Toronto: Mariana Chenillo Talks About Her Sophomore Feature 'Paradise'

Paradise - H - 2013

The director explains why she chose to do an unusual love story about an obese couple.

Mexican filmmaker Mariana Chenillo made history in 2010 when she became the first female director to win an Ariel Award (Mexico's equivalent of the Oscar) for best picture with her Jewish-themed dramedy Nora's Will. It was Chenillo's first feature, and it enjoyed a successful run on the international festival circuit, garnering prizes in Havana, Miami and the L.A. Latino fest. Her latest film, Paraiso (Paradise), is making its world premiere in Toronto's Discovery section, a key platform for emerging directors from abroad. Paradise centers on an obese couple struggling to lose weight as they try to salvage their deteriorating relationship. It touches on a subject that gets little attention in Mexico -- the social stigma attached to being overweight. Chenillo talked to The Hollywood Reporter about her new movie, which debuts at TIFF on Sunday.

PHOTOS: The Films at Toronto

THR: Did you ever imagine your second feature would be premiering in a prestigious festival like Toronto?

No, and it makes me nervous because ever since we started thinking about it we knew that it was a film that we wanted to make for the audience. So being there is exciting, but it's also a lot of pressure because it's an audience festival, not a critics festival like Cannes, so it's a very good way to measure the film.

THR: Other screenings from Mexican directors at Toronto this year include Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, Fernando Eimbcke's Club Sandwich and Claudia Sainte-Luce's The Amazing Cat Fish. Mexican talent is really making an impact lately at international festivals. To what do you attribute the recent success?

If you just think about these four films, I haven't seen them but I know the directors and I think they are very different from each other. There are so many different approaches and so many people searching for so many different things, and I guess that's what makes the Mexican film industry richer and wider.

THR: Your directorial debut, Nora's Will, was quite an accomplishment in that you were the first female director to win an Ariel for best picture. Are women getting more opportunities to work in Mexican cinema or do you still consider it a male-dominated industry?

It's strange that a woman hadn't won that award before. It talks about the gender divide in Mexican film. If you see the numbers, it's a male-dominated industry because I think it's about 20 percent of the films that are made by women. But I think some of the best films in recent years have been made by women. For example, if I think about the documentaries I like, more are made by women than not. But we don't get hired as much for big projects or TV series.

THR: Paradise is coming out at an interesting time because just a few months ago a report was released saying Mexico has surpassed the U.S. as the fattest nation on the planet. What got you thinking about the topic and why is it important for you?

This project is based on a short story, which is also called Paraiso, and [producer] Pablo Cruz was the first one to read it. I don't think that if I had read that story on my own that I would have said that that's going to be my next film. But sometimes someone gives you a present, and it turned out to be very personal. The film isn't a campaign to help people lose weight and it does touch on [obesity as a health issue], but it goes deeper. It's more about what's love and what's intimacy and how you see your own body and understand your relationship.

THR: How was the experience working with producers Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Pablo Cruz from Canana Films?

They were great. It was a perfect experience. We started producing this film when my baby was three months old and the producers were really supportive. The production schedule was done around my needs and that's something new because 10 or 20 years ago you couldn't imagine directing a film with a newborn baby.

THR: Have you lined up your next project?

I'm working on a screenplay about a guy who's going blind. It's what I was going to do before I was hired for Paradise, but it still needs a lot of work.