TBY talks to Alejandro Ramirez Magaña, Director General of Cinépolis, on the focus of the World Economic Forum, using film as a medium to raise awareness, and the local cinema industry.

Cinépolis is a leader in the film industry across more than 10 countries around the world. What organizational strengths have helped you to achieve this strong international presence?

I think that the most important part of an organization is its people. We have put a lot of emphasis on attracting talent to the organization, motivating our workforce, and giving our employees good incentives. I think that the most important component necessary to be able to expand internationally is the executive team. Also, the robustness of our organization in Mexico and the fact that we are the market leader has allowed us to start exploring markets outside of the country. Since we have been the market leader for quite a long time, and because the Mexican market has been maturing, we have been able to expand into other countries. Another organizational strength is the ability to be present internationally with a very standardized operation. That has allowed us to replicate our business model successfully outside of Mexico. We have standardized processes that allow us to do that. We have invested a lot in IT. We are present in 11 countries, including the US, China, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and India.

What is your strategy for continued international expansion?

Our strategy for now is to focus on the markets where we are already present, develop them further, and gain market share. We want to focus mainly on two large markets: Brazil and India. Those are markets where we have enough room to grow for many years. Also, Colombia and Peru are interesting markets in which to continue growing. In the US, our strategy for growth is exclusively directed toward the luxury cinema niche. We are only in that segment. We will not open traditional cinemas; we are only going for the upscale market.

“Our strategy for now is to focus on the markets where we are already present, develop them further, and gain market share."

As a promoter of the Morelia International Film Festival, how was 2011, and what are your expectations for 2012?

We are very happy because in 2012 we are celebrating our 10th anniversary. Morelia is a small festival that has grown without losing its essence and quality. I think the whole mark of the Morelia International Film Festival is the high quality of all the content we select. The official selection goes through a very rigorous process. Also, we always invite special guests, carry out interesting retrospectives, and provide an important platform for young Mexican filmmakers. That is the mission of the Morelia Film Festival. I think the ninth show in 2011 was very good, but then again I think every year it gets better and better. We have hosted some of the most important filmmakers of the recent past, including Steven Soderbergh, Werner Herzog, Gus Van Sant, and Quentin Tarantino. In 2011 we had Béla Tarr and Volker Schlöndorff. In addition Todd Haynes, Stephen Frears, Bertrand Tavernier, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón were in attendance. There are too many to mention. We have had over 10 winners of the Palme d'Or, which is not an easy thing for such a young festival. We have never gone for size; we have always gone for quality. I think the essence of a good festival is being a little bit more compact in a city that lends itself to a nice festival.

You will be the first Latin American entrepreneur to be co-president of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. How do you plan to represent Mexico internationally in this specific forum?

I think the role of the co-chairs of Davos is to help develop the agenda prior to the meeting and then utilize the closing session to present some of the conclusions of the forum. In 2012, the forum is focused on shaping new models. Given the huge transformations we have been seeing in the world over the last year or so, and especially in 2011 with the huge social movements such as the Arab spring and Occupy Wall Street, in a way, citizens are becoming more empowered by connectivity technologies. In many of these countries the media was censored in the past, and people were not able to easily know what was happening around them. But through social networks they became reporters, played a part in what was happening around the country, and started mobilizing. That is how they were able to topple a number of dictatorships. I think that is a good example of how connectivity technology can empower people. Also, the Occupy Wall Street movement shows that citizens are not willing to just be passive observers, but that they want to be actively involved in what both financial and political leaders decide. In that light, the theme of 2012 is to try to find not only economic and political models, but models of participation as well. There is going to be a lot of debate about this. Of course, one thing that will be very present on the agenda is the continuing debt crisis in Europe, as it has not been fully solved.

What led you to get involved in the documentary De Panzazo?

This film is being produced by an organization that I am actively involved in, Mexicanos Primeros. It is an organization of which I am a vice-chair, and was founded with a number of friends—young businessmen mainly—five years ago. The goal of this organization is to promote educational reform in Mexico. One of the biggest problems in our country is the low quality of education. Among all OECD countries, we have systematically ranked last. There have been some small advances, a bit of progress in the recent past, but the progress is not enough to catch up to the rest of the world. If we want Mexico to be a competitive nation in the future and to be able to increase economic growth in order to solve many of its social problems, we need to increase the quantity and quality of education. We need more years of schooling, but we need a better quality of education during those years. Da Panzazo is a documentary being made to highlight the problem. We don't blame just one part of the whole equation. We do not blame the government or the teachers' union. We think we all have a responsibility to play in transforming education in Mexico, and the film shows that unless we take an active role in transforming the sector we will lag even further behind. Cinépolis is going to distribute the film. It is a documentary with an important social cause and we are going to distribute it for free.

How would you assess the current development of the Mexican cinema industry?

The Mexican film industry has been growing in recent years. As a nation, we have been producing between 60 and 70 feature films every year. That is already a good number. A number of these films do well at the box office. From 2010 to 2011, the number of admissions to Mexican films grew by about 18%, and this shows that there is a growing appetite for them. It still, however, accounts only for a relatively minor share of the total box office in Mexico. It is still very low, but at least it is on the right track. There have been some Mexican fiscal incentives to invest in films that have helped the rebirth of the Mexican film industry. Some years ago it was almost dying, producing just five or six films a year. We are now back to 70. Now that we have a lot of production, we should focus on how to raise the quality of those productions so that Mexican films are more successful inside Mexico, because that is the prerequisite for them to be successful outside of Mexico.

© The Business Year - July 2012