Creatives on the verge

Simon Bross

Five years ago, Simon Bross was diagnosed with Grade 4 kidney cancer. The near-death experience made him ponder missed opportunities.

Despite becoming one of the most critically acclaimed commercial directors in Latin America — a recent Gunn Report for Media ranked him as the second most awarded TV ad director in the world — Bross felt he needed to make a feature film. His past experience in film was limited to co-producing the features “Quien Diablos es Juliette” and “Segundo siglo,” as well as various shorts.

But after beating the disease, he started writing the screenplay to his feature directorial debut, “Malos habitos” (Bad habits). Gathering the same team he had worked with for the past 15-20 years, he set out to make this $4 million dark comedy with the help of co screenwriter Ernesto Anaya.

Now in post, “Malos habitos” touches on three themes: faith, family and food. It stars Emilio Echevarria (Amores Perros), Ximena Ayala and Elena de Haro.

And like his survival from cancer, the shoot and even its financing went miraculously smooth. Coin from Bross’ Garcia Bross company was supplemented by an advance from Mexico’s top indie distributor Gussi films, shingle Altavista, film fund Fidecine and Santo Domingo Films’ Alfredo Harp.

Ed Rivero, head of RSA Films’ Latin commercials department, La Division, reps the film in the U.S.

Julio Chavez

Julio Chavez has taken an unhurried approach to growing as an actor, maintaining a freshness and enthusiasm after 32 years of working in a dozen films, even more plays and a handful of TV series.

“I am always getting discovered,” says the 50-year-old Argentinean. “It’s like always being able to go to the dance floor to meet somebody new.”

Not that a heavy workload is a problem. During the lensing of Rodrigo Moreno’s “El custodio” — which made the rounds at Sundance, Berlin and Guadalajara, Mexico — he moonlighted onstage in Buenos Aires.

He chooses projects based on the director’s capability to make the story work and scripts that “generate a desire in me to tell the story,” he says.

In “El custodio,” he stars as a government official’s icy bodyguard. In Israel Adrian Caetano’s “Un oso rojo” (Red Bear), his intensity as an ex-con livens the drama. In Ariel Rotter’s upcoming “El otro,” he plays an otherwise contented man facing problems as he ages.

Next year, he takes the stage in the one-man play “I Am My Own Wife” in Buenos Aires.

“He can sit for months and months discussing a film, preparing his character, visiting all the set locations,” says Rizoma Films’ Hernan Musaluppi, exec producer of “El custodio.” Now that’s dedication.

Jorge Hernandez Aldana

While serving as a jurist at a Caracas short film festival in 2002, Guillermo Arriaga saw something called “Primer pasos sobre las nubes” and immediately recognized a kindred spirit.

The Mexican screenwriter of “Amores perros” and “21 Grams” eventually contacted the director, Venezuelan-born Jorge Hernandez Aldana, then living in Poland, and invited him to translate his novel “El bufalo de la noche” into a film, which also happens to mark Arriaga’s debut as a producer.

Hernandez subsequently spent 2½ years adapting the book with Arriaga’s guidance, a period that included seeing more than a thousand young actors over nine months.

“We have a lot of strong images,” Hernandez says of the recently wrapped shoot that features “Y tu mama tambien” star Diego Luna. “It’s a beast we are trying to tame in the editing room.”

Hernandez was trained as a computer programmer. But after embarking on a doctorate in Venezuela, he gravitated toward film, moving to Poland to live for nine years while studying at the Lodz film school.

“What interests me is to get as far away as possible from technology to images, performances, emotions that make you feel that something happened,” says the 36-year-old, citing John Cassavetes, Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini among his influences.

“Film allows us to remind the public a lot about our nature, and the stories of Guillermo have a lot of force in this, taking up absolute themes like life and death, our animal nature, instincts,” says Hernandez. “What I like about (‘Bufalo’) is that it reminds us we are flesh and bone.”

Jorge Olguin

Ever since his debut horror pic, “Angel Negro” (Black Angel) — a student film he made for just $25,000 in 2000 — became the first of its kind in Chile and one of the biggest B.O. hits that year, writer-director Jorge Olguin appears to have revitalized the fantasy/horror genre in Latin America.

Two years later, the 31-year-old Chilean’s second pic, “Sangre eterna” (Eternal blood), with a budget of $300,000, became another local box office hit and a cult film worldwide.

Mexico’s maestro of horror, Guillermo del Toro, has now taken Olguin under his wing, serving as executive producer to his upcoming pic “Caleuche, el llamado del mar” (The call of the sea).

With a budget of $2 million, “Caleuche” ranks among the most expensive pics out of Chile, where the filmmakers’ planned use of CGI, models and special effects makeup is considered rare.

It will be shot in English and Spanish and stars Los Angeles-based Chilean thesps Leonor Varela, also an exec producer, and Santiago Cabrera.

Beginning in September, “Caleuche” will use Chile’s mystical island of Chiloe as its main location, where, says Olguin, “we’ll be shooting some scenes at Chepu, a petrified forest in the middle of the sea.”

In the meantime, Olguin is drafting his next screenplay with Carolina Garcia based on paranormal events that happened in Chile and Colombia.

Orlando Pardo

To make his first feature, “Karmma,” 37-year-old Orlando Pardo went against age-old advice. He sunk his own money into it, selling his house and two cars to fund a show reel to help him convince investors.

Based on the rave reviews from the select few who have seen it, the gamble paid off. “It’s an intelligent, well-constructed film, with convincing action scenes and an avant garde look,” says Jimmy Arias of Colombian daily El Tiempo.

“Karmma” tracks a young man who leads a double life, as the privileged scion of a wealthy businessman and as the head of a kidnapping ring. The tables are turned when his father is kidnapped.

The end result looks more expensive than its $700,000 budget. Pardo cut costs by striking deals and being prepared. He got the Colombian army to lend him a helicopter and other equipment. When he learned he had the chopper for only 90 minutes, he rehearsed his actors for six months to get the scene just right.

Elba McAllister of indie distributor Cineplex has slated an Aug. 18 bow in Colombia prior to its festival run.

Pardo spent 19 years as an actor, starring in 15 telenovelas and various TV series as well as directing skeins, shorts and docus.

He now is co-writing a script on the plight of Cuban immigrants in Latin America.

Gaston Pauls

You wouldn’t guess Gaston Pauls’ fame from meeting him. He’s casual, unhurried.

Yet the 34-year-old thesp attracts much attention in his native Argentina and elsewhere. In the last 10 years, he’s starred in 23 films in and has gained a following from a TV series, “Ser Urbano” (Urban Safari), playing a roving reporter uncovering hard truths around Argentina.

From a family of actors, Pauls made his name with Fabian Bielinsky’s “Nueve Reinas” (Nine Queens), a 2000 crime caper that hit it big at the domestic box office and with international sales. The exposure haelped land him parts in pics like Tripp Reed’s “Rapid Exchange.” Further recognition is coming from Tristan Bauer’s Falklands War drama “Iluminados por el fuego” (Enlightened by Fire), on track for wide sales after winning best foreign Spanish-language film at the 2006 Goya film festival in Spain.

Work in Chile and France is on the horizon, and projects abound at home. A main thrust is Rosstoc, his new production outfit through which he is doing a new TV reporting-docu series and preparing for his directing debut with the real-life story of a murdered priest.

Argentina is the inspiration for much of his work. “I need the craziness of Buenos Aires, to hear the people talk, walk the streets, hear how Boca (a pro soccer team) did.”

Eduardo Valente

Thirty-year old filmmaker Eduardo Valente, whose “O Monstro” (The Monster) — based on a short story by Anton Chekhov about the investigation of a train crash — is competing among the shorts at this year’s Cannes, is a veteran of the Croisette.

Valente’s connection with the fest originated in 2002 when he mailed a VHS tape of his $5,000 film school graduation short “Um Sol Alaranjado” (Daughter and Father) to the fest’s Cinefondation selection. A few months later, he received the top prize from jury president Martin Scorsese.

” ‘Daughter and Father’ was made with limited resources and was competing with some relatively sophisticated films,” Valente tells Variety. “My understanding is that the jury wanted to make a point that one can make good films with a low budget.”

The director was back in Cannes 2003 with his second short “Castanho,” which was included in the non-competitive Quinzaine des Realisateurs. Fest organizers then selected Valente for Cannes Residence, a March-July 2005 internship program in Paris, where he worked on the script of his first feature, “Vortice” (Eye of the Storm), and attended the fest in Cannes.

After this year’s Cannes, Valente’s full attention will be directed to the production of “Eye of the Storm.” Helmer Walter Salles’ indie company, Videofilmes, will produce the $1.5 million feature, which is set to lense in September in Rio.

And guess where “Eye” is due to premier.

“The winner of the Cinefondation leading prize is entitled to screen his first feature in one of the sections of Cannes,” says the helmer. “We are working to have the film ready for 2007.”

Francisco Vargas

For Francisco Vargas, “El Violin” — in this year’s Un Certain Regard section at Cannes — marks the end of five-year struggle to make his first feature.

“We wanted to make something that would not be empty like a commercial film but still be something the people would still like,” says the 38-year-old Mexican helmer.

The B&W, verite-styled “Violin” centers on an old man who finds himself and his poor rural family drawn into a guerrilla struggle against the military. Vargas discovered his lead actor, folk violinist Don Angel Tavira , while making the short documentary “Tierra caliente … Se mueren los que la mueven,” about the creeping extinction of traditional folk music in Mexico’s poor southern sierra.

Vargas says the time period of “Violin” “could be El Salvador in the ’80s, or it could be Mexico in the ’70s, or it could be today.”

The story was produced first as a short and won prizes at the Guadalajara and San Sebastian festivals last year as well as the Mexican Ariel for best short.

Committed to making “socially relevant” cinema, Vargas feels Mexicans are starving for films that reflect their reality.

“There are a lot of other realities in Mexico that are never touched on in Mexican cinema,” he says. “I want to make films that have a social function. Maybe that sounds crazy, but it’s the only way to resist so much senselessness today.”

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