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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Aside 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.
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:
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.