The Cannes Festival’s greatest industry achievement in the last decade, apart from maintaining the global preeminence of its Riviera-set meet, is Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur. Launched in 2009 by the Cannes Festival and Market, in partnership with Argentina’s INCAA film-TV agency, it became from its very get-go the biggest film industry event in Latin America.

Running Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, this year’s event is based out of Buenos Aires’ Hotel Madero, which will host the meet’s conferences. Works in progress in sections – Primer Corte, Blood Window, Animation! and so on – screen at the nearby Cinemark Puerto Madero multiplex, others online.

The event itself is caught, however, in a maelstrom of still roiling COVID-19 and tectonic shifts in international industry business models, the former obliging it to adopt a hybrid online/in-person format for this year’s meet. 10 Takes as Ventana Sur lifts off this Monday Nov. 29 in Buenos Aires:

COVID-19 Market Slowdown

Especially for the world’s art-house sector, COVID-19 is hitting harder than ever before. Facing massive slates of unreleased titles, foreign territory-based distributors may not be back to real buying until the end of 2022, the consensus runs. So sales agents in turn are become increasingly picky and acquiring at least some of their films with one eye on their platform potential. Yet global studio streamers in general prefer to buy larger audience titles. So sales agents will think twice about acquiring new titles. “Anything that’s just good is probably just not good enough to acquire,” says MPM Premium’s Quentin Worthington. “Audiences need films with bold strong visions and, if dramas, large emotions they can relate to.”

Cannes Festival Film Week

Every year some critic somewhere will claim that Cannes is losing its best festival in the world crown. Yet, year in, year out, Cannes will deliver about half the films on reviewers’ annual Top 10 Lists. Cannes head Thierry Frémaux will personally present seven contenders for that 2021 honor at Ventana Sur’s Cannes Film Week, led by Palme d’Or laureate “Titane,” Grand Prix recipient “Compartment No. 6,” “Ahed’s Knee” and “A Hero,” which shared its Jury Prize, and “The Worst Person in the World,” which won best actress for Renate Reinsve. This is the aristocracy of world cinema, ratcheting up fulsome sales, even in COVID-19.

Lazy loaded image
Titane Carole Bethuel/Neon

Ventana Sur Opens Up to Series and Video Games

The consequences of the sales slowdown are, however, playing out throughout this year’s Ventana Sur. On one hand, the market-meet is opening up. Already building, SoloSerieS, Ventana Sur’ drama series strand, will now host project pitch competitions backed by Netflix, as well as Spanish producer ESPostlight, which is partnered by Legendary Global, and Flixxo, a file-swapping platform. Ventana Sur will also bow Maquinitas-Let’s Play,  its first dedicated video game forum. “Everyone is looking at what is happening in theaters, how platforms are evolving. Everyone’s trying to continue acquisition and distribution but being quite careful,” says Cannes Marché du Film exec director Jéröme Paillard. “We want companies to see how they can diversify.”

Netflix Embraces Ventana Sur

Immediate results of such expansion look quite spectacular. In their first collaboration, for example, this year Netflix and Ventana Sur are offering AR$500,000 ($5,000) to the winner among five drama series from upcoming Argentine women creators. The section ranges from adventure fantasy “Ayelen and the Forest Shadow” to radical female revenge anthology “Fed Up, In A Far Away Defense,” plus “The Girls of the Fog,” a Falklands War hospital-set drama, “My Queen,” a dysfunctional Jewish family comedy, and “Sugar, Handicapped, Reckless, Not That Sweet,” about a wheelchair using sugar baby. In all, an auspicious debut.

Ventana Sur’s On-Site/Online Mix Evolves

420 or more delegates will navigate the still demanding travel requirements for Argentina, which include COVID-19 health insurance. The prize for many will be a stay at the Hotel Madero, one of the best hotels in town. Maquinitas is driving a large surge in Argentine attendance, says Bernardo Bergeret, Ventana Sur co-director with Paillard. With much of the world’s foreign-language sales-distribution film industry attending online, total participants should be in line with 2019 at around 3,000, Paillard adds. “We’ve increased the visibility of all the producer and project activities. We’re very happy about the physical participation both from Latin America, Europe and the U.S.,” he adds.

New Talent Platform

“My Queen” director Marlene Grinberg won two awards earlier this month for “The Mermaid of Monterrey” at the Sanfic-Mórbido Lab. Further creators at the Netflix

Incentive for Argentine Women Creators look on the cusp of breakthrough. International publishers have been “hugely surprised by the originality of some of the video game projects coming from people who are totally off the vidgame radar,” says Bergeret. Six of the 12 pix-in-post in Primer Corte/Copia Final are solo debut features, five sophomore outings. Film markets and festivals are becoming massive new talent platforms, of interest to platforms and independents alike.

Rising Production Standards 

Over 1998-2008, Latin America feature film production more than tripled – from 98 titles to 312, according to Screen Digest – as governments put their backs behind national production. Volume has more than doubled again since then. Now, however, looks like an age of rising production quality. Brazilian Copia Final screener “Tinnitus,” for example, is co-written by Marco Dutra, a Locarno 2017 Special Jury Prize winner for “Good Manners,” its DP is Rui Poças, whose credits include Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama,” and its score is from Tindersticks’ David Boulter, a frequent composer or musician for Claire Denis. Movies, like series, need to cut through the crowd: Co-Production, sustained development and better production are the order of the day.

Buzz Titles

Talents to track Benjamín Mirguet (“Alfredo Laron”), Niles Atallah (“Celestial Twins”) and Silvina Schnicer (“The Cottage”) have projects at Proyecta, a co-pro forum; Primer Corte features new titles from, among producers, Oscar laureate Vanessa Ragone (“The Face of the Jellyfish,”) and Cannes Camera d’Or winners Edher Campos (“Journey to the Land of the Tarahumara”) and Juan Pablo Miller (“Sublime”). There’s good word on a brace of Brazilian titles, led by “Mars One” and “Tinnitus.”  From Blood Window, two Brazilian picks stand out in Fernando Mamari’s “Niobe” and Sabrina Greve’s “The Basement,” as does the Chilean supernatural love-triangle story “Eros Thanatos” from Felipe Eluti. Ventana Sur’s Animation! frames titles from hot Colombian prospect Silvia Prietov (“Halloween”) and Mexico’s Fotosintesis Media (“Mi Amigo del Sol”). Other buzz titles: Mexico’s “Hanta” and “The Sleeping Beauty Chronicles” and, in works in progress, exquisite eco fable “Perlimps,” from Alê Abreu, the Oscar-nominated director of “Boy and the World.”

Lazy loaded image
Mars One Courtesy of Projeto Paradiso

European Features

Ventana Sur isn’t just about Latin America, however. Occupying half or more of the online screening schedule, Ventana Sur’s European Screenings take in post-WWI murder mystery “Hinterland,” from Oscar winner Stefan Ruzowitzky, “The King of All the World,” Carlos Saura’s latest fiction musical, and the Constantin Film-produced “Contra,” from “Pope Joan” director Sönka Wortmann, one of five titles backed by European Film Promotion digital sales support. Latin America’s biggest film market is also a great opportunity for select European films to stand out.

The Zeitgeist

What does this year’s Ventana Sur say about the films that are getting made in Latin America and beyond? If anything really traces a through-line between titles in Primer Corte/Copia Final, it’s their characters’ battle for inner change, notes the sections’ co-curator Eva Morsch-Kihn. Often at the heart of projects’ stories are “characters who are exploring in an intimate fashion, searching for identity, trying to find legitimacy or their own path in life or go back to who they were.” Other figures “look for new ways to see the world, or want to change something or fight to conquer a fear or problem,” Morsch-Kihn observes. The same could be said about multiple titles in other sections at this year’s Ventana Sur.