There is a hot new destination film festival on the circuit. Taking place within the archaeological paradise on the eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, the first edition of the Riviera Maya Film Festival kicked off March 20th and concluded just yesterday, March 25. Over the six days, 70 feature films were presented in four exotic venues in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo; open-air screenings on the white sand of Cancun, amid the mystical scenery of Tulum, Cozumel, Holbox, and its main venue in Playa Del Carmen. If the enviable Mexican Caribbean picturesque photos and film buzz is any indicator, it looks and sounds like it was stellar success.
When I browsed the program on the cleanly no- cap designed website, I was really impressed by the quality of the Mexican films (by far the best selection I’ve seen put together in a while,) as well as the glitzy galas and the Planetario section, dedicated to globally conscious, environmental films. Over half of the program were Mexico premieres, and it included cinephilic treats like This is Not A Film by Jafar Panahi, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Deseo, Wim Wenders’ Pina, as well as high profile genre film, the new Clive Owen starrer Intruders by Goya winning director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later, Intact).
Given the remarkable programming, I wasn’t surprised then to find out that none other than Michel Lipkes was responsible as the Director of Programming. Lipkes is an excellent tastemaker/programmer/filmmaker. He use to Program FICCO for years, he made a solid directing debut with the b/w minimal existential odyssey, Malaventura (Morelia FF, Rotterdam FF). His production company Axolote Cine has generated Mexican independent films that play festivals worldwide. He also runs Mexico City’s Cineteca, a type of Lincoln Film Society. The director of The Riviera Maya Film Festival is Paula Chaurand who has worked as editor of Quintana Roo cultural magazine La Tempestad. Chaurand talks about making RMFF an ‘inclusive festival, the objective being that it is for the local population which is young under 40 crowd. Every screening at the festival is free and open to the public.
So how do you get high profile talent, build out screenings in breathtaking landscapes and be able to offer half a million in cash prizes? Sponsorship. I’m always curious about festival sponsors and here the usual suspects are involved; Conaculta via IMCINE and Cinepolis, the biggest theater chain in Mexico. Just like the film industry, its federal funded. What’s distinct here however is the tremendous support of the state tourism boards. Chaurand attributes the healthy budget of the festival to the governor of Quintana Roo, Roberto Angulo. The cinematic initiative is part of his bigger vision to establish and incorporate a healthy film hub to add to the robust tourism trade.
Along with A-list actor Clive Owen, the festival’s guests of honor included Ethan Hawke (not sure why but he’s still sexy), Mary Harron, Pilar López de Ayala, Matheiu Demy and Daniel Nettheim (The Hunter). The all male jury of the Mexican Competition dubbed Plataforma consisted of Diego Lerer, a film critic and writer from Buenos Aires, Eugenio Polgovsky, Mexican documentarian, and Sandino Saravia, Uruguayan producer. From the 11 titles in Mexican competition (6 fiction, 5 doc) they bestowed the Premio Kukulkaan which comes with a rich cash prize of roughly 100k USD, to documentary Cuates De Australia (Drought) by Everardo Gout which recently won at FICG , and Matias Meyer for Los Ultimos Cristeros (2011 Toronto Film Festival). The Jurado Joven award, given by a group of university students chose to recognize Jose Alvarez’s gorgeous Totonacas documentary portrait, Canicula.
On top of the stellar films, the Riviera Maya Film Festival has ambitiously tackled a mini-market by establishing the Riviera Lab, a boutique co-production market and work in progress showcase. 10 projects in the co-production market and 8 films from the works in progress.
The three projects awarded 200,000 MX pesos (20k USD):
Reimon by Rodrigo Moreno (El Custodio) from Argentina/Colombia
Tormentero by Ruben Imaz (Familia Tortuga) from Mexico
Nueva Espana, Raya Martin from the Phillipines
While Tanta Agua a film from Uruguay/Ecuador written and directed by Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge Romero won the works in progress section, on top of the 200,000 MX (Basically 20k) pesos another 46,000 USD in post production services.
Other notable participants in the Riviera Lab include Julio Hernandez Cordon (Marimbas del Infiero), Enrique Rivero (whose 2008 Parque Via is a favorite of mine), Yulene Olaizola (Las Intimidades de Shakespeare, Paraisos Artificiales) who has Fogo in post, and Laura Amelia Guzman (Jean Gentil, Cochochi) who’s latched on as producer to Gabriel Nuncio, a Canana producer turned directing with the film Cumbres in post. One participant I’m personally eager and curious to track is Arami Ullon from Paraguay (18 1/2 cigarettes) who had a project in the co-production, El Tiempo Nublado.