Mar del Playa finds beachside groove (Variety)

Genial el "Mar del Playa"...

BUENOS AIRES -- With its fine beaches, broad boardwalks, casinos, restaurants and theaters, Mar del Plata is a hot tourist attraction in Argentina and a favorite stop on the fest circuit for local filmmakers.

The only festival in Latin America accredited as a competitive festival, Mar del Plata's 24th edition unspools Nov. 7-15. The fest could be the Latin American Cannes, but lately it's attention has been usurped by other Latin American fests and markets, including Buenos Aires, Guadalajara, Rio de Janeiro and the Ventana del Sur market.

In the meantime, Mar de Plata is focusing on films rather than business.

"Mar del Plata is a showcase for films, not a market," says Pascual Condito, head of Argentine distrib Primer Plano. "We go to the markets in Cannes, Rome and San Sebastian."

Attempts at holding a market at Mar del Plata have failed in the past, prompting the creation of Ventana Sur, in partnership with the Cannes film market. The first edition will run Nov. 27-30 with 500 buyers, distributors, sales agents and TV acquisitions heads to attend. Ventana Sur is held in Buenos Aires, which is easier to get to than beachside Mar del Plata, in a country already a half-day flight from Europe and the U.S.

Guadalajara, a shorter and cheaper flight for big buyers, is the region's rising fest-market star. U.S. majors have offices in Mexico and connections at Guadalajara can open the door to the U.S. if they like a project, said Argentine producer-scribe Jose Levy ("Collateral Man").

Where does that leave Mar del Plata?

Organizers hope that business will nonetheless be done on the sidelines.

"We want producers to do more deals because they need the financing for their next projects," fest prexy Jose Martinez Suarez says.

Still, the programming is the star of the fest," says Liliana Mazure, head of Argentina's Incaa, a state film department that funds Mar del Plata.

The international competition combines well-known films like Cannes-admired "Mother" by South Korea's Bong Joon-ho, with breakouts like Greece's "Dogtooth," winner of Cannes Un Certain Regard this year.

There are well-known helmers including American Todd Solondz with "Life During Wartime," a big seller for Amsterdam and Hong Kong-based Fortissmo. Another is Uruguay's Israel Adrian Caetano, whose "Francia" (France) won applause at San Sebastian.

Other titles have fetched warm reviews but not yet gained wider recognition, such as Mariana Chenillo's "Nora's Will," Elia Suleiman s "The Time that Remains" and Klaus Haro's "Letters to Father Jakkob." A buzz is building behind "Vikingo" (Viking), a biker drama by Argentina's Jose Campusano.

The fest also has slotted more genre pics, a move that may set it apart from the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Film (Bafici), a younger event that's become a gem by showcasing breakout films of talent like Caetano, Lucrecia Martel and Pablo Trapero.

Now genre flicks are gaining greater attention in Argentina as helmers seek to tell stories that attract auds, distancing themselves from the minimalism of the 1990s and early 2000s, says Victor Cruz, director of "El perseguidor" (The Pursuer), a psychological terror pic that will world preem in the Argentina competition.

Of course, there's always the fests escapist element to consider as a draw.At Mar del Plata, "you are there just for the festival," says Nicolas Entel, whose docu "Sins of My Father" will make its world preem in the Latin America competish. "There are no other distractions."

Except the beach.

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