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Latest growth-move at fast-growing Mexico City/L.A. production-distribution-sales house

BAJA FESTIVAL, LOS CABOS – In its latest growth move, Mexico City/L.A-based Canana, the leading Latino production-distribution house founded by Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Pablo Cruz, has launched a branded content division.

The new operation will produce short films and web series that engage viewers, have a narrative component and enhance brand image, Luna said. Eric Bonniot, formerly at Quentin Tarantino’s A Band Apart, is coming on board as a partner and exec producer at the division.

The entry into branded content comes after Canana has launched Ambulante, a traveling docu film fest in Mexico and now California, moved into TV production – it is currently shooting the second season of “Nino Santo,” the first season of “Back Home” for newly-launched Fusion TV Digital Network and developing “Nino Santo” Stateside for HBO – bowed Latin American digital distribution arm Canana OnDemand, and late last year partnered with IM Global in Mundial, which has quickly become one of Latin America’s foremost  movie sales companies.

This February, Canana co-founded Participant PanAmerica Participant Media’s new financing initiative for Latin American films sourced from Canana, Chile’s Fabula, Colombia’s Dynamo and other Latin American producers.

Meanwhile, Canana is hiking the scale and ambition of its movie productions, producing Gerardo Naranjo’s “Miss Bala,” its most spectacular Mexican film to date, and now “Chavez,” about U.S. civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, Luna’s first English-language movie as a director.

A branded content division will facilitate further expansion at Canana, create recurrent revenues – offsetting the more irregular sales cycle of all movie production – and tap into resources and competitive assets that Canana has in abundance – such as high-profile, media-attractive filmmakers of proven talent who are Canana partners or work with the company.

Canana’s list of directors and writers on offer to create content initiatives features Luna, Garcia Bernal, director Jonas Cuaron (“Year of the Nail”) who co-penned “Gravity,” writer-director Alonso Ruizpalacios (“El ultimo canto del pajaro cu”), Mark Virgil, Mariana Chenillo (“Nora’s Will”), whose Canana-produced “Paradise” world preemed at Toronto, and Mauricio Katz, co-scribe of “Miss Bala” and “Nino Santo” creator-writer-producer.

Able to produce in Spanish and English – or both –  Canana is well-positioned, as its partner-CEO Julian Levin noted, to tap into a Hispanic market which is “educated, cultured and sophisticated.” “This is an expanding market with huge acquisition power looking for an identity. It is an audience with immense spending power.” Levin added.

As one of Mexico’s foremost producers, Canana has already been at the forefront on large-scale initiatives, whether producing Mexican Revolution Centenary omnibus feature “Revolution,” a trenchantly skeptical vision of contempo Mexico and the Revolution’s legacy, or campaigning successfully for the preservation of Mexican film tax-breaks.

Launched in 2009 on Cablevision, Mexico City’s dominant cabler, the Canana OnDemand VOD service and Netflix deal for TV series “I’m Your Fan” have won Canana the rep of a company on the cutting-edge of Mexico’s consumer-digital revolution.

“Brands are coming to us to create something different,” Luna said. Cruz added: “Brands are starting to come to realize that traditional advertising isn’t the only way forward.”

Canana has worked with brands such as Coca Cola’s Ciel Water, Chivas Regal, U.S. Soccer and Nuevo Leon Tourism. Bonniot leverages 20 years of experience producing commercial and branded entertainment for clients such as Coca Cola, Ford, Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet.

At A Band Apart, Bonniot exec produced on commercials and music videos with Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky, John Woo, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Burton. Bonniot also co-founded UNCLE, a digital development company focused on advertising and long-format projects. Among clients: VH1, The Discovery Channel, E! Networks and Starz.

Canana is currently in post on “Chavez,” which is co-financed by Participant Media. Shot on Fuji Super 16mm stock, and set for release April 2014, the biopic features Michael Pena, John Malkovich, America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson.

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