‘Elite’ Producer Zeta Studios Boards Julio Medem’s Drama Series ‘Jai Alai’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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Madrid-based Zeta Studios, producer of Netflix mega hit “Elite,” has boarded Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival honoree Julio Medem’s first foray into television, “Jai Alai.” It joins L.A. and Mexico City-based Panamericana Pictures, led by Mexican producer Eva Ruiz de Chavez, who had developed the show with Medem.

Expressing excitement at their first project with Zeta Studios, Ruiz de Chávez said: “It is becoming an international multi-language project just as Julio and I envisioned from the beginning.” “[Zeta Studios CEO] Antonio Asensio has been the perfect partner and I know this will be the beginning of many projects between Zeta and Panamericana Pictures.”

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“ ‘Jai Alai’ is a great international production that comes to us through our co-producer, Panamericana, with whom we are very happy to work with hand in hand,” said Asensio, who added: “It is the first series that Julio Medem will address as a screenwriter and director, whose work and career we greatly admire.”

Asensio said that a pilot episode and a plot map have already been written and that they are in the process of development and financing. “In the current process of the project there is not yet a defined cast, but we can confirm that the cast will be international and will be made up of Spanish, Latin and North American actors,” he explained, adding that locations were yet to be determined but some filming would clearly take place in Miami. Principal photography of the 10-episode series is targeted for either late next year or in 2023, said Ruiz de Chavez. “I sit with the excitement of a pelotari [pelota player] about to go out to play,” said Medem.

The Basque filmmaker, who is also set to host a Masterclass at the fest, first shot to acclaim with his debut feature “Vacas” in 1992, which earned him a best new director Spanish Goya award. He has since helmed the 1998 drama “Lovers of the Arctic Circle,” the 2015 drama “Ma Ma,” starring Penelope Cruz, and 2001 erotic drama “Sex and Lucia,” which topped the box office in Spain.

Structured as a U.S.-Mexico-Spain co-production, “Jai-Alai” was one of the four TV projects selected for pitching at the Gabriel Figueroa TV development award sidebar at Mexico’s Los Cabos Intl. Film Festival in 2017.

Jai Alai - Credit: Courtesy of Panamericana Pictures
Jai Alai - Credit: Courtesy of Panamericana Pictures

Courtesy of Panamericana Pictures

“I’ve been incubating this ‘Jai Alai’ project for years, it bears a lot of me, from inside and out, like those Basque pelotaris who came to play in America, and who witnessed the sport grow in size in Miami during the ’70s and ’80s when it turned into the sport with the highest volume of bets in the world,” said Medem, who has made a short and a documentary about the sport.

Based on an original idea by Medem and Ruiz de Chávez, the series will span three decades, kicking off in the ’70s when the Basque ball game became one of the most lucrative sports in the U.S. and particularly in Miami, where cocaine dealers laundered their ill-gotten gains, until its decline in the ’80s and its end in the ’90s.

Taking some inspirational cues from “The Godfather,” “Jai Alai” begins with Xalba, the patriarch of a pelotari dynasty who becomes increasingly involved with the money laundering and cartel wars of the ’70s. His son Ategi, the best pelotari in the world, becomes reluctantly involved in his father’s criminal organization.

“’Jai Alai’ is a mix of genres: on the one hand, it’s about the tumultuous relationship between a father and a son, both pelotaris, a story of love and death that spans the story from beginning to end,” said Medem, adding: “It also covers the wars between the Mafias, the Irish from Boston and the Colombian drug traffickers, who fight to take control of the frontons [a pelota court], all combined with the vibrant spectacle of Jai Alai, which features the fastest ball in sports at more than 187 miles per hour while the pelotaris run, step on the wall, and dance.”

The show will also present a mix of cultures, characters, and languages: Basque, Spanish and English, he pointed out.

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