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Video Gets a Bad Rap From Some Latino Directors

29 Oct, 2004 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Amar Te Duele, the opening-night movie from Mexico at the inaugural Orange County Latino Film Festival (OCLFF) in Santa Ana, Calif., contained all the prerequisites for mainstream theatrical release, according to festival director Manny Saldivar.

“It has the commercial aspect, a soundtrack that kids dig, the language and whole vibe,” Saldivar said. “If it had the backing of [2000 hit] Amores Perros, this movie would be a No. 1 film.”

However, Saldivar said the film sits in limbo with distributor Venevision, awaiting its home video — not theatrical — debut in the United States.

“The director [Fernando Sariñana] is very upset about [the lack of a theatrical release],” he said.

Of the 15 films presented at the OCLFF, 11 have distributors, and almost all have been earmarked for home entertainment release.

In addition to nine short films, feature OCLFF movies included Mexico's Zurdo; Cuento de Hadas Para Dormir Cocodrilos; Asesino en Serio; El Misterio del Trinidad; Como El Gato Para el Rat?n; Alex Lora, Esclavo del Rocanrol and De la Calle. The festival also screened El Nominado (Chile and Argentina); Hoy y Mañana (Argentina); Azul y Blanco (Chile); C Feliz (Chile); Las Caras de la Luna (Argentina); Carros Clasicos de Cuba (Cuba and USA); and Chalino Sanchez (Una Vida de Peligros) (USA).

“I would love to say that all of the films are going to theatrical, but I don't see that happening,” said Saldivar, a film buff who spent three years getting the festival off the ground. “Most of these [foreign] directors have the illusion that their films are going to be shown in some kind of independent theater or film house. They get very disappointed when they find out it is just for home video distribution.”

With making it in Hollywood akin to winning the lottery, independent film directors — regardless of nationality — should disassociate potential commercial and critical success of their films from requiring a theatrical release, said Chris Arns, VP of marketing and business development with Vanguard Cinema, principal sponsor of the OCLFF. Video Store Magazine was also a sponsor of the event.

“It is not a given that because something is in a festival that it would be shown theatrically or better yet, would have a home video release,” Arns said. “It's about building an awareness.”

He said misconceptions remain within the U.S. home entertainment industry regarding the size, scope and potential of Latino cinema at retail in the United States.

“There was a buyer of mainstream fare for Latin America who was unaware that Hollywood Video, Blockbuster and Wherehouse have made Latino movies a product category,” Arns said. “The [recognized] importance of home video to product license holders in Latin America could fuel [Latino] retail up here.”

Al Perez de la Mesa, director of Latin acquisitions at Maverick Entertainment Group, said the existence of a “theatrical or bust“ mindset among many Latin American filmmakers has more to do with tradition than reality.

“Video [in South America] has had problems as theatrical is considered higher profile, with a bigger image and public relations hype,” de la Mesa said. “If you are a newer person on the block, [a theatrical release] helps you get established.”

Primarily a distributor and producer of home video fare, Maverick and other foreign and Latino-based distributors do sometimes support a title's limited theatrical release through festival appearances.

De la Mesa said the importance of festivals often depends on logistics, size and relevance. Maverick usually attends Latino film festivals in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. He didn't attend the OCLFF.

“For the other ones on a smaller scale or just establishing themselves, I look at the film lineup and, to the extent there is product that makes sense [commercially], I'll assess attending,” he said.

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