Last year, the inaugural Baja Intl. Film Festival offered glitzy parties, starry panels and the backdrop of Los Cabos' spectacular coast.

But this year, pushing to bridge the Mexican, U.S. and Canadian entertainment industries, Baja's new director, Alonso Aguilar, has added much-needed industry heft.

Just a two-hour hop from Los Angeles and running after AFM Nov. 13-16, the festival's strategy to attract Hollywood and international sales agents is clear.

One of Aguilar's most significant moves was tapping Alejandra Paulin and Maru Garzon, seasoned execs from the Guadalajara Fest and Imcine, Mexico's national film org, to build Baja fest's international presence and industry event roster.

The festival launches Work in Progress Mexico and Mexico First, for first and second movies; the Sales Agents Workshop; and Meet Your Neighbors: Mexico, USA & Canada Producers co-prod forum.

There are also prizes this year. The Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund comprises seven Mexican feature development grants, worth $5,000 each, while the Labodigital Prize for post-production, at $51,000 a pop, goes to two pics. Bengala Agency will announce screenplay grants.

"As a Mexican festival very close to Los Angeles, we recognize the unique potential Los Cabos can have as North and South America industry hub," says XYZ Films' Nate Bolotin.

Some see the festival as a relief after AFM. "People can get more creative after the commercial frenzy of AFM and real creative ideas, which the business is built on, can emerge," says Cristian Conti of financing entity Dynamo Capital.

Only three Mexico First or Works in Progress directors are well-known: Sebastian Hiriart, whose magical-realist "A tiro de piedra" was picked up by HBO, world preems "Natural Philosophy of Love," a four-part exploration of sexual instinct; Claudia Sainte-Luce's "The Amazing Cat Fish," a colorful, rambunctious one-parent family drama, sold in several territories already by Pyramide Intl.; and San Sebastian winner Bernardo Arellano ("Between Night and Day"), who unveils work-in-progress "The Beginning of Time," about a ninetysomething couple peddling tamales.

For Aguilar, the Los Cabos Competition focuses on relevant independent voices. Two are breakout U.S. debuts: Destin Cretton's SXSW winner, "Short Term 12," and Daniel Patrick Carbone's "Hide Your Smiling Faces." Matthew Porterfield's "I Used to Be Darker" will also screen.

Other contenders: "The Empty Hours," from Mexico's Aaron Fernandez; the Gael Garcia Bernal-fronted immigration docu "Who Is Dayani Cristal?"; and from Canada, "Alphee des etoiles" (pictured), which won a prize at Toronto Hot Docs.

Festival Highlights

Opening Kickoff

Juan Jose Campanella's "Foosball" opens the festival. The animated film is a box office smash in its home turf of Argentina and a hit with critics.

Work in Progress Mexico

Buzz is good on Bernardo Arellano's "Beginning," Gustavo Gamou's "El regreso del muerto," Marcelo Tobar's "Asteroide" and Max Zunino's "Los Banistas," which was a co-winner at 2013's Guadalajara fest. Other entries include Elise DuRant's fiction/docu hybrid "Eden" and Julio Fernandez Talamantes' "Mexicanos de bronce."

Participating in Mexico

Jeff Skoll's Participant Media will present Latin American fund Participant PanAmerica, with producer members Pablo Cruz, Juan de Dios Larrain and Conti in attendance.

Industry Mentors

The Sales Agents Workshop tutors include Memento Films Intl.'s Nicholas Kaiser, the Match Factory's Brigitte Suarez, Cristina Garza at IM Global/Canana's Mundial, consultant Emi Norris, Rise and Shine's Diana Karklin and Les Films du Losange's Agathe Valentin. Voltage and XYZ will also also attend the fest while CAA will bring a financier delegation.

2013 Variety Media, LLC, a subsidiary of Penske Business Media; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC