Mexico is emerging as a hot buying territory - a trend driven not so much by local distributors as by US distributors such as Miramax Films which have been adding territorial rights south of the Rio Grande as part of their North American purchases.

The suddenly acquisitive Miramax, which is driving sales to the US at the AFM market with several deals imminent, is negotiating taking Mexico alongside a pending domestic deal on The Legend Of Zu.

Such a deal would mirror Miramax's acquisition at this year Berlin Film Festival of Dogme title Italian For Beginners, for which it paid around $600,000 for both North American as well as Mexican rights.

Miramax chairman of worldwide distribution Rick Sands, who expects to sell on Mexican rights, noted that with cinema-going on the rise Mexico has become a lucrative territory.

Indeed, Mexico is now the most highly screened territory in Latin America. The country boasts close to 3,000 screens, more than double that of Brazil, a country with nearly twice Mexico's population. Multiplex building has reached saturation point in some areas, a phenomenon yet to be seen in the rest of the region.

Audience tastes may have also have broadened after several local titles recently became hits. While most Mexican titles pull in an average of 300,000 to 500,000 admissions, Amores Perros (Love's A Bitch) punched 664,490 tickets in its first week after opening against Mission: Impossible 2.

Another hit, The Second Night (La Segunda Noche), ended on $5.2m after 15 weeks. Sex, Shame And Tears (Sexo, Pudor Y Lagrimas) remains the all-time Mexican box office hit with its gross of $12.4m last year.

As it is, the US studios' classics divisions often include Latin America as an add-on to domestic deals. Examples include Sony Pictures Classics taking both North and South American rights to Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The increasing appetite amongst Hollywood studios to buy all Latin American rights has prompted a rearguard action from local distributors. Last year saw the emergence of a pan-Latin American buying consortium of independent distributors - named Entertainment Consortium Ltd -that is comprised of Gussi in Mexico, Lider Film in Argentina, Paris Film in Brazil, Cine Colombia in Colombia, Delta Films in Peru and Cines Unidos in Venezuela.

Among that consortium's known purchases have been Robert Altman's Dr T And The Women from Initial Entertainment Group, Sean Penn's The Pledge from Franchise Pictures, and the Cuban/Spanish comedy A Paradise Under The Stars,