Can Guadalajara Become the Hollywood of Latin America?

FICG/Pedro AndreĢs.

Organizers behind the region's most important festival team with the developers of a new state-of-the-art film complex to lure the major studios south of the border.

MEXICO CITY -- Most people think of Guadalajara as Mexico's mariachi and tequila capital. Now developers want to transform the city into nothing less than the Hollywood of Latin America.

President Felipe Calderon recently announced that Guadalajara had won a bid to develop a sprawling multimedia industrial center, dubbed Creative Digital City.

The project looks enormous on paper: the available land occupies 600 acres in downtown Guadalajara, it requires an investment upward of $10 billion and it would create at least 20,000 jobs.

The compound would contain facilities for film and TV production, software and video game development, as well as animation and post-production studios. Like Digital Media City in South Korea, it would also house technology and electronics firms.

ProMexico, the government-run investment agency overseeing the project, is targeting high-profile media, entertainment and tech companies as potential investors. Among some of the deep pockets it has approached are Disney, Sony, Viacom, News Corp., Microsoft and Activision, though it's too early to tell if investors are on board.

So why Guadalajara as the city of choice? For starters, numerous electronics and technology companies are already based there, earning Guadalajara its reputation as the Silicon Valley of Mexico. But the role of the Guadalajara International Film Festival also weighed in on the selection process.

"The festival is really one of the key anchors of the digital city and the (project) will also be of great benefit to the festival," says Ricardo Alvarez, head of ProMexico's strategic projects.

Since its modest beginnings in 1986 as a tiny university-sponsored showcase for Mexican cinema, over the years Guadalajara has morphed into a monster on the Latin American fest circuit. It draws thousands of industry professionals each year hailing primarily from Europe, Latin America and the U.S.

They come primarily for the film market. Veteran sales agent Guido Rud, head of Buenos Aires-based Film Sharks International, considers Guadalajara one of his preferred stops for acquisitions.

"I'd rank Guadalajara among the top three Latin American festivals along with (Argentina's) Ventana Sur and Rio de Janeiro," he says. "Lately I've had more success at medium-size festivals like Guadalajara than at some of the larger festivals like Cannes, Berlin and Venice."

Should major U.S. players back Guadalajara as a viable production hub, the city in all likelihood would become an obligatory stop on the worldwide festival circuit.

Festival director Ivan Trujillo sees it as an opportunity to really grow the event.

"It was even surprising for us when they announced the project," he says. "Of course we will be involved but it's not quite clear yet what role the festival will have in all of this."

Developers expect to break ground on construction by year's end but it's a major undertaking that will take many years to complete.

In the meantime, the Guadalajara Film Festival continues to expand. This year it will have some 1,000 titles in its market and organizers expect a turnout of about 100,000 in admissions.

The 27th edition of the weeklong festival kicks off on March 2 with Mike Leigh's Another Year. Leigh will be in attendance as a special guest, as will actors Andy Garcia, Matthew Modine and Oscar nominee Demian Bichir.

Trujillo says the festival is seeking to strengthen ties with Hollywood and he believes the development project may help to do just that.

"The essence of the festival is Mexican cinema but Hollywood is very important to us," he says.