Encuentros in Miami By Howard Feinstein

in 7th Miami International Film Festival

by Howard Feinstein

One element that makes the Miami International Film Festival especially unique–and helps keep the event’s energy going year-round–is a filmmaker-friendly initiative called Encuentros, now in its third edition. A mini-market that runs for the final three days of the 10-day festival, it is comprised of nine projects from Iberoamerica (up one from 2004 and two from 2003), which are represented by their directors and/or producers, and a slew of North American film distributors (ThinkFilm, Wellspring, Sony Classics) video/dvd distributors (Film Movement, Maverick Entertainment, Venevision), public television (PBS), and, for the first time this year, talent agents (William Morris, United Talent) and a bank (Comerica). Also present this year is Ibermedia, a non-profit fund for films from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. The festival is the perfect environment for Encuentros, since it heavily emphasizes Iberoamerican fiction and documentaries, not to mention Miami’s huge Latin American community.

“I want to get those people who are not part of CineMart,” says Madrid-based Encuentros director (and project selector) Diana Sanchez, who also serves as Iberoamerican film programmer for the Toronto Film Festival. (Miami Festival director and Sundance veteran Nicole Guillemet corrals the North American Encuentros guests.) “It’s not only about financing,” Sanchez continues. “I don’t want filmmakers pitching and begging for money. This is a dignified way of making contacts. And I also want the Latin American filmmakers to get something out of one another.” All participants stay in the same Miami Beach hotel.

The directors and/or producers have one-on-one meetings, usually running about 30 minutes, with the North Americans, who have already received a handsome brochure with treatments of all nine projects, some background information on the people behind them, and a projected budget figure. Some of the directors have earlier films under their belts, but five are first-timers. A majority of the projects have some funding in place. “I don’t want to choose those that won’t get done,” says Sanchez. “I want assurance that they will be completed.” Participants in the past two years include the Argentinians Pablo Trapero for Rolling Family (Familia Rodante) and Lucrecia Martel for Holy Girl (La Nina Santa), as well as the Chilean Andres Wood for Machuca. The Peruvian Eliseo Subiela and the Spaniard Montxo Armendariz have been here, too, although the specific projects they brought with them never came to fruition.

The following are this year’s projects (for reasons that should be obvious, those from Spain have for the most part much larger budgets than those from Latin America): 7 Virgins (7 Virgines), Alberto Rodriguez, Spain, a second feature with a budget of $2,080,000–a coming-of-age tale about a teen on a 48-hour pass from reform school; Angosto, Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo, Spain, a first feature budgeted at $3,500,000-the story of a tragedy stemming from mistaken identity involving two speleologists, one’s girlfriend, a peasant, and a policeman; The Marques House (La Casa Marques), Marcos Loayza, Bolivia, whose filmography includes A Question of Faith (Cuestion de fe) and The Heart of Jesus (El Corazon de Jesus), with a $740,000 budget–deals with the effects of a robbery on various inhabitants of a run-down building in La Paz; The Coproduction (La Coproduccion), Federico Veiroj, Uruguay, a first feature budgeted at $650,000–focuses on a Uruguayan expatriate in Madrid who, on a visit home, delivers parcels from fellow émigrés to their families and finds himself nostalgic for the country of his birth; Karma, Antonio Cuadri, Spain, a veteran director, with a budget of $4,700,000–follows a hedonistic young Spanish woman who marries an American and becomes an acolyte of a woman with spiritual powers; Tears in the Sahara (Lagrimas en el Sahara), Maria Victoria Menis, Argentina, whose previous films include Little Sky (Cielito), budgeted at $1,983,000-the story of an aging radio actress in the 1940’s who begins a mutable relationship with a fan; Madeinusa, Claudia Llosa, Peru, a first feature with a budget of $900,000-about a teen Indian girl, whose religious village allows two days of complete liberties during Easter weekend, at which time she meets a geologist from Lima who changes her life; Quero-A Damned Report (Quero-uma reportagem maldita), Carlos Cortez, Brazil, a first feature budgeted at $1,794,000-the tale of a troubled homeless teenaged boy who is both a victim and perpetrator of violence in a slum area in the Brazilian port of Santos; Satanas, Andi Baiz, Colombia, a first feature with a budget of $1,500,000–blends fact and fiction and is based on the 1986 case of Campo Elias Delgado, who killed his mother and then massacred 28 people, whose back stories run throughout the film.

The North Americans found Encuentros useful, though no “deals” were made. Almost all of the distributors said that they would ultimately not finance a project, but that they might end up purchasing the finished film. “It’s great, because most of the Latin-focused festivals are not in North America, and they’re difficult to get to,” says one. “So it remains fairly hard to track Latin American productions. It would be depressing to spend time tracking and not get the good projects, but here they are pre-selected.” Another said that, although his company is not involved in production, “It’s good for them to keep us in mind while they’re making their films.” According to yet another, “We like to get in early so that, if we do end up with the finished film, we can properly position it in the marketplace.”

“I’m going to possibly meet these people in two years, and they’ll receive me with a smile,” says Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj. “In five years, the people I’ve met might be vice-president of their companies. Anyway, to some I’ll send a translated script before pre-production.” He notes another advantage of Encuentros. “It’s a way for South American people to have contact with the American way of working.”

The Argentinian director Maria Victoria Menis, who, like some of the other filmmakers in Encuentros, has received money from Fond Sud in France, not to mention institutions in Spain and her native country, says, “The relationship between North American distributors and Latin American filmmakers is a difficult one. I realize that you have to have a finished film to interest them.” She notes that the San Sebastian Film Festival’s Cine en Construccion complements Encuentros. “The guests in San Sebastian come with the intention of making co-productions,” she says. “There, French, German, and Spanish producers put money in Latin American films. North Americans do not.” She and her producer-husband Hector Menis feel certain that she will have to wait to make the nearly $2 million Tears in the Sahara . “The peso in 1999 was worth $1; today, it’s worth $3,” says Hector. Maria Victoria is resigned to the fact that she’ll probably first shoot her much cheaper project ($600,000), Kakuy , based on an Indian legend about the love affair between a brother and sister.

She sympathizes with American independent filmmakers. “They have no help with public money, like we do. Without that, it’s all private. It’s all business.” Hector reminds me that one of the North Americans in Encuentros is from a financial institution. He laughs. “The bank guy asked me, ‘Do you have guarantees to return the money?’ “

The dialog continues in February, 2006. Given the recent explosion in quality low-cost filmmaking in South America, the timing couldn’t be better. Anyway, Encuentros is a friendly start, and merely a few steps from the beach. Sand and sea can be powerful facilitators.