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Latin American Distribution in Focus at Rio Film Fest

Rio Market Logo - H 2012

Industry panel at Rio Market shows troubled figures for regional film circulation.

BUENOS AIRES – As Latin America’s film production rises in the context of an unprecedented scenario with growing economical and political integration, the absolute lack of distribution of LatAm films within the region’s borders is still an unsolved issue. The subject was deeply discussed by LatAm film industry professionals at the ongoing RioMarket –the industry arm of the Rio de Janeiro Int’l Film Fest – which closes tomorrow.

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A discussion panel held last Wednesday showed some devastating numbers for a market that should be the natural one for LatAm films. According to Universal’s Mauricio Duran, “the scenario is worrying.” Indeed, if market share numbers for local productions in LatAm countries hardly reach the 10 percent mark, this figure becomes residual when extrapolated to LatAm films outside their countries. While Argentina and Brazil show an 8.6 and 12 percent market share for their own films in 2012 so far, the numbers for LatAm releases in these countries drop to an inconsiderable 0.01 and 0.02 respectively, according to stats brought by Duran.

“When we pick up a project, whether it’s for production or distribution, to be realists, we don’t even consider profits outside the country. The film must recuperate investment in its own turf,” he recognized.

Oscar winning producer Vanessa Ragone (The Secret In Their Eyes) mentioned the lack of sufficient and profitable theaters in Argentine, in context with a great concentration favorable to big Hollywood productions with huge marketing campaigns. “There’s a bloody fight for the most profitable screens, all of them located in Buenos Aires city and its surrounding areas,” she described.

In this sense, Ragone celebrated new government initiatives to force major studios to invest in local cinema, whether it’s co-producing or distributing, as a way to balance their currency imports and exports. “This has allowed us to reach distributors we usually couldn’t reach,” she explained. The latest release by Ragone’s prod Haddock, Viggo Mortensen starrer Everyone Has a Plan was co-produced by Fox International and distributed by Fox Argentina. Also, Haddock’s next project, Betibu, will be distributed by Warner.

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“These major distributors are realizing they can’t ship all of their money abroad, and so they’re searching for local films to invest in. And that’s good news for local cinema, as long as we can offer them good business. We can’t be making lots of films that don’t work. We’ll need to make films that do well, so this obligation the State has established becomes something profitable. If not, they’ll leave the country,” she added.

Alejandra Guzman, from Colombian private equity fund Dynamo, suggested co-productions between LatAm countries should always aim for themes that are not too rooted in one of them. Stories “must focus on themes that will cross cultural barriers, and are attractive to any language in any different market. Stories that have been focused on Colombian issues never do well in other countries,” she said.

Language differences were also mentioned as an issue. Fox’s next big project, Juan Jose Campanella’s animated Fusball, will actually be dubbed to neutral Spanish as well as Portuguese. The decision, according to Duran was based on the Mexican success of El Raton Perez, an Argentine animation that was released with a local dub and became the most successful Argentine film in that country.

At the same time, cases like El Chavo del Ocho, a Mexican children TV show that has been running in Argentina for 20 years now, challenges that idea, said Hugo Villa Smythe from the Mexican Film Institute, which has recently established a USD 6.7 million fund meant only for distribution and marketing.

“Products have circulated before. They have travelled well from one country to the other. There’s a reason why that worked and this other thing is not working,” he said. According to him, another reason can be found in a self-referenced environment where most directors who get funded by the state aim for art-house festival-favorite films and try to follow the footsteps of such filmmakers as Carlos Reygadas, instead of tapping more popular genres. “If a director who could be making the film equivalent of El Chavo is trying to make a Reygadas-like film, we have a problem,” he added.

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“The hugely popular Mexican wrestlers genre is another example,” Villa Smythe said. “Out of the 400 scripts I’ve probably read at the institute, only one short film addressed the theme.”

“Our State is to blame for not having any flexibility,” added Villa Smythe. “Our great challenge is to be more transversal. There’s no cinema without TV or the internet. Carriers must be aligned in one single system, and we should be providing producers with finance alternatives, an investment platform that would allow them to have a production portfolio they can offer to TV or other formats.”

The RioMarket held more than twenty discussion panels about the LatAm film industry during the Rio Film Fest, and closes tomorrow.