In the fickle world of acquisitions, Latin America has a fair claim to being this week's hot new cinema.

Boosted by Miramax's expected Oscar push for Brazilian sensation City Of God and a strong reception for Mexican Cannes title Japon, Wild Bunch director of acquisitions, Alain De La Mata was bullish at Tuesday's panel discussion on opening up international markets for Latin American cinema.

"Miramax is really behind City Of God," said De La Mata at the Rio International Film Festival. "They think they can go to the Golden Globes and to the foreign language Oscars. This is just the tip of the iceberg."

"There is a lot of confidence at the moment," he said, citing Mexico's Y Tu Mama Tambien and Argentinian hit Nine Queens. If there is a buzz, buyers are quite confident they can give a film quite a large platform."

Like most of the overseas buyers and sellers on the panel, De La Mata is holding talks with local producers such as City Of God's VideoFilmes about new filmmakers. In terms of international markets, he said that one of City Of God's strengths is that it is a genre film rather a more traditional arthouse title. The violent thriller, currently on release in Brazil, tells the story of two boys growing up in the Rio slums.

"City Of God is like Mean Streets, it's like a Scorsese film. Y Tu Mama Tambien is to some extent a road movie. When Latin American films use a genre, they can have a lot of success."

That said, Japon, an elegaic drama, has sold to all major European countries - "and some countries paid top money," De La Mata added. The key, he said, "visual audacity".

"Distributors expect something visually challenging [from Latin American directors]. After that, they want something a bit exotic'But films that are very specific are more difficult, they don't sell so well."

Wild Bunch's Madame Sata, which had a gala screening in Rio, is a trickier title, having a more specific subject matter. The Brazilian film, which played at Cannes, is based on the life of transvestite Rio artist Joao Francisco dos Santos.

"We try to spot emerging talents, directors who are visually interesting, and then we look at the script," De La Mata said. "But the script is not necessarily all-important. If you had read the script for Japon or Madame Sata, they were very difficult. Then you see what is on screen and it is fantastic. In the end, you go with the talent."

Others on the panel were more cautious. Ida Martins, founder of Cologne-based sales house Media Luna, said that Brazilian films have a bad reputation amongst German buyers. Martins differentiated between Portuguese-speaking Brazilian cinema and the rest of Latin America.

"When you talk about Brazilian films, the distributor goes: 'Oh my God, please don't tell me anything. What do you have from Mexico, Argentina or Columbia'' England is a similar market to Germany. In Scandinavia, you have a little more chance in Norway and Sweden."

With pay-TV companies cutting back on acquisitions across Europe, Francois Sauvegnarges of broadcaster ARTE was similarly downbeat about France as a market. Spain, traditionally a springboard into Europe for Latin American fare, is also suffering from the pay-TV crisis.

"It is the same for European films," Sauvegnarges said. "Spanish films don't play in France or Germany and Italian films have difficulties."

But he was upbeat about Argentinian filmmakers in particular, saying that the country boasts 20 interesting directors and citing Lucrecia Martel's La Cienega. At the other end of the continent, Mexico is currently enjoying a controversial success with The Crime Of Father Amaro and has recently successfully exported films such as Amores Perros.

The white-hot star of both Father Amaro and Amores Perros, Gael Garcia Bernal, is also the lead in arguably the most anticipated production to come out of the Latin America in recent years - Walter Salles' Motorcycle Diaries. The Spanish-language story of Che Guevara's travels round the continent as a student - currently starting shooting in Argentina - will unite several Latin American cinemas.

Along with shooting the length and breadth of South America, the star is Mexican and the director Brazilian. Moreover, with overseas backers and producers ranging from the UK's FilmFour to Robert Redford's Southfork Pictures, the production is truly global.