Socially conscious Canana looks to connect

Cesar Chavez pic aims to tap into immigration themes

Ten days into the domestic launch of Mexican thesp Diego Luna’s “Abel,” producer Pablo Cruz is getting a taste of commercial success, pulling in $4,000-plus per screen two weekends running and building anticipation for upcoming projects including a major one about Cesar Chavez.

Mexico City

According to Cruz, “Abel’s” success solidifies his shingle’s philosophy of making films that both empower and entertain.

Luna’s narrative directorial debut, following boxing doc “JC Chavez,” “Abel” is the latest in a string of projects from Canana Films, a company that strives to be hip, socially conscious and auteur-driven while working with major studios and distributors, such as Televisa’s Videocine, which worked with Canana to release “Abel” in Mexico as a means of reaching wider auds.

“Abel” turns on a young boy traumatized by a missing father gone north to work. Dealing with abandonment and migration, the pic is punctuated by moments of tension-breaking humor.

“There’s not a single gun in our film. There’s not a single whore. There’s not a single explosion,” Cruz says. “It’s about a character. People identify and react to that.”

Expanding from 64 prints to 110 as it expands to Tijuana and Ensenada, with 40 more prints on the way, “Abel” is giving tentpoles like “Prince of Persia” and “Sex and the City 2” a run for their money on a per-screen basis, hitting the 11 million peso ($853,000) mark in its first 10 days. Pic looks likely to become Mexico’s highest-earning domestic film this year, as well as the top earner for Canana.

Cinetic Media is handling international sales, and has licensed much of Europe. U.S. distribution is still being negotiated.

Canana’s international profile is seeing a boost from Sundance and Cannes screenings of “Abel” and omnibus film “Revolucion” as the shingle builds up to its production of its Cesar Chavez biopic, penned by Keir Pearson (“Hotel Rwanda”).

For the first time, Canana will be shooting almost entirely outside Mexico and aiming at auds across the U.S. border. The script is still being written, but Cruz is acutely aware of the political drama surrounding Arizona’s hardline anti-immigration bill, and sees a timeliness in bringing auds the tale of the U.S.-born, Latino-rights political organizer.

While Cruz acknowledges that Chavez was fighting for migrant, not immigrant workers, he notes the activist ultimately was fighting for human and labor rights.

“What we are really interested in is obviously the momentum. It’s Arizona’s time … probably the whole of the U.S. is going to be rethinking their relationship with Mexico and the Mexicans that live next to them,” said the exec. “Inevitably, it’s going to create a lot of friction.”

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