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New Generation of Mexican Filmmakers on the Rise

It’s the third modern Mexican new wave. Near 30 years after Alfonso Cuaron’s 1991 debut and 15 after Carlos Reygadas’ “Japan” ushered in a second wave that brought off-the-wall style, high art and sometimes brutal violence to international festivals, a new generation of Mexican producers and directors is enjoying its industry consecration.

Take the films on display at Berlin. Sebastian Hofmann’s “Time Share,” which screens at the European Film Market, won a screenplay award at Sundance last month. It was co-written and produced by Julio Chavezmontes. Other Mexican films unspooling in Berlin include the Gael Garcia Bernal starrer “Museum,” which plays in competition, and is from Gerardo Gatica and Alberto Muffelmann’s Panorama Global; and Chavezmontes’ “Land,” which screens in  Panorama.

Cannes quite possibly beckons for Cuarón’s “Roma,” produced by Pimienta’s Nicolas Celis; Colombian Ciro Guerra’s “Birds of a Passage,” which he co-produced; and French Yann González’s “Knife in Heart,” another Chavezmontes co-production.

The new generation — Nicolas and Sebastian Celis, Chavezmontes, Gatica, Muffelmann as well as director-producer Michel Franco, Pablo Zimbrón, Moisés Cosío, Ramiro Ruiz, Edher Campos and Luis Salinas — all released their first flagship productions during 2010-12. They have now arrived — and look set to forge much of the Mexican cinema’s new landscape in the near future.

Popular on Variety

What marks them is another question. The founding fathers of new Mexican cinema — Jaime Romandia, Pablo Cruz, Billy and Fernando Rovzar, Leonardo Zimbrón, Marco Polo Constandse — have not taken early retirement. Reygadas’ “Where Life Is Born,” produced by Romandia, is also a firm front-runner for Cannes.

But these firmly established producers, who made their first films during 2001-06, are often working the Mexico-U.S. market interface, are sometimes Los Angeles-based and have diversified into TV.

The newest generation see no need to relocate. To produce for or with the U.S., “Before, you had to have a foothold in Hollywood. Now things are a bit freer,” Muffelmann says.

There’s an esprit de corps about Mexico’s newest generation. Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Museum” is produced by Gatica, Muffleman and Ruiz; Cosío executive produces. “Time Share” was line-produced by Zimbrón.

“In many countries, fellow producers are regarded as competitors; in Mexico, they are partners,” Gatica says. “Everybody tries to work together and support each other, not out of personal interest, but to grow an industry.”

They are also, in film terms, highly ecumenical. “Producers and creators now view cinema in a much more open-minded fashion, with fewer prejudices toward certain genres or subjects,” says Jorge Sánchez, director of film-TV agency Imcine.

“Talent is not exclusive to arthouse films. It’s everywhere,” Gatica says.

So Panorama is producing Fernando Frìas’ “I’m No Longer Here,” which raises questions of cultural identity, but in 2016 backed mainstream comedy “Un padre no tan padre,” about a family patriarch.

They are also staunch internationalists. “Museum” is a Mexican film. Its executive producers hail from Mexico (Cosío, Renato Orlas), South Africa (Distant Horizon’s Anant Sing, Brian Cox) and Canada (Serendipity Point Films’ Robert Lantos); its actors from Mexico (Bernal), Chile (Alfredo Castro), the U.K. (Simon Russell Beale) and Argentina (Leticia Brédice).

Mexico’s Berlin line-up “gives a sense of the international reach of Mexican cinema,” Sánchez says. There are films shot in the Balkans — such as the Forum pic “The Chaotic Life of Nadia Kadik” — or co-produced with Iceland, including “Adam,” in Generation 14Plus.

But young Mexican filmmakers are not just cosmopolitan for the sake of it.

“In a changing international market,” domestic or international co-production “allows directors to think about making movies that are more complex or need a bigger budget with larger production values, as directors aim to step up in scale,” says Celis.

“Birds of a Passage” will be Guerra’s biggest film to date, he notes, as will be “Noche de fuego,” the fiction debut of Tatiana Huezo (“Tempestad”), which looks like one of the hottest tickets at Berlin’s Co-Production Market this year.

Getting out there into the international arena also highlights the quality of Mexican below-the-line crew members and cast.

“The industry has grown to the point where we can be producing partners equal to anyone in the world,” Chavezmontes says. “It’s no coincidence that a filmmaker of the stature of Alfonso Cuarón, who’s so technically demanding, when he came back to Mexico for ‘Roma,’ didn’t do so with a U.S. crew.”

What is at stake, and being pushed by its film industry, is the caliber of Mexico as an advanced service economy.

“Mexico is shifting from a manpower economy to a high-skilled talent-driven one,” Muffelmann says. “That is the biggest change in the last 12 years.”

Mexico’s Best at the Berlinale:

Adam

Director: Maria Solrun

Pic centers on a young deaf boy (played by Icelandic director Maria Solrun’s son) struggling to care for his brain-damaged mother. Shot in cinema-verité style in Berlin.

Generation 14Plus

Betrayal

Director: Ignacio Ortiz Cruz

Imcine/Argos Cine-backed drama about crime-boss father at odds with daughter; co-written by helmer Ortiz.

The Chaotic Life
of Nada Kadic

Director: Marta Hernaiz Pidal

Doc-fiction hybrid won the 2016 Impulso Morelia post-prod award. Shot and set in Sarajevo and Montenegro with a bare-bones crew of six.

Courage

Director: Ruben Rojo

Family drama about an aging actress losing her eyesight and her alcoholic prodigal son, based on director’s mother and brother, who will play themselves. Shoots in November.

Berlinale Co-Production Market

The Hole in the Fence

Director: Joaquín del Paso

An ensemble film about adolescents and education,” says del Paso, who caught attention with his 2016 Berlin Forum debut, social allegory “Maquinaria Panamericana,” which went on to sweep Mexican film festivals.

Berlinale Co-Production Market

The Inhabitant

Director: Guillermo Amoeda

Chilean-Mexican co-production is a horror thriller about three sisters breaking into a senator’s home. Sales: FilmSharks Intl.

The Journalist

Director: Jack Zagha

TV series-feature about a novice journalist. From Avanti Pictures’ Yossy Zagha; penned by Paula Markovitch.

Berlin Co-Production Market

Land

Director: Babak Jalali

A “sweeping family epic,” says its Mexican producer Julio Chavezmontes, about a Native American family’s reaction to its youngest son’s death in combat in Afghanistan.

Panorama

Museum

Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Follow-up to the helmer’s Berlin first feature winner, “Gueros” is “an allegory for young people’s search for identity and meaning,” says the director. Sales: Distant Horizon

Noche de Fuego

Director: Tatiana Huezo

The fiction debut of acclaimed doc filmmaker Huezo (“The Tiniest Place,” “Tempestad”) is set in a cartel-ravaged Mexico. Winner of a Sundance Institute-Netflix Open Borders fellowship last month. Berlin Co-Production Market

Operation Golden Shell

Director: Antonio Cuadri

A comedic caper set at the San Sebastian festival. Initiated sales at the AFM, now negotiating Latin America and Europe. Sales: Filmax Intl.

The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Director: Muayad Alayan

Palestinian-Netherlands-German-Mexican co-production set in Jerusalem about the socio-political impact of an extramarital affair.

Road to Mars

Director: Humberto Hinojosa

An upscale romantic road-movie dramedy with Luis Gerardo Méndez, impressive vfx and Baja California locations is a play by media giant Televisa to court wide audiences. Sales: Cinema Republic

Selva Trágica

Director: Yulene Olaizola

A 1920-set suspense thriller. Director Ruben Imaz and Pablo Zimbrón produce.

Berlin Co-Production Market

Time Share

Director: Sebastian Hofmann

Pic charts a nightmarish hotel family holiday that frames a critique of “caring” big corporations. Sales:
Visit Films

The Weak Ones

Directors: Raul Rico
Gonzalez, Eduardo Giralt

Unveiled at the 2017 Los Cabos WIP forum, pic tracks a farmer across narco cartel-dominated Sinaloa as he seeks revenge. Produced and sold by Luz Verde’s Lucero Garzon.

Forum

Welcome to Acapulco

Director: Guillermo Ivan

English-language action-adventure dramedy about a video-game maker who ends up on the run in Acapulco. Stars Michael Madsen, William Baldwin, Ana Serradilla. Sales: Pantelion Films

— John Hopewell and
Anna Marie de la Fuente

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