In a flagship deal for the Spanish-speaking world’s ever more global industry, Gonzalo Maza, co-writer of Sebastián Lelio’s Academy Award-winning “A Fantastic Woman,” has been tapped by production powerhouse El Estudio to adapt “Macario,” a novella written by the legendary B. Traven.
Traven’s 1927 novel, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” was given a big screen makeover by John Huston in the 1948 film of the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart, which won three Academy Awards and is often described as Huston and Bogart’s finest work.
The announcement of the new film project was made by El Estudio on the eve of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. That seems no coincidence when it comes to “Macario,” a title which is a Mexico-set literary classic reflecting the pervasive presence of death in Mexican culture.
Coming after El Estudio has acquired the rights to “Macario” from the Traven estate, the movie adaptation is executive produced by Pablo Guisa from Mexico’s Morbido, which signed a production alliance with El Estudio last year. El Estudio’s founding producer-partners Diego Suárez Chialvo, Enrique Lopez Lavigne and Pablo Cruz also exec produce.
A major new independent production player launched at 2020’s Berlin Film Festival, El Estudio has offices in Madrid, Los Angeles and Mexico City.
Maza’s career to date has been focused on Chile, where he co-wrote and produced Lelio’s breakout “Gloria,” which won best actress for Paulina García at 2015’s Berlin and was remade by Lelio as “Gloria Bell,” starring Julianne Moore.
In “Macario,” however, Maza takes on a story which reflects the anti-establishment mindset of B. Traven, which is now believed to be a pseudonym for Moritz Ratheneau, a German anarchist who fled the fall of the short-lived 1919 Bavarian Soviet Republic. He ended up in Mexico where he began to write about Mexican’s oppressed indigenous population, decades before it was on the left’s radar.
It’s still to be seen which way Maza will take “Macario.” Traven’s story itself adapts a fairy tale, “Godfather Death,” collected in 1812’s “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” Transferred to a Mexico still under Spanish rule, it turns on a dirt-poor woodcutter, Macario, who suffers with his family borderline starvation. His simple dream is to eat a whole turkey.
When he finally gets the chance, Death appears and Macario offers to share the turkey. In gratitude, Death grants the peasant the ability to cure the sick. The gift earns him riches. But when he attempts to save the lives of the son and daughter of his land’s ruler, contravening the rules set out by Death, Macario seals his own doom.
“I’ve been a die hard fan of this story for a long time, Macario is present every year at Día de los Muertos almost as a rite. We are honored to be able to work with Gonzalo in bringing this amazing story back to the screen,” said Cruz.
“I feel very lucky for the opportunity to immerse myself in the world of B. Traven, in a story so close to the heart of Mexico, and to be able to bring it into our times, to make it resonate with themes that concern and excite us today,” Maza added, hinting at how he might adapt Traven’s tale.
Originally published in German in 1950, the story, whose English title was “The Healer,” was honored by The New York Times as the best short story of the year in 1953. It was adapted into a film in 1960 by Mexican director Roberto Gavaldón which played Cannes competition and became the first Mexican movie to be nominated for a best foreign-language picture Oscar.
“We are delighted that Pablo, Gonzalo and the team at El Estudio will be introducing ‘Macario’ to new generations,” said Malu Montes de Oca, Traven’s stepdaughter.
“My stepfather had a unique empathy for Mexico’s culture and people. The original movie could only be enjoyed by a limited audience in Spanish.”
“You will remember that Albert Einstein said that if he had to go to a desert island he would not take with him any book that was not written by B. Traven. New production and distribution technologies will enable this timeless story to be seen in many languages and formats around the globe,” she enthused.