Baja International Film Festival opens competition to Canadians

Festival director Alonso Aguilar Castillo talks to Playback about expanding the festival and boosting the focus on Canada-Mexico production partnerships.
Alonso Aguilar-Castillo - BIFF

For the first time, the Baja International Film Festival, held in Los Cabos, Mexico in November has invited Canadian films to compete with its southern neighbours in the festival competition, which offers a cash prize of $15,000 to the winning national or international feature. The festival competition is open to feature films or documentaries created or coproduced by Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Two Canadian films have so far been announced as part of the competition lineup: Chloe Robichaud’s Sarah Préfère la Course (Sarah Prefers to Run) and Matt Johnson’s The Dirties.  Sarah Prefers to Run screened at Cannes and has its TIFF premiere Thursday, while The Dirties won the Grand Jury prize for best narrative feature at this year’s Slamdance film festival, which runs alongside the Sundance Festival.

BIFF, now in its second year, launched as an effort to bring together Mexican and Hollywood filmmakers. Eighty films from 18 different countries were screened for around 6000 attendees in its inaugural edition.

Festival director Alonso Aguilar Castillo tells Playback that in evolving and expanding the festival this year, he sees a real opportunity for boost partnership opportunities between Mexican and Canadian producers.

According to Telefilm Canada there has been a coproduction treaty in place between Mexico and Canada since 1991. But there have only been seven coproductions involving Canada, Mexico and other countries since that time.  In 2011, film producers from Canada and Mexico worked together to create the comedy The Boy Who Smelled Like Fish and in 2011 both countries worked with the U.K. to produce the documentary Flight of the Butterflies.

And that’s something that Castillo says he hopes to change with the Baja International Film Festival.

“Mexican producers don’t know about the coproduction treaty. I keep meeting Canadians who are looking for the right person to work with. We’re an industry-oriented festival, creating relationships for producers to create co-productions and internationalize their productions. The festival becomes a bridge between those independent producers that have no institution that can put them together; they’re really interested in finding partners,” Castillo says.

In addition to hosting sales agents, producers and filmmakers from Hollywood and the independent film industry in North America, Castillos says there are many film industry delegates from South America and Europe that attend the festival.

In the beginning, the festival hoped to foster Mexican access to the American market, but now he says they realize the country probably has a lot more in common with Canada than it does with the U.S.  Like Canadian filmmakers, Mexican filmmakers need government funding and government agencies to help with production funding, marketing and distribution and exhibition.

“Our multiplexes are filled with Hollywood titles. Mexican films don’t do well domestically. Auteur films don’t do well in Mexico because there is no exhibition window for them but they do fantastically internationally in the film festival circuit. The films do well in Cannes, San Sebastien, Berlin, here in Toronto, but that doesn’t translate into audiences. Part of the spirit of the festival is to provide those tools for Mexican producers,” says Castillo.

Castillo, who previously lived in Vancouver and worked in the film industry there, including as VIFF distribution coordinator, says one of the reasons why he and his five-person delegation from the festival came to the Toronto International Film Festival this year and will continue to do so in future years is for the learning and partnership opportunities in Canada.

“Our Canadian partners like Telefilm and others have been very generous. We’ve been putting top Mexican producers together with Canadians who already have a working relationship with South American producers, so I’m really hoping that something good will come out of that,” he says.

The plan is to expand the festival’s duration and industry initiatives. Plans for next year include a Co-production Encounter hosted with Telefilm – in which producers and sales agents from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico discuss projects in development and a Canadian-Mexican coproduction panel with Rhombus Media’s Niv Fichman, the producer behind The Boy Who Smelled Like Fish.

In addition to being on the beach (it is a two-hour flight from Mexico City), he says it is relaxed, accessible, easy to navigate and manageable in terms of the number of key decision makers one has to deal with. Only 400 industry delegates come to the festival by invitation.

The Baja International Film Festival works with the Mexican Tourism Board (CPTM), Los Cabos Tourism Board (FITURCA), the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE-CONACULTA), Moviecity and Labodigital.

For more information see the bajafilmfest.com.