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Mexico’s film production output soared in 2013 as the country saw a record-breaking year at the box office. One of the year’s biggest hits, Eugenio Derbez‘s Instructions Not Included, became the nation’s all-time box-office champ after just two weeks in theaters, plus it raked in $44 million stateside, making it the highest-grossing Spanish-language film ever in the U.S.
What’s more, Mexican movies nabbed more than 70 awards on the international festival circuit, including big wins at Cannes, Locarno, Toronto and San Sebastian.
Mexico also saw a fine year for foreign shoots. Between films, TV shows and commercials, the nation hosted some 160 productions in 2013. Despite media reports suggesting that the ongoing drug war has created an unsafe working environment, production companies such as Sony Pictures Television, HBO, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel continue to go about their business south of the border.
Here is THR‘s look at some of 2013’s biggest entertainment industry stories in Mexico:
Mexico Comes up Big at Cannes Festival
Amat Escalante won the best director honor at the Cannes film festival for his drug war drama Heli, marking the second consecutive year that the prestigious prize has gone to a Mexican director.
In 2012, the award had gone to Carlos Reygadas for his film Post Tenebras Lux.
Escalante later also went on to win the best film award for Heli at the Lima Film Festival in Peru and walked away with the top jury prize from the Montreal Film Festival.
During his Cannes acceptance speech, Escalante sent a message to the Mexican people. “I hope we never get used to the suffering,” he said of the violence depicted in the film about the drugs and corruption that have plagued the country.
2013 was a historic year at the Mexican box office, especially for homegrown releases.
The comedies Instructions Not Included and We Are the Nobles finished the year ranked among the top 10 earners, a rare feat in a market usually dominated by Hollywood fare.
The bilingual Instructions Not Included raked in more than $47 million and bested such Hollywood tentpoles as Disney’s Monsters University and Universal’s Fast & Furious 6. It topped the 2013 attendance chart for Mexico with more than 15 million tickets sold.
Overall, however, the film came in behind the year’s top two earners in Mexico, which were Disney’s Iron Man 3 and Universal’s Despicable Me 2.
Mexico had 99 commercial releases in 2013, an all-time high thanks to a significant increase in production.
State-financed film funds and generous tax breaks have fueled the growth. Mexico had launched a $20-million tax incentive program in 2010 in an ambitious move to draw large-scale productions.
And the country is building out its facilities. Over the summer, plans for a new multi-million-dollar studio complex capable of hosting sizeable Hollywood indie films outside the Mexican colonial city of San Miguel de Allende were announced.
Construction of the complex, known as Fabrica GIFF, is set to begin early in 2014. Financed with public and private funds, the $16-million studio is expected to be fully operational in about two years.
Breakout Year for Mexican Talent
Mexican creatives had a strong year in 2013, drawing global buzz with their latest work.
Writer-director Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, for example, are getting serious Oscar buzz for their innovative work on Warner Bros. sci-fi thriller Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.
In addition, Academy Award-nominated actor Demian Bichir starred in the lead role in FX crime drama remake The Bridge.
Government Vows to Open TV Industry
Mexico’s Congress late this year passed a reform bill that aims to open the nation’s highly concentrated broadcast TV and telecommunications sectors to competition.
Currently, the Mexican TV duopoly of Televisa, a key partner of U.S. Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications, and TV Azteca control about 95 percent of the market.
Given their networks’ political clout, it remains to be seen if the reform will truly level the playing field.
Among other things, the bill eliminates a 49 percent limit on foreign ownership in telecom companies. Plus, Mexico is planning to auction off two digital TV networks, which would provide competition in the broadcast TV space.
The new rules may also allow Mexico’s dominant fixed-line phone carrier Telmex, owned by Carlos Slim, the world’s second-richest man, to enter the pay TV business.
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