Cine Mexicano, Morelia Film Fest, Rain and Shine

FullSizeRender(2)
Pueblo Magico, Valle de Bravo
IMG_5754
Pulque was had here

Two transcendent nights in two pueblos magicos, (Valle de Bravo and Tepotzlan), hallucinating pulque, and an overdose of Mexican cinema at the Morelia Film Festival later, I’ve got a roundup of what and who you need to know in new Mexican Cinema (fiction), the 13th edition of the Festival (and my 8th consecutive year!), and whats to come in 2016.

cuando-es-festival-de-cine-de-morelia-2015-programacion-1
no-show Toro

HEADLINERS

While one of the biggest Mexican movie rockstars (no pun intended), Guillermo del Toro did not show up to Morelia’s Opening Night screening of his latest, La cumbre escarlata aka Crimson Peak, there were plenty of internationally acclaimed Mexican cinéastes present.

First, outside the festival’s competition, making their home turf Mexican premieres was young auteur David Pablos’ remarkable, bittersweet and bleak Tijuana set portrait, The Chosen Ones which premiered earlier this year in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard. A Canana production. Mundial handling sales.  Yet to premiere in the U.S.A.

FullSizeRender(2)
(L-R) Alejandro Ramirez, Festival President, Daniela Michel, Festival Director, presenting Jonas, Alfonso and Carlos Cuaron

It was a family affair for the querido Cuarón clan at the festival.  Oscar winning director Alfonso accompanied his son Jonas, along with his brother, Carlos. Jonás’ second feature, Desierto which premiered in Toronto and won the FIPRESCI award stars Gael García Bernal.  The Mexico/U.S. border crossing story intends to imbue a “Hunger Games” type/hyper sensory action thriller approach but falls a bit short of that cool aim.  STX, a new distributor led by producer Bob Simonds picked up North American rights. It is yet to screen in the U.S.

Raised in Mexico, Rodrigo García, who I had no idea until recently is the son of famed Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez which gives me another perspective and appreciation of the symbolic father/son relationship in his astral film, Last Days in the Desert, made his first long-awaited visit to the festival. The Ewan McGregor starrer, Emmanuel Lubezki shot film was picked up by Broad Green recently.

Tim Roth and his directors, Michel Franco and Gabriel Ripstein
The new three amigos? Tim Roth, Michel Franco and Gabriel Ripstein

I missed two Mexican co-productions but thanks to AFI Film Festival will catch this coming week in LA.  From Afar, a Venezuelan/Mexican co-production and first feature from Lorenzo Vigas which won Best Film at Venice Film Festival, and Chronic by Michel Franco which won Best Screenplay at Cannes is also making its U.S. premiere at AFI.  Franco has been busy directing and producing through his shingle Lucia Films which also includes 600 Miles by Gabriel Ripstein, Mexico’s entry in the best foreign language film category at the 88th Academy Awards.  Tim Roth stars in both Chronic and 600 Miles, and was in Morelia presenting them where he was given a tribute for his body of work which includes directing. Rumor has it he will be directing his next film in Mexico.

COMPETITION

The competition was a bit more uneven than in previous years, comprised of a few fantastic films among many more average. But that has always been the tightrope walk; using the platform as a discovery of Mexican world premieres, and the necessity of including films in competition that come with built in word of mouth from having played abroad at prestigious festivals. In fact, 7 out of 10 films in the official feature fiction competition were world premieres.  More so than in previous years and I applaud that direction as it’s a risky but one that should further consolidate its reputation of supporting Mexican filmmakers, as well as encourage more Mexican filmmakers to world premiere their features at home.  3 were first time feature filmmakers,  3 co-productions including 2 with Spain, 2 out of 10 directed by women, of which are the only films who have a female lead/role with the exception of Rodrigo Pla’s film, A Monster with a Thousand Heads.

Having seen all the films in competition –  and for that matter many of this year’s Mexican films,  I Promise you Anarchy by Julio Hernandez Cordon (Marimbas from Hell, Gasolina) stands out above the rest.  A skater boy lovestory that is genre and gender bending, it’s played in all the big fests including Locarno, Toronto, San Sebastian.  It’s his first film shot outside his country of Guatemala, in various exterior locations in Mexico City, and the first with a real budget.  It took home an Honorable Mention at Morelia.  I found each shot transfixing and saw depth and true emotion within the surreality of his narrative. Interior XII  is behind the film, a film production company known for its risk-taking bent. Latido Films is handling rights, and the film is yet to premiere in the U.S.  Hernandez Cordon is already at work developing his next film.

ELISA

Festival Vice President, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel presenting Elisa Miller
Festival Vice President, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel presenting Elisa Miller

Among the world premieres, the magnetic The Pleasure is Mine by Elisa Miller, is for sure the discovery of the Morelia Film Festival in my mind. It was awarded with Best First or Second feature film (It’s her second). Co-starring Flor Edwarda Gurrola who I first saw in Plan Sexennal and newcomer Fausto Alzati who makes a “big” full frontal impression.  Fernando Eimbcke (Duck Season, Lake Tahoe, Club Sandwich) and  Christian Valdelievre produces.  Playing with the male/female gaze through a female perspective, the arrested in sex lovestory is bound to have a bright future in the hippest festivals around the world

The Heirs is another world premiere worth mentioning. A second feature by Venezuelan Jorge Hernández Aldana, (Buffalo of the Night) featuring the kid actor in Güeros, Sebastián Aguirre. The performances and dynamic between characters are impressive, however the story itself, idle privileged youth who live reckless lives of impunity, feels like over-tread terrain. From Lucia Films and prolific film producer Alex Garcia.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 9.22.22 PM
The Greatest House in the World

I’d give honorable mention to Lucia Carreras’ The Greatest House in the World which premiered in Berlin earlier this year.  Her first directorial debut screened a couple years ago at the festival, called Nos Vemos Papa, starring Cecilia Suarez. Her latest co-production is shot in Guatemala, A visually captivating film about a young girl who loses a sheep (read her innocence) it is a jewel of an art house film, and alongside Guatemalan feature Ixcancul by Jayro Bustamante and Hernandez Cordon’s previous films, propelling Guatemala on the film map as of late. Indeed, this year marks the first time Guatemala submits a film for the Academy’s foreign language entry.

Rodrigo Pla’s fourth feature, A Monster with a Thousand Heads, blasts on the bureaucracy and apathetically broken medical care system in Mexico. Taut, it gets right to the point, but it is not as compelling for me as his previous films.

The Best Film Award at Morelia Film Festival went to Matias Meyer’s world premiere (The Last Cristeros) for YO, about a mentally stunted overgrown teenager who lives with his mother, based on a short story by Jean-Marie Le Clezio.  Film is handled by Figa Films.  The film, like the lead, is touching but overly earnest and ambling.

CINE

new digital platform a la 'mubi'
new digital platform a la ‘mubi’

People outside of Mexico see far more independent and art house Mexican cinema than people in Mexico because of limited exhibition platforms. One shining beacon in Mexico City is La Cineteca Nacional, a cinema palace with 10 theaters that programs year round classic and contemporary Mexican films. The country’s two major film output entities are Cinepolis the largest theater chain in Mexico with over 2500 screens (nearly half the market), and IMCINE, The National Film Institute.  Per IMCINE’s film report, 130 Mexican films were produced in 2014 and 68 were released.  Cinepolis has established their Sala de Arte, their designated documentary and arthouse theater inside their multiplexes, as well as begun to distribute films. Meanwhile IMCINE, which has long funded development and production, recently created a fund for distribution, so that Mexican independent fiction and documentary films can be seen. Still, because they are the corporate/government film monopolies in Mexico, some feel it is their responsibility to do much more.  Yours truly moderated a panel with their new digital platforms CinepolisKlic, and FilminLatino. CinepolisKlic offers VOD of a variety of commercial national and international titles while FilminLatino (IMCINE) is a subscriber based platform with a very curated selection and cool editorial tone. Both are open for filmmakers to submit their films, regardless of whether its had a theatrical or festival premiere.

For far too long Mexican filmmakers have been overly influenced by european cinema- no doubt to appeal to international fests where sometimes its the only place their independent work has a chance to be seen. So I love it when I see filmmakers like Julio Hernandez Cordon, Nicolas Pereda, and Gerardo Naranjo creating original aesthetics and risk-taking narrative approaches. Thematically this year, there seems to be a thruline of simmering desperation, desire, and fighting for something aspirational, even if only for a brief respite…. before landing to reality and surrendering to the same old.

FullSizeRender(2)
Programmer and filmmaker Daniela Alatorre

El FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE CINE DE MORELIA

Film Festival heads; President and Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez, Vice President, cultural ambassador and Architect, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel, and  the always eloquent and die-hard cinephile Festival Director Daniela Michel are super  involved and present every day/night hosting their guests and introducing films. They elevated the quality of intros and q&a’s at the festival along with Festival Programmer and filmmaker (and for many years the head of production for the festival) Daniela Alatorre, who framed context and created rich dialogue around the documentary screenings.  Although it was rumored that Hurricane Patricia scared away some attendees, the festival seemed to have more special guests and industry presence than ever. Sundance Institute’s Artist Services engineered a popular workshop which included a 101 with Dan Schoenbrun from Kickstarter, a conversation with doc master Ondi Timoner and a conversation with SXSW head, Janet Pierson. This year also marked an alliance between Locarno’s Industry Academy and Morelia Film Festival, focused on developing professionals working in international sales, marketing, distribution, exhibition, and programming.  The Festival broke its attendance record reaching 40,000 filmgoers per Alejandro Ramirez at the Closing Night Ceremony.

TRANSCENDENT NATURE OF CINEMATOGRAPHY

FullSizeRender(1)
Mexican cinematographer Diego Garcia in the middle and to his right Apichatpong who hopes to direct his next film in Mexico

I  had not seen any of Thai auteur darling Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films before until now (sigh).  Truth be told I only went to see Cemetery of Splendour because it was shot by a Mexican. Cinematographer Diego Garcia (Without, Fogo), who alongside the high profile company of Emmanuel Lubezki aka El Chivo, represent exceptional Latin American cinematographers doing incredible work in and outside of Mexico.  I also would include Maria Secco, Sebastian Hiriart and Lorenzo Hagerman among them. Garcia’s latest film is Neon Bull by brazilian filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro, also showing at this week’s AFI Film Festival.

Easter by Alejandra Marquez
Easter by Alejandra Marquez

Garcia is shooting Carlos Reygadas next film which starts filming next week and  throughout all of next year. We can also expect very soon the new film by Amat Escalante. The Untamed just finished shooting in his home state of Guanajuato. It is produced by Nicolas Celis, a young intrepid producer with impeccable taste in projects he takes on.  He is also the producer of first feature, female directed Easter by Alejandra Márquez which world premiered at Toronto.  It will be making its Mexican premiere in competition at the Los Cabos Film Festival which starts in a couple weeks, November 11-15.  There is some overlap of Mexican films between Morelia and the 4th edition of Los Cabos Film Festival.  Among Los Cabos’ world premieres, I’m excited to see Marcelino Islas Hernández new film, Charity.  He made a very small and touching film called Martha back in 2010. I’m also curious about You’ll Know What to do with Me by Katina Medina Mora.  It will be her directorial feature debut. She has worked as 1st AD on several awesome films like Gerardo Naranjo’s Voy a Explotar, the Gael Garcia Bernal directed Deficit and festival darling Cochochi.

WATCH OUT FOR – FILMS IN POST

image5Aside from Escalante and Reygadas, there are a few hotly anticipated First features which will be ready to premiere in 2016. I’m so glad to have gotten the chance to see a cut of Zeus by multi media artist Miguel Calderon in Morelia’s Work in Progress, Impulso section.  The film has an unnerving, escalating tension between a young man and his mother, and unique visual allegory. The film is produced by Christian Valdelievre, and was developed and supported by Sundance Institute’s international Feature Film Program. Also currently in post, first fiction feature Pan American Machinery by Joaquin del Paso, produced by Mantarraya. And one of my favorite filmmakers of the world (for reals), somebody who draws outside any prescribed doc and fiction lines, Nicolas Pereda, has a new project called The Heart of the Sky.

The best dance party was Ambulante! DJ Gil Cerezo from Kinky
The best dance party was Ambulante! DJ Gil Cerezo from Kinky

To see the full list of winners at the Morelia Film Festival click here. If you missed it, do not fret! You can see great interviews by film critic and friend, Anne Wakefield with Stephen Frears, Rodrigo Garcia, Tim Roth, Peter Greenaway and more on the festival’s YouTube channel. Also, right now until November 15 you can check out some of the short films in competition here! Many short film filmmakers who go on to screen their feature debuts at the festival as well as already well established, compete in the short film competition.  Speaking of which one of my favorites (not online yet) was Boy at the Bar Masturbates with Fury and Self Assurance by new wave queer film cineaste, Julian Hernandez. Check out the trailer:

FullSizeRender(2)Don’t think I forgot the Mexican documentary treasures! The award for Best Documentary at Morelia went to 25 year old Mazatlan female director, Betzabe Garcia for Kings of Nowhere.  The film was developed and supported with a post production grant from Ambulante and had its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year where it won the Audience Award.

Stay tuned for a Mexican documentary round up post, my experience at the first ever Mexican Film Residency, and my visit to the extraordinary Splendor Omnia studios, Carlos Reygadas’ hidden jewel of a post production studio compound in the magical village of Tepotzlan.

Morelia Film Festival unveils most impressive Mexican Competition yet

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 11.25.14 AM
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.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 11.23.45 AM
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.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 1.48.22 PM

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!

WTF is Latino at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival?

Glad you asked.  Now that the entire programming slate has been announced for the 2013 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, let’s take a look at the representation of Latinos in the broadest, most diverse sense, because that is what that ill-defined lump category encompasses.  {Full disclosure:  I work as a Programming Associate for the Festival.  These are not reviews but an insider breaking-it-down preview}

dayani
Gael Garcia Bernal in Who is Dayani Cristal?

At first glance the Latino representation may not seem obvious.  Nor may it seem as strong as the films and filmmakers from the African-American and LGBT community representing, or the record breaking number of female directors’ – each group highly visible by their nature.  We may not have a Mosquita y Mari or Filly Brown, two fiction films, which broke out of the festival this past year, but we do have two hugely relevant and urgent documentaries exploring the effects of a bi-cultural U.S. & Mexico social fabric, NARCO CULTURA which explores the phenomenal music and social culture being shaped and perpetuated by the influence of Mexico’s violent drug cartels, and WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? an innovative doc-fiction hybrid produced by Gael Garcia Bernal that will hopefully re-divert much needed attention back to the US/Mexico border.  By the way, Who is Dayani Cristal? screens in the high profile DAY ONE slot.

What’s Latino anyway?

I personally embrace the responsibility of changing the conversation as to what constitutes representing American Latinos.  First, by focusing on both the above-the- line-talent (filmmaker or actor) AND storyline/subject.  The second part is highlighting the second, third, fourth and so-on generations of filmmakers. What about the filmmakers in the festival like Kyle Patrick Alvarez (C.O.G),  Liz W. Garcia (The Lifeguard) and Eduardo Sanchez (S-VHS horror anthology and co-director of the infamous Blair Witch Project)? I don’t know these filmmakers personally so I can’t speak to how they might view their cultural identities and how it informs their work, if at all. But I do believe it is worth pointing out and feeling good about these last names being out there as part of the mainstream fabric.  It is similar to how Robert Rodriguez does not identify himself as a Mexican-American yet his last name has been key to driving the younger Latino generation in feeling a proud connection as an American and not just “dash” American.

Chile is still hot

There are three films from Chilean filmmakers.  In unprecedented fashion – because that’s how Sundance likes to roll- there is a repeat of last year with two in competition, EL FUTURO by Alicia Scherson (mostly taking place in Italy) and CRYSTAL FAIRY by Sebastian Silva, an alumnus who broke out in 2009 with LA NANA. In the section Spotlight aka “Movies we love and don’t care if they’ve traveled the festival circuit”, is Pablo Larrain’s NO starring Gael Garcia Bernal.  Chilean cinema is hot and king of engrossing character-driven fare.  What we are seeing is a boom on two fronts; an invigorating new generation of provocateurs (Marialy Rivas’s Young & Wild comes to mind) and a slightly older generation of equally exciting filmmakers who continue to sustain their careers with their distinct voice (like Pablo Larrain along with Andres Wood).

So now lets dive in and look at the list.  Loglines copied from official press release – BOLD ITALICS are my comments.

US DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Melonie Diaz
The lovely and talented Boricua actress Melonie Diaz

Fruitvale / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ryan Coogler) — The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.

Puerto-Rican Diaz delivers a fiercely moving performance embodying the girlfriend of Oscar Grant who was with him that fateful day.   Diaz is no stranger to the festival. She’s previously been at the festival with four films including seminal indie American Latino story, RAISING VICTOR VARGAS 2002 and comedies like HAMLET 2 20008.  Why homegirl hasn’t gotten more props for her mad acting skills I don’t know, but this girl is wildly talented and Fruitvale showcases her dramatic chops.

US DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

an image from Narco Cultura.  For more images check out: http://www.shaulschwarz.com
an image from Narco Cultura. For more arresting film stills check out: http://www.shaulschwarz.com

Narco Cultura / U.S.A. (Director: Shaul Schwarz) — An examination of Mexican drug cartels’ influence in pop culture on both sides of the border as experienced by an LA narcocorrido singer dreaming of stardom and a Juarez crime scene investigator on the front line of Mexico’s Drug War.

Absolutely arresting photography that works in giving weight to the violent images the public has become numb from seeing.  I predict some of my hard core brown and proud friends might focus and hence diminish this film based on the fact that this bi-cultural, Mexican-American subject is made by non-Latino filmmakers. It could be argued as a valid point.  When it comes to documentaries a legit question to make when evaluating is “What makes THIS person the right one to tackle THIS subject?   What is their connection?”  Let’s watch it to find out, then give consideration to what other docs are currently out there on this same timely topic made by Latinos, and without bias regard their depth and artistic merit.  

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

crystal_fairy
Michael Cera on the right in Sebastian’s latest, Crystal Fairy

Crystal Fairy / Chile (Director and screenwriter: Sebastián Silva) — Jamie invites a stranger to join a road trip to Chile. The woman’s free and esoteric nature clashes with Jamie’s acidic, self-absorbed personality as they head into the desert for a Mescaline-fueled psychedelic trip. Cast: Michael Cera, Gabby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

This marks Sebastian’s third appearance at the festival following LA NANA and GATOS VIEJOS. Remember what I said about character driven?  Silva excels at getting at spilling out the insides of his protagonists. 

elfuturo
Manuela Martelli in El Futuro

The Future / Chile, Germany, Italy, Spain (Director and screenwriter: Alicia Scherson) — When their parents die, Bianca starts to smoke and Tomas is still a virgin. The orphans explore the dangerous streets of adulthood until Bianca finds Maciste, a retired Mr. Universe, and enters his dark mansion in search of a future. Cast: Manuela Martelli, Rutger Hauer, Luigi Ciardo, Nicolas Vaporidis, Alessandro Giallocosta. World Premiere

Scherson’s last film, TURISTAS screened at various film festivals including the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2009.  Shot in another country and in a different language, The Future continues the filmmaker’s incisive capturing of the strong female led journey.

 

 WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Who is Dayani Cristal? / United Kingdom (Director: Marc Silver) — An anonymous body in the Arizona desert sparks the beginning of a real-life human drama. The search for its identity leads us across a continent to seek out the people left behind and the meaning of a mysterious tattoo. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

An extraordinary cinematic and symbolic approach to the border crossing genre, this meta reflexive journey retraced by none other than Gael Garcia Bernal imagines the grueling experience of a migrant and who he might have been.  Bernal has been lending his star power to the social justice causes that move him and you can tell its genuine.

NEW FRONTIER

From the eerie and haunting Mexican film, Halley
From the eerie and haunting Mexican film, Halley

Halley / Mexico (Director: Sebastian Hofmann, Screenwriters: Sebastian Hofmann, Julio Chavezmontes) — Alberto is dead and can no longer hide it. Before surrendering to his living death, he forms an unusual friendship with Luly, the manager of the 24-hour gym where he works as a night guard. Cast: Alberto Trujillo, Lourdes Trueba, Hugo Albores

As unsettling it is watch, it is as deep to ponder, this incredibly-shot first feature had its world premiere at the Morelia Film Festival and its inclusion in the most daring section of the festival speaks to the highly diverse and radical new cinema coming from Mexico.

SPOTLIGHT

No / Chile, U.S.A. (Director: Pablo Larraín, Screenwriter: Pedro Peirano) — When Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet calls for a referendum to decide his permanence in power, the opposition persuades a young advertising executive to head its campaign. With limited resources and under scrutiny, he conceives a plan to win the election. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Luis Gnecco, Marcial Tagle, Néstor Cantillana.

There have been many films about the Pinochet regime and its wide-reaching after effects.  But none have had as unique an entry point as NO. Trust.

MIDNIGHT

wearewhatweareWe Are What We Are / U.S.A. (Director: Jim Mickle, Screenwriters: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle) — A devastating storm washes up clues that lead authorities closer and closer to the cannibalistic Parker family. Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks, Wyatt Russell, Kelly McGillis.

Okay, I only include this because this is based on the Mexican cult hit, Somos Lo que Hay by Jorge Michel Grau.  Jim Mickle of Stakeland has promised to “Not Fuck it Up” per Twitch interview

To cap off the features;  Stalwart Spanish actor Alfred Molina is in Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes by Francesca Gregorini in US Dramatic Competition, and we have a strong acting splash by Marcus DeAnda, a co-lead in PIT STOP directed by Yen Tan and co-written by David Lowery.  The film about two gay working class lovers in small town Texas is in the Next section.

And lets not forget about shorts!

SHORT FILM COMPETITION

Broken Night / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Guillermo Arriaga) — A young woman and her four-year-old daughter drive across desolated hills. Everything looks fine and they seem to enjoy the ride, until an accident sends them into the nightmare of darkness.

Ever since writing and directing team Arriga and Innaritu broke up (Amores Perros, Babel) Arriaga has been trying to make his stamp directing his own material.

The Companion / Peru (Director and screenwriter: Alvaro Delgado-Aparicio) — On the outskirts of Lima, a young prostitute tends to his father, a fallen-from-grace artisan. However, the young man feels that his efforts are never enough. He tries to break free, but his father’s dependence is stronger than his son’s will.

Intriguing and highly atmospheric gem from Peru!

paradiseParaíso / U.S.A. (Director: Nadav Kurtz) — Three immigrant window cleaners risk their lives every day rappelling down some of Chicago’s tallest skyscrapers. Paraíso reveals the danger of their job and what they see on the way down

Chicago? Check.  Mexicans check!  No, but really this intimate glimpse is poetic and moving.

A Story for the Modlins / Spain (Director: Sergio Oksman, Screenwriter: Sergio Oksman) —The tale of Elmer Modlin, who, after appearing in Rosemary’s Baby, fled with his family to a far-off country and shut himself away in a dark apartment for 30 years.

Must see.  Fascinating and inventive ‘Found family photos’  yarn.  

postmodem#PostModem / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Jillian Mayer, Lucas Leyva) — A comedic, satirical, sci-fi pop musical based on the theories of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists, #PostModem is the story of two Miami girls and how they deal with technological singularity, as told through a series of cinematic tweets.

My favorite locos from Miami.  After making the rounds with Life & Freaky Times of Uncle Luke, which played last year, these rump-shakers have been busy with their work in and out of their funky audiovisual collective Borscht Corp.

{check my addendum to this post here}

See you on the mountain!

Morelia Film Festival celebrates a decade of discovery – A conversation with Festival Director, Daniela Michel

Since 2003, the Morelia Film Festival has been nurturing filmmakers and audiences, and has rooted its niche as a discovery festival of up and coming Mexican filmmakers.  At the same time it’s earned a prestigious reputation for its expertly curated sidebars that would make the most hard core cinephile drool, and for the Festival’s unparalleled attention and hospitality to their guests, Invitados.  Each year the Festival invites renowned international cineastes to participate in showing their films for the first time in Mexico, in turn enticing them to experience the vibrant scene of Mexican Cinema in the most charming historic city of Morelia, Michoacán.

To celebrate its 10th year anniversary the powerhouse boutique festival has put together an epic program consisting of over 2oo hand picked films as part of special screenings, tributes and homages to compliment its more solid than ever Mexican Competition made up of 25 documentaries, 45 shorts, 9 narrative features, along with 12 films from the hosting state of Michoacán.  Among the special guests this year, English filmmaker Sally Potter, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, and Chicano filmmaker Gregory Nava.

I thank the tirelessly dynamic Director of the Festival, Daniela Michel for talking with me about the Festival’s programming then and now. {redacted and translated}

Daniela Michel, Festival Director, Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia (FICM)

C:  From the return of Regyadas with his highly anticipated Post-Tenebras Lux, who was one of three Mexican directors awarded a prize at Cannes (along with Fogo by documentary and fiction director, Yulene Olaizola, and Después de Lucía by Michel Franco which is Mexico’s foreign language Oscar entry), to  Locarno Film Festival’s Carte Blanche spotlight of Mexican works in progress, 2012 has been a stellar year for Mexican films.  The Festival is showing nine narrative features in competition, seven of them world premieres by first time filmmakers, reflecting this building breakthrough momentum…

D: Yes, we’re thrilled that Cannes was a big year for Mexican film.  We were honored to have Artistic director, Thierry Frémaux as a guest at the Festival last year.  He’s truly been supportive of Mexican films and we are profoundly thankful.  When we first started the festival there just weren’t enough features films to warrant a solid competition program.   Our mission was to build a program made up of the next generation of filmmakers and support them.  We weren’t interested in showing already established Mexican filmmakers.  In 2007 we had our first narrative feature length competition and we were grateful for having such a prominent jury comprised of Trevor Groth, Director of Programming at Sundance Film Festival, Peter Scarlet, at that time Artistic Director of Tribeca Film Festival and Cecilia Suarez, a talented Mexican actress.  They bestowed the Best Film award to Nicolás Pereda’s first film, Where are their Stories.  Pereda has gone on to be a prolific and singular talent.   We are screening his 7th film out of competition, The Greatest Hits.   

C: Documentaries are an integral part of the festival, this year the festival is showing a record breaking 25 documentaries in competition.  Typically the Mexican documentary genre has generally fit into the ethnographic study type. How has this changed over the years?

D: We are seeing more intimate and personal journey type of stories that are breaking with that notion that there is only that kind of Mexican documentary.  There are looks of forgotten history like Flor en Otomi by Luisa Riley about a young female guerilla fighter who disappeared following a violent raid, or Convict Patient by Alejandro Solar Luna about a man who attempted to assassinate the president in 1970 and is now homeless and mentally unstable.  There are more experimental films, more personal portraits like Carriere, 250 Meters by Juan Carlos Rulfo and Natalia Gil about the inspiring writer and Bunuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere,  Diario a Tres Voces by Otilia Portillo Padua, a compelling multigenerational look of three women in relationship to their age, Miradas Multiples (La Maquina Loca) by Emilio Maille which is about the great cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa.  Definitely, Mexican documentary is expanding its horizons.

C: Last year you had Luis Valdez as an honored guest and screened his seminal Chicano film, Zoot Suit.  This year you are honoring Gregory Nava with a screening of El Norte and Mi Familia.  What prompted this recognition of Chicano filmmakers at the festival?

Luis Valdez at FICM 2011

D: We’ve always had a section called Cine Sin Fronteras (Cinema without Borders) curated by Jesse Lerner an academic expert on border films.  While we had not, up until last year, recognized such well known chicano figures like Luis Valdez we’ve shown the work of lesser known, independent filmmakers.  We felt it was overdue and important to introduce chicano films to mexico.  Not necessarily a border crossing story but the perspective of Mexicans living in the United States.  Certainly Luis Valdez deserved a homage here in Mexico. Unfortunately chicano cinema is not well known in Mexico.  We are very happy that Gregory Nava who we highly respect, will be joining us this year. 

C: The Michoacán section.  The festival recognizes the talent of filmmakers from the hosting state with its separate competition section.  How do you make sure this section does not fly under the radar or get lost in the shuffle since it competes with high profile national and international films.

D: Well, first of all the caliber has to be there and I think that since the festival’s inception, the filmmaking scene in Michoacán has been greatly stimulated as there’s been more production, filmmaking has become more accessible and over the past ten years we’ve seen the production value and quality  getting better and better.  Not only indigenous filmmakers which was very important to us like Dante Cerano and Pavel Rodriguez but filmmakers who were born and raised there and may live elsewhere.  We make an effort to give these films the highest visibility by giving them the best time slots so that the public can easily find and discover.

C: Given the Festival’s success, there must be a desire and pressure to continue to expand and grow.   How do you navigate the appeal of complimenting the festival with an increasing number of programs yet work to keep the mission’s integrity?

D: Interest in participating in the festival has certainly grown but we can’t lose focus that our main goal is to support the young mexican filmmakers so we select only the best work out there, always.  Its important not to have any kind of institutional or political ties that might compromise that mission.  One of the sections I most love which we created in 2008, based on the invaluable recommendation of Bertrand Tavernier who has an impressive knowledge of film, is called Imaginary Mexico.  This section showcases work connected to Mexico imagined by foreign filmmakers abroad, revealing their perception of Mexico.  It’s a rich, eye opening trove.  For instance Mexico as seen by Hollywood.  This year we are showing a number of Sam Peckinpah’s films (The Wild Bunch, among others). Two years ago we had the extraordinary gift of having Quentin Tarantino present Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti westerns about the Mexican Revolution.  These films had been previously banned in Mexico for its scathing portrayal of the revolution….

It’s a rich diaspora.  The Festival supports the future of Mexican Cinema with the best work by the next generation of filmmakers just starting out.  It celebrates Mexico of the past, through classics and retrospectives like this year’s homage to cinematographer Jose Ortiz Ramos born in the state of Michoacan, and the other, films about Mexico from outside of Mexico.   We attack it on all fronts.  This intersection of  borders, indigenous films made by indigenous filmmakers who have a permanent space in our festival, film students and history.  

C: About the Morelia audience

Carlos Reygadas and Bela Tarr, BFFs

There is a big population of university students which combined with the city’s strong tradition of historical culture, we felt there was potential there.  It wasn’t easy at first.  I remember programming a Woody Allen film against a block of unknown shorts.  We realized that once the tickets for the Woody Allen movie sold out, people who weren’t able to get in, naturally found their way into the shorts program.  We are indeed grateful for that audience.  Obviously showing Bela Tarr’s epic eight hour Satantango last year would not have worked had we programmed it the first year.  We owe a lot of this audience development to our extraordinary colleague and dear friend Joaquin Rodriguez (founding programmer who passed away earlier this year).  He worked year round developing that audience.  His  film appreciation classes there would have space for twenty, and five times the amount of people would show up.  This edition is dedicated to him for his consummate professionalism, passion and brilliance.   

C: We are a few days away from the 10th edition.  How are you feeling now and do you remember how you felt ten years ago at this point?

D: It was one of the most stressful moments in my life because I had no idea how it was going to work.   It was terrifying.  Today I feel very blessed to have this incredible team because the work is put in by all of us and it would be impossible without the dedicated group assembled  who I admire and respect very much. …Every year there is stress.  But like they say “If you stop feeling the nerves then quit”.  I’m a huge cinephile so I love sharing this gift of film with new audiences.   Its endless, there is an endless vault of films to be re-discovered and that’s what I love best that these films return to life.  You learn a lot about life seeing film.  

Follow the Festival @FICM.  To see the competition lineup click here, and to download this year’s catalogue click here.