10 Directors to Watch 2012: Gerardo Naranjo

Age: 40
Homebase: Brooklyn
Inspired by: “I love when filmmakers achieve abstraction and poetry while still making film about the world,” he says, citing Luis Bunuel, Robert Bresson and Russian director Elem Klimov’s “Come and See.”
Reps: Agents, Scott Greenberg and Jay Baker (CAA); Lawyer, Carlos Goodman

Gerardo Naranjo. "I'm just making a movie."

Naranjo’s “Miss Bala,” which premiered in Cannes and went on to become Mexico’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar, brilliantly straddles the art/commerce divide. “I feel like it’s where I want my movies to navigate — the best of both worlds,” continues Naranjo.

In its story of a Mexican beauty pageant contestant caught in a vast web of corruption, “Miss Bala” has the trappings of a genre thriller.

But Naranjo, a cinephile who studied at the American Film Institute and cites filmmakers from Jean-Luc Godard to Andrzej Zulawski as inspiration, has made an “anthropological” study of Mexico’s culture of violence that is anything but conventional.

Of Naranjo’s three previous features, each is as different and distinctively personal as the next: “Malachance,” an improvisational New Orleans-set indie; “Drama/Mex,” a tale of interwoven dramas in Acapulco; and “I’m Going to Explode,” a stylish lovers-on-the-lam tragedy.

Though made on a tight budget, “Miss Bala” is Naranjo’s biggest and boldest production to date. Directing the film’s elaborately choreographed single-take action sequences required the “biggest preparations I had done in my entire life,” he acknowledges.

“But I’m not ready to be an action director. I would love to make a film like ‘Mad Max,’ but I would also like to have the emotion in there.”

“What’s unique about Gerardo is that he’s not trying to emulate anyone, he’s his own true filmmaker,” says Sanford Panitch, president of Fox Intl. Productions, which came aboard “Miss Bala” and will also back Naranjo’s upcoming project, a multi-language heist film set on an oil rig.

“In heist films, they usually steal money, not a liquid,” quips Naranjo, who is also adapting a book, an international thriller that deals with the FBI, the CIA and a dictatorship. In both cases, the director feels ready to branch out from the local industry and become a more international filmmaker.

“I don’t consider myself just a Mexican,” he says. “I don’t feel this idea of boundaries or borders, and I would like to make movies that have that same feeling.”

10 Directors to Watch
Zal Batmanglij |

Valerie Donzelli | Gareth Evans | Philippe Falardeau | Mike ‘Mouse’ McCoy & Scott Waugh | Gerardo Naranjo | Matt Piedmont | Michael R. Roskam | Lynn Shelton | Benh Zeitlin

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more