31st Guadalajara International Film Festival
Mexico, March 4 - March 13 2016
The Muestra de Cine Mexicano en Guadalajara was first held in Mexico’s second largest city in 1986, when filmmaker Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, university administrator Raúl Padilla López, and other interested parties organized a non-competitive event to showcase the best of recent Mexican film production. The muestra (showcase) was deemed necessary since the 1980s was a decade when Mexican cinema had been undergoing a profound economic and artistic crisis. In its origins, then, the muestra was geared to help lift Mexican cinema out of the doldrums.
Over the years this annual event has grown enormously to become a major eclectic and competitive international film festival, whose official name now reads International Film Festival in Guadalajara (FICG). The spotlight, nevertheless, remains on recent Mexican cinema, even though new Iberoamerican production also is highlighted. Indeed, FICG is now considered one of the premiere festivals in which to view new Latin American work. Across the decades Padilla López has remained an administrative sparkplug for the event by summoning vast support from his own prestigious University of Guadalajara as well as other cultural entities. He currently serves as the festival’s president.
The big organizational news at this year’s edition was the re-location of major festival exhibition and office sites away from Expo Guadalajara, at the edge of town, to the historic center of this metropolis of five million. The goal was to seek out higher quality projection facilities and to more actively engage the local citizenry in festival activities.
The festival’s Made in Mexico selection featured nineteen new fiction and non-fiction features in competition. The winner of the FIPRESCI, or International Critics Prize, was co-writer and director Joaquin del Paso’s fictional Panamerican Machinery [Maquinaria panamericana], a black comedy-satire portraying the painfully abrupt closing down of a Mexican company that manufactured heavy equipment. This film also garnered the Mezcal Prize, which is awarded by an international student jury.
FICG 31’s other programs included the following: Iberoamerican Fiction Features; Iberoamerican Documentaries; Europe: New Tendencies; Erotic Japanese Cinema: 1974-1988; Iberoamerican Shorts; Films From the Gramado Film Festival; Culinary Cinema; and a selection of recent Swiss features—Switzerland was honored as an “invitado de honor.” All these programs were described in an attractively produced 350-page catalogue, which, according to a note on its final page, was manufactured with “climate neutral” elements, such as ink with a vegetable base.
Indeed, a defining characteristic of FICG 31 was its notably progressive sociopolitical agenda. For example, its competitive Maguey program touted a meaty selection of new international features whose subject matter was propitiously designated as “sexually diverse.” The Film 4 Climate [sic] program showcased features exploring climate change and ecological issues. The subject of human rights frequently occupied center stage at the festival, as when Mexican filmmaker Dana Rotberg—in a packed venue seating 1,800—issued a public call for festival- goers to actively participate in a campaign to protect pro-indigenous activists under threat of deadly violence in Honduras. Much attention focused on screenwriter-director Izabel Acevedo’s feature documentary The Good Christian [El buen cristiano], which follows the recent trials in Guatemala of the allegedly genocidal military dictator—and self-proclaimed Christian—Efraín Ríos Montt. In a popular decision, the film captured the prestigious FEISAL Prize sponsored by the Federation of Audiovisual Schools of Latin America.
The festival trained a spotlight on the 40th anniversary of Felipe Cazals’ Canoa [Canoa], an artistically innovative Mexican feature that powerfully documents the real-life lynching of innocent young men—considered by ignorant townspeople as “outside agitators”—in a remote village in 1968. A round table discussion of Canoa was heavily attended, and Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s much publicized interview with Cazals about the now classic film was conducted before an audience of many hundreds. Audience members appeared quick to grasp the unfortunate parallels between the historic crimes depicted in Canoa and more recent events, such as the forced disappearance and presumed massacre in 2014 of forty-three college students in Guerrero State and the aftermath: a widely perceived, on-going governmental whitewash of that atrocity and the greatest human rights crisis in Mexico since 1968.
Many stars shot across the firmament of FICG 31: Ron Perlman, Antonio Banderas, Danny Glover, María Rojo, Alfonso Arau , Eduardo Noriega, Asumpta Serna, Ofelia Medina, Tab Hunter, Marisa Paredes, and others. Perlman and Arau were accorded public tributes; and the University of Guadalajara published a beautifully produced volume of in-depth conversations with the multi-faceted and articulate Arau aptly entitled That’s Life: (Waltz for the Piano). Galas abounded, though they sometimes disappointed, as in the case of Fernando Lebrija’s Sundown [GUATDEFOC], an utterly forgettable spring-break comedy aggressively projected with the volume pumped up until the floor of the venerable Diana Theatre seemingly began to shake. This red-carpet hoopla, however, never overshadowed the festival’s most renowned intangible: the cordial and warm hospitalidad tapatía—Guadalajara hospitality at its finest. (Dennis West)
Guadalajara International Film Festival: www.ficg.mx