Why Latin America's Film Market Has Never Been Hotter

7:46 AM 2/13/2017

by Agustin Mango and John Hecht

From the comedy boom in Mexico to the rise of 'Jackie' director Pablo Larrain in Chile, both the box office and talent pool are thriving in five key markets south of the border.

'Casa Rochell' (Chile), 'Black Snow' (Argentina) and 'Joaquim' (Brazil)
'Casa Rochell' (Chile), 'Black Snow' (Argentina) and 'Joaquim' (Brazil)
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

Growth remains a constant feature of the Latin American film market, as box-office revenue, ticket sales and local film production keep reaching record marks, even in countries rife with political turmoil and economic recession. Hollywood dominance still is an issue, though, with huge tentpole blockbusters clogging theaters. Indeed, local fare struggles against marketing machineries that target Latin America, which doesn’t benefit from a true art house circuit.

Nevertheless, art house films — still heavily dependent on co-productions and government funds — continue to thrive on the festival circuit, picking up awards and even sending acclaimed filmmakers to the U.S., such as Chile’s Pablo Larrain, who made a major impression in Hollywood in 2016 with Jackie, starring Natalie Portman.

Summing up a market as diverse as Latin America is tricky, but not impossible. Here’s a look at the major trends shaping the film sectors in five major markets south of the border.

  • Mexico

    'Desierto' starring Gael Garcia Bernal
    'Desierto' starring Gael Garcia Bernal
    Courtesy of Toronto Film Festival

    Mexican talent once again is making noise in Hollywood, as Diego Luna enjoys a meteoric rise to fame for his lead role in the Star Wars spinoff Rogue One and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto earns acclaim for his deft camerawork in the Martin Scorsese period drama Silence. Back home, Mexico saw yet another banner year at the box office fueled by a steady diet of Hollywood superhero films and Mexican comedies. For the second straight year, the comedy genre dominated the domestic box-office chart with seven of the year’s top 10 Mexican releases in 2016.

    Why are laughers performing so well? In short, moviegoers have turned to light-hearted fare to escape from the harsh realities of everyday life, such as Mexico’s brutal drug war. “Our reality is heavy and perhaps we are trying to distance ourselves from films with social commentary,” says Monica Lozano, producer of the 2016 hit comedy Que Culpa Tiene el Nino? (Don’t Blame the Kid) and the country’s highest-grossing film ever, No Instructions Included.

    In Berlin this year, Mexico has been selected as the first Country in Focus, a new program launched by the European Film Market to explore co-production and financing opportunities in film and television.


    Pimienta Films’ Nicolas Celis, just 30, has racked up some pretty impressive producer credits lately. He’s currently co-producing Oscar winner Alfonso Cuaron’s 1970s family drama Roma, and prior to that he served as executive producer on the Gael Garcia Bernal-starrer Desierto, a thriller directed by Cuaron’s son, Jonas. Celis also co-produced auteur Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, which won the best director award in Venice. Celis produces alongside brother Sebastian and often works with Jim Jarmusch producer Jim Stark.


    Highest-grossing film Captain America: Civil War ($41.6M)

    Highest-grossing domestic film Que Culpa Tiene el Nino (Don’t Blame the Kid) ($15.2M)

    Total box office for 2016 $821M

    Key Berlinale Titles Tesoros (Generation Kplus), Casa Roshell (Forum)

    Key EFM Titles Veronica (Visions Berlin), Los Debiles (Visions Berlin), La Gran Promesa (Visions Berlin), Bruma (Visions Berlin), Ayudame a Pasar la Noche (Visions Berlin), Benigno Cruz (co-production market), Where the Summer Went (co-production market)

  • Argentina

    'The Queen of Spain' featuring Chino Darin
    'The Queen of Spain' featuring Chino Darin
    Courtesy of Atresmedia Cine

    In 2016, animated blockbusters scooped almost 30 percent of the box-office revenue in Argentina, while local films managed to maintain a surprising 15 percent market share, with four mainstream domestic productions on the year’s top 20 list. “Keeping market share in a year without a major local blockbuster like Wild Tales is really a welcome development. It is also a sign of a whole industry reaching maturity,” says Oscar-winning producer and president of the Argentine film institute Axel Kuschevatzky.

    Argentina will most certainly be a player at this year’s top festivals as renowned local auteurs are expected to deliver some eagerly awaited titles, like Lucrecia Martel’s Pedro Almodovar-produced Zama, and Santiago Mitre’s The Summit, starring Ricardo Darin.


    Chino Darin, 28, the son of Argentina’s biggest film star (Ricardo Darin), has been featured in hit TV shows (History of a Clan), big-screen comedies (Volley) and action films (Death in Buenos Aires), both in Argentina and Spain, where he was recently cast in Fernando Trueba’s Berlinale entry The Queen of Spain, starring Penelope Cruz.


    Total box office for 2016 $246M

    Highest-grossing domestic film I Married a Dumbass ($9M)

    Highest-grossing foreign film Finding Dory ($17.2M)

    Key Films in Berlin Pendular (Panorama), Soldado (Generation 14Plus), Primero enero (Generation Kplus), So Long Enthusiasm (Forum), Rustlers (Forum), The Theatre of Disappearance (Forum)

    Key EFM Titles The German Neighbour (Wide House), Amar (Global Screen GMBH), Black Snow (Film Sharks)

  • Brazil

    'The Other End' directed by Felipe Sholl
    'The Other End' directed by Felipe Sholl
    Courtesy of Syndrome Films

    2016 was a year of extreme political crisis in Brazil with the impeachment and removal of president Dilma Roussef. Yet despite the turmoil, attendance, local releases and box-office revenue all grew to record numbers. The market share for local films jumped to 16.5 percent, mostly due to a film version of a TV series (Ten Commandments) that broke the domestic box-office record.

    “Since 2009, we are seeing a continuous growth of the film exhibition market despite oscillations in the country’s economical situation,” says Manoel Rangel, head of the Brazilian film institute ANCINE.


    Felipe Sholl, 35, won the Teddy Award at the 2007 Berlinale for his short film Tá and worked as a screenwriter for several Brazilian films before directing his first feature The Other End in 2016.


    Total box office for 2016 $825M

    Highest-grossing domestic film Ten Commandments ($29.7M)

    Highest-grossing foreign film Captain America – Civil War ($40.8M)

    Key Films in Berlin Joaquim (Competition), Vazante (Panorama), Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! (Generation 14Plus), Rifle (Forum)

  • Colombia

    'The 33' featuring Juan Pablo Raba
    'The 33' featuring Juan Pablo Raba
    Courtesy of Alcon Entertainment

    Record numbers are becoming a constant in Colombia, where 2016 brought an 8 percent rise in total box office. Attendance for local films increased by almost a third in comparison to 2015, with a 7 percent market share, the largest in five years. Box-office revenue also fuels government film funds, which remain essential for the growing art-house scene.

    "Art-house films in turn provide a feedback for the mainstream commercial cinema, so it can evolve in its language and ideas,” says local director Harold Trompetero (Violet of a Thousand Colors).


    A former model and telenovela heartthrob, Juan Pablo Raba, 40, starred in the Chilean miners drama The 33 and Netflix hit Narcos as Pablo Escobar’s cousin Gustavo Gaviria. He recently made a permanent jump to the U.S. by joining the third season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.


    Total box office for 2016 $174M

    Highest-grossing domestic film El Coco ($2.5M)

    Highest-grossing foreign film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ($8.1M)

    Key EFM Titles X500 (Visit Films), The Nobodies (Alpha Violet), Guilty Men (Films Boutique), That Thing Called Love (UDI)

  • Chile

    'The Plants' directed by Roberto Doveris
    'The Plants' directed by Roberto Doveris
    Courtesy of Mimbre Producciones

    Chile’s box office continues to grow year after year, and its 6 percent market share of homegrown films, though lower than its regional neighbors’ 2016 marks, was also carried by mainstream comedies based on TV characters or stars, while auteur Pablo Larrain turned heads in Hollywood with Jackie.

    “Our cinema has consolidated internationally and is no longer a solitary struggle by a few producers and directors,” says Sebastian Freund, producer of 2012 local hit Stefan v. Kramer.


    A young producer and director of more than 30 music videos, 29-year-old Roberto Doveris won the Grand Prix of Berlinale’s Generation 14plus section in 2016 with his feature film The Plants, starring Argentine indie pop singer Violeta Castillo. He is a jury member for that same festival section this year.


    Total box office for 2016 $135M

    Highest-grossing domestic film No Filter ($4.4M)

    Highest-grossing foreign film Ice Age: Collision Course ($7.5M)

    Key Films in Berlin A Fantastic Woman (Competition), El Pacto de Adriana (Panorama), Casa Roshell (Forum)

    Key EFM Title Bad Influence (Funny Balloons)

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