Los Cabos: Max Zunino, Laura Imperiale Prep Thriller ‘Where Shadows Walk’ (EXCLUSIVE)

A psychological thriller set at an open pit mine in Mexico, Zunino’s third feature drills down on multinational malfeasance in emerging markets

Max Zunino, Laura Imperiale Prep Thriller
Max Zunino

LOS CABOS, Mexico — Multi-prized Mexican filmmaker Max Zunino is set to direct “A cielo abierto” (Where Shadows Walk), a psychological thriller with romantic and genre beats set against the background of big multinational mining corporations kinks in Latin America to organized crime.

Written by Zunino, “Where Shadows Walk” was presented at the 6th Los Cabos Festival’s films in development pitching sessions taking place this week at the Baja California resort.

Zunino’s third feature after “Open Cage” (2014), a Montreal Fest Fipresci prize winner and “Mist” (2016), shot in Berlin. Both presented convention-bucking across-the tracks friendships in a hostile social environment. “Where Shadows Walk” continues this in a love story but will mark a step-up in scale in its budget, production backing – it is set up at Cacerola Films, headed by Laura Imperiale – multiple locations, foreign lead and foreseeable international co-production.

Written by Zunino, “Where Shadows Walk” also drills down on the psychology of big business execs working in the poorest part of the world. Many take on such jobs in the belief that they are spearheading economic development and offering crucial employment to a local community dragging them out of dirt poverty. The 2000-14 commodities boom which helped millions join the middle classes in Brazil, for instance, leads larger credence to such beliefs. But the same social conscience that encouraging people to work in emerging markets can place them in an uncomfortable place if they discover that real economic models are far from the meliorist capitalism that they espouse.

Such is the case of Lucas, a foreign engineer at a multi-national mining company who leaps at the chance to head up a mine expansion in Mexico.

Lucas believes in a culture of heroes, the good and the bad, that he can help save people,” said Zunino. But the Guanajuato mine site, once he gets there, is a benighted hell hole in the desert, beside an already dirt poor but now ravaged, near-empty local town. People have gone missing – he befriends one young woman, Lisa, who is looking for her brother, last seen in the zone.

Lucas begins to see and even talk to an old man, whom he discovers has died. Sunk in what seem paranoia and hallucination, he begins to believe that his own company has paid for a wave of narco gang violence that has destroyed the local town. The most obvious thing it do is turn a blind eye, serve out his time. But Lucas retains some sense of principle.

“Where Shadows Walk” will be spoken in Spanish and English, Zunino said at Los Cabos. It is “essentially a thriller,” he added.  That said, “I am interested in talking about a problem that exists in the mining industry in Latin America and some places in the world where the state is not strong enough and falls foul to the finagling of large transnational corporations,” he added.

Written by Zunino, “Where Shadows Tread” is inspired in part by a study by Italian journalist Mastrogiovanni that posits that local organized crime or civil conflict moved by narc or guerrilla interests crushes the capacity of civil protest against contaminating large mining interests and destroys local economies, allowing mining interests to enter a depressed local economy with lower land prices and a white knight halo as its leading source of job creation and financier of schools and hospitals. That in turns justifies access to licenses, in collusion with local politicians.

“The devastation of the social fabric allows mining giants to be able to take complete control over a land and its population, Zunino argued, adding that is no small matter when about one third of the land in Mexico is owned or leased by mining corporations, mostly multinationals.

A completed screenplay in place. Zunino and Imperiale will have initiated conversations with a potential sale agents.

“Open Cage” also won the press prize at Mexico’s Guadalajara Festival. “Mist” screened in Berlinale Visions 2017.

Imperiale’s credits range from Arturo Ripstein’s 1992 Cannes Palme d’Or contender “Nobody Writes to the Colonel,” the Academy Award-nominated “The Crime of Father Amaro,” and Mariana Chenillo’s notable debut “Nora’s Will,” widely sold by Habanero Films.