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Luna marches on Chavez biopic

Malkovich shingle to produce film on farm labor leader

Actor-director Diego Luna will direct “Chavez,” a portrait of farm laborers leader Cesar Chavez that is set up as a Mexico-U.S. co-production.

Producers include John Malkovich’s L.A.-based Mr. Mudd; the Mexico-based shingle Canana, founded by Gael Garcia Bernal, Luna and Pablo Cruz; and “Juno” producers Lianne Halfon and Russell Smith.

Shooting in English and budgeted at $10 million-$12 million, “Chavez” rates as Canana’s most ambitious movie ever, Cruz told Variety. It also marks the first attempt by Mexico’s top production shingle to produce out of the U.S., addressing its Latino markets in particular.

A charismatic civil-rights leader and labor activist, Chavez founded the United Farm Workers, which used strikes, pickets, boycotts, marches and Chavez’s personal fasts to progressively wrestle rights for work contracts, collective bargaining, better pay and safer conditions beginning in the 1960s. “The life of Chavez has been chased by a lot of filmmakers in history,” Cruz said.

Canana secured rights to Chavez’s story from the Chavez family, and screenwriter Keir Pearson (“Hotel Rwanda”) has delivered a screenplay. “We’re delighted to be making a film which goes directly to the heart of the Mexican and Latin community” in the U.S., Cruz said.

Cruz added that the U.S. market also allows for far larger budgets and “Chavez” is a big film. “We’re talking about a man who worked with thousands of workers, organized boycotts across the U.S.”

A driving force behind Mexico’s new wave cinema as both a producer and distributor, Canana has produced most recently omnibus feature “Revolucion” and Cannes Un Certain Regard player “Miss Bala,” sold by Fox Intl. Prods. Canana teamed with Mr. Mudd to produce Luna’s fiction feature directorial deb “Abel,” its biggest commercial hit to date.

Malkovich directed in 2008 a Spanish-language Mexico City version of Zach Helm’s play “The Good Canary,” which starred Luna. Mr. Mudd’s production credits include “The Dancer Upstairs,” “The Libertine” and “Juno.”

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