MEXICO CITY (Hollywood Reporter) - As film production surges in Mexico, once-endangered genres like sci-fi, horror and animation are making a spirited comeback. Call it a sign of the times, or a cinematic renaissance if you will, as talented young filmmakers here eagerly explore new terrain.
For many years, there was a strong tendency in Mexican cinema to produce less-than-stellar imitations of box office hits like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Amores Perros" and Alfonso Cuaron's "Y tu Mama Tambien."
But as time moved on, audiences grew thirsty for more diversity, forcing producers to mine stories that would offer something beyond the tired urban dramas and comedies.
"After 'Amores Perros,' everyone thought that was the way to make movies in Mexico," says Lemon Films producer Billy Rovzar. "The problem was that people stopped thinking that we can make other genres."
Not everyone. Last year, the Lemon-produced horror film "Kilometer 31" raked in about $11 million, making it one of Mexico's all-time box office leaders. With a few exceptions (namely Guillermo del Toro projects), the genre had been all but ignored here for nearly two decades. Last year, however, three horror flicks ranked among the top 10 domestic grossers.
Animated films are also riding the new wave of Mexican cinema. "Una Pelicula de Huevos," a story about a young egg aspiring to hatch into a rooster before he becomes someone's breakfast, was Mexico's top box office earner in 2006. And last year, the Day of the Dead-themed "La Leyenda de la Nahuala" grabbed the No. 4 spot.
Several toons are in production, including a sequel to "Huevos," titled "Otra Pelicula de Huevos y un Pollo," and "Ana," a 3-D animated feature from Carlos Carerra and "Shrek 2" animator Enrique Navarette.
Thanks to the success of animation and horror, producers are scrambling to exploit untapped genres. Lemon, for instance, is producing the $6 million action film "Saving Private Perez" and the holiday movie "X-mas, Inc."
"We're just trying to see what hasn't been done and why it hasn't been done," Rovzar says.
Current productions run the gamut from an immigrant thriller to a fantasy film and several sci-fi dramas. Though that may sound like standard fare in Tinseltown, the wide variety of content is a relatively new development here.
Francisco Laresgoiti, who is making his directorial debut with the sci-fi drama "2033," acknowledges he's taking a big chance on a production that leans heavily on set design and special effects. But he's not interested in playing it safe. "It's much riskier to continue doing films of the same old genres," he says.
While companies like Lemon are gambling on slick U.S.-style projects, other shingles like Canana Films and Mantarraya Producciones are making choices that challenge the conventional norms of Mexican filmmaking.
Canana's "Cochochi," for example, features an indigenous cast speaking in their local Raramuri dialect. "Silent Light," Mantarraya's latest release, unfolds in an isolated Mennonite community in northern Mexico with non-actors delivering their lines in a Low German tongue.
Despite the rare languages and unusual subject matter, both of these modestly budgeted pictures have fared well on the festival circuit, proving that bigger doesn't necessarily mean better.
"It's important to take chances and make things happen," says Canana producer Pablo Cruz, who founded the company with Mexican actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
Mantarraya, the production and distribution outfit run by Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas and producer Jaime Romandia, shares a similar philosophy. Under its new label Cadereyta Films, the shingle is experimenting with commercially viable pictures. The varied slate includes Pablo Aldrete's western "River of Gold," Alejandro Molina's sci-fi drama "By Day and By Night" and Gerardo Tort's road movie "Round Trip."
Less than a decade ago, it would have been hard to imagine a Mexican production company lining up a western and a sci-fi project in the same year. Yet as the industry has evolved, the spectrum has opened up considerably.