Studio releases still dominate, but from a Chilean Oscar contender ('A Fantastic Woman') to a blockbuster Colombian comedy ('El Coco 2'), local filmmakers are fighting back.
Latin America’s film production numbers continue to expand year after year, but Hollywood still rules the box office. This David vs. Goliath dynamic is the consistent trend within the major LatAm markets: In a good year, only one or two local films manage to crack the top 10.
Aside from studio fare, audiences consistently flock to local comedies featuring popular TV stars. But while LatAm films in general struggle against a juggernaut of tentpoles, some distinctive elements — like Mexico’s expanding exhibition industry, or Chile’s growing international presence — are sources of optimism.
Here’s a look at some of the most significant trends in five key Latin American markets.
Backstory: Animation and horror ruled the box office in Argentina, with Buenos Aires native Andy Muschietti’s blockbuster It remake claiming fourth place. Attendance dropped slightly, yet total revenue was up 18 percent in an economy with significant inflation.
“Independent players can’t produce a day-and-date strategy,” says prominent local producer Axel Kuschevatzky (The Secret in Their Eyes). “It’s hard for them to have a significant reach like the studios.” The market share for local films is usually driven by just a couple of releases that boost the revenue for Argentine cinema. In 2017, many of the films that aimed to play that role — featuring popular stars like Ricardo Darin (The Summit) — didn’t even pass the 1 million ticket mark.
Talent to watch: Peter Lanzani
A former teen star, Lanzani recently jumped to the big screen in the action comedy YOLO — You Only Live Once (2017), and will soon co-star in the serial killer drama El Angel.
Highest-grossing domestic film: Ten Days Without Mom ($8.6M)
Highest-growing foreign film: Despicable Me 3 ($9.3M)
Key Films in Berlin: The Bed (Forum), Theatre of War (Forum), Viaje a los pueblos fumigados (Berlinale Special), Malambo, the Good Man (Panorama)
Key EFM Titles: Dark Buildings (FilmSharks), Ten Days Without Mom (FilmSharks)
Backstory: The Brazilian market grew in 2017 by 4.7 percent, yet ticket sales dropped slightly (1.5 percent) for the first time in years. As in the rest of the region, market concentration is by now an endemic trend, and in 2017 the top 10 films accounted for 39 percent of the entire box office.
“National production has been releasing an average of 150 films a year, but only a few stand out at the box office,” says Filme B’s Paulo Almeida. These few are usually comedies driven by TV stars, but in 2017 only Cesar Rodrigues’ My Mom Is a Character 2, starring TV comedian Paulo Gustavo, managed to squeeze into the top 10.
Talent to watch: Tatiana Leite
A Sorbonne graduate and former programmer for the Rio Film Festival, Leite produced Julia Murat’s Pendular, which won the Fipresci Award in the Panorama section of the 2017 Berlinale, and most recently Gustavo Pizzi’s Sundance entry Loveling.
Highest-grossing domestic film: My Mom Is a Character 2 ($27.8M)
Highest-grossing foreign film: The Fate of the Furious ($41.7M)
Key films in Berlin: Tranny Fag (Panorama), Ex-Shaman (Panorama), Eu sou o Rio (Forum Expanded), Unicorn (Generation)
Key EFM titles: Central Airport THF (Luxbox), Joao the Maestro (Saboteur Media), Lino 3D (FilmSharks), Rust (Be for Films)
Backstory: Colombia’s recent box-office expansion slowed down from an 8 percent spike in 2016 to a more discreet 2.6 percent in 2017. Still, total box-office revenue broke the record, with $191 million, the highest in Colombian history.
Hollywood rules over domestic productions and grabs most of the revenue, while the popular comedies like El Coco 2, from writer-producer Dago Garcia, dominate domestically. In fact, comedies from Garcia grabbed almost 40 percent of the local market share. “Clearly, exhibitors and distributors seek only popular comedies, and sadly producers are powerless against this,” says producer Jorge Forero.
Talent to watch: Ivan Gaona
The first feature by the former assistant director and editor, Guilty Men, premiered in Venice and became Colombia’s official foreign-language Oscar submission for 2017.
Highest-grossing domestic film: El Coco 2 ($1M)
Highest-grossing foreign film: The Fate of the Furious ($12.7M)
Key EFM titles: Virus Tropical (Stray Dogs), Candelaria (Beta Cinema)
Backstory: Chilean productions struggle for market share, but in recent years local talent has caught the attention of Hollywood, from indie helmer Sebastian Silva (Sundance entry Tyrel) to Pablo Larrain (Jackie). Now the buzz surrounds Sebastian Lelio: His trans drama A Fantastic Woman is nominated for a foreign-language Oscar; his first English-language feature, Disobedience, starring Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz, bows in April; and a U.S. remake of his film Gloria starring Julianne Moore is on the way.
Talent to watch: Francisca Alegria
New York-based Alegria’s short film And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow’s Eye won a jury prize in Sundance. Now, she is prepping her first and second feature films: Chilean-Italian co-production The Cow That Sang Its Song About the Future and an English-language title set in New Mexico.
Highest-grossing domestic film: A Fantastic Woman ($279K)
Highest-grossing foreign film: Despicable Me 3 ($8.1M)
Key film in Berlin: The Wolf House (Forum)
Key EFM titles: Little White Lie (Summerside International), The Inhabitant (Filmsharks)
Backstory: Mexican directors keep thriving in Hollywood, with Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) following in the footsteps of Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant). Pixar’s Mexico-themed Coco dominated the country’s growing box office, earning more than all 2017 Mexican releases combined. Last year’s market share of local titles sunk from 8.9 percent to 6.1 percent. Still, theaters keep expanding (Mexico is fourth behind China, India and the U.S. in existing cinemas), meaning the exhibition circuit is thriving, thanks mostly to Hollywood. “It seems as if there’s an unofficial limit to local cinema,” says producer Nicolas Celis.
Talent to watch: Sebastian Hofmann
A visual artist and film editor, premiered his second feature, Time Share, in Sundance’s World Cinema slate and won the Special Jury Award for Screenwriting.
Highest-grossing domestic film: Do It Like an Hombre ($10.7M)
Highest-grossing foreign film: Coco ($57.8M)
Key films in Berlin: Museum (Competition), The Weak Ones (Forum)
Key EFM titles: Time Share (Visit Films), Road to Mars (Cinema Republic)
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 17 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.