Pablo Cruz

10 Producers to Watch

Pablo Cruz is pushing the bleeding edge of Mexico’s new wave of realism.

He is the business brain behind Canana, the shingle he founded with Mexican thesps Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in 2003 to develop socially minded projects they couldn’t find a home for elsewhere. “We’re not making films just for entertainment’s sake,” Cruz says. “We are doing films about the reality we are living (in Mexico). We are trying to change things, or at least contribute, with the stories we share.”

But that doesn’t mean Cruz, who started out as a cameraman, is ignoring commercial realities. After studying film theory at the London College of Printing, Cruz ended up producing films in Africa and later founded the Lift, a successful TV advertising company in Spain.

Cruz also cut a first-look deal for Canana with Focus Features — a landmark arrangement between a U.S. studio and a Mexican shingle.

He aims to prove there is a market in Mexico, as well as the U.S. and the rest of the world, for films that show Mexico as it really is. One of Canana’s first steps was to launch a touring documentary fest called Ambulante, which takes the best of Mexico’s thriving docu scene, as well as global hits, out to Mexican cities that normally see only Hollywood franchises on the marquee.

Cruz’s picks are proving to have box office legs. Take “El Violin,” by tyro Francisco Vargas. The black-and-white drama about Mexico’s “dirty war” against peasant revolutionaries was acclaimed at fests around the world — but not a single Mexican distrib would touch it, convinced that arthouse just doesn’t play in Mexico. Canana stepped up to the plate, took the film out with 20 prints and ended up outgrossing Mexican commercial films that are being sent out on 150.

At Toronto, Cruz has both “Cochochi,” about the children of Northern Mexico’s Raramuri people, and Garcia Bernal’s directorial debut “Deficit” unspooling in the festival.

Canana is currently filming Gerardo Naranjo’s third feature, “Voy a explotar,” which follows two 15-year-olds on a romantic lark in Guanajuato.

“Pablo gets behind a project he believes in with a child’s excitement,” Naranjo says. “You know you aren’t making a pair of pants, but something unique.”

Canana also is developing a feature with Venezuelan helmer Jorge Hernandez (“The Night Buffalo”); an English-language thriller “Child’s Play,” to be helmed by David Alcalde; as well as an adaptation of Los Angeles Times’ Mexico correspondent Hector Tobar’s novel “The Tattooed Soldier,” which toggles between the 1992 L.A. riots and Guatemala’s civil war.

“We are looking for particular stories so grounded in their environment that they become universal,” Cruz says.

Age: 35
Provenance: Mexico City
Inspired by: Ken Loach. After seeing “Ladybird, Ladybird,” Cruz dropped out of Gotham’s School of Visual Arts and went to England. Cruz later collaborated with his idol on “Bread and Roses” as a researcher. “Ken is one of the strictest guys around; learning from him was the biggest guidance I ever had.”

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