For its first Country in Focus program, the 2017 Berlin Festival could have chosen many countries in the world. Why Mexico? Variety drills down on 10 reasons:
1. World-class talent
Mexico is the third-biggest Oscar-winning nation in the world this decade. Only the U.S. and the U.K. have won more Academy Award trophies. France, with eight Oscars, trails Mexico’s 10. Beyond three director Oscars (“Gravity,” “Birdman,” “The Revenant”), Mexico has won two helming trophies at Cannes (2012’s “Post Tenebras Lux,” 2013’s “Heli”), a Venice Golden Lion and director prize (“Far Away,” “The Untamed”), and a Cannes screenplay award (“Chronic”).
2. Incentive program
Mexico’s fiscal incentive, now dubbed Eficine 189, turned 10 in 2016, and has “facilitated a whole new generation of filmmakers with very different propositions,” says Gaz Alazraki, director of 2014 smash hit “We Are the Nobles.” Mexico’s newest wave ranges wildly: From mainstream filmmakers (Eugenio Derbez, Marco Polo Constandse, Leonardo Zimbron, Manolo Caro), to genre (“We Are What We Are”), and animation (“Don Gato,” the “Huevos” franchise) to crossover (“Miss Bala,” “After Lucia”), arthouse (“Duck Season”), the radical (Carlos Reygadas), social-issue (“600 Miles”), and even social-issue sci-fi (“The Untamed”). The past 10 years are a very firm reason why Mexico is suddenly a world-market player, Alazraki says.
3. Booming box office
As Mexico’s peso drops against the dollar, so do revenues from Mexico to Hollywood. But the drop also makes producing in Mexico more attractive. And Mexican cinema is on a roll. “If I had to use one word for Mexican films’ performance last year, it would be ‘incredible,’” says Luis Vargas, ComScore exec director, Latin America. Mexican movies’ total box office reached 1.34 billion pesos ($64.1 million), a historical record. In 2015, three Mexican movies earned more than $1 million in Mexico; 14 films, 11 of them comedies, managed that last year. “Mexico has a great comedy tradition which we’re recuperating,” says Jorge Sanchez, head of Mexico’s Imcine Film Institute. Powered by stable subsidy lines and tax breaks, Mexico produced 158 films in 2016, up from just 14 in 2oo1, another all-time high.
4. Growing U.S. biz for Mexican films
But who really cares about foreign-language movies? Well, Hollywood for starters, if they attract Latino audiences. It was Mexico, not Hollywood, that cracked the Latino movie market with Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included,” which earned $44.5 million in the U.S. Mexican or Mexican-U.S. movies were the biggest foreign-language hits in the U.S in 2013, 2015, and 2016.
5. Movies that go straight to the jugular
“One Mexican newspaper with a print run of millions always shows ‘the corpse of the week,’ and, on the very same page, a picture of a naked woman!” says Emiliano Rocha Minter (“We Are the Flesh”). In Mexico, “life and death have always mixed in exuberant fashion,” he adds. One of the bluntest cinemas in Latin American, it can go for the jugular, depicting primal drives, bitter class-divides, atrocious cruelty (remember that scene in “Heli”?).
6. Vibrant TV scene
After “We Are the Nobles,” Alazraki scored a gig with Netflix directing “Club de Cuervos,” now re-upped for season three. Its success has prompted Netflix to order two more shows and its rivals — Fox, Televisa’s Blim, ClaroVideo, TV Azteca — to plow into premium TV fiction, creating the biggest higher-end TV scene in Latin America. “Going into Netflix’s ‘Club de Cuervos’ ” seasons two and three, “it’s hard to find cameras, actors, locations. You have a rotation of below-the-line personnel that was never seen before,” Alazraki says.
7. Docu strength
It is no coincidence that one of the most prominently placed of Mexican films at this year’s Berlinale is Everardo Gonzalez’s doc feature “Devil’s Freedom.” Mexico now has a large and distinguished modern documentary tradition, producing 50 docu-features in 2015. Two examples: Tatiana Huezo’s “The Tiniest Place,” and Nicolas Echeveria’s triple Guadalajara winner “Echo of the Mountain.”
8. Stable film financing
While state film funding has plunged elsewhere (Spain, Poland, Hungary), or has been thrown into doubt (Brazil), Mexican film funding has proved effective and even looks set to increase in 2017, up to some $8.6 million. Tax break production funding will hold at $31.1 million, Sanchez says.
9. Diverse cultures
“Mexico is one of the five countries with the greatest bio-diversity in the world,” says director Maria Novaro. A growing number of films set out to capture Mexico’s diversity, whether it is regional cuisine, stunning landscapes, or coastal paradises, such as Barra de Potosi. The latter is caught in Novaro’s memorably marine-toned Berlin Generation player “Tesoros.”
10. Mexico has always been important
And its importance looks set to grow, says Canana’s Pablo Cruz. “Mexican iconography — those guys wearing huge hats, for example — has been in the psyche of filmmaking from the near foundations of cinema,” he says. Mexico has never been a stranger to the world’s most prestigious festivals, with Luis Buñuel, the living voice of surrealism, choosing to live there, he adds. Now, in an age of VOD giants, “the new frontier starts with alternative languages. We are the No. 1 Spanish-speaking country in the world for cinema and Spanish is one of the most-spoken languages in the world.”