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.
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.
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 anticipation. His 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.