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Ventana Sur: Drilling Down on This Year’s Edition

BUENOS AIRES —  11 takes on the biggest Ventana Sur yet, in initiatives and initial business announcements:


Over the last decade, film festivals two biggest growth roadmaps have run through strengthening their industry heft, aiding an ever more challenged independent film business, and to morph into all-year-round structures. The Cannes Festival and Film Market made its biggest move on both counts in 2009, launching Ventana Sur, a market for Latin American films, hand-in-hand with Argentina’s INCAA film-TV agency. For Cannes, it was a leap in the dark. The result? Last decade saw governments in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Chile step up hugely government film funding. Ventana Sur helped school these burgeoning production industries in the tools for international market reach. Even in a contracting overseas arthouse market, sales on Latin American movies rose exponentially.


That market is especially challenged. Netflix appears to want to cherry-pick the major films from major players in major territories. Increasingly, outside the U.S, which still boasts a true “ancillary” market in TV and VOD, only name directors or highly singular but accessible foreign-language movies score theatrical openings. Just like their U.S. counterparts, foreign producers need equity to take up the lack of pre-sales slack. At this year’s Ventana Sur, international co-production deals, in and outside Latin America, will drive much of its news flow.


Ventana Sur is largely, but not only, a market. It’s also a festival with stars. Or the degustation – a film tasting – six months later, of some of the best received titles this year at the biggest festival on Earth: the Cannes Cinema Week, curated and M.C.-ed by Cannes Festival head Thierry Fremaux. Some years back: the Dardenne brothers dropped by the Film Week. They were lionized like rock stars. This year’s star is an actor star: Tim Roth. A Cannes icon, Gaspar Noe, himself Argentine, will also talk. The line-up also includes four competition winners – and the movie scoring the biggest prizes in Un Certain Regard and Directors’ Fortnight, Noé’s “Climax.” As Venice becomes all the more a platform for Oscar hopefuls, Cannes’ role looks set to consist ever more in discovering and framing big film talent, future and present, from all corners of the earth. This comes as foreign talent and the international performance of foreign drama series shows looks likely to decide the fortunes of most of the world’s new OTT giants. Think Netflix. Much of these drama series will be made by talent which breaks through in film. In this sense, Cannes is ahead of the curve.

CREDIT: Cinema Management Group


A brief history: Cannes and INCAA launched a sales market. By early this decade, hordes of young producers began to descend on Ventana Sur, eager to court co-producers in Europe and, increasingly, their own Latin America. Ventana Sur accommodated this through its Producers Network. The Cannes Film Market launched Primer Corte and Copia Final, for rough-cut or just finished titles. Bernardo Bergeret, then Ventana Sur’s co-director, championed the launch of Blood Window, Ralph Haeik, its current co-director, its TV strand, Fiction Factory.

This year, Ventana Sur’s gone further, creating an official co-production market. A new initiative, overseen by the Cannes Film Market and San Sebastian Festival, Proyecta will see 14 feature film projects pitched to an industry audience. It promises to be one of this year’s Ventana Sur highlights.

“One of the powers of Ventana Sur precisely is to present these different faces. It’s a very interesting combination to have at the same time all those elements of the new world of images,” said Cannes Film Market head Jerôme Paillard, co-director of Ventana Sur.


Hari Sama’s Ventana Sur-screening movie announces in its title. But the movie, despite being a heartfelt tribute to Mexico’s rebellious 1986 underground, also captures the mood of Latin America now. Rebellion, the need for renewal, doing away with the old – these themes link many of the new movies at Ventana Sur competing in its Copia Final and Primer Corte pix-in-post strands. In them, characters rebel against gender abuse (“Marionette,” “Do You Love Me”?), corruption (“Song Without a Name”), trial by internet (“The Friendly Man”), gang violence (“I’m No Longer Here”), conventional family structures mapping out women’s lives (“Venezia”), or institutionalized right wing oppression, as in Sama’s film.


Ventana Sur’s Copia Final looks like its strongest lineup since its launch, with “This Is Not Berlin” already Sundance selected. It would be no surprise for one or two other titles to make the cut at Berlin. In Animation!, “Ainbo,” to be presented at Ventana Sur, looks like a star pre-sales performer. There’s a good buzz in Blood Window on Gonzalo Calzada’s “Immaculate,” and “Shadowplay,” from Chile’s Felipe Eluti. ”I’m No Longer Here” and “Sanctorum” hit Ventana Sur off good word-of-mouth at Los Cabos and Morelia respectively. Expect a clutch of big new Chilean, Argentine and maybe Mexican arthouse productions to be unveiled during a busy week at Buenos Aires.


For TV at least, the key concerns are the huge demand – right now and even more in the future – for high-end series, so tying down talent while, somehow, retaining rights. Expect all three issues – demand, talent, rights -to surface pretty fast at Ventana Sur’s intense, Mipcom-style, wall-to-wall 2018 conference program.


Three U.S. OTT platforms are now placing orders for, or at least buying original content, in Latin America: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube Premium. Both Fox (Fox +) and HBO (HBO Now) operate Direct-to-Consumer services, while local cable companies – think Argentina’s Cablevisión – have moved into OTT.

This may be nothing, however, compared to the future where Jonathan Olsberg, who will speak at Ventana Sur, talks of a “production deluge.” One of the key challenges is “the need in most countries and regions to be quick about building capacity to handle this huge market demand, which could be a game changer for those territories,” said Olsberg, who will talk about production incentives at Ventana Sur.

“Latin America has the talent to produce contents for this demand. But it doesn’t always connect the points,” said Ralph Haeik, Ventana Sur co-director. He added: “The virtue of Ventana Sur is that it launched with the Cannes Festival which has a real connection with this demand, bringing buyers and fund heads. That’s what makes Ventana Sur different to other Latin American markets.”

Already, major companies are ramping up at least the number of series they produce. The best-case scenario for the production of new incentives may be when a country has lots of spare capacity when an incentive is introduced. One case, its industry members argue, is Chile. On Wednesday, Sebastian Freund and Gabriela Sandoval, the newly elected president and vice-president of Chile’s APCT producers org., will talk briefly at a CinemaChile cocktail. During their tenure, they look to argue the case for private sector incentives in Chile for a hugely successful local industry in international terms, which has grown faster than the government subsidy system which originally drove is expansion.


For years, fulsome Argentine public-sector funding, channeled via the country’s INCAA film-TV agency, was a motor of film industry growth. It explained in part why Argentina could make more daring, out there, radical in the good sense films, lapped up by festival audiences. Now, however, much of Argentina’s smaller more independent industry is in the trenches, warring with INCAA. Just in case foreign visitors to INCAA are unaware of this, a coalition of film industry lobbies will hold a press conference on Dec. 10, the first day of Ventana Sur, in the very entrance to its central market site. The protestors, often but not always, smaller independent filmmakers, claim that INCAA is keeping back part of its annual budget, forcing smaller filmmakers to ever more micro-budget shoots. INCAA president Ralph Haiek argues protestors misunderstand how its expenditure functions.

The protests come, moreover, as rampant inflation, and uncertainty about whether it will kick in the future, discourages private investment to take up any slack on government funding. To an extent, the fall out between the smaller independent industry and film authorities looks like part of a broader battle already fought in Spain under the Popular Party between a right-of-center government and generally left-leaning industry. Next stop Brazil?

The face-off is also yet another manifestation of the ever tougher challenges facing the world’s independent film industry. In news announcements, Hollywood studios look set to account for some of the biggest acquisition unveiled at this year’s Ventana Sur. Foreign distributors are stepping up to the plate on some titles. But they are – it’s a cliché now – ever more cautious.


The bigger picture. All over the world, apart from companies capable of producing local blockbusters – think Germany’s Constantin – the independent industry, U.S. and international, is suffering in international, squeezed by Hollywood and its biggest local players. Ventana Sur’s massive new conference strand – 40 sessions in four days – suggests some self-rescue measure. One is co-production, domestic and international. Another, the introduction of production incentives for local or foreign shoots. SPI-Olsberg chairman Jonathan Olsberg will talk on Tuesday about the future of automatic production incentives over the world. 95 exist, as of October 2018. Their use is the major public policy phenomenon in the film and TV sectors during the last 10 or more years. Yet another survival strategy is diversification into TV production. In terms of production announcements, last month’s MipCancun, which focuses on Latin American drama series production, was one of the most vibrant of TV markets in years.


Another survival move could be rigorous development. If independents don’t do, it’s for lack of funding. Increasingly, governments are footing some of the bill. In another departure, Ventana Sur will host for the first time La Incubadora, intended to promote local documentary filmmaking. “Argentina makes 100 documentaries a year. The question is whether they’re seen or travel outside Argentina,” said Haiek. La Incubadora puts them through a rigorous development process, he added. Results this year will be pitched to industry players.

The 10th Ventana Sur runs Dec. 10-14.

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