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Mexico Cinema Crosses the Border With ‘Instructions,’ ‘Nobles’

Local producers and filmmakers are riding a box office wave that’s setting local records and extends into the United States

The crossover success of at least one Mexican film, along with plans in place for another local hit to make its way north, have Mexico’s bizzers thinking big, and targeting the U.S. as fertile ground for distribution.

Mexico’s box office is typically dominated by movies from Hollywood. In 2012, the country’s total B.O. receipts hit $841 million, with two local hits contributing a dismal $7.8 million. In 2011, the biggest local film was the animated “Top Cat,” with $8 million, while in 2010, box office for the top two local hits peaked at $16.6 million.

This year, however, things have changed a bit. Gaz Alazraki’s “We Are the Nobles,” distribbed by Warner Bros., has grossed $26.6 million at the local box office, while Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included” has taken in $44.9 million through Oct. 27. More important, “Instructions” has also been a hit in the U.S. for Lionsgate-Televisa joint venture Pantelion Films, grossing $44.0 million through Oct. 30 in the States — making it the second-highest-grossing foreign-language film of all time.

For Mexico, class comedy “Nobles” and fish-out-of-water dramedy “Instructions” mark a kind of watershed, Derbez said. “The industry is realizing people want to see Mexican movies; we just need to give them what they want to see.”

While producer Monica Lozano of Mexico City-based Alebrije Cine y Video, which produced “Instructions,” cautioned that two movies don’t establish a trend, she also noted that the films’ track records at the box office didn’t happen by chance.

Leonardo Zimbron of shingle Filmadora Nacional, which produced “Nobles,” said that the company has been learning from a decade of hits and misses. “(We’re) working to understand our audience, (and) how (best) to release the films,” he added.

Both of the pics are aimed at audiences that are normally overlooked by Hollywood tentpoles, which target the young-male demo.

“Instructions” stars popular Mexican TV star Derbez as a playboy left to care for his daughter, whom he comes to love. In “Nobles,” a father fakes bankruptcy, forcing his adult slacker kids to get jobs, to their horror.

During his promotional tours for “Instructions,” Derbez, who is repped in the U.S. by WME, said that he told people: “Normally, you can’t go to cinema theaters with your son and abuelita (grandmother). But with this film, you can take everyone.”

Pantelion’s decision to launch “Instructions” Stateside was made based on several market conditions, said Televisa’s Pantelion co-head, Fernando Perez Gavilan. One was that Latino audiences are underserved in the U.S. market. Another was that most movies with significant Latino characters somewhat stereotypically concentrate on immigration, gang and drug issues.

Derbez was also instrumental to the film’s Stateside success. “I went to the U.S., did a huge campaign — my biggest ever,” said the star. “I went to every city, every radio station, everywhere.”

Meanwhile, Cinelatino released “Nobles” in the U.S. on Nov. 1 in several markets with large Hispanic populations, including Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston and Phoenix. The film plays in Spanish with English subtitles.

Helping pave the way for the impressive local B.O. returns of the two films, print runs exceeded those of a typical local release: “Nobles” went out on healthy 875 screens, while “Instructions,” handled by Televisa’s Videocine, opened on a massive 2,755 screens, the sixth-biggest run for any movie in Mexico this year.

Industry observers already see a growing ambition among Mexican commercial distribs. One of Pantelion’s projects is set during World War II, and another involves NASA, said Perez Gavilan.

Also on deck: Alazraki is developing a “Nobles” sequel, again about Mexico’s rich/poor divide. Derbez said he is mulling projects, and will decide on one shortly. Alebrije will go into production on a comedy soon, but won’t divulge details. In April, Pantelion is set to release Diego Luna’s U.S. activist biopic “Chavez: An American Hero.”

Next year in Mexico, a trio of films looks to keep up the local B.O. momentum: Latam Pictures will release “Obediencia Perfecta,” a drama in the vein of 2002 Gael Garcia Bernal starrer “The Crime of Father Amaro,” about a priest’s abuse of his ward. (“Amaro” had been Mexico’s top-grossing film until this year, with almost $16 million, and an additional $5.7 million in the U.S.) Latam and Videocine will release “Mas negro que la noche” from “Nobles” producer Filmadora Nacional — the pic is dubbed Mexico’s first true stereoscopic 3D movie. And Fox will bow “El crimen de Cacaro Gumaro,” targeting families with a film that toplines Andres Bustamante, one of Mexico’s biggest TV comedians.

The producers of “Mas negro que la noche” are negotiating a U.S. distribution deal but are mum on details, while the other fi lms may hit the U.S. if they do boffo B.O. in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Pantelion’s “Pulling Strings,” a romantic comedy about love between a mariachi and an uptight U.S. embassy staffer, has cumed $5.6 million in the U.S. through Oct. 31 since its Oct. 4 release. Televisa’s distribution arm Videocine will bow the pic in Mexico on Nov. 8.

Televisa certainly thinks it has the business model nailed.

“We are making movies that we make sure work in both markets,” Perez Gavilan said. “ ‘Pulling Strings’ is a smaller movie, but even if we make $7 million, or $8 million, it’s huge.”

In success, expect more cross-border hits. “Right now, there’s only one path into the U.S., through Pantelion. No one else is taking risks,” Zimbron said. “But now that good results are coming in, there will be others.”

(Pictured: Eugenio Derbez portrays a playboy left to care for his daughter in “Instructions Not Included,” which has minted $44 million in the U.S.)

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