I am happy to announce a great addition to SydneysBuzz. Juan Caceres will be writing about his discoveries and thoughts on the Latino Film Circuit. Juan is an independent film producer whose latest credit is Elliot Loves, a feature film that will reach the festival circuit in 2012 and was funded entirely independently. He has also written and directed the award winning short film Hero The Great and is currently adapting a young adult novel into a screenplay that he hopes will be his feature directing debut. Juan's greatest pride is being a founding member and Director of Programming for the HBO New York International Latino International Film Festival. He is also a programming associate for Tribeca All Access, an initiative of the Tribeca Film Festival that aids and supports undeserved minorities in the film industry. He has recently started subjecting his filmmaker friends to his craziness in his blog, 'the science of fresh'. Juan currently lives in an Empire State of Mind.
Being part of the cognoscenti of festivals, his opinion of the inaugural Riviera Maya Film Festival in Mexico is particularly well-informed. So read on!
The Riviera Maya Film Festival concluded its inaugural year on Sunday March 25th after 5 days of screening over 60 films of which half were Mexican premieres. Given that it's in its first year, that is impressive and no easy feat. The ideals of RMFF is to consolidate a connection between the love of cinema, the environment and support for local tourism. The festival solidified that commitment by paying tribute to actress Susan Sarandon, a frequent visitor to the area, with an award for her commitment to global, political and environmental issues.
The programming at RMFF, not without a few missteps, was highly respectable and even exciting. In some ways it made a statement that this is its own film festival and that it is determined to make a mark on the Mexican and international cinema landscape. A festival is always only as good as its film selection and the core reason for the success of RMFF was bringing in Michel Lipkes, who used to program the influential festival FICCO in Mexico City.
Undeterred by being on the heels of Guadalajara International Film Festival (a decision I'm curious about), RMFF boasted a roster of award winning films from across the globe, including a bitter sweet screening of This Is Not A Film (ISA: Wide) by Jafar Panahi and a treat of Wim Wenders' Pina (ISA: HanWay).
The Mexican showcase here was incredibly strong and I found Lipkes' reputation carried such weight that several filmmakers told me that their decision to participate in a first year film festival was solely because of programming team. This included Gabriel Mariño, director of the subtle yet affecting Un Mundo Secreto (ISA: Shoreline), who said that after playing festivals worldwide he never hesitated the offer to screen at RMFF, "As soon as I knew who the programmers were, there was no question I wanted to be a part of the festival" says Mariño. This is factor that will be key to RMFF's future: having a team which is headed by festival director Paula Chaurand and which filmmakers acknowledge and respect. Filmmakers want to know that their 'baby' is in the right hands.
I found the selection eclectic enough to warrant attention in future editions from filmmakers and industry alike — if it irons out a few kinks. In all fairness, festivals in their first few years are always going to have kinks and quirks, no question about that.
One of the most exciting initiatives presented at RMFF was the RivieraLab, a co-production market and works-in-progress showcase. It screened projects from established, burgeoning and underserved film markets and generated excitement among those in attendance. Look forward to Reimon by Rodrigo Moreno (Argentina/Colombia), Nueva Espana by Raya Martin (Phillipines) & Tormentero by Ruben Imaz (Mexico) to make an impression on the festival circuit in the near future. The RivieraLab is a bold program to take on for most festivals and RMFF was committed enough to connect all the dots and make it a success and something that will eventually draw the eyes of the industry as a trusted place to discover exciting talent.
One thing that I was trying to put my finger on at RMFF was, who is the audience for this festival. By and large it was attended by young locals, an under 40 crowd, which in part was by design making the festival 'inclusive' and not another festival that takes up residence in an unsuspecting town like say, Park City, and turning it into something locals will resent. It's a beautiful gesture that must be connected with industry and cinephiles equally in attendance. At some of the galas I found very few people still left watching the film as the credits rolled which left for an awkward moment for the filmmakers, festival directors and any hope for a post screening Q&A. Fault did not rest on the quality of the film in any case but rather with an audience that perhaps is not used to film festival etiquette – if there is such a thing – and instead were anxious to experience the after party. I can't complain about the beautiful idyllic beach surroundings of the screenings but I'm sure it didn't help. You are planting people in paradise and asking them for two hours of pure focus. Again, not a personal complaint, just an observation.
Important attention will have to be given in identifying who exactly is the festival audience as it seeks to further the benefits to the filmmakers in attendance.
Location wise, RMFF was spread over several towns covering approximate 80 miles which, as far as press goes, can be a logistical problem. It is not ideal when one film alone can consume a large amount of time just in travelling to get to it. This may be another area of RMFF to reconsider: How to consolidate in order to maximize press and audience attendance.
I was incredibly impressed with RMFF as an organization. They were efficient in getting people from location to location and screenings started on time for the most part. The staff was cordial and attentive to attendees, press and filmmakers even if they weren't considered "V.I.P". Judging by all who participated from the “V.I.Ps” down to the volunteers, I left with the feeling that this festival is a film lover’s festival. I'm convinced RMFF will find its own voice and separate itself from any comparisons and be competive with any other festival in Mexico because it has the talent and passion to do so. I think we will be hearing RMFF make even more noise next year. RMFF gave us some of the best Mexico has to offer – Wonderful cinema and wonderful people.