San Sebastian: Canadians Line up Latin American Co-Productions

San Sebastian Awards - H 2011
Fabrizio Maltese for THR

The Canucks are sizing up partners as local cinema in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina surges

Alison Pill is attached to to star in Sook Yin-Lee's Canadian indie Octavio is Dead, a role that will see The Newsroom star's character chase her late father's ghost in Mexico City.

But The Film Farm's Jennifer Weiss, a Canadian producer best known for films directed by Brian De Palma and Atom Egoyan, is first at the San Sebastian Film Festival this week to chase additional financing and cast for her Canada-Mexico co-production slated for an early 2015 shoot.

"What's interesting is what's coming out of South America. Mexico has already produced its great directors. And there's a cultural identity that we (Canadians) can relate to," Weiss told The Hollywood Reporter. She isn't alone. In all, a dozen Canadian producers are speed-dating in San Sebastian as part of the Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum.

The Canadians represent the first-ever participants from outside of Europe and Latin America at the Basque country pitching meet. Their goal is to dip Latin American-themed movies in maple syrup to snag subsidies and co-production partners as countries like Mexico, Columbia and Brazil invest in their growing national cinemas.

"It's a get together. Everyone is here," said Carolle Brabant, executive director of Telefilm Canada, the country's biggest film financier, while attending the pitching meet at the San Telmo Museum alongside distributors, producers and sales agents from Argentina, Venezuela, Chile and Columbia.

The Canadian push here also comes as the San Sebastian co-production forum in this third year gains traction with Latin American players. Michel Ruben, a producer with Columbia-based Dynamo and based in Barcelona, secured financing for the Peru-Columbia-Spain co-production The Vanished Elephant at the inaugural San Sebastian co-production forum in 2012, ahead of its world premiere earlier this month in Toronto.

Now he's back in San Sebastian with a new movie, Animales Domesticos, by director Andy Baiz, to fill out the budget with international partners after raising initial financing in Columbia. Ruben said San Sebastian stands out in a crowded summer festival schedule dominated by Venice and Toronto by spotlighting Spanish-speaking films.

"Smartly, San Sebastian has focused on Latin America, which is it natural point of entry into Europe. Specializing is what's going to make it work," he added. Film buyer Jose Ganchegui, director of acquisitions for Miami-based Somos TV, said he's scouting new projects in San Sebastian he can later pick up for the U.S. TV market.

"Later, I'll know the titles of the films and be familiar with the projects," Ganchegui said. Montreal-based film producer Yanick Letourneau of Peripheria Productions has brought his pan-American theatrical drama X Quinientos, a $1.5 million Canada-Mexico-Columbia co-production, to Spain to complete financing ahead of an early 2015 shoot.

The film by Columbian-born and Montreal-based director Juan Andres Arango tells intertwining stories set in the dangers of the Columbian port of Buenaventura, Mexico City and, as a lure for Canadian co-production coin, Montreal's working class Côte-des-Neiges district.

"We really want to immerse you in their universe and feel the way they feel about their city and their surroundings, their fears, their dangers and the positive times as well," Letourneau said of the project being shopped in San Sebastian. Other Canadian producers are fielding pitches from Latin American producers.

"For me, this is about developing new relationships in the Latin America market. We've worked before with Spain and Mexico, but now we're looking to work more globally, in feature film and animation," said Phyllis Laing, a producer with Buffalo Gal Pictures.

The San Sebastian Film Festival continues through Sept. 27.