Mar del Plata, Latin America's only A grade film festival,is considering shifting its dates from March to November, according to festivalchief Miguel Pereira.

The festival, which wrapped its 19th edition on Saturday,finds it difficult to attract the films they want, says Pereira, as it issandwiched between Berlin and Cannes in the festival calendar.

He hopes that a November slot will lessen the competitionfor films. "I am a realist and I have to understand the context of whenand where we stage the festival. It will always be the same. All the best filmsgo to Berlin and Cannes," said Pereira.

Pereira also hopes that by holding the festival at thebeginning of the summer season, which is November in the southern hemisphere,rather than the end, March, the festival may attract more help from the localgovernment and the private sector in Mar del Plata, which is Argentina'sleading beach resort.

The festival will now approach international producers' bodyFIAPF, which regulates film festivals, to seek permission to change the dates.

Pereira is also aware that the festival's location works toits disadvantage. "Mar del Plata is a long way from the world's majorfilmmaking centres, which adds to our difficulties when trying to attract topfilm-makers," he said.

But despite the lengthy journey times, which in the case ofIcelandic producer-director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson totalled 35 hours, theguest list this year was reasonably impressive, headed by Phillip Noyce, HectorBabenco, Alan Rickman, Susan Seidelman, Maria de Medeiros, Joergen Leth, BobRafelson and Ken Russell.

Most international guests judged the overall selection to begood and the festival to have been run more professionally than in previousyears.

The festival's new headquarters, the Hermitage Hotel, wasalso thought to be a vast improvement, being large enough to serve both as anadministrative centre and a venue for meetings and conferences, as well asaccommodating many of the guests. In previous years, these functions have beenspread over several different sites in various corners of the city.

As well as building on the festival's internationalcredentials, Pereira has sought to emphasise the festival's role as a meetingpoint for the Latin American film industry. "We are slowly becoming theplace where Latin American films can be seen and sold," said Pereira."We want to give the festival a Latin American flavour and let it reflectour personality. Let's create a space for all Latin American films here as wellas bringing as many of the best films from around the world as we can."

Mar del Plata hosted a number of meetings of filmrepresentatives of Mercosur, the body that seeks to be the Latin Americanequivalent of the European Union, on harmonising film policy throughout the regionand encouraging greater collaboration between Latin American film-makers andnational film bodies.

Last year such meetings resulted in an agreement to boostthe number of Argentinian and Brazilian films distributed in each other'scountries. This year talks began between Argentina and Chile to achieve thesame objective.

Mercosur also announced an ambitious plan to strengthen tiesbetween film bodies and film-makers throughout the continent (see, March 15, 2004).

"There are surprisingly few Latin American filmsdistributed across the region," said Pereira. "These agreementsprovide the stepping-stones to a greater presence in each other's countries.Mar del Plata can provide a space to exchange ideas, agree policies and establisha market for Latin American films within the continent. We aim to make thefestival of greater use to the region's film industries."

The festival is also understood to be reassessing the valueof its A grade status, as defined by FIAPF. This status forces the festival toaccept in its competition section only films that have not competed at otherfestivals and to comply with a number of other regulations.

But it is a point of pride in Argentina that Mar del Platais the only A grade festival in Latin America and the country's presidenthimself drew attention to this when he spoke at the festival last week. Even ifthe festival decided it wanted to relinquish its A grade status it may not beallowed to by its paymaster, the Argentinian film institute (INCAA).