Morelia Film Festival unveils most impressive Mexican Competition yet

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Designed by Rodrigo Toledo based on Michoacana by Jesús de la Helguera

The 11th edition of the Morelia Film Festival (FICM) which will take place in Morelia, Michoacan October 18-27, announced its raison d’être  Mexican competition of 88 films consisting of 11 narrative features, 23 documentaries, 43 short films and finally 11 films in their Michoacan section, in which for the first time in its 11 years a feature narrative will compete.

Further proof the festival is at the fore of social media muscle and hipness, (FICM boasts the 2nd most followers on Twitter out of all international film festivals, second only to Sundance), FICM organized a Google Hangout to discuss the lineup announcement, forgoing the boring, stuffy press conferences that typically accompany festivals’ film announcements.    You can watch it here.   Festival Director Daniela Michel, Producer & Programmer (and film producer) Daniela Alatorre and Festival Advisor/Soulful spirit (and also a filmmaker) Alejandro Lubezki were onhand looking and sounding their ever poised, smart, warm, enthusiastic, professional selves.  The team underscored their deep appreciation and privilege of getting to know their beautifully rich and profound country via the images and stories of the filmmakers over the course of the festival’s history.  Coining this year’s edition as the “First year of the Second Decade”, Daniela Michel exudes a reinvigorated energy as she and her esteemed partners forge ahead in producing the most renowned, anticipated and beloved film festival in Mexico.

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Founding Festival Director, Daniela Michel

Since the program’s inception in 2007 (the festival did not include a narrative feature competition until four years after the festival launched in 2003), the Official Narrative Competition was exclusive to 1st or 2nd time filmmakers.  This year FICM opened it up, making room for such international superstars as Fernando Eimbcke and Michel Franco.   There are brand spanking new titles yet to premiere anywhere else like Paraiso by Mariana Chenillo, A Los Ojos by Michel Franco, and Manto Acuifero by Michael Rowe.  However, it’s hard to say if they will still be world premieres upon their Mexico bow in October since San Sebastian and Toronto are still unrolling their program selections.

Here’s a closer look at each of the 11 narrative features in competition

jaulaFrom this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard, La Jaula de Oro by Diego Quemada-Diez, a startlingly authentic portrait of Guatemalan migrant youths traveling by “La Bestia, or Beast, what they call the dangerous train on which thousands hitch a ride on at their own peril.  A first feature by the Barcelona born filmmaker who has accumulated a host of experience with varying camera operator credits on Hollywood films and has notably worked with Ken Loach.  The film was called the unglamorous non-Hollywood version of Sin Nombre.

img_15949The Empty Hours/Las Horas Muertas is Aaron Fernandez’s second film after 2007’s Partes Usadas.  It was in San Sebastian’s treasure trove Works in Progress last year and is world premiering in this year’s New Directors competition. Shot in Veracruz, its about a 17 year old who has to caretake his uncle’s motel on a remote stretch of tropical coast.

Last year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard winner and Mexican entry to the Oscars was Despues Lucia by Michel Franco.  Apparently he had been working on A Los Ojos before then and it was actually tipped for this year’s Cannes per IonCinema.  Oaxacan actress Monica Del Carmen who gave a fiercely intense and breakthrough performance in Michael Rowe’s Leap Year stars.  Michel’s sister Vicky Franco co-directs.

64121_176095105896167_1265303641_nThe idiosyncratic titled, Amazing Catfish, Los Insolitos Peces Gatos by Claudia Saint Luce is a first feature and only one of two female directed films (not counting Vicky Franco) out of eleven.  A n unexpectedly heart tugging film about a solitary twentysomething who becomes inadavertently folded into a dysfunctional family household run amok by the single mother’s worsening health, she becomes an indispensable honorary family member which ensues with the typical sibling rivalry.  The film is world premiering at this  year’s Locarno film festival and according to sales agent Pyramide’s website, it will also screen at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival even though it is not announced on TIFF’s website yet.  Claudia is for sure a talent to watch!

mari-pepaSomos Mari Pepa which just had its world premiere at the Guanajuato Film Festival is drawn from the short film, Mari Pepa which endeared audiences all over the world and won Morelia in 2010.  An unassuming, empathetic, immediate yet nostalgic portrait of youth as they finish their last year of high school, having to grapple with the gravity of what to do for the rest of their lives. Another  discovery to look out for as this first feature is certain to launch the talented filmmaker’s career.

5.LaVidaDespues-LIfeAfterLa Vida Despues/Life After is from David Pablos, an alumni from the thriving film school CCC, Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica and he is currently finishing up at Colombia NYC film school.  He co-wrote SKIN a mesmerizing short film which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, directed by Jordana Spiro.  The Life After  which will have its world premiere at the prestigious Venice Film Festival before its FICM premiere, is about two teenage boys who embark on a road trip in search for thier mother who disappears leaving nothing but a mysterious note.  Pablos’ previous film was the 2010 documentary Una Frontera, Todas Las Fronteras which premiered at world’s greatest doc festival IDFA in Amsterdam.  His short film, La Cancion de los Ninos Muertos played the Morelia Film Festival in 2008 and went on to win the Ariel Award in 2010.  You can watch it here

Workers played the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section and was notably in competition at the LA Film Festival by Jose Luis Valle. The film has a tinge of black humor in portraying a maid and a janitor who expect a retirement pension after decades of devoted service, only to take things in their own hands when they get shafted.  Like David Pablos, this is Jose Luis Valle’s first dramatic feature having first made a a documentary feature.  The Salvador born filmmaker who attended the most famous and oldest film school in Mexico city, UNAM’s  Centro de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC),  caught the attention of several Mexican festivals with El Milagro de Papa, a documentary he made when he read in the newspaper about a Zacatecas boy whose Leukemia was ‘cured’ by a visit from Pope John Paul II.

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The addition of feature length film Enero by  Adrián González Camargo gives FICM lots of personal pride since for years they’ve made grand efforts to strengthen Michoacan produced films by having a competitive Michoacan film category, resulting in today’s thriving filmmaking scene.  Adrian is not only an alumni and collaborator of the festival but he also run a series of indigenous film screenings in the Michocan area.  He will be attending CSU Northridge on a Fulbright scholarship this year.  The film sounds like a dark, on the run thriller about a man who kills his wife and hits the road with his lover, only to find that their own happiness together might not be their destination after all.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 4.42.24 PMFrom Camera d’Or winner for 2011’s Leap Year,  Michael Rowe, the Australian born Mexico based filmmaker is back with his second feature, Manto Acuifero/The Well.  Shot in Puebla.  The film is about an 8 year old girl who longs for her father to return even though her mom has moved in with another man.  A well in the backyard of their house becomes a secret place that inspires her imagination.   The Well is one of two films produced by Canana in this competition.  Rowe has already secured funding for his third film, Rest Home which will be his first film in English

Penumbra – Shot on 16 mm this film premiered at the Rotterdam film festival and is currently making the international festival circuit tour including Edinburgh Film Festival.  Eduardo Villanueva’s previous film was the trippy, wildly intriguing and strikingly shot German/Mexican film Trip To Tulum.

club-sandwich Fernando Eimbcke is back with his third feature.  He made a big splash back in 2004 with his first feature, Duck Season, a jewel discovered in the 2004 Guadalajara Film Festival went on to play Cannes’ Critics Week, won AFI’s grand jury prize and won the Ariel for Best film.  His followup was in 2008 Lake Tahoe, a script developed at the Sundance Institute Screenwriters lab and which film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the Fipresci Prize.  Club Sandwich is only described as the growing pains relationship between a mother and her teenaged son.  It is set to world premiere in competiton at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 4.44.01 PMAnd last but certainly not least, I’m super excited for Mariana Chenillo’s sophmore feature, PARAISO.  Chenillo won the Audience Award at FICM 2008 with her beautifully dramatic and humorously pitched film, 5 Days Without Nora. It went on to be a hit at many international festivals and won Best film at the 2010 Ariel Awards (Mexico’s top film honors).  The film is about an overweight couple who move to Mexico City where they immediately feel the social pressure of being overweight surrounded by beautiful people. When they decide to jointly go on a diet, their relationship is put to the test when one of them successfully makes progress while the other continues to struggle. Produced by Canana’s Pablo Cruz.

Below is the list recapped with International Sales Agent info.

*Denotes first feature (Opera Prima)

Sección de Largometraje Mexicano

1. A los ojos. Michel y Victoria Franco
2. Club Sándwich. Fernando Eimbcke  (Funny Balloons)
3. Las horas muertas. Aarón Fernández (Urban Distribution International)
*4. Los insólitos peces gato. Claudia Sainte-Luce  (Pyramide)
*5. La jaula de oro. Diego Quemada-Diez  (Films Boutique)
6. Manto Acuífero. Michael Rowe  (Mundial)
7. Paraíso. Mariana Chenillo   (Mundial)
8. Penumbra. Eduardo Villanueva
*9. Somos Mari Pepa. Samuel Kishi Leopo  (Figa Films)
10. La vida después David Pablos
11. Workers José Luis Valle  (MPM Film)

Not to ignore the bread and butter of the festival, the docs and shorts – I’ll get to them in a later post.  In the meantime, to see the rest of the competition titles click here.

Viva Cine!  Viva @FICM!

TRAILER WATCH: Mexican film, HELI by Amat Escalante

Amat Escalante is now three for three as he will be taking his third film, HELI to next week’s Cannes, but this is his first time in Official Competition.  The screenplay for Heli was developed at the Sundance Screenwriters lab 2010 where it won the NHK Filmmaker Award.  At that stage the logline was described: “In a small Mexican town, where most citizens work for an automobile assembly plant or the local drug cartel, Heli is confronted with police corruption, drug trafficking, sexual exploitation, love, guilt and revenge in the search for his father who has mysteriously disappeared.”  Escalante is a Carlos Reygadas protege of sorts, he worked as Assistant Director on Battle of Heaven and they are boutique powerhouse collective through producer, Jaime Romandia’s Mantarraya Films.  A die hard, impactful formalistic filmmaker, the weight of his films comes from audaciously rigid framing, startling compositions, and magnetic usually non pro actor performances.

Mexi-Cannes pt. Deux, er Dos

Today’s kind of a big deal as the royal highness of world cinema, Festival de Cannes announced their Official Competition and Un Certain Regard film lineups.  At the press conference Director General, Theirry Fremaux shared that 1850 feature films were submitted to this edition. Parallel sections, Critics Week and Directors Fortnight are yet to be announced.   A through and through competition of auteurs, once in a while, the more relevant Official and Regard programs takes a chance on a well connected newbie.  About Mexico, Fremaux said, “We are very glad to go on attracting and welcoming this country which has a strong revitalized cinematography”.  And representing Mexico (South & Central America shut out so far):

Amat Escalante – a young yet old soul maestro of impactful formalism

Amat Escalante is now three for three as he will be taking his third film, HELI to La Croisette, but this is his first time in Official Competition. Los Bastardos and Sangre screened in Un Certain Regard.  The screenplay for Heli was developed at the Sundance Screenwriters lab 2010 where it won the NHK Filmmaker Award.  At that stage the logline was described: “In a small Mexican town, where most citizens work for an automobile assembly plant or the local drug cartel, Heli is confronted with police corruption, drug trafficking, sexual exploitation, love, guilt and revenge in the search for his father who has mysteriously disappeared.”  A die hard and impactful formalistic filmmaker, the weight of his films comes from framing, compositions and magnetic usually non pro actor performances.

Rodolfo Domínguez aboard “La Bestia” Foto Moysés Zúñiga Santiago

La Jaula de Oro (refers to a popular Los Tigres del Norte song about a family who crosses over to the states only to feel ‘trapped in the golden cage) directed by Spanish filmmaker Diego Quemada Diez is screening in Un Certain Regard.  Quemada Diez is an AFI grad who has worked as camera assistant/operator with Cannes alums Ken Loach, Oliver Stone, Isabel Coixet, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Spike Lee and Fernando Meirelles.  This first feature project was developed at Cannes incubators L’Atelier and Cinefondation residence.  Quemada Diez has spent ten years in Mexico and this story is described as a visceral migration story from Guatemala towards the United States.  That it is shot in Panoramic (2:40) format will no doubt heighten the cinematic odyssey.  Notably the filmmaker used over 600 real life undocumented immigrants to personify the story.  A Machete production (Leap Year, Cannes 2010).

And in the CineFondation section – a program created in 1998 to inspire and support the next generation of international filmmakers, the short film program will feature Alejandro Iglesias Mendizábal (Abracadabra) with the wicked Grimm Bros sounding title, Contrafabula de una Nina Disecada (Fable of a Blood-Drained girl).  A graduate of the CCC film school (think UCLA or NYU for film in Mexico City).  The short film screened at last fall’s Morelia Film Festival – furthering the Morelia – Cannes relationship. Check out the FILM trailer below.  And I take back my previous comment of the shut out of South America; this film school slate includes the short films, Asuncion by Camila Luna Toledo from Chile, and Mañana Todas Las Cosas by Sebastian Schjaer from Argentina.

A couple other interesting observations is that Valeria Golino, the sultry Italian Greek goddess of such classic films like Rain Main (and Hot Shots pt. Deux) is making her feature directorial debut with Miele (honey).  Sofia Coppola is also three for three with her Bev Hills cat burglar themed movie, The Bling Ring.

All in all I feel it’s the usual elitist exclusive Cannes society club with new films by regulars Takashi Miike, Johnnie To, Paolo Sorrentino, Hirokazu Kore-eda and the Coen brothers.  I can’t say the list on the whole excites me.  I have never had the opportunity to go to Cannes so by the time I see the films, the hype that accompanies their bow is all but gone.  However I am looking forward to seeing Nicolas Wending Refn’s latest, Only God Forgives.  I’ve loved him since the pugilistic criminally twisted Bronson where I first met and fell in love with the brawny but sensitive Tom Hardy (who played Bane in Dark Knight Rises)  I also enjoyed the oddly toned Drive with Ryan Gosling with whom he teams up with again here.  As if there was any doubt that Polanski is safely ensconced and a respected member of the international arthouse club, he has two films showing; Venus in Fur in Official Competition, and Weekend of A Champion, a documentary about Formula 1 race car driver icon Jackie Stewart which Brett Ratner has picked up for distribution.  It’s almost as if Ratner knew the aristocratic vintage Monte Carlo Grand Prix slice of history would tickle the french folks nostalgia they couldn’t help but to special screen it and give him a chance to rub on some high brow.

SNL has a five time member club.  Gimmie a hot sec to google which one of these folks on the list have been to Cannes the most…….update:  So far, The Coen brothers take the honors with their latest Inside Llewyn Davis marking their 8th appearance, and Johnnie To is close behind as his Blind Detective will mark his 6th time at Cannes.