Lining up financing is part of the challenge. Though "Pan's Labyrinth," "Babel" and "Children of Men" were made by Mexican filmmakers, only "Babel" had any investment from Mexico. "Pan's Labyrinth," which is Mexico's official Oscar foreign-language entry, was shot in Spain and largely financed by a Spanish television network, Telecinco.
Mexican investors seem disinclined to gamble on moviemaking. Gabriel Beristain, a cinematographer who has worked on a range of films including "Dolores Claiborne" and "The Ring Two," had hoped to start a privately owned, state-of-the-art studio in Mexico to re-energize production.
In 1999, through a former schoolmate, then-President Ernesto Zedillo, Beristain met Carlos Slim, owner of Mexico's telephone monopoly and, according to Forbes magazine, the world's third-richest man.
They drove to a vacant lot owned by Slim on the outskirts of the capital to discuss Beristain's plan. Slim listened and then, as Beristain tells it, asked him a simple question: "He said, 'Mr. Beristain, do you have any money?' And I said, 'No, Mr. Slim, not even half a cent. But I do have the know-how and the will.' And he said, 'Yes, but do you have any money, Mr. Beristain?' And that was the last time I heard from him."
Beristain closed his Mexican production company in 2001 and settled permanently in Los Angeles. He is now planning to direct a movie about Tina Modotti, an Italian photographer who lived in Mexico during the 1920s, that will be financed by Mark Cuban's 29/29 Productions.
Slim declined to be interviewed.
Filmmakers in Mexico's trenches are hoping that a tax incentive passed last year by Mexico's Congress will help spur private investment in film production. The incentive would allow individuals or corporations to allocate as much as 10% of their federal tax payments to a national filmmaking fund.
There appears to be some interest from such companies as Grupo Salinas, a media and telephone conglomerate; Corporacion Moctezuma, the dominant beer maker; and retail giant Liverpool. Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has been advising individuals and corporations on the law, which will take effect in March.
But it remains to be seen whether other crucial pieces fall into place. "The real proof will be in good movies," said Mariano Teran, senior tax manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Mexico. "Filmmakers have to understand this is not a gift from the government but that they have to earn it."
How that will play out remains to be seen. Historically, Mexican filmmakers have relied almost exclusively on the government to fund their movies. This has led to cronyism and complacency, Cuaron said.
When Cuaron and Del Toro began their careers, they had to go outside of Mexico's film establishment to make their movies, in part because they had difficulty joining the Mexican film unions.
Del Toro, Gonzalez Inarritu and Cuaron are still outsiders: None has been invited to join Mexico's equivalent of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
"My generation and up was raised suckling from the PRI," said Cuaron, 44, referring to the political party that ruled Mexico for seven decades. He said the younger generation was cutting its ties, trying to copy the Hollywood model of financing.
For instance, the Rovzar brothers returned to Mexico in 2003 fresh from Boston University and the University of San Diego with a plan to make three to five movies a year. To make their movies, which cost $2 million to $3 million apiece, they receive 30% of their budget from the government film fund and the rest from investors.
Billy Rovzar said that after two profitable movies, investors were now coming to him. To make sure his movies are commercial, he has tried to make them as wide in their appeal as possible. He made sure "Kilometro 31" received the equivalent of a PG-13 rating rather than an R.
"An R rating would have cut our audience by a third," he said, noting that the movie, costing $3 million, has grossed $8 million after only three weeks in release. "You can push the envelope a little, but the more people see your movie, the more money you will make. Our goal is box-office entertainment, not art."
But making movies with wide appeal is not everyone's cup of tea. And even some who have made wildly popular films feel they need to leave in order to grow into great filmmakers.
It took directors Rodolfo and Gabriel Riva Palacio four years to find financing for their first animated feature, "Una Pelicula de Huevos." The film, about the adventures of a couple of eggs, plays on the double meaning of \o7huevos\f7, which in Spanish means "eggs" but also "testicles."