Why Producer Nicolás Celis Took a Chance on a First Time Director for ‘Prayers for the Stolen’ (Video)

The Wrap Screening Series: “I remember when I was financing the film that all the financiers were like, ‘You’re crazy, directors from documentaries do not know how to direct actors,'” Celis tells TheWrap’s Steve Pond

Documentarian and writer-director Tatiana Huezo makes her feature film directorial debut with the adaptation of Jennifer Clement’s novel “Prayers for the Stolen,” which was selected as the Mexican entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards.

Huezo cut her teeth directing documentaries, but as producer Nicolás Celis explains, financiers thought he was crazy for taking a chance on a first time director.

“I remember when I was financing the film that all the financiers were like, ‘You’re crazy, directors from documentaries do not know how to direct actors,’” Celis tells moderator Steve Pond at The Wrap’s Screening Series.

“This is the first adaptation I do, this is the first project I do coming from a book. I read ‘Prayers for the Stolen’ and I was amazed since the first pages and I knew I had to buy it,” Celis added.

“Prayers for the Stolen” centers on a trio of young girls growing up in a Mexican mountain village where a drug cartel looms as both a threat and a potential employer.

In her review of the film, The Wrap’s Yolanda Machado wrote, “Huezo and cinematographer Dariela Ludlow ground the story, mixing fantastical visuals with the harsh realities faced by the women and girls who live in these areas. Far too often, stories like this focus on the violence, but Huezo chooses instead to capture those tiny moments of joy, of childlike innocence and wonder, allowing those qualities to become a strength.”

Celis reached out to his producing partner Jim Stark who helped him acquire the rights to the book adaptation. Once the pair had it, Celis approached Huezo.

“We gave it to Tatiana with whom I had a relationship for more for more than 10 years, because I have produced her two feature documentaries and I gave the book to her not thinking that she would be the director because she was a very close friend I admire, so I wanted to have a very intimate approach of what she thought about the book,” Celis said.

Celis added: “She gave me the notes which were like 20 pages, and I then realized that she really connected with the material and we were like, okay, maybe we’ll ask if she would try to jump to narrative because we had never talked about it. So I was very nervous that she would say no, and she said yes!”

“What I loved about this book is that it talks in a very beautiful way about how three girls grow together in a very difficult place. And it shows and portrays how difficult is to be a woman in Mexico,” Celis said.

Watch the rest of Steve Pond’s interview in the embed above.