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Los Cabos International Film Festival: Fun and Financing

Los Cabos International Film Festival took place this month of November. It was a brave move to keep it going after Cabo had been so hard hit by Hurricane Odile with winds of 125mph less than a month earlier. The vast destruction in our part of town was quickly being repaired though traces remained visible and repairs still to be done necessitated cutting the normal invitation list by half and doubling up hotel rooms for a few unlucky journalists. That being said, there were 15,000 attending the festival. Volunteers wore the worthy words on their t-shirts: #Unstoppable, and they were that.

For all the infrastructure problems of the city in the midst of rebuilding itself, the festival seemed to thrive with all sorts of invitees showing up from all over the world. It seemed like gala events, panels, master classes, coproduction meetings, works in progress, screenings and interviews were constantly taking place. It was a great team and we all felt part of it.

The festival is overseen by the executive board members Eduardo Sánchez Navarro, Alfonso Pascal Barcenas, Scott Cross and Sean Cross (who also founded Vail Film Festival) and is organized by the festival team of Alonso Aguilar (General Director), Alejandra Paulin (General Coordinator) - who was a great market director in Guadajalara before coming here, Maru Garzon (Head of Programming), Ana Molinar Trujillo (Communication Manager), and Monica Herrera (Film Programmer). My friend from Guadalajara, normally an English teacher, Fabian Cruz was also there working for the festival.

When Eduardo Sánchez Navarro Redo remembers how he first came to Los Cabos, there is no doubt in his mind that destiny and luck played an important part. When he married his wife 30 years ago, he decided to travel along the entire Pacific Coast, from Acapulco to Mazatlan, where he crossed over to La Paz eventually driving to Los Cabos. The beauty of the area impressed him and it was during this trip that he and his wife decided to buy a vacation home in Los Cabos, thus beginning a distinguished career as a principal player and developer of what is Los Cabos today. Over the course of more than 20 years, his company, Grupo Questro, has emerged as one of the most highly respected developers in all of Mexico. He, together with Juan Gallardo Thurlow, Scott Cross, and Sean Cross, founded the festival in 2012.

My job as a journalist was to explore and write, hard to do when you are having such fun 24/7. We journalists were all in one hotel where we were given space and time to bond. Travel writers mixed with trade writers: from Film Journal David Noh, whose article is worth sharing here, my colleagues Peter Rainer from NPR and Christian Science Monitor, Anne Thompson from Thompson on Hollywood on Indiewire, Godfrey Cheshire of and many others met and mixed. Also Ira Deutchman of Colombia University Film School and Emerging Pictures and Robin Brock of Creative Coalition were there with time to share dinners.

The filmmakers, in another hotel, mixed by day and at the communal lunches and parties. I will write more on them in an upcoming blog! After all, filmmakers are the backbone of our industry. Without them, we have nothing!

The agents, mostly from CAA, were placed in another hotel, luxurious and far away. As someone said, Cabos is like Cannes, only in November. If so, perhaps they were at the Eden Roc in Cap d’Antibes. (Actually they were at Hacienda Beach Club & Residences) CAA has always been an honored part of this festival. I have heard that that is because someone with lots of money from Mexico invests it in cinema through CAA and even started the festival. That is, however, pure conjecture. Under the guidance of CAA agent, Micah Green, people can be assured that the directions he sees and the decisions he makes about investing private individuals' capital into filmed entertainment is priceless. I could think of no one I would trust more --in this untrustworthy business we are in-- than Micah.

At least two other agents – Bec Smith and Rena Ronson from UTA -- were also there. Rena and Micah were on the Film Financing Panel moderated by Variety’s expert in all things Iberoamerican and my idol, John Hopewell. Other participants on the Film Finance Panel were Jonathan King, Evp of Production at Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media whose partnership with Canana formed Participant PanAmerican production fund. “No” by Pablo Lorrain was their first investment. Pp also financed "El Ardor" which played in Cannes and “Cesar Chavez”, directed by Diego Luna. Also on the panel were Mark Musselman of Canada’s 10X2yinc, the exec producer of “Eastern Promises” and most recently of “Remember” by Atom Egoyan which was also produced by Robert Lantos and son, also in Los Cabos. It went into production in 2014 and is tipped for Cannes. Other panelists included Raul Del Alto of Mexico’s Ag Studios (Itaca Films Mexico, Itaca Films USA, Itaca Films Colombia and Itaca Filkms Brazil, and Rena Ronson of UTA who, like Micah Green of CAA focuses on global film finance, distribution and marketing strategies for Independents and co-financed features and is fluent in Spanish because of her long time experience with Latin America.

At one point I looked up and found the European fund chiefs there as well, Laufey Gudjonsdottir from Iceland (where Interstellar was filmed), Katriel Schory from Israel Film Fund and Edith Sepp-Dallas from the Estonian Film Institute. They were there for Bpx. Best Practice Exchange is an initiative that brings together the leaders of film funding agencies from across the world to take part in high-level-workshops – one or two each year – designed to promote new standards of excellence in the provision of public funding for the support of film production, development and distribution. The aim of Bpx is to ensure that policies and procedures adopted by film funding agencies will act together, positively and proactively, to stimulate and sustain practices of international coproduction and cofinancing worldwide.

Triggered by the situation in which filmmaking outside the main production centers of Hollywood and Bollywood now finds itself, Bpx was created by Simon Perry, president of Ace (Ateliers du Cinéma Européen), in collaboration with Katriel Schory, executive director of the Israel Film Fund. It held its first workshop in February 2013 in Israel, and two further workshops in Toronto (September 2013) and Berlin (February 2014) and this was the third! Bravo!

Among the Mexican, Canadian and U.S. films that showed, the winners were as follow:

Mexico First

Mexico First winning film was ¨Llevate mis amores” ("All of Me") by Arturo Gonzalez. The film narrates the story of the generosity of the women of Las Patronas who feed the immigrants who ride La Bestia. The director was awarded a cash Prize of Usd $15,000. This film made me cry. I thought of it again when reading the L.A. Times article about the murder of Adrian Rodriguez and his assistant, Mexican good Samaritans who dedicated their scarce resources to feeding Central American migrants passing by on La Bestia, which is what the women in this movie do. And one of the women was at the festival too.

Los Cabos Competition

The Los Cabos Competition winner was “Güeros” by Alonso Ruizpalacios, also a winner at the Berlinale, Jerusalem Film Festival, Tribeca, Toronto and San Sebastian. Being sold internationally by Mundial, the joint venture of Canana (again!) and Im Global, the film has sold to Kino Lorber for U.S., Cannibal for Mexico, Dreams Hill for Italy, Noori for So. Korea and Maison Motion for Taiwan … "Güeros" is the undeniable triumph of a nouveau director who dares to pay homage the French New Wave on a wild detective hunt through Mexico City. In light of the 43 murdered students, this film, about students on strike, strikes a chord within the watcher. The film´s producer won a Usd $15,000 cash prize.

Work In Progress Mexico

The second Work in Progress Mexico prize was awarded to "Los Herederos," by Jorge Hernandez, a film that describes adolescent effervescence and idleness through a group of friends who spend their vacations adrenaline-seeking through parties, sex and alcohol. The winner received a Usd $10,000 cash prize.

Mexico-usa-canada Co-production Forum

The winner of the first Mexico- USA- Canada Co-production Forum was also announced: "Afronauts" by Frances Bodomo, based on the real life story of the Academia Nacional de Ciencias, Investigación Espacial e Investigación Astronómica of Zambia. Writer- Director Frances Bodomo received a Usd $8,000 cash prize. It also received funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Mexico First: Fox +

In its second year running the México Primero: Fox+ chose one of the films that participated to have its distribution rights pre-bought for the Latin American and Caribbean (Except Brazil) markets. The México Primero: Fox+ prize consists of Usd $40,000 and was awarded to Isaac Ezban´s "El Incidente" ("The Incident"), two M.C. Escher-maze-like parallel stories about characters trapped in illogical endless spaces: two brothers and a detective locked on an infinite staircase, and a family locked on an infinite road… for a very long time. The international sales agent, Shoreline, will be showing the film at Ventana Sur December 3rd at 17:00 at Cinemark 3.

Work In Progress Mexico Fox +

In its second year running as well, Work in Progress México Fox+ selected a participating film to have its distribution rights pre-bought for the Latin American and Caribbean (Except Brazil) markets. The Usd $30,000 prize was awarded to Katina Medina Mora’s "Sabras que hacer conmigo" aka "En Contraluz", produced by Gerardo Gatica and Alberto Muffelmann.

Work In Progress Mexico Chemistry

This Third edition of the Festival also witnessed the first Work In Progress México –Chemistry award. Chemistry post-production studios granted the winner, Jorge Hernandez’s "Los Herederos", $45,000 Usd in color correction services.

Mexico – USA – Canada Splendor Omnia Mantarraya Co-production Forum

On its first year running, the Coproduction Forum Mexico- USA- Canada Splendor Omnia – MANTArraya will be granting a $30,000 Usd equivalent prize worth 40 hours of color correction, 40 hours of sound mixing, as well as a paid stay in Tepoztlan Morelos, site of their studios, to the winner "Afronauts" by Francez Bodomo (U.S.).

The key phrase to understanding Cabo is "Seeing what the neighbors do" as the festival and market connects Canada, U,S, and Mexico in showing of films and exploring coproduction. And the mixing of filmmakers and journalists from all three Americas was exciting in the possibilities it offered to everyone.

As for the hard-core business done there:

Mark Kassen will be directing "Criminal Empire for Dummies" written by Cliff Dorman. Kassen will also be producing the film along with James Gibb of Cutting Edge Group and Greg Hajdarowicz of Gremi Films. The deal took place at the exclusive resort Hacienda Beach Club & Residences and was reported by Variety.

Actor and producer Luis Gerardo Mendez ("Nosotros Los Nobles") signed a representation agreement with Paradigm. Reported by Variety. So I guess Paradigm also sent agents to Los Cabos.

Pat Saperstein of Variety also attended Los Cabos and scooped a story, that “Wolverine Hotel” from director Patricia Chica who was participating in the Coproduction Forum, is closing in on production with a "recent financing commitment from Jean-Guy Després, who will serve as exec producer. The edgy crime thriller is produced by Canada-based Byron Martin. Looking to cast a Latino actor as co-star, Chica met with rising Mexican thesp Luis Gerardo Mendez ('We Are the Nobles') during Afm though he has not yet been attached. 'A Latino star opens up a market', said Martin."

Celebrated producer Monica Lozano announced the launch of Alebrije Distribución. She has had her hand in 23 productions since her first film, "Amores Perros". "Instructions Not Included" the Us$ 5.5 million film that grossed Us$ 100 million worldwide was also her production. With this Pan-American initiative, the company will acquire distribution rights for the Latin and North American markets. Reported by Variety again!! You would think John was the only real reporter there. Pinske should be proud of him! Most of us got no scoops, but then, I guess we have to prove ourselves worthy - which I am not because at heart, I am not a reporter hunting for news, but rather a gatherer of information and a writer.

Speaking of Monica Lozano, the Germany-based international sales agent, Media Luna, acquired world rights to Internet Junkie, directed by Alexander Katzowicz and produced by Monica Lozano. Variety reports on this again!

"Yamaha 300", a participating project of the 1st Mexico – USA- Canada Coproduction Forum, produced by Valerium Arts (Mayra Espinosa y Jorge Michel Grau, producer and writer-director of the horror hit "Somos lo que hay" respectively, and Grau, the writer of the remake "We Are What We Are") and Uncorked Productions (Andrew Corkin, the producer of the horror film "What We Were"), will be one of the first projects to receive the development stage and postproduction support offered by The Good Film Fund, an initiative of Media Darling (Amy Darling) and The Chatanooga Film Festival. See Variety.

New York producer Dodgeville Films ("To Be Takei") will be joining Varios Lobos in Mexico to produce "Ya no estoy aquí", Fernando Frias’s second film, which was also a winner during Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund second edition. This film in the Coproduction Forum was reported on in Variety.

"Siete Horas" ("Seven Hours"), one of the winning projects of the second Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund edition, which will be directed by Chema Rodriguez and produced by Francisco Vargas, the renowned director of the film "El violin", made an alliance with the Spanish production companies Sin un Duro and Noodles Prods to co-produce the project. (Variety)

CineTren closed deals to handle Latin American distribution for Spring, a Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead film, whose Latin American Premiere was held at Los Cabos International Film Festival. Negotiations between Nate Bolotin and Marie Katz fromLos Angeles-based Xyz and Manuel Garcia from CineTren, took place at the Hotel Grand Solmar. Next time, I'll have to visit all the hotels!! See Variety article.

BH5 Group, which participates in the executive production of "Remember" by Atom Egoyan, will be working with Alonso Ruizpalacios, director of Güeros, in his second movie: Museo, a project that participated in the Ist Mexico- USA- Canada Co-production Forum. Even though Variety wrote about this, my blog on the three year old conglomerate of companies, BH5, was more complete:

BH5 Group Makes a Splash with Three Impressive Films at Los Cabos Int'l Film Fest

BH5, a conglomerate of five formerly independent production companies all run by various friends from the same film school, will be working the international markets much more. Besides the Toronto hit, Jodorowsky's "Dance of Reality", they are working with larger companies like Pathe now. Their work in progress, "You Will Know What To Do With Me" ("Sabras que hacer conmigo" aka "En Contraluz") which just won the The Usd $30,000 prize of Fox+, is seeking an international sales agent.

"Entrevero" by Max Zunino, also winner of the Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund second edition, was selected in the development project category by Ibermedia. See Variety.

And though Colombian Ciro Guerra, whose "The Wind Journeys" was produced by our German friends Roman Paul and Gerhard Meixner at Razor Film Production and by Burning Blue's prolific Diana Bustamente -- who is now also heading the Carthagena Film Festival -- showed in 2009 Cannes Un Certain Regard and was sold by Paris’ Elle Driver to 19 countries including Film Movement for U.S., announced to Variety's John Hopewell that his next film, "Embrace of the Serpent" will star U.S. actor Brionne Davis (“Savaged”) and Belgium’s Jan Bijvoet, the lead in Cannes Competition entry “Borgman” a really creepy dark comedy, he did not discuss his next project "Taganga" in the Coproduction Forum. "Taganga" is about a fisherman from a small village by the Colombian coast where many foreign-owned scuba diving centers have been established. A new law requiring local fisherman to change the motors of their boats forces him to earn quick money, so he chooses to dynamite to fish. The owner of the largest scuba diving center opposes this use of explosives. When the fisherman receives a death threat if he continues the dynamiting of fish, he assumes the center's owner is behind the threat. In order to prove it, he begins a series of fateful actions.

Finally, while it seems like Variety wrote all the news, I have one item which no one has reported on. Reese Witherspoon stated at her press conference in Los Cabos, where her film "Wild" premiered in a red carpet gala, that she is talking to Eugenio Derbez ("Instructions Not Included") to make a movie with him. I heard her say it and later spoke of this to Ben Odell (my next blog on Los Cabos features him). Ben (now partners with Eugenio at 3Pas Studios) said, Actually that would be a great idea but they had not spoken about it. However, they are both represented by CAA, so it would seem like a natural and really exciting pairing. After all, aren't "Legally Blond" and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" the same film? She is certainly on a role as a producer with "Wild" and David Fincher's "Gone Girl" as he is with his U.S. career. The studios are all courting her now, she said. More to come on this...

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