Adelante: a bilingual magazine for mid-Missouri's Latino community
February 15, 2007

Dual forces fuel Mexican film industry

U.S. audiences have two distinct influences in international trade — the Mexican government and the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 — to thank for Hollywood’s favorite new films. With film-awards season in full swing, this year’s buzz is again undeniably Mexican — in the form of three stars and coincidental friends, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón.

Their films “Babel,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Children of Men,” respectively, have a combined 16 Oscar nominations, along with a slew of other awards and nominations for both writing and directing from the Golden Globes, National Society of Film Critics, the American Film Institute and the International Press Academy.

U.S. audiences first spotted excellence in Mexican cinematography in 2000, when Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s “Amores Perros” won an Oscar for best foreign language film. But the three directors are products of a film industry with a long, turbulent history.

For the past several decades, the Mexican film industry has been sinking due to the state’s role in deciding ticket prices, screening quotas and production royalties, according to “Federal Cinematography Law,” a report by Alejandra Cordero Leon, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s film school. The industry hit rock bottom in 1998 when it produced only 10 films — the smallest number since 1932, according to the report.

Another obstacle to Mexican directors’ developing films in their own country came when NAFTA was signed in 1994, and an influx of U.S. films began to saturate the Mexican market, according to a report by Miguel Necoechea of the Mexican Coalition for Cultural Diversity. When the industry reached its lowest point in the 1990s, Necoechea notes that frustrated filmmakers began to send their films elsewhere because the Mexican market had become Americanized.

In 2001, the Mexican government created the Fidecine (Fondo de Inversion y Estimulos al Cine Mexicano), through which production grants are awarded, allowing 30 films to be produced in 2006, according to the Mexican Film Institute’s Web site. Still, producers retain only 10 percent of total box office sales, according to the Mexican Filmmakers Association Web site.

Although Mexican directors have struggled to turn a profit from their films in their own countries, they’ve gained success on screens worldwide, and 2006 could well go down in film history as The Year of the Mexican Director.