MEXICO CITY — In what is already an extraordinary year for Mexican filmmaking, Piano, the Mexico City-based production-distribution house, has boarded “Memoria,” from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul who dazzled the Cannes Festival in 2010 with Palme d’Or winner “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”
The move comes after Piano, founded by Julio Chavezmontes and Sebastián Hofmann, has also pacted to co-produce Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island.” Coming in a year when Guillermo del Toro won the best picture Academy Award and Alfonso Cuarón the Venice Festival’s Golden Lion, Piano’s two co-production accords underscore another way that Mexican filmmakers are making an impact on the world stage – joining a highly select clutch of production houses who support the most robust and original directorial voices from around the globe.
That is far more than a commercial play for foreign markets. “We see ourselves as part of an international community of filmmakers that believes in openness, inclusion, and the importance of cultural exchange. Cinema must champion these values in a xenophobic political climate that pushes discrimination and exclusion,” said Chavezmontes.
He added: “We see that as an essential part of our mission.”
Starring Tilda Swinton, “Memoria” is set to shoot in Colombia, scheduled to go into production next year, and turns on colonial history and how collective memory can lead to fear, according to U.K. newspaper The Independent.
Weerasethakul himself had visited Colombia years back. “When you were driving, there could be a bomb and sometimes the traffic stops and you don’t know (why),” he recalled, saying “people imagine things and are afraid. The movie is about this, waiting for something you don’t know,” he is quoted as saying.
Now in post, “Bergman Island” centers on an American couple who decamp to an island to write their latest screenplays.
Directors such as Weerasethakul and Hansen-Løve are “pushing the medium forward; and being raised voices in a climate that doesn’t necessarily reward that kind of risk,” Chavezmontes argued.
“Bergman Island” is produced by Charles Gillibert’s Paris-based CG Cinéma and Rodrigo Teixeira’s RT Features in Sao Paulo. Piano, Dauphin Films and Neue Bioskop Film co-produce.
Both movie productions add to a Piano 2018 slate that saw it with titles at every one of the world’s big five festivals.
Written by Hofmann and Chavezmontes, and “dazzling and disturbing,” according to Variety’s review, “Time Share,” a dramatic critique of “caring” big corporations, won a Sundance Festival Special Jury Award for best screenplay, World Cinema Dramatic.
Produced by Asmara Films, The Cup of Tea, Topkapi Films, Piano, To Be Continued, and RAI Cinema, Babak Jalali’s “Land,” about a native American family’s reacting to its youngest son’s death in combat in Afghanistan, world premiered at the Berlinale as a Panorama Special.
“A queer spin on a Brian De Palma-style thriller,” Variety announced, Yann Gonzalez’s Cannes competition contender, which co-starred Noe Hernández, “Knife + Heart” saw Piano teaming for a first time, again as a minority co-producer, with Gillibert. A courtroom drama-thriller, Gonzalo Tobal’s “The Accused,” with Gael García Bernal, world premiered in competition at Venice, segued to a Toronto berth, Piano co-producing a title which links three of Argentina’s most international film producers: Rei Cine, K & S and Telefe.
Joining companies in Thailand, France, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, the co-productions are also, Chavezmontes points out, “a testament to what this country is doing in cinema.”
“We have a world class film institute in Imcine, and some of the best public policies in place to support film production and distribution. The tremendous growth and success of the Mexican film industry over the last 12 – 13 years is proof of this. Before Eficine, Foprocine, and Fidecine, we had an output of four-to-six films a year. We did not have an industry,” Chavezmontes noted.
The brilliance of the government institutions behind Eficine (Imcine and the Ministry of Finance) is that they understand the industry as a complex ecosystem that needs diversity to thrive,” he added.
“The big commercial blockbusters of recent years have steadily built an audience for Mexican films that also benefits the arthouse side of the equation. Films like ‘Time Share’ and ‘Museo’ are proof of this.
Producers of movies by Weerasathul, Hansen-Love can attract co-producers from many and any part of the world. So co-production is not just driven by the available funding in Mexico (both from public institutions and private financiers), but by a real desire to collaborate with Mexican technicians and creatives, that have proven to be among the best in the world in recent years,” Chavezmontes concluded.
Piano’s 2018 lineup underscores in the ultimate analysis Mexico’s emerging position as one of the go-to countries of choice for films which look set to be part of a larger arthouse movie conversation in 2019.