka Ortega Heilbron (a holdover, being released in October 2014), in 155th position.

With further multiplexes due to open in 2016, box office in the region is expected to continue to rise and as the nascent local film industries consolidate their positions, further growth in the box office success of local films is also expected.