Miami Film Fest: How 'Instructions Not Included' Affects the U.S. Release of LatAm Films

"Instructions Not Included"

Crossover potentials, targeting Latino audiences, and new opportunities in TV broadcast were among the topics discussed among of panel of U.S. distributors on Friday.

MIAMI – Distribution of Latin American films in the U.S. was the big issue on Friday at the Miami Film Festival's industry sidebar Encuentros, which gathered Josh Braun (Submarine Entertainment), Roya Vakili (Fox International Pictures), Paul Hudson (Outsider Pictures), Jon Gerrans (Strand Releasing), and Luc Dery (micro-scope) to discuss the new challenges in marketing and releasing Spanish-speaking films to U.S. audiences.

STORY: 'Instructions Not Included' Smashes Box Office Record in Mexico

Even with the recent smash success of Pantelion Film’s Instructions Not Included, the highest-grossing Spanish-speaking film ever released in the US ($39 M), distribution of LatAm films still faces hard challenges.

According to Vakili, as the Spanish-speaking audiences’ cinema-going experiences are very similar to English-speaking ones, it’s very hard for LatAm films to compete with commercial U.S. films with mass amounts of marketing that is targeted at the same audiences. "We’re learning that is very hard to serve those two masters, and the focus is then primarily to make those films work in their local markets first, and later identify what the potential is, and to what scale we can cross it," said Vakili, who handled marketing for Argentine hit Septimo.

"After Instructions Not Included, everybody is obsessed with finding that groundbreaking film," said Hudson. When the moderator asks if that example means that Latino films have the advantage of a "built-in crossover chance" due to the large Spanish-speaking population in the U.S., Hudson responded, "It doesn’t matter if the film is Latin or German -- if it’s a good film, that’s the marketing strategy we’re aiming at."

TV broadcast opportunities now appears to be a promising outlet, according to Gerrans, who handled Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman, and Pablo Trapero’s latest films. "That’s what’s coming. It’s not a deciding factor on whether we acquire a film or not, but it definitely helps to know what we’re going to spend, cause I know two or three years down the road I have that potential."

VIDEO: 'Instructions Not Included' Featurette

These opportunities might also include harder-selling genres such as documentaries: "When we premiered Gael Garcia Bernal and Marc Silver’s Who’s Dayani Cristal, Univision had no interest in it, but their business model changed within the year we were selling the film and now they’re looking for documentaries," said Braun. "Sometimes the market changes and there’s a new opportunity, or the distributor find a slot that they didn’t have”, he added.

"Broadcasters only now realize there’s an entire population that speaks a different language," answered Hudson. "And they have money. So maybe they should cater for them. It’s just taken them a very long time to get there. Still, England makes movies, but there are very few English movies in the US. Just because there’s a common language, doesn’t mean the movies are gonna get there."

Indeed, the large Spanish-speaking population can’t be the only factor, according Jirafa’s Bruno Bettati (Summer of the Flying Fish, Bonsai, Voice Over). "There has been a huge Latino market in the US for more than twenty years. A cultural change must have happened."

The booming Latin American production in the past decade definitely elevated the quality of the films, and that is also regarded as a factor. "The films are getting better and better," said Dery. "In the past fifteen years we’ve seen some incredible directors out of Mexico, Argentina, Chile. These films get noted, and are more marketable. There are forces behind them. There are bigger companies now, making films with bigger budgets, and that makes more saleable films."

The exponential growth of new media and new platforms (Netflix, iTunes) definitely played in. "Everybody is hungry for content now," said Vakili. "And there’s new ways to cut up and dice the audience: geo-targeting, culturally-targeting different audiences to get that content to them, so I think as companies find these new avenues, they are really trying to find that content to push it down those avenues."