I remember five years ago hearing something about a Mexican Film Festival in LA called Hola Mexico. I was intrigued to hear it was part of an ambitious tour in which a different selection of contemporary Mexican films would be brought to Chicago, New York, San Francisco and LA. But more than intrigued, I was astounded to realize, is it possible that this was the first time a film festival devoted entirely to Mexican films was taking root in LA? The city with the largest population of Mexicans only second to Mexico City? Surely there have been several attempts over the years, some diplomatic consulate affair type of mini-events. I myself was courted by a well meaning producer to program a weekend festival in collaboration with the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce which quickly turned into some kind of high brow gallery and A-star event at a trendy Hollywood bar. Like that noble effort, I imagine others similarly weren’t able to bridge mission and execution and therefore failed to make an imprint. For fifteen years LALIFF has been (was?) our uncontested Los Angeles Latino Film Festival to reign on such grand scale and visibility. Edward James Olmos’s festival always showed more than a couple films from Mexico within its all-encompassing “Latino” label. Even so, Mexico was but one country represented within the wide and far-reaching program of films from all over the Spanish language countries. Although Hola Mexico has done away with its NY/SF/Chicago branches, today I am especially pleased and give big props to Samuel Douek the founder, for valiantly plowing through the much treaded Los Angeles terrain to plant the seed of which we can now see its nopalitos bud and flower. Demonstrating his foresight for acknowledging the renaissance of Mexican cinema and that there was a void to fill, not to mention for showing off his bold taste and pulse on the diverse content of the festival’s programming, I congratulate him and his team’s herculean efforts for dedicating a platform specific to this underserved majority community hungry to experience the rich mestizo jewels from our Lindo y Querido motherland.
I’m excited to celebrate the festival’s continued success at tonight’s Opening Night Fiesta at the lovely Los Angeles Theater inaugurating the fifth edition of the Hola Mexico Film Festival which will run from the 15-22. As proof of its growing stability, it’s awesome to see that it has a new venue. Many of the films will screen at the state of the art projection houses of the Regal Live Downtown Theater. Last year’s Montalban theater venue, while meaningful in name and spirit, left a lot to be desired with the picture and sound.
The festivities will commence by bestowing a Career Achievement Award to the prolific actor, Joaquin Cosio, whose wickedly empathetic portrayal in Luis Estrada’s El Infierno has endeared us to calling him by his wild, everyman narco role, El Cochiloco. Along with Damian Alcazar (who will also be present!) these two are Mexico’s most esteemed and exceptional actors who have embodied an impressive number of indelible character and leading roles throughout the course of their careers. Nominated for the Ariel Award (Mexico’s Oscar) three times, Cosio’s talent will be seen in the upcoming, A Night in Old Mexico with Robert Duvall, Disney’s The Lone Ranger and can be seen in the festival’s selections, The Brief and Precocious Life of Sabina Rivas by Luis Mandoki as well as tonight’s Opening Night film, Ciudadano Buelna. Directed by established director, Felipe Vazals whose first feature screened at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival and who in recent years has filmed a series of films about the Mexican Revolution, Ciudadano Buelna is a handsome period piece about an idealist revolutionary whose closely held integrity clashes when caught in the quagmire of the nascent political factions of the Mexican Revolution era. A somewhat prescient and relevant theme mirroring the crossfire in which today’s political activist youth find themselves. After the screening, la fiesta will get underway with the groovy sounds of Chicano Batman and of course cerveza and mezcal will be had (Obvio).
For you foodies out there, as part of the food festival, five renowned chefs will be sharing their gastronomical delights at the Viva Mezcal event in which expert mescaleros will be unveiling the art of the Mezcal (I’ll let the experts educate us on its distinct distillation compared to Tequila but basically it’s a smoother and smokier spirit derived from an Agave plant called Maguey) at LA’s Oaxacan cuisine landmark, La Guelaguetza on May 16, and La Gran Parillada at La Plaza de Culturas y Artes complete with a wine tasting will take place May 19. The music showcase will feature artists like the prodigal sons of the venerable Los Tigres del Norte, Raul y Mexia, La Misa Negra, an electro cumbia band and the Closing Night film, a documentary about Celso Pina will be followed by a performance by the extraordinary and ‘rebel’ accordionist.
Among the Festival’s 13 narrative and 6 documentary features there is a diverse range of seminal moments in Mexico’s history record, personal stories grappling and reacting to the various facets of the social ills affecting Mexico (kidnapping, immigration), narratives reflecting the amalgamated identity in crisis of a country reacting. There is also ‘lighter’ fare with dark twists; The black comedy Fecha de Caducidad, Mexican revolutionary satire La Cebra. Easily the two most celebrated films this year, heralded for their masterful aesthetics at last year’s Cannes, Carlos Reygadas lyrical puzzle Post Tenebras Lux, and Despues Lucia the staggeringly heartbreaking adolescent bullying film by Michel Franco will also be screening. Other picks I recommend; the cool, existential zombie film, Halley by Sebastian Hoffman, a personal favorite from Sundance which has captivated audiences worldwide at numerous international film festivals since its world premiere in Morelia last fall. There is La Demora by Rodrigo Pla, a subtle yet powerful film about a moment of doubt in a woman’s life concerning her aging father (See my interview with the filmmaker here). There is the startling Errol Morris like documentary, El Alcalde, about an effusive and dangerously candid mayor in the richest and safest municipal in Monterrey, which is subversively brilliant in unleashing the outlaw mayor who credits himself with reigning control over the narco threat, ultimately a revealing psyche portrait. For you punk rock en Espanol fans, Molotov music doc, Gimme the Power gives us background to the formation and suppressed climate and era in which they came up, along with some behind the scenes inspiration of certain classic songs like Frijolero. But if you only get one film to get your Mexican rocks off, you must see the documentary Hecho en Mexico produced by the renowned film music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein (currently working on Diego Luna’s Chavez biopic). More than a ‘what its like to be Mexican’ audiovisual soundtrack, it is an infectious, hyper-energetic cinematic cultural musical in which artists evoke and connect with the indigenous history of the country and what that identity means today and in the future. Fierce musical talents like Amandititita, Carla Morrison, original rebels Café Tacuba, la loca de Gloria Trevi, and many many more rap, sing in folk, hip hop, regional, corridos and a fusion of rock all completely original as part of this grossly enriching example of the modern Mexican identity and sacred mestizo spirit. Here’s the trailer:
Tickets are a cool $10 per screening. It’s not to late to come on down tonight for the Opening Night Fiesta, or make plans now for next week’s Closing Awards – either night is just $30 for screening and after party. Tickets here.
Not bad for movie, mezcal, music and a chance to shake hands and hips with some sexy brown people. Nos vemos alli!