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Colombia’s Diana Perez Mejia Unveils ‘Guepsa, Short Stories,’ and ‘Mujer Primavera’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 4/4/2017 Martin Dale
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Colombian producer Diana Perez Mejia – whose first feature film, western-thriller “Pariente” (Guilty Men), directed byIvan D. Gaona, bowed in Venice and then screened in Toronto, Warsaw Bogota, winning special jury mentions in Locarno and Cartagena and the Fiprecsi award in Cinelatino Toulouse – is prepping two further projects with the same director, via their production company, La Banda del Carro Rojo.

“Guepsa – Short Tales from the South” is a compilation film of five shorts, which Mejia compares to Damián Szifron’s 2014 anthology film “Wild Tales.”

The underlying theme of “Guepsa” is latent violence in a remote town in Colombia. “There are different kinds of violence in Colombia. It’s not just about guerrillas and paramilitary groups,” said Mejia.

Sh added: “People who live in the countryside are forgotten by the government and live without basic essentials. All over the country we have corrupt politicians who only think about their own wealth. This leads to simmering violence.”

As with “Pariente,” there will be a Western-feel to “Guepsa.” “The characters imitate cowboys, they’ve seen many western movies and heard in songs,” says Mejia. “Many are ranchers and farm laborers and want to imitate this behavior. They talk about killing someone, out of revenge or honor.”

The five shorts – “Los Retratos,” “El Tiple,” “Completo”, “Forastero,” and Volver” – were all directed by Gaona, between 2010 and 2015, prior to making “Pariente.” They feature the same characters and themes – including many of the characters who appear in “Pariente – and like “Pariente” were all lensed in Gaona’s hometown of Guepsa in Colombia’s Santander region. Mejia is also from the same region.

The shorts have been screened individually in festivals such as Locarno, Clermont Ferrand, Warsaw and Havana and in cinemas in Colombia where they enjoyed considerable success. Although produced as separate shorts, Mejia says that they work as a unified narrative and the 90-minute feature will include extra material not included in the original shorts.

Mejia and Gaona met at film school in Colombia’s national university. Mejia originally worked as a stage actress and coached the local first-time actors in Guepsa who star in the compilation film and in “Pariente.”

“Mujer Primavera” is set in the 1990s, in Bogota and the Colombian countryside, and will include a mixture of professional actors and debutants who will once again be coached by Mejia. One of the actresses in the project also starred in “Pariente.”

“We have been working with first-time actors in this way for years,” explains Mejia. “The main challenge is choosing the original cast. You take a risk with them. But it’s extremely rewarding to see their evolution.”

The title, “Mujer Primavera,” is inspired by the song, “La Femme Ressort” by French group, La Femme. It’s the story of a man who gets a new job reading postal letters that didn’t get to their destination and which potentially pose threats to national security. He decides to deliver them, thus triggering a chain of violence and ultimately leading to the murder of a Colombian politician, which Mejia says is partly inspired by the 1995 assassination of Colombia’s opposition politician, Alvaro Gomez Hurtado.

As a period movie, set in the 1990s, the project will require a more ambitious budget – set at $800,000 – and will pose new challenges. Mejia has established a co-production deal with France’s Louise Bellicaud, of In Vivo Films, whom she originally met in 2011 in the Bogota Audiovisual Market.

“Pariente,” budgeted at $700,000, was 100% financed in Colombia, produced by La Banda del Carro Rojo, with support from Colombia’s Ministry of Culture, HD Cinema Colombia and Canal TRO. It is being sold by Films Boutique, a Berlin-based sales company with a flair for representing movies from exciting first-time directors.

Mejia is also preparing a short, “Exodo,” with another director, Ivan Luna, to be shot in the town of Suaita in the Santander region. It’s about a family’s struggle to stay together, in the midst of armed conflict in the region.

Looking further ahead, she said she would also like to produce a comedy and a horror film. “Our goal as a production company is above all to connect with the audience. ‘Pariente’ is a Western. We would like to try different genres and work with different directors. It’s possible to produce comedies that are more subtle and profound. For example, Felipe Aljure’s 1991 comedy, ‘La Gente de la Universal,’ which was a comedy about how we behave as Colombians. I’d like to produce a film in that vein.”

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