Low budgets minimize risk, market pressure

Founded by Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Pablo Cruz, Mexican producer-distributor Canana Films is expanding — in production budgets, co-production accords and home turf distribution.

Launched in 2003, Canana broke through with low-budget pics, rooted in Mexican realities: films like Diego Luna’s directorial debut, “J.C. Chavez,” a grisly boxer docu; or Toronto Discovery Award winner, “Cochochi,” a docu-like fiction film, spoken in indigenous Raramuri, about two boys crossing Mexico’s out-of-the-way Sierra Tarahamara.

With budgets of less than $1 million, the producers hope to minimize risk and market pressure.

But Cruz says its time to up the ante. “It’s time for Canana to grow — to have projects with larger economic and international prospects.”

Canana is already producing Agustin Diaz Yanes’ “Solo quiero caminar” with Spain’s Boomerang. Toplining Diego Luna, Elena Anaya and Ariadna Gil, the Mexican-set femme crime drama, which is in post, is budgeted at $10 million.

Among the bigger projects, according to Cruz, are a feature with Jim Sheridan and a U.S. adaptation of “My Name Is Joe” with Ken Loach’s production company.

Garcia Bernal says that, after making his directing debut with “Deficit,” he’d like to helm a bigger pic.

Tapping of its slate from Ambulante, Canana’s traveling docu fest, Canana has increased domestic releases to 15 a year.

Niche docu bows, initiated mid-June, include Florian Opitz’s “The Big Sellout” and Lucia Gaja’s “My Life Inside.”

The touring fest is now in Johannesburg and Zanzibar. Next stops include Spain, the U.K. and Greece.

The bearded Cruz is a business brain with a social conscience. One seminal experience, he says, was working as a researcher on Ken Loach’s “Bread and Roses.” 

Canana’s expansion, says Cruz, is “creating slightly stronger structures for the directors we’re developing.”

Canana is well-positioned to tap into the increasing interest worldwide in Spanish-language fare.

The shingle inked a first-look deal in 2005 with Focus Features for production and distribution, both U.S. domestic and international.

“We’ve really enjoyed working with the principals at Canana — they are at the cutting edge of the explosion of talent that is emerging in Mexico, and they’re also citizens of the world,” says John Lyons, president of production for Focus Features.

Canana’s first film with Focus, Cary Fukunaga’s “Sin nombre,” exec-produced by Canana with Amy Kaufman producing, is now in post. Focus handles U.S. domestic.

Canana also can take advantage of the name recognition for Garcia Bernal and Luna, at home and abroad, as well as a grassroots distribution savvy. It distributed “El violin,” a small black-and-white Mexican film from tyro Francisco Vargas, turning it into 2007′s biggest Mexican arthouse release.

Cruz maintains Canana’s expansion won’t distract from its core mission: developing new Mexican talent.

And Canana can draw on Mexico’s emerging generation of edgy, original directorial talent.

Ruben Imaz, whose debut, “Tortoise Family,” will be released by Canana, has completed the screenplay to “Cefalopodo,” about a young man confronting his lover’s death, with Mexico’s Axolote Films and Germany’s Pandora co-producing.

“We’ve been producing a lot with Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. Mexico’s coming up, so I decided to give a try further north,” Pandora’s Christoph Friedel says.

Laura Guzman and Israel Cardenas, the directors of “Cochochi,” have shot “Carmita,” about an eightysomething Cuban actress living in Mexico City.

Other projects in development are Gerardo Naranjo’s “Tattooed Soldier,” adapting Hector Tobar’s novel; and “Jean Gentil,” from Guzman and Cardenas, about a Haitian intellectual desperately looking for work in Santo Domingo.

Distributing in a studio-dominated Mexican market, Cruz says, is “like hacking stones.”

But that, like production, he says, is part of building for the future.

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