Guadalajara International Film Festival – Recap

The  27th Guadalajara International Film Festival, FICG27 drew to a close last Saturday, March 10.  The biggest and oldest festival in Mexico with the most important Latin market (Argentina’s Ventana Sur might steal that rank soon though) included over 1000 titles in its video library, 30 young filmmakers in the Talent Campus,  and an expansive film program with over 300 films.  At a festival this overwhelming, they key to navigate it is strategy.  This was the second year under Festival Director Ivan Trujillo’s belt.  Unfortunately the Mexican narrative feature competition remains pretty weak save for a couple out of the 13 films.  The jury awards announced on Sunday declared Best Mexican Feature to Mariachi Gringo by Tom Gustfson and Best Mexican Documentary went to Cuates de Australia by Everardo Gonzalez.  The awards doled out were many many more.  For the full list click here.

I wasn’t at the awards ceremony where I might have been able to hear the Mexican feature jury who consisted of Osvaldo Montes, músico (Argentina); Christian Dimitriu, director de archivo (Argentina); Paulo Antonio Paranaguá, periodista (Brasil); Reynaldo González, escritor (Cuba); y Mane Cisneros, directora del Festival de Cine Africano de Tarifa (Spain), to deliver their statement.  No matter, because I am at a puzzled loss over their choice of Mariachi Gringo, a poorly scripted, highly commercial novella at best.  I would maybe expect it as garnering an Audience Award given Lila Down’s featured role.  But even the Audience displayed better taste and their affection for genre, as it went to El Espacio Interior, or as I’ve heard people call it the Mexican 127 Hours, starring Kuno Becker in a surprisingly most solid performance to date.  I find it incredible that La Demora, got nothing.  Un Mundo Secreto also got an Audience Award.  I am happy about documentary Cuates de Australia by Everardo González as best documentary, which Robert Koehler totally called out before I left as his favorite.  It surely must have been the toughest jury deliberation –  (Humberto Ríos, documentalista (Argentina); Giuliano Salvatore, filmmaker (Venezuela) and Pituka Ortega, filmmaker and Associate Director, Festival de Cine de Panama, becauseMexican documentaries are where its at.

I got in on the first Friday of the festival, March 2 and checked in at the swanky Camino Real across from the Expo, the hub of market activity.  As a big fan of the Festival’s beautiful artwork, I immediately bought some merchandise.  I meant to inquire about the poster contest they have each year which gives them an edge in that arena.  I ran into some new friends from the Monterrey Film Festival and decided to join them for Mis Memorias de Mis Putas Tristes, a Marquez adaptation by Henning Carlsen which was fitting given the author’s anniversary that weekend.  A coughing fit prevented me from watching it through and through but what I did see was not enough to place this newest adaptation apart from the hundreds of other stiff attempts.  I did the right thing and stayed in the first two nights so I missed The Opening night,which was oddly on the second night of the festival.  The film was Another Year, I guess because Mike Leigh was a guest of honor, along with the dapper Cubano Americano Andy Garcia, and Mexican filmmaker Gabriel Retes.  The festival’s country spotlight and guest was the UK, a rather strange programming choice, if you ask me.  Although to be fair, they did have a spotlight (not as well lit) on Ecuador.  Among the 6 films,  Sebastian Cordero’s Pescador, a Sundance supported film but not among them surprisingly was this great Ecuador film I recently saw called Porcelain Horse.  I did however see it in the concurrently running Miami International Film Festival so kudos to them for grabbing it. Looking at the thick FICG27 catalogue, there are some really random programming sidebars like one simply entitled, Melodrama.  There was not too much US fare but they did well in screening Without by Mark Jackson who I just learned use to live in Mexico City and is a considered an honorary “Chilango”.  The other US film that seemed to come out of nowhere was a film by Matthew Modine called, Jesus was a Commie.  Has anyone heard of this?

On Saturday March 3 I took part in a panel for the Guadalajara Talent Campus.  The subject was how to use social media to help your distribution but it was incongruently called, Stories on Everyone’s Lips.  My pal Sydney Levine and Peter Belsito were there to support and agreed it was lacking focus and was partly hijacked by the boys.  Although I’m no expert, I drew from my colleagues and resources like Sundance Artist Services Page, The Film Collaborative and Ted Hope’s Hope For Film to tell the kids that if they make their own noise and connect with their audience, all these alternative models will come to them.

The problem with traveling to festivals shortly after Sundance, is that you will run into people who are quick to point out that you, as in the entity known as Sundance, rejected their film.  Although as a Programming Associate I am not on the hook because I do not actually make the selection, I naturally try to diffuse their acrimony.  I ask which film, if I saw it, I let them know what I liked about it and console them in that there were so many good films we lost out.  That tends to work.  But given this year Sundance that did not select one single film from Mexico, be it narrative, documentary or short, it was a little tricky.  It hasn’t been that great a year for feature fiction, documentaries tend to be more ethnographic and regional, and shorts selected are 86 out of 6000 submissions.

with Anne Hoyt and Mike Leigh

Sunday night’s Industry cocktail was like many of the festival’s fiestas, far from the Expo, about a 20 minute festival transpo ride, but a chance to catch up with familiar faces.  After some good schmoozing and saying hello to Canana Director of Distribution Cristina Garza and CEO Julian Levin,. I linked up with frequent Morelia Film Festival guest and partner in crime Anne Wakefield Hoyt, veteran journalist based in D.C. who was there on the FIPRESCI jury. We walked over to the British Film Institute cocktail which was by far the most fancy affair of my festival.  It was  in a gorgeously handsome diplomatic building on the rooftop which had a magical view of the whole city and the remarkable cathedral skyline all lit up, with a beautiful starry night in background to boot.  Anne scored her interview with Mike Leigh and I got a chance to kiss him and tell him Secrets & Lies is my favorite.

The next couple days I did speed dating with the Talent Campus kids where I heard pitches for projects, both narrative and documentary that needed co-production partners or financing.  I could offer neither but was able to connect a few to Sundance Institute and suggest other development workshops.  It’s inspiring to hear the passion pour out of them and their connection to the projects is often quite personal.  One of the filmmaking teams I met was awarded the $150,000 in finishing funds.  Their project is a narrative called UIO, a film from Ecuador by Micaela Rueda that features a coming of age, lesbian romance.  A documentary that piqued my interest is a miner documentary in Bolivia in which the miners give sacrifices to gods in exchange for letting them come out alive every day.  The 1 minute trailer transmitted the spooky and eerie depths of the film, its called the Night Inside of Us.

I squeezed as many movies I could at the video library.  Still I did not get a chance to see many documentaries that came highly recommended from sources I trust, like El Lugar Lejano, El Paciente Interno, and Juan Carlos Rulfo’s new documentary, Carrière, 250 metros.

Part 2

The only good thing about the usually happening Mexican Fiesta on Monday night was that I was introduced to Mexico’s salt of the earth, uber prolific and talented actor Damián Alcázar.  I think I had about five seconds to try to sustain his interest before some pretty young things approached him and cut short my dream of a May December romance.  Instead I made my way to the dance floor and joined Sundance fest vet, Nicole Guillemet, Christine Tröstrum from Berlinale Talent Campus,  and Hebe Tabachnik of LA and Palm Springs Film Festivals.  Once again at the end of the night I made sure to link up with a juror to ensure a ride back to the Expo – a strategic tool I’ve picked up knowing full well that jury never gets left behind by festivals.

Tuesday evening I accompanied mis amigas, Animal Politico journalist, Mariana Linares and documentary film and Morelia Film Festival producer, Daniela Alatorre, to see Chalán by Jorge Michel Grau (Somos Lo Que Hay).  I had no idea it was actually a one-hour and a groundbreaking recent collaboration of Channel 22, a ten year old broadcaster, and IMCINE, in an effort to supply contemporary and original content on public broadcast. Unlike US cable successes like HBO and Showtime, Mexico does not have an equivalent.  The testosterone battle of wits and blackmail between a corrupt congressman and his Go-fer (that’s what Chalán means) go head to toe in this dark yet oddly flippant film (Like El Infierno and other narcocomedies, the heightened cinematic portrayal of corruption in Mexico is not that exaggerated or far from the dire reality, making it an uncomfortable paradox).  The only females pictured here are the secretary, and the politician’s battered mistress who we never get to see (just sayin).

After the film, we headed out to a delicious dinner accompanied by Mariana’s erudite and genial father,  Marco Julio Linares who heads Eficine, the big fiscal film producer tax incentive, Article 226,  and Víctor Ugalde, filmmaker and president of Sociedad Mexicana de Directores-Realizadores de Obras Audiovisuales, (similar to the DGA but not exactly).  Although that same night Guadalajara’s version of the Teddy Awards was going on complete with a drag queen beauty pageant, the award borrowed and cleverly inaugurated as Premios Maguey  (get it? Ma-gay), this impromptu dinner was so much more fun and special.  I sat back absorbing the stories by the two vets at the table.  At the same restaurant, I spotted independent producer, Jaime Romandia of Mantarraya Films, whose Post Tenebras Lux by Carlos Reygadas has the world salivating with anticipationHis joint distribution company with Reygadas NDM has picked up prestigious euro titles like Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse and Kaurismaki’s Le Havre for Mexico.  Later we had a couple tequilas with amiable and passionate filmmaker Leopoldo Gout, producer of last year’s out of competition Cannes film Dias De Gracia – an adrenaline fueled, gritty crime drama which you will hear more about soon as I hear it has been picked up for US distribution.

An especially good run in at the market was when I saw Rodrigo Guerrero of Dynamo Films and producer of festival favortie and critically acclaimed film Contracorriente (Undertow). One of the exciting projects he is working on is a website he’s branding Discover Film Talents, a site that is curated by both content and users and concept is where festival programmers can connect with works in progress films, and directors can connect with screenwriters.  He is currently developing it by partnering up with festival workshops and incubators like the Talent Campus.  I’m really excited about this as it would be a critical resource and tool to connect the global industry.

Wednesday I was conflicted because I wanted to continue to see the Works in Progress but also catch the Mexican State of Cinema and Television panels.  I did manage to catch the Chilean work in progress film by Che Sandoval, “You think you are the most talented but you are the biggest whore”.  A loose spinoff his earlier film which played the San Francisco International Film Festival last year, “You think you are the prettiest but you are the biggest whore”.  Obviously he’s matured just a bit.  The inconsequential but hilariously entertaining raunchy comedy is about a loser deadbeat who can’t deal with his responsibility as a husband and father.   Back to the panels I made sure to get the second annual publication that Imcine puts out, an extremely informative and in-depth annual study of the Mexican film industry.  It’s got tons of stats and figures and bars about 2011 production, exhibition and the digital future of Mexico’s audiovisual industry.  I highly recommend you take a look at the data available 2011 Mexican Film report.  Here are just a few interesting figures:

Total box office revenue 9,755 million pesos  (*562 screens)

Don Gato, the children’s animated film was the highest grossing Mexican film and placed 23 in general ranking

111 Mexican films produced in 2011

Total films released 321. Mexican films released 62.

82% produced with state support.

Documentary is on the rise as releases went up from 7 to 13 and attendance rose significantly.

Presunto Culpable is now the 3rd Mexican highest grossing film of all time. El Crimen de Padre Amaro in 2002 continues to be the highest grossing of all time followed by Y Tu Mama Tambien in 2001

*Mexico is currently the country with the most screens in Latin America and the best ratio of inhabitant per screen. Since 2001, the number of screens has increased steadily, at a rate of 9% a year, however, they are concentrated in a few cities; only an estimated 8% of municipalities have even one. About 58% of the national population lives in these cities, which means that 42% of Mexicans do not have access to a movie screen in their locality

~My last night happily coincided with IMCINE’s fiesta, which never fails to be the best dance party.  Before hitting up the party I headed to Un Mundo Secreto’s premiere party at this great local mezcaleria. I hung out with John Hopewell a Scottish expat who’s been living in Mexico for 15 years and writes for Variety, and his compadre and colleague, John Hecht. I found Carmen Ortega Casanovas, producer of  Juan Orol, Rey Del Churro in narrative competition, (based on the real life Orol, who is like the Roger Corman of Mexican B films), and we headed to the bash where we danced all night.  The perfect finish of the night was grabbing tacos and chelas with a group of talented, intelligent and fun girlfriends.

The next morning, just as I was leaving for the airport I saw none other than Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, three time presidential candidate and PRD moral leader, arrive at the hotel sans bodyguards (Read my review on the documentary about him, El Ingeniero here).  I said hello and told him how much I appreciated getting to know him through the documentary. He shook my hand and asked me where I was from, to which I responded; I’m a Chicana from Chicago.

Meet Gabriel Mariño – poetic filmmaker of Un Mundo Secreto

Gabriel Marino
 Yet another highlight of this year’s FICG27 Mexican feature competition is Un Mundo Secreto, a quiet but emotionally poignant  first feature by Gabriel Mariño.  Along with La Demora, it was one of the two films that represented Mexico at last month’s Berlinale – this one in the Generation section.  The film is a visceral coming of age tale of an isolated teenage girl who alienated at home and school, flees the city and embarks on a journey of self search.  It first garnered attention at last year’s San Sebastian film festival´s Films in Progress, the hotbed of latin america’s next best up and coming projects.  What makes the film stand out is a sensitive touch and lyrical tone, and the female lead’s vulnerability transmits the mysterious but unmistakable void and longing she feels, which in turn permeates the fabric of the film.  Privy to her secret world, that universal and primal desire for love and connection is beautifully captured and affecting.  Big congrats, and thanks to Gabriel for answering my questions below:
CD:  Were you always certain your lead was going to be a female protagonist?  I ask because in a way her gender informs a lot of the journey.   What was it like to write a teenaged girl character?   How did you work closely with your actress and producer in shaping the character?
GM: Well, I always knew since day one that my main character it was going to be a girl.  Why? All my fiction characters are always women, maybe that gives me more freedom to be sensible and emotional.  I think in this way I can make closer contact with my feelings.  Why not a boy?, I guess my therapist can answer that more accurate than me. I worked very closely with my actress.  I have known her since she was 11. We developed the film for about three years.  Actually I wrote the script especially for her, and with my producer Tatiana Graullera, we worked very closely as well, since day one she was there, she was, and still is, my compass.
CD:  Finding one self on a road trip tends to be a quintessential and rich story thematic.  In your opinion, what do you think it is about Mexico’s urban and rural landscape it provides?  How did it feed into that path of self-discovery for your character?
GM: Mexico is a very big and changing country, a generous and a sad land, sometimes we can spend years and years in the city without knowing Mexico, without paying a visit to your home land.  Mexico is having a brutal, social and political crisis right now.  The social tissue is not strong enough to support Mexican people and specially Mexican youth, but I strongly believe that the answer to that crisis lies inside the Mexicans, not in the government or the politics.  It lies in the people and the country itself, so it was important to portray this quest for self discovery in the frame of Mexico´s roads and landscapes.
CD:  The cinematography is supremely arresting and such a big part of expressing the insular world of the character  – what was your approach in painting the film in such a way?
GM:  We spent a lot of time my DP Iván Hernández and me thinking in how to shoot Un Mundo Secreto, and after studying still photos of Nan Goldin and paintings of Edward Hopper we found our answer. We wanted to shoot the film in not so many shots.  For me it was to look at this story as if through a window. I told Iván that I wanted to shoot with practical light, without any lightning.  He agreed and we did not have any light equipment with us during the shooting.
CD:  So now you just made your first feature film in Mexico.  To some extent you had the backing and support of your alma mater, the film school, CCC.  How challenging did you find it to make the film?  On what level and how crucial do government funded entities like IMCINE continue to support first time filmmakers?
GM:  Well, the project was supported by Sobrevivientes films since the beginning, and we applied for IMCINE funds several times in different stages of the project but we did not have luck there, so we decided to make the movie independent, the CCC supported with some postproduction process, and other production companies (Bambú Audiovisual, Transistor Films, Al fondo del Callejón) supported with camera equipment, sound and so on.  In 2010 we won the Swiss Fund for production Visions Sud Est and then the film was a reality.  After San Sebastián Films in Progress IMCINE decided to support the project with post production.
FICG27 screenings:
Wednesday Cineforo UdeG 4pm
Thursday at Cinépolis Centro Magno 7:40pm
Friday at Cinépolis Centro Magno 10:15pm
Like it on FB here and to stay tuned to hear where it will have its US Festival premiere!

Meet Rodrigo Plá – consummate director of La Demora

Rodrigo Plá

Wow.  Everyone is talking about La Demora down here in FICG27.  Fresh off its Berlin world premiere and jury win, the third film by Rodrigo Plá (Desierto Adentro, La Zona) is a masterful and moving piece about a struggling, single mother burdened by having to care for her aging Alzheimers-prone father, and who out of desperation attempts to find a way out.  The character-driven film is remarkable for its indelible performances and understated, moody and immersive atmosphere.  Rodrigo and his writer and partner Laura Santullo were so kind to respond to my questions, and in reading the responses below, it gives you an idea of the very thoughtful and deliberate approach in which the film was conceived, down to the very last detail. I’m thrilled to share with you the exclusive interview below.  I translated and edited Rodrigo’s answers into English as best I could.  Read the interview in full and in Spanish here.

CD: Congratulations on your world premiere in Berlin.  The Forum section in Berlin is supposedly where you find the most ‘daring films’.  Why do you think your film was selected in this section?

RP: I guess La Demora, although it’s a simple story, is relatively risky in its structure and form.  The plot is not shaped by the actions of one person who wishes something and makes a journey in search of that desire. It’s more like the narrative shows an irrational stall that interrupts and transforms a common and ordinary life.  Maybe that’s why the film is a two act story.  The idea was to avoid constructing a plot from the aspect of analyzing what happens. This effort is demonstrated from the script to the entire process in the creation of the film, and as a result there is a sobering, subtle way to guide the viewers’ emotions towards an unequivocal direction. We preferred to leave the character motivavtions much more subtle.  The construction does not emphasize the causes or consequences, because actually the act that is most important emerges from the character’s will.    For us La Demora is something of an experiment and perhaps that’s how the Forum programmers recognized it.

CD: The theme of taking care of our elderly is more and more relevant ( I also have a grandma in the same situation as Agustin), is this primarily what motivated you to tell this story?

RP: If there is anything sure in life its change.  In film we try to reflect with honesty what concerns us at every stage.  And nearing your 40s, your own mortality and that of your parents is naturally a big concern.  More specifically, with the film I wanted to capture two moments, that ‘impulsive’ act of the daughter, and second, the stubborn man who insists in waiting hours and hours, as if holding on to one last hope.

CD: The atmosphere is quite immersive, tell us about collaborating with your D.P. Maria Secco and your film score:

I try not to use concrete examples when going over process with my collaborators.  Eventually after talking it through there might be a reference, but the more abstract, the better.  My tools are the words and emotions, then whatever is is generated between what I think and what comes out of the script and the reinterpretation of what someone hears, given their cultural baggage and experience relative to it, that’s the creative act that forms the film.  This process has some risks because none of us have the exact science or formula.  You work with a lot of uncertainness, in constant doubt and regularly questioning yourself.  Maria Secco was key to the film.  She was there for location scouting to get to know the natural lighting of the sets and to shoot angles.  She used her imagination and made suggestions.  With such an inherently emotional story we wanted to avoid being melodramatic so we chose to use a camera approach that created some distance, that was a bit cold, which would contrast and result in some equilibrium.  We also chose to tell the whole story exclusively via the two characters, who would always be centered in the frame, leaving secondary characters in the margins.  It was decided that characters that only appeared once would even be only shown from their backs, or just a reflection or partly, or outright out of frame.  For the score we felt that we needed to balance out the camera’s approach and inversely, recoup that emotion from the script but again without overdoing it.  And for this approach Alejandro de Icaza was instrumental.  He practically subconsciously introduced sounds, a car alarm when she became agitated, the infuriating noise of construction work, the ambulance siren from a distance that comes with the arrival of caretakers who come to the rescue, and the signature music which reminds us over and over about the moment of abandonment.

CD:  Your actors, Carlos Vallarino and Roxana Blanco, are impressive and deliver such weight and naturalism to their roles, how did you find them and what kind of direction did you give them?

Roxana Blanco is an amazing actress well known in Uruguay and I was already familiar with her work.  Carlos Vallarino on the other hand is a retired architect and this is his first acting role.  I found him through a long casting process.  His ability to penetrate, to imagine and hold scenes, made him a fantastic and unexpected gift.  Both of them brought an immense sensibility to the roles.   Roxana’s precise methodology collided against the imperfect and lax approach of Carlos, all of which generated an energy and chemistry to the character’s internal crisis.  She would tense up against his dialogue or gestures and appear to be obligated to stay lucid and ready to adapt to any unexpected changes he might deliver. And Carlos would take on a sense of blame or fault, which in turn, to a certain extent, affected his confidence and made him feel he was indeed a burden. Oddly enough this created a relationship which was expected between father and daughter.  There was improvisation which wasn’t laid out in the script, and lots of on -ocation set rehearsals.  The actors would adapt to the space and learn how to relate to one another, and simultaneously we had the opportunity to recreate said space according to any needs that would arise. .

CD: The title, La Demora is translated as The Delay, do you think there is anything lost in translation?  I feel that the title’s meaning transforms itself organically over the course of the film – the delay can be taken as her hesitation to run away from her problem (her dad) but it also in the end works very casually as if is was some traffic jam that prevented her from going back to him.

RP:  It was in the moment that I came to the decision to use title towards the end, by placing it in the end, the story comes full circle and serves something like an epilogue.  In a way it synthesizes and breathes air into the drama and journey of the characters. What happened was only a delay, a momentary detour on the way to her natural and final destination. It is a bit like a game as if to say that it’s not a big deal when in reality a lot has happened – she’s transformed and has had an arc, she’s not only a daughter but a daughter and mother to her father. 

Meet Jose Álvarez, the soulful filmmaker of Canícula

Top Doc Director, Jose Alvarez

Nothing beats the physical thrill of absorbing a high sensory image on the big screen, and in this past year’s Morelia Film Festival I had one of those unforgettable moments watching Canícula, a remarkably cinematic and revelatory documentary by Jose Álvarez about the Totonac people in Veracruz, Mexico.  My visual senses were so intensely activated by the rich photography its as if spillover stimulation tickled my sense of smell during a scene in which pristine vanilla bean trees are dazzlingly captured; I could almost smell the vanilla!   This fine mexican documentary is screening in next month’s Guadalajara Film Festival and mini-major doc fest True/False.  Check out the interview with the endearingly soulful filmmaker below.  Note:  Yours truly translated, but I’m also including  Jose’s unedited answers in Español because it sounds so much prettier!

CD: Tell us about the special meaning and significance of the word, Canícula  

The name of the documentary Canícula (Dog Days), has to do with the hottest 40 days that occurs in many parts of the world, in particular this zone in Ciudad Sagrada de El Tajín, Veracruz.  It coincides with a special season for the “Voladores” (or “Bird Men”), because it represents the time in which their fellow dead Voladores come down from the heavens.  For this reason they wear red Volador pants which symbolizes the blood and sacrifice, and ceremonially they ask the gods for rain, a bountiful harvest and health for their children and families.  As they spin and lower from the top of the pole circling around, they disperse prayers and blessings they’ve acquired from the heavens.  It may also represent the fire that comes from the sun, necessary to bake the mud and shape the clay of the beautiful ceramics the tribal women make.

~El nombre del documental Canícula (días de perros) tiene que ver con la época de los 40 días mas caluroso  que se viven en muchos lugares del mundo y en especial en esta zona de México, Ciudad Sagrada de El Tajín, Veracruz, esta época para los voladores representa el momento en el que bajan del cielo los voladores muertos, es la época del sol sangrante, por esa razón usan los voladores pantalones rojos haciendo referencia a este símbolo de sangre y sacrificio, a las peticiones que hacen a los dioses para que haya lluvia y fertilidad para sus cultivos,  salud para sus hijos y bienestar para sus familias.

Bajan desde la cima del palo volando y girando dispersando todas las bendiciones y favores a su pueblo que obtuvieron del cielo.  En algún lugar también representa al fuego que viene del sol que necesitan las alfareras para cristalizar el barro de sus piezas.

CD: Your documentaries spotlight the rich diversity of indigenous communities of Mexico (Flores En el Desierto).  On what social activist/awareness levels do you feel your films being out in the world, operate and give back to those communities.  And what expectations, if any, do these communities and people who agree to be in your films hold you to?

The people who see my films can easily engage with what they see as long as their hearts are open, they are willing to experience other human realities, and as long as they don’t reject different ways of life.  It’s the respect as well as the admiration of being able to witness original cultures like the Wixárikas or Totonacos maintaining their way of life, their faith, community, work, love, family and death.  Audiences can make a trip to lands far away yet be as close as we the filmmakers and be able to marvel at their millennial wisdom, a striking counter example for the otherwise chaotic times we are living.

The Flores En El Desierto documentary has proven to be of great help for the Wixárikas  (Huicholes) in regards to bringing awareness to their ongoing struggle they wage against the Canadian mining companies that come in and exploit their land, their center of sacrificial ceremony, and threaten ecological destruction as well as impose their imperial culture.  In my opinion, Los Totonacos like the Wixarikas have made these films.  We merely provide the instrument.   There are great producers and photogenic personalities in front of the camera.  I’ve always made the effort of making films as least intrusive as possible since I’m most interested in working FOR and WITH them.

~Las personas que ven mis películas se involucran de manera fácil con lo que ven en ellas si es que tienen abierto el corazón, si quieren ver estas realidades humanas, si no rechazan la existencia de otras formas de llevar la vida, el respeto, incluso la admiración por ver a culturas originales como la Wixárka (Flores en el desierto) o los Totonacos (Canícula) desenvolviéndose en sus vidas cotidianas, en su fe, en su comunidad, en el trabajo, en el amor, la familia o la muerte, los espectadores podrán hacer un viaje a tierras y formas muy lejanas para estar tan cerca de ellas como nosotros que las filmamos y maravillares con su sabiduría milenaria, ejemplo para nuestros tiempos de caos.

Por ejemplo, Flores en el desierto ha sido un documento de gran ayuda para los Wixárikas (huicholes) en esta lucha que mantienen contra las intensiones de explotación de mineras canadienses dentro de las tierras donde están sus centros ceremoniales sagrados que generarían destrucción ecológica y cultural absoluta. Tanto Los Totonacos como los Wixárikas han hecho estas películas, nosotros hemos sido meros instrumentos para que se realicen, son grandes productores, grandes y fotogénicos personajes frente a la cámara, siempre me he dispuesto a hacer películas poco intrusivas, me interesa trabajara para ellos y con ellos.

CD: Clearly the viewfinder has so much to do with not only the context but the experience of what you are showing us, the angles, the focus, closeups, etc. In a way your films demonstrate a unique transportive quality. How much do you think about where to place the camera  –  as it relates to the ‘outsider looking in’ to a world unfamiliar with the audience ?

The film’s cinematographers, Pedro González Rubio (Alamar), Fernanda Romandia (Flores en El Desierto) and Sebastian Hofmann(Viaje Redondo) were totally free to photograph this colorful and intense reality in order to relate the gaze of a young child as well as say an elderly woman, in essence, encompassing the spectrum of our human existence.

When it appears that the camera knocks and pries open the door into the soul, its simply because there is something there to share.  In the context of making films, not only does it provide an opportunity for the world to see them, but also an opportunity for their eyes to meet the world as well.

~Los fotógrafos Pedro González Rubio, Fernanda Romandía y Sebastian Hofmann han sido libres para retratar esta realidad tan colorida, tan intensa, para adivinar en esas miradas desde la de un pequeño niño hasta la de una mujer anciana, los rincones de la existencia humana.

Cuando parece que la cámara toca la puerta del alma y esta se abre, es simplemente porque algo quiere decir, porque en el contexto en el que hacemos estas películas les abre a ellos una oportunidad también no solo de que el mundo los vea a ellos si no de que ellos miren al mundo.

CD: Your films are not only impressive in the ethnographic/anthropological sense but the divine cinematography that allows one to be captivated by the mesmerizing beauty of nature, and the unwavering spirituality of the indigenous who persevere a sacred connection with it.  Is this conscious on your part as far as making the films cinematic form so elevated and visceral?

I’ve had a lot of luck finding these amazing cinematographers who bring a keen understanding and who have embraced an approach that seems to pinpoint this language, but also the paradises these cultures inhabit are so beautiful that it could possibly be enough to take a camera and shoot or photograph.  What I always aim to express is the language of their land, people, music, art, ceremony, history and faithful existence.  I believe that what I’m in awe of, is also what will awe the audience.  It has much to do with the manner in how we ingratiate ourselves, become close to, and how we enter into this Mexico so wonderful and rich.

~He tenido mucha suerte en encontrar a estos extraordinarios fotógrafos, sin duda, que han entendido y han propuesto de forma muy atinada este lenguaje, pero también  los paraísos que habitan estas culturas son tan bellos que bastaría poner la cámara y grabar o filmar.

Lo que quiero plasmar siempre es el lenguaje de sus tierras, gente, música, arte, ceremonias, historias, su fe vivencial y pienso que lo que a mi me asombra de este acercamiento será también lo que asombre a los espectadores, tiene mucho que ver con la manera en la que nos acercamos y como entramos en este México rich maravilloso.

Canicula’s FB page here and trailer here

Industry subscribers –  you can catch both Flores en El Desierto and Canicula at Festival Scope