Gibran Portela Teams With Beatriz Sanchis, Yibran Assuad, Gabriel Ripstein (EXCLUSIVE)

John Hopewell
Variety

LOS CABOS, Mexico — Mexican playwright turned laureled film scribe Gibran Portela, a co-screenwriter on Diego Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro,” Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Gueros” and Amat Escalante’s “The Untamed,” has completed two new screenplays, with Spain’s Beatriz Sanchis and Mexico’s Yibran Assuad, while writing a new miniseries with Gabriel Ripstein.

“La Jaula de Oro” scooped Cannes’ Un Certain Talent Award in 2013; “Gueros” was a Berlin Best First Feature awardee in 2014, Amat Escalante’s “The Untamed” took Venice’s 2016 best director plaudit.

“Gueros’” editor Yibran Assuad is set to direct “Todas Las Pecas del Mundo,” (literally: “All the Freckles in the World”) a high-school comedy co-penned with Portela; It is scheduled to go into production next year.

A second Portela screenplay, “A donde fue el verano,” will be directed by Sanchis, who helmed “Todos los muertos,” (All Your Dead Ones), starring Elena Anaya.

Portela is also writing an untitled and potentially controversial eight-part TV mini-series with Gabriel Ripstein, a Berlin Best First Feature winner in 2015.

An alum of the Centro de Capacitation Cinematografica (CCC), one of Mexico’s most prestigious film schools, Portela also writes for theatre group Bocanegra.

On “El jaula de oro,” Quemada-Diez brought in Portela when he was looking to pare down his screenplay, based on 600 interviews.

“He helped me a lot to edit, synthesise, select the most important scene and write new ones,” Quemada-Diez recalled.

“Gibran has a great sense of humor. He’s very witty. I had a  great time working with him, and he introduced more positive elements into the story, made it more human,” he added.

Portela may also be one of Mexico`s budding auteurs. On paper, “La Jaula de Oro,” “Gueros” and “The Untamed” might seem worlds apart. An immigration thriller “La Jaula de Oro” tracks three teens, one a young Tzxotzil native, from Guatemala, across the length of Mexico,  as they journey on train-tops to the U.S. border.

“Gueros” follows three misfits – a rebel teen, his college slacker brother and larky best friend – as they cruise Mexico City, just as a massive students strike unspools nearby. In “The Untamed” a young wife battles misogyny and homophobia in Mexico’s sticks while a tentacled alien creature offers humans exquisite sexual pleasure.

All have common points, however. One’s a sensitivity to film type. In its early going, ”La Jaula de Oro” establishes a large Hollywood-style empathy with the three teens. Together with the film’s high-production values, this suggests the film could go the way of a feel-good triumph-over-adversity immigration drama. But in “Jaula’s mid-to-final stretches, these wishful assumptions are brutally and memorably shattered, as the film’s sobering bedrock realism sets in.

Shot in black and white and in Academy ratio, “Gueros” is part slice-of-life kitchen sink realism, part political theatre, part playful Nouvelle Vague joie de vivre,

For Portela himself, both “La Jaula de Oro” and “Gueros” “talk about people who are looking for their place in the world. That’s something I find attractive about the characters.”

Broadcasters, cablers and SVOD platforms are all driving into higher-end TV fiction.

“In Mexico, with Blim and Netflix, there’a a big demand for stories,” Portela said.

So he’s busier than ever, as a lot of people are. With his beard and glasses, Portela bears a passing resemblance to Mexican director Carlos Reygadas who has built a Splendor Omnium post-production facility in the mountains outside Mexico City.

Where would Portela like to be in five years?  Somewhere not so dissimilar. “Not so busy. Living outside Mexico City. Having a calm place to be in. Still making films. Maybe only screenplays and projects I like. On TV, becoming a show runner perhaps.”

As the battle for true premium content in Mexico heats up, Portela may have to put off that dream for a while.

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