BUENOS AIRES — Mexico City-based Fotosintesis Media, a joint initiative of Mexico’s Mantarraya Group and writer-director Miguel Angel Uriegas, is moving into pre-production this January on “Beast,” the third Mexican animated feature from the cause-driven entertainment label.
News of the move comes as Uriegas presents at Ventana Sur’s Animation! forum 15 minutes of work in progress excerpts from from “A Costume for Nicolas,” Fotosintesis’ second movie in a cause-driven franchise which is attracting significant backers.
“Beast” will be directed by Uriegas, who helmed and co-wrote the first feature in the series, “The Angel in the Clock” and co-directed Mantarraya’s “The Incredible Story of the Stone Boy.” The presentation will be made on Dec. 12 in a series of four Work in Progress sneak peeks.
An action adventure allegory of migration – the Beast itself makes reference to the trans-Mexico freight train migrants call “La Bestia” – the animated feature is produced by Mantarraya founder Jaime Romandia, the longtime backer of movies from Cannes best director winners Carlos Reygadas and Amat Escalante. “Beast” is also endorsed by the United Nations and made in partnership with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in México City.
An allegory of immigration – more specifically through Mexico to the U.S – “Beast” is cast in a neo-Medieval fantasy coming of age narrative. It turns on Fran and sister Severin who live in the Great Slum, a collection of dirt-poor townships. But they dream of one day traveling to the Kingdom, a paradise on earth, sheltered by huge walls. The only way to get there is to smuggle themselves onto the Beast, a legendary creature with a steel mask that transports goods to the Kingdom.
The film “is a metaphor about the migration situation we face in Mexico, portrayed in a fantasy world that speaks to the rights of all migrants out there,” said Uriegas.
“Beast” is written by Mariano Vives, Jonathan Barceló and Uriegas, from an original idea by Vives. Both Barcelo and Vives work at video game giant Riot Games, creator of “League of Legends,” which looks like an asset. “Targeting 10-13 tween boys and 10-12 tween girls, the film is envisaged as “total action and adventure,” about a “fantasy world with magic and compelling characters” with, in visual traits, some Japanese anime elements, Uriegas said.
The film will not buck the complexity of immigration, he added, portraying figures inspired by the Mara gangs of Central America, but also by Father Alejandro Solalinde who created the Hermanos en el Camino shelter house for migrants, in the character of Yuma, a shaman priest with magical powers.
Like the real-life Patronas, the kids’ mother, Maru, feeds the refugees who pass by on top of the Beast.
Fran and Severin attempt to reach the Kingdom, which is overcome by dramatic natural disaster. Through this, working with the UNHCR, Fotosintesis attempt to portray all the phases and sub-types of migration, from the economic to refugees of violence, war and natural disaster, Uriegas said.
“Beast” will sound the same note of inclusion found in “A Costume for Nicolas,” which was selected for the Marché du Film’s Los Cabos Goes to Cannes in May and supports the cause of Special Olympics for inclusive education. Directed by Eduardo Rivero, the animation director on “The Angel in the Clock,” Nicolas is voiced by 10-year-old Down syndrome actor Francisco.
“A Costume for Nicolas” turns on Nicolas, a 10-year-old boy with Down syndrome, taken in by his loving grandparents after his mother’s death, to the aghastment of his cousin David, who desperately misses his own dad and now has to share his room with him.
Nicolas’ only memory of his mother is a trunkful of costumes she made for him to accompany the stories she told him. Dragged off on a magical adventure by a monster he discovers as his cousin suffers a nightmare, the ever cheerful chappie’s unambiguously huge love and kindness towards his new family ultimately wins over David. His cousin helps Nicolas triumph in the magical world.
“This isn’t the typical story where the main character is missing something or needs to learn something,” Uriegas commented.
He added: “Nicolas already has it all figured out since the beginning and it’s about how ,his huge heart and vision of life though his innocence and love, impacts the other characters.”
If the film has a moral, it’s that “you can find the best friends and the best family in places you never imagined, and together with love and with joy overcome any obstacle,” Uriegas explained, adding that “A Costume,” in its aesthetics, will draw on the tradition of French illustrated children’s books, with a sober paste-colored palette reminiscent of the work of Rebecca Dautremer.