Multi-prized Latin American directors Federico Veiroj, Theo Court, Alicia Scherson and Daniel Hendler head a muscular project lineup at September’s San Sebastian Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum, the Spanish festival’s industry centerpiece which underscores this year a welling sea-change in the region’s filmmaking. 

“The Moneychanger,” the latest film from Uruguay’s Veiroj, was selected for Toronto’s 2019 Platform; “White on White,” from Chile’s Court, won a best director Silver Lion at 2019’s Venice Horizons; Chile’s Alicia Scherson’s debut “Play” snagged new narrative director at Tribeca in 2005: multi-hyphenate Hendler, from Uruguay, scooped best director at Miami for “The Candidate” in 2017.

Also making the cut are Mexico’s Juan Pablo González and Ana Isabel Fernández, director and co-writer of 2022 Sundance Special Jury Prize winner “Dos Estaciones.” Ezequiel Yanco’s “La vida en común” took best documentary at the Biarritz Latin American Festival in 2019.

Mixing top cineasts from Latin America and anticipated feature debuts – from Dominican Génesis Valenzuela and Argentine Lucila Mariani – the Forum captures Latin America filmmaking at a time of building sea change. 

Two trends dominate from the projects known by Variety at this year’s Forum. One is genre: Films that are genre pics or enrol genre tropes or genre blend.  

Argentina’s “The Message,” for instance, is “a Spielberg film shot by Cassavetes, a cross between an exciting sci-fi adventure film with an intimate and moving story of characters,” says director Iván Fund.

Awarding grants, an ACAU Uruguay jury described Hendler’s “A Loose End”  as a Western, romcom, road movie and procedural,  sluiced with singular sense of humor.” Veiroj’s “Fauna,” the same jury said, “revisits classic ‘40s film noir adapted to the ‘90s.”

“The Days Off” “blends genres such as horror, comedy and coming-of-age as it explores an economic crisis from the eyes of a kid,” says producer Paula Zyngierman.  Also selected, Chile’s Sergio Castro San Martín calls “A Thousand Pieces an “existentialist road movie.”

The selection also often turns on one of the central concerns of Latin American filmmaking: Identity.

“Three Bullets” investigates the 1992 murder of Dominican immigrant Lucrecia Pérez by four Spanish neo-Nazis. But director Valenzuela reconsiders the crime as she reconstructs her own identity as a “human being/woman/Afro-Caribbean/filmmaker.”

Barbara Sarasola-Day’s “Little War” is inspired by her own childhood in an Anglo-Argentine community in Argentina on the cusp of the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands War where, “with the mind of an almost six-year-old girl, she tried to “understand whether or not we were the enemy,” recalls Sarasola-Day, also a producer on San Sebastián main competition contender “Puan.” 

Social issues remain. But projects often explore them via broader entertainment formats. 

“Three Dark Nights,” for example, is “a detective mystery with overtones of a psychological thriller” which exposes roiling social fractures, uncovering “complex cultural and social conflicts,” says Jamie Weiss at El Viaje Films.

Straight social realism certainly has not disappeared. But Latin America’s arthouse sector is reaching out for broader audiences. 

San Sebastian’s 2023 Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum

“Agua Caliente,” (Juan Pablo González, Ana Isabel Fernández, Sin Sitio Cine, Mexico, U.S.)

After a devastating break-up, Ana María, a renowned actress, reluctantly travels to rural Mexico to lead a workshop. Co-directed and written by González, behind Sundance winner “Dos Estaciones,” and Fernández, “Dos Estaciones’” co-write. The new project weighs in as a “love letter to our region of origin: the Highlands of Jalisco,” says González.

Warm Water Courtesy of Sin Sitio Cine

“The Days Off,” (“Los Días Libres,” Lucila Mariani,  MaravillaCine, Argentina)

Cousin Male tells Bego (11), who’s at a summer camp, that she can switch realities by shifting, a viral technique on TikTok. However, when everyone around her faints and falls ill, she begins to realize that things might be more complicated than just an internet trend. Writer-director Mariani’s anticipated debut, lead-produced by Paula Zyngierman and Leandro Listorti’s MaravillaCine in Buenos Aires.  

The Days Off Courtesy of Maravilla Cine

“Fauna,” (Federico Veiroj, Cinekdoque, Uruguay) 

Adapting Mario Levrero’s modern classic novel, a situation comedy from Veiroj, winner of a San Sebastián Special Jury Mention for “The Apostate,” “Fauna” turns on a world-weary private investigator, asked by Fauna to rescue another woman, Flora. He falls in love with bot women. Written by Veiroj, Agustina Liendo (“La Sudesestada”), Pablo Trapero co-scribe Martín Mauregui and Martin Feldman.    

The Reserve Courtesy of No Ficcion

“I’m Fine,” (“Estoy bien,” Alicia Scherson, Globo Rojo Films, Chile)

Currently under wraps, the possible next feature from Scherson a founding mother of the Novíssimo Cine Chileno with “Play” and director of “Il futuro,” with Rutger Hauer. Produced by Santiago de Chile-based Globo Rojo Films, behind animated feature “Wolf House” and José Luis Torres Leiva’s “Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes.”

“Little War,” (Barbara Sarasola-Day, Pucará Cine, Argentina, Netherlands)

The latest as a director from Sarasola-Day (“White Blood”), also producer of Benjamín Naishtat’s “Rojo” and now “Puan,” a biographical fiction inspired by the director’s English grandmother. Set in 1982 in an Anglo-Argentine community in Argentina, as the Falklands War is about to unfold, Judy, 55, dying from cancer, determines to pass on in times of war, the “weapons” she believes her little granddaughter will need for life after she is gone.     

“A Loose End,” (“Un Cabo Suelto,” Daniel Handler, Cordon Films, Uruguay)

A second chance psychological drama as a low-ranking Argentina cop flees to Uruguay, wanted by his own police force, dreaming of a new life, and even finding the love of his life. The third feature from acting star Hendler (“100 Days to Fall in Love”) after “Norberto Apenas Tarde” and mordant political satire “The Candidate.”

“The Message,” (“El Mensaje,” Iván Fund, Rita Cine, Argentina)

A girl who works as a pet medium and her guardian and summoned to a research center for interspecies communication to decipher mysterious messages. From Fund, at 2010’s Cannes’ Un Certain Regard with “The Lips” and 2021’s Venice Days with “Dusk Stone.”

The Message Courtesy of Rita Cine

“Nostalgia for the Future,” (“Nostalgia del futuro,” Florencia Colman, Tarkio Film, Uruguay, Argentina)

A father tries to rebuild his worn-out marriage and the bond with his daughters, as daughter Eloisa embarks on a journey to satisfy her own desires. “The film deals with a subject that questions us all: How the love we receive in our childhood conditions our affective bonds in adulthood,” says Virginia Bogliolo, who produces at Uruguay’s Tarkiofilm, alongside Juan Álvarez Neme of Argentina’s Un Puma.

“Okonomiyaki,” (Gabe Klinger, Raccord Produções, Brazil, Chile, France)

Rio de Janeiro’s Raccord produces a new project by Brazilian film critic/academic Klinger, whose acclaimed “Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater” (2013) won best documentary in Venice and his second feature, Jim Jarmusch-produced “Porto” (2016), screened at more than 20 festivals and was widely distributed, including the U.S. (Kino Lorber).

“Red Nest,” (“Ninho Tinto,” Alice Stamato, Val Hidalgo, Plato Filmes, Brazil)

A Thiago Briglia (“Por Onde Anda Makunaíma?”) and João Pereira Lima production at Platô Filmes, the Roraima-based company focused on producing film and TV content related to the Amazonia.

“The Reserve,” (“La reserva,” Ezequiel Yanco, No Ficción, Mexico, Argentina, Spain)

Blurring boundaries between fiction and reality, the film is sets in La Pampa, following a director as he prepares to shoot a thriller in a region marked by the genocide of the Indigenous population. In early production, the project snagged the EFM Award at Visions du Reel’s VdR Pitching Forum. Co-producers take in Mexico’s No Ficción and Argentina’s Isoi Cine. 

The Reserve Courtesy of No Ficcion

“These Were All Fields,” (“Todo esto eran mangas,” Daniela Abad Lombana, La Selva Cine, Colombia)

Set up at Medellín’s La Selva Cine, a producer on Laura Mora’s 2022 San Sebastian winner “The Kings of the World,” “Fields” tells the story of a teenager who has to face the truth about her father’s hidden life, while building a relationship with her mother for the first time – all set against the backdrop of Colombia’s terrible violence of the ‘90s. Aiming to shoot in 2025.

“A Thousand Pieces,” (“Mil Pedazos,” Sergio Castro San Martín, Latente Films, Chile, Argentina, Germany)

An extrovert eight-year-old girl prepares with her parents a vacation trip, interrupted by a tragic accident in the desert. The father decides to make the trip on his own and bury his daughter’s body. Castro San Martín defines the film as “a spiritual journey, an existentialist road movie.” Scheduled to roll first half 2024. 

“Three Bullets,” (Génesis Valenzuela, Colectivo Cinematografico 81, Dominican Republic)

The runaway triple winner at a high-caliber Locarno Open Doors last week. A hybrid fiction-doc-come-essay, “Three Bullets”will mix colonial history, displacement and criminal investigation. “The driving force of this film is the desire for emancipation, both from the constraints of existence and from those of filmmaking,” Valenzuela has said.

“Three Dark Nights,” (Theo Court,  El Viaje Films, Spain, Chile)

A Haitian day labourer on a Chilean hacienda is found dead the day of his wedding. Court’s noir-ish follow-up to his impressive “White on White,” a Venice Silver Lion winner and Chilean Oscar entry, produced once more by Chile’s Quijote Films and Spain’s El Viaje Films.  

Three Dark Nights Courtesy of El Viaje Films