As new COVID protocols bedeviled travel to the U.K. and other parts of Europe, 3,000 lucky souls, including several hundred execs from Europe, were able to enjoy summer sun and post-lockdown reunions at Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur. Latin America’s biggest film and TV market and forum, it wrapped Friday Dec. 3 with an humungous, though thankfully rapid, awards ceremony. Following, 10 takeaways from the hybrid event:
The Way the Market’s Going
Is this the shape of things to come? At least in the short-term?Big films and deals were announced at or during Ventana Sur: VIS revealed it’s teaming with El Estudio and Infinity Hill on the Rob Schneider-directed “Love Is Love,” now a Paramount Plus Original; Pantelion Films unveiled its “most ambitious undertaking to date,” “Usurpadora, the Musical,” a modern movie adaptation of the Televisa classic; FilmSharks confirmed deals with Netflix and HBO Max on Veronica Chen’s “High Tide.” All these accords involve U.S. SVOD services, which are currently, until theatrical distributors really come back to the table, the prime movers on the market scene.
Netflix Joins the Show
Netflix execs have attended Ventana Sur for years. This year it took the relationship further, officially offering a Netflix Award, an Incentive for Argentine Women Creators. Titles took in a magical nature-set coming of age drama; a wheelchair user Sugar Baby; hilarious women and LGTBIQ+ revenge tales; a medical drama, but set at a Falklands War Argentine field hospital; a dysfunctional Jewish family dramatic comedy. The first, “Ayelen and the Forest Shadow,” from Luz Rapoport, Celeste Lambert and Sofía Sauval, won the AR$500,000 ($5,000) development prize, which stretches quite far in local currency. The studio streamers’ number one preoccupation is new creative voices. Competitions such as Ventana Sur’s seems an excellent way to find them.
Brazil Triumphs – But For How Long?
If there was one big winner at the Ventana Sur’s now far-ranging awards ceremony, it was not a title but a country: Brazil. “Berg’s Books,” from Brazilian Rubens Belli, swept major Animation! series kudos. Projeto Paradiso exec Rachel do Valle took the stage four times during the pix-in-post Primer Corte/Copia Awards to accept prizes for “Saudade Became Home Inside,” “Faraway Song,” “Mars One and “Tinnitus.” Some of these movies look bound for big fests. But most were majorly financed by government funding systems now decimated by Jair Bolsonaro’s government. As “Faraway Song” producer Luana Melgaço commented to Variety, there could well be a shortfall in major works of artistic relevance in coming years.
Genre: A Growing Concern
Many of the moves announced by independents at Ventana Sur were on genre movies, or at least movies with genre tropes. Alief has dealt Gonzalo Calzada’s award-winning Argentine thriller double bill “Nocturna” in France and Belgium to horror-centric streaming platform Freaks On. “Shudder” boarded Demian Rugna’s next project “When Evil Lurks;” Colombia’s 64-A Films announced a production alliance with Tomorrow Before After’ Producers Apollo Pictures and Sivela Pictures; Argentine producers Machaco Films and Aramos Cine announced La Puerta Roja, a new horror/fantasy joint venture. Embraced by a younger cineastes and platforms alike, genre remains a going concern.
The Business: The Wheels Are Still Turning
“The independent financing and sales marketplace is still an incredibly fertile ground to finance content at a significant level,” AGC Studios’ Stuart Ford said at July’s Cannes. Even at a lower level, the wheels are still turning. A top score or more of deals announced by Variety during Ventana Sur:
*Sony Pictures Int’l Productions announced musical romantic comedy “I’m Going to Have A Good Time,” produced with El Estudio and Spanish pop rock band Hombres G.
*”Birdman” co-writer Armando Bó is prepping the heroic story of the Buenos Aires Herald under Argentina’s murderous 1976-83 dictatorship.
*In a banner deal at Ventana Sur , Meikincine swooped on international rights to Mariano Biasin’s Argentine coming-of age drama “Sublime,” a buzz title and eventual winner at Ventana Sur’s Copia Final pix-in-post strand.
*At Ventana Sur, Paris-based MPM Premium brought onto the market timely immersive ecological fable “Eami,” from “Hamaca Paraguaya” director Paz Encina.
*Amazon Prime Video began streaming Maradona Doc ‘The Death of God,’ as Rocket Releasing bought Russian rights to the FilmSharks sold title.
*Chile’s Oscar entry “White on White” was bought for North America by Outsider Pictures, which has also taken claymation feature “Bob Spit” for an Academy Award run and worldwide on Colombian Nina Marín’s Debut “Broken Land.”
*Exile Content Studio confirmed former Hasbro exec Stephen Davis to chair exile kids.
*Ostinato Cine confirmed co-production with “Great Freedom” producer Rohfilm on Benjamin Mirguet’s “Alfredo Laron,” one of three eventual winners at Ventana Sur’s Proyecta co-pro forum.
*Amazon Prime Video pacted to bow “13:14,“ produced by Eugenio Dérbez’s 3Pas Studios.
*Rome-based 102 Distribution added drama “Oliver and the Pool” and soccer doc “Xeneizes” to its Ventana Sur slate and announced co-production with Mexico’s BHD Film of “500 Millions of Red Shoes.”
*Filmax introduced to buyers Spanish holiday comedy “Our (Perfect) Xmas Retreat” and “Amazing Elisa,” from fantastic festival name-stay Sadrac González-Perellón (“Black Hollow Cage.”)
*M-Appeal unveiled new deals for Marcela Lordy’s “The Book of Delights” and “The Night of the Beast,” from Colombia’s Mauricio Leiva Cock.
*Attending Ventana Sur, Autour de Minuit announced co-production with FKLG and Canal Plus on animated series “Freaked Out.”
One Crux for the Arthouse Business
But for the world’s artful business, the wheels are not turning very fast. The acid test for Ventana Sur business looks set to come not this week or next but when big fests, led by Sundance and Berlin – confirm their selections. Sales agents still like to use the momentum of a films’ big fest debut to position and sell the hell out of the movies. If Ventana Sur titles hit Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition or Berlinale’s Competition or Panorama sans sales agents, they are unlikely to get sales agents or sales at all.
Animation Still Rocks
Early off at Ventana Sur, Edward Noeltner, president of Cinema Management Group, announced that “Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon,” an animated feature from Peru that he had signed up at Ventana Sur in 2017, had just blasted past $11 million at the international box office this year. That’s despite cinema closures, capacity protocols and a lackadaisical return to theaters. As production costs plunge, high-quality animation is no longer a monopoly of deep-pocketed studios and indies. Hits can come from anywhere. Some Latin American animated movies look like they can go anywhere as well.
But Are Sales Now the Be-All and End-All of Markets?
30 years back, at Italy’s Mifed, in the international heyday of Miramax and other U.S. independents, business publications could fill two pages of close type with the deals that went down at a market. These days, the pre-sales market has contracted for all but a top echelon of big plays by big companies or star auteurs., its place being taken by in the U.S. by private-sector equity investment. In the art-house sector that equity is replaced by film fund finance worldwide tapped via co-production. Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama” had 16 production partners, Ventana Sur market debut “Eami” 14. Their number has in fact become one early bellwether to an arthouse movie’s international standing.
Ventana Sur’s Market Success
Apart from Cannes’ Marché du Film, any market these days which doesn’t have a co-production forum or a TV strand should start worrying about its future. Ventana Sur – like Rome’s vibrant MIA in October, consolidating as Europe’s biggest second half of the year market – notably has both. And big sidebars focusing on growing businesses: Genre and animation. Put sales agents, many of whom have diversified into production and TV, on an island whose inhabitants haven’t even seen a camera and they’ll soon think of ways of doing deals. Put them in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which has one of the most talented film-TV creative communities in international, and they’ll soon be fairly rocking. “For us, Ventana Sur has been a magnificent chance it take the pulse of the Argentine industry,” says Latido Films’ head Antonio Saura. “We’ve had stupendous, highly positive meetings with produces and directors,” he added. Evidence is that many sales agents were mooting early talks on projects in early development which will hit the market once the whole story COVID-19 mess is over.
Organized by Cannes Marché du Film-Cannes Festival and Argentina’s INCAA film-TV agency, 2021’s Ventana Sur ran from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 on-site in Buenos Aires and online.
Jamie Lang contributed to this article.