Cannes: Passion, Social Drama Dominate Mexico’s Film Culture

When Carlos Reygadas’ debut “Japon” burst onto the scene in 2002, it heralded a new generation of bold Mexican filmmakers who racked up awards at key film festivals with ease. Reygadas and his protégé Amat Escalante won the director prize at Cannes in 2012 and 2013, respectively: Reygadas for his polarizing “Post Tenebras Lux” and Escalante for “Heli.”

Since last year, a second wave of Mexican cineastes has emerged, some of whom straddle both auteur and mainstream genres. In contrast to the high-art, radical or minimalist features that have characterized much of the early New Mexican Cinema, these filmmakers are exploring both worlds.

Some credit goes to the relatively new fiscal incentive Eficine 189, which has spurred private investment in film. “Eficine has allowed for more options in general and for more options to try different formats,” says Pablo Cruz of Canana, which lead-produced this year’s Un Certain Regard entry “The Chosen Ones” (Las Elegidas, pictured above) by David Pablos.

In this drama about a 15-year-old trying to save a friend from a prostitution ring, Pablos has eschewed the “misery porn” genre to make it more of a coming-of-age pic.

Canana has both mainstream and auteur pics on its upcoming slate, including a co-production with Argentina’s Rei Cine for Lucrecia Martel’s intimate drama “Zama”; the cross-border feature debut of Mexican helmer Yolanda Cruz, “La Raya”; and $4 million thriller “Los Minutos Negros” by Mario Munoz. Canana is also co-producing and providing production services to Werner Herzog’s sci-fi eco-thriller “Salt and Fire,” starring Michael Shannon and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Former Sony Pictures Mexico exec Gabriel Ripstein’s directorial debut “600 Miles,” a first feature prizewinner at Berlin starring Tim Roth, took a more understated look at the flow of U.S. military-grade weapons to the cartels in Mexico.

Ripstein acknowledges the influence of various popular genres: “It’s part road movie, part thriller and deals with the issue of narcotrafficking, but I tried to avoid clichés and preferred to show the impact of violence rather than make it an action movie,” he says. Pantelion releases the pic in the U.S. at the end of the year.

Ripstein also co-wrote buddy cop action comedy “Compadres” with former Universal Pictures exec Ted Perkins. Produced by Francisco Gonzalez Compean and his new shingle Draco Films, the $4.8 million comedy helmed by Enrique Begne is skedded for release by Pantelion in the U.S. and Videocine in Mexico.

Ripstein’s producing partner at Lucia Films, Michel Franco, made his English-language debut with “Chronic.” Shot in Los Angeles, “Chronic” snagged a berth on Cannes’ official selection this year. “It deals with the universal themes of loneliness, sickness and death; it’s an emotional experience,” says Ripstein.

Meanwhile, Gerardo Naranjo (“Miss Bala”) is in post with his first English-language U.S. pic, “Viena and the Fantomes,” with Dakota Fanning.

“A young filmmaker tends to take more risks and money may not matter as much,” says Escalante, who’s working on a pic with thriller elements. “In my case, I want the moviegoer to be more involved in the story I’m telling, not isolate them. The trick is for your film to have some commercial appeal without sacrificing your artistic integrity.”

To better handle this dichotomy, a number of shingles have launched separate labels for their mainstream and arthouse titles. Reygadas’ case will continue to make the provocative auteur films he’s known for under the Mantarraya label, says his producing partner Jaime Romandia of Mantarraya Prods., while sister label Cadereyta Films handles mainstream productions such as animated pic “La increible historia del nino de piedra.” NDM acquisition “Peace to Us in our Dreams” by Sharunas Bartas vies for a Directors’ Fortnight prize this year.

Itaca Films, the production arm of pan-Latin American AG Studios, founded by Mexican producer-investor Alex Garcia, also runs an indie label.

The next challenge is to better promote Mexican talent abroad, says Itaca Films CEO Santiago Garcia. “Mexico has amazing talent; it’s our responsibility as producers to sell, promote and make our films and talent travel — to create a star system.”

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