Breakthrough pics: “Japon” (2002), “Batalla en el Cielo” (2005), “Sangre” (2005)
What I learned the hard way: “No matter how many times I apply for government financing, it seems like I’m never going to get it. But I keep applying anyway.”
If you can make money on an indie film in Mexico, the current thinking goes, you can probably fly, turn invisible and leap tall buildings in a single bound, too.
But Romandia, the man who twice scandalized Cannes, is no superhero — despite a huge 2005 so far with four pics. Not bad for a guy who didn’t even get into film until after he studied business administration, worked as a TV writer and directed Mexican commercials.
He struck gold with his first feature, 2002’s starkly realistic “Japon,” which shocked Cannes with graphic depiction of sex between a middle-age man and an ancient woman. Pic, which cost less than $250,000 to make, has been sold in over 50 countries and grossed about four times its budget. That the film, which played in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight and received critical acclaim — it won the Camera d’Or — made money at all is extraordinarily rare for Mexican cinema, which struggles for investors because producers almost never break even.
Indeed, Romandia had difficulty getting financing for the pic, which was rejected by Mexico’s highest funding organization on several different occasions. “It’s been a struggle to raise money,” says Romandia, whose average budget, over five features, is around $600,000.
Romandia brought two films to Cannes this year. “Batalla en el Cielo,” the second feature by Carlos Reygadas, who helmed “Japon,” opens with a sex scene even more graphic than its predecessor. It was the first Mexican film chosen for Competition at Cannes since 1999, and the first by a director other than Arturo Ripstein since the 1960s. “Batalla,” which will unspool at Toronto, is set for a U.S. release in March.
Also bowing at Cannes in Un Certain Regard was “Sangre,” the opera prima of Amat Escalante. It picked up the international critics prize and has been making festival rounds since. “It was incredible working with him,” Escalante says of Romandia. “He’s inspiring and motivating.”
His other 2005 pics include an experimental film shot on digital video, “Shirgo,” and “Caminos,” which was written and directed by Romandia’s partner, Pablo Aldrete.
“I know it’s possible to make films people want to see for far less than a million dollars. In fact, you can do it for less than half that,” the producer says.