Mexico’s Canana is having a banner 2013 with its biggest production, a new deal with Participant and a joint venture with IM Global. Wendy Mitchell talks to CEO Julian Levin about how the company grows while maintaining its incubator vibe.

Canana has certainly grown by leaps and bounds since it started in 2005 in Mexico City as a revolutionary idea bringing together three friends, Diego Luna, Pablo Cruz and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Fast-forward to 2013 and the company is readying its biggest production, Luna’s Chavez; it has struck a production deal with Participant; it has launched its IM Global joint-venture sales company Mundial; it has moved into branded content in a deal with whisky brand Chivas; not to mention the busy work of its core activities - film and TV production, distribution (both theatrical and digital) in Mexico and Central America, and the Ambulante travelling documentary festival.

Part of the reason the company has been in a good position to grow to its current heights is bringing in Julian Levin as CEO in February 2011. Levin, who had worked in the corporate world and as a lawyer in the US, returned to Mexico and was brought on board the growing business.

He says: “I analysed how everything was running. Canana was built on a project-by-project basis without an overall structure, which is what let it become what it is today. It’s not that they were doing it wrong, they were just doing it their own way… it started to get out of hand in terms of the number of projects they were bringing in, and the number of ideas.”

He continues: “I tried to mix the way it was naturally developed with a more serious corporate structure to allow it to grow even further, and to get all the new projects off the ground. Corporately what I tried to do was shape that company to allow it to become an incubator, where projects are cared for by each of the parties… There is still a revolutionary spirit.”

The staff numbered seven when Levin arrived, and now has grown to 25 in line with the rising number of projects. Chavez is now in post-production (to be launched later this year), starring Michael Pena as labour organiser Cesar E Chavez, with a cast also featuring John Malkovich and Rosario Dawson.

‘I tried to mix the way it was naturally developed with a more serious corporate structure’

Julian Levin, Canana

Canana’s TV production currently includes the second season of Nino Santo, a series about faith versus traditional medicine, and new series Alguien Mas, a romantic comedy/sitcom. With the company also working on three to four films per year, Levin notes: “Of 52 weeks per year we hope to be shooting at least 40.”

The Chivas deal, creating a two-part short film project for the whisky brand, was a natural move because of the company’s motto about friendship. “That’s what attracted us, and the idea of having Gael and Diego direct something [a two-part short] together,” Levin explains.

The Participant deal will see the new Participant PanAmerica working on 10 to 12 Spanish-language films in the next five years with Canana, Chile’s Fabula and Colombia’s Dynamo.

As a distributor, Canana releases about 12 films per year and is trying to work on “bigger films” going forward, Levin says. Past releases include The Hunt, Man On Wire and Juan Of The Dead (via its genre label); future releases include Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (in a deal with Sun) and Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines.

Mundial, the joint-venture sales company with IM Global, is touting Who Is Dayani Cristal?, Michael Rowe’s Leap Year follow-up Manto Acuifero and Mariana Chenillo’s love story Paradise.

Mundial’s vice-president, Cristina Garza, tells Screen that it was the right time to come to market with a company focused on Latin American product. “There’s something really interesting going on in Latin American films,” she says.

“We’re trying to take Latin American films out of Latin America and show the world the exciting talent we’ve been building. The relationships that M Global has will mean new outlets worldwide and new models of finance for Latin American films. It’s something really necessary - we know what these film-makers need.”