Cross-pond co-prod tweaks genre conventions

Havana’s 5ta Avenida Producciones is teaming with Seville’s La Zanfona Producciones to produce “Juan de los Muertos” (Juan of the Dead), a groundbreaking Cuban zombie film, and part of a growing semi-indie Cuban film scene.

International rights are repped by Alfredo Calvino’s Mexico-based Latinofusion, which will be pre-selling the pic at Cannes.

The second feature from Cuban helmer Alejandro Brugues (“Personal Belongings”), “Dead” begins shooting in late September in Havana, and is produced by Zanfona’s Gervasio Iglesias and 5ta Avenida’s Inti Herrera.

Pic’s protag, played by Cuban thesp Alexis Diaz de Villegas, is a 40-year-old slacker named Juan who notices that people are beginning to turn violent. As a zombie epidemic spreads through Havana, he decides to make a quick buck, offering to slay people’s infected relatives. But as the zombie plague reaches national proportions Juan has to concentrate on his survival.

While the pic has political barbs — when the outbreak begins, the Cuban government dismisses attacks as the work of dissidents on a U.S. payroll — “Dead” is not political satire, Brugues said.

“There may be a social subtext about how Cubans react to crisis, but it’s really a comedy,” Brugues said.

“Dead” costs ?2.1 million ($2.7 million) — a huge budget by Cuban standards, with 60% put up by Spain’s Zanfona. Spanish crew and post-production in Spain upped costs, said Iglesias.

“This is a very, very big film for Cuba.”

“Dead” is not an underground pic. Icaic, the Cuban state-backed film institute, “likes the idea of ‘Dead,'” said Brugues.

Traditionally, Cuban film financing has mixed Icaic coin and often private equity. Nine Cuban fiction features were made in 2009, Icaic head Camilo Vives told Variety.

A clutch have now been made without primary reliance on state support — Vives points to “Tres veces dos,” by Pavel Giroud, Lester Hamlet and Esteban Insausti, and Brugues’ own debut, “Belongings.”

The number of indie Cuban pics looks set to grow, powered in part by 5ta Avenida.

According to Herrera, 5ta is looking to set up Giroud’s next film, “El acompanante,” now in development, as a co-production with Spain and Venezuela. Carlos Lechuga’s low-budget, $300,000-budgeted drama “Melaza” (Molasses), will be co-produced Paul Saadoun’s 13 Production in France, Germany’s Zero Action and Panama’s Jaguar Films and Asocine.

5ta Avenida looks to bring on new talent, leverage co-production coin for Cuban shoots and play off Cuba’s extraordinary settings, Herrera said.

For Latinofusion’s Calvino, the real novelty of “Dead” is the use of classic genre in a Cuban context. In that sense, he joked, you can talk about a second Cuban revolution.

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