Two of the most ambitious omnibus projects from modern Mexico, “Words With Gods” and “Soccer Plays,” are highlights in the Rio de Janeiro’s Festival’s 2014 country tribute, Mexico Focus-Homage.
“Words With Gods” originator Guillermo Arriaga is expected in Rio, along with AG Studios’ Alex Garcia, producer of “Gods,” for the Latin American premiere of a nine fiction-short omnibus feature in which directors – Arriaga, Hector Babenco, Warwick Thornton, Mira Nair, Hideo Nakata, Amos Gitai, Alex de la Iglesia, Emir Kusturica, Bahman Ghobadi – focus on stories related to a religion close to them.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Carlos Reygadas, Vincent Gallo, Gaspar Noe and Dorris Dorrie feature among 32 directors from four continents signed up for “Short Plays,” set up at Mexico’s Arte Mecanica, a soccer-themed omnibus production shot around the world, created and produced by Mexican director Daniel Gruener (“All of Them Witches”), who will also attend Rio.
Mexico’s industry delegation includes Garcia and AG Studios exec Mineko Mori , IMCINE Mexican Film Institute topper Jorge Sanchez, Carlos Reygadas’ producer Jaime Romandia, Universal’s Mauricio Duran, Fox Intl. Productions Raymundo Diaz-Gonzalez, and Miguel Mier from exhibition chain Cinepolis.
It is significant that, after guest countries often drawn from Europe – France in 2009, 2011’s Italy, 2012’s U.K, Germany last year – the Rio Fest is looking to a fellow Latin American giant.
Mexico shares some of Brazil’s industry traits: Strong governmental backing; ramping production levels; the recent blockbuster success of “We Are the Nobles” and “Instructions Not Included,” local comedies which, however entertaining, still play off contempo social issues.
One of the biggest industry announcements of Rio Market’s 2013 edition was a Brazil-Mexico co-pro: Monica Lozano’s Mexico City-based Alebrije Cine y Video, the producer behind U.S./Mexico B.O. phenom “Instructions Not Included,” teaming with Walkiria Barbosa’s Total Filmes in Rio to produce a Mexican Spanish-language version of identity-switch comedy, “If I Were You,” already a Brazilian smash-hit movie franchise.
What Brazil lacks, as yet at least, in terms of production-distribution, is the vibrant arthouse scene that a clutch of distributors has carved out in Mexico in the last five years. A local arthouse audience has nurtured more demanding art pics from prestige auteurs such as Michael Rowe, whose Mundial-sold “The Well” charts the consequences of parent’s divorce on a little girl.
Turning on an old man who loses his house and land, then his mind, as memories overwhelm him “The Absent” sees . Nicolas Pereda working for once on a decent budget, focusing on “a man’s links to his land,” in the words of producer Edgar San Juan, shooting the forest and rolling ocean nearby in painterly static sequence shots.
Of anticipated titles, Ernesto Contreras’ “The Obscure Spring,” produced by Alebrije, Lady Leonor and Agencia SHA marks Ernesto Contreras’ fiction feature follow-up to his debut, Cannes Critics’ Week player “Blue Eyes.” It stars Jose Maria Yazpik (“I’m So Excited”), Cecilia Suarez (“Spanglish”) and Irene Azuela (“Miss Bala”) in a drama about a torrid and carnal love affair.
Better known titles, sold by sales agents, include Claudia Sainte Luce’s a rumbunctious family portrait “The Amazing Catfish,” a hit sales title for Pyramide Intl.; UDI’s lonely hearts drama “The Empty Hours,” from the underrated Aaron Fernandez; and “Gueros,” repped by Mundial, and a buzz title at this year’s Berlin.
Mexico Focus titles range widely. Premiering at Los Cabos, Marcelo Tobar’s “Asteroid” has drawn upbeat reviews, Variety calling it a “familiar but assured study or drifting adult siblings.”
More towards the mainstream, the FiGa-sold crowd-pleaser “We Are Mari Pepa,” the feature debut of Samuel Kishi building on his same-titled short, is a boisterous chronicle of adolescence via a 16-year-old and his wannabe Guadalajara punk band.
Winning Best First Film at Guadalajara, American John Damian Harper’s Oaxaca-set emigration drama-thriller “Los Angeles’” is 80% spoken in Zapoteco;
Some Focus films are lesser-known: “Manuela Jankovic’s War,” from Diana Cardosa, about the impact of the Balkans War on the life of a 42-year-old cook, living half way round the world; Gabriel Nuncio’s “Cumbres,” catching two young sisters on the run from tragedy in Monterrey, “Gonzalez,” from Mexico-based first-timer Christain Diaz Pardo, seen at Morelia last year, with Carlos Bardem putting in an acclaimed perf as a televangelist.