On the heels of a renaissance in recent years, Mexican cinema continues to ride a wave of global popularity, from an unusually strong presence at this year’s Cannes Film Festival to an increased awareness even among its citizens at home. Now, a Mexican production company called Canana, founded by prominent Latin American actors Gael Garcia Bernal (“Y Tu Mama Tambien“) and Diego Luna (“Frida“), hopes to further that awareness by collaborating with the Morelia International Film Festival to create a traveling documentary fest.
The first of its kind in the country, the initiative (dubbed “Ambulante”) will bring a full week of compelling and challenging documentaries to places where they are rarely seen – towns like Metepec, Puebla, Villahermosa and Merida. The ambitious 16-city tour kicks off in Mexico City (following an opening night party) from February 10-16 and concludes in Cuernavaca with a March 31 – April 6 run. The editions in Guadalajara, Monterrey and Tijuana will be augmented with special cocktail receptions and press events.
“Essentially our mission is to bring documentaries to the rest of the country,” Project Director Elena Fortes told indieWIRE. “Documentaries are shown in select cities in Mexico for an extremely short period of time, and rarely reach main theaters. We want to defy this ‘encapsulation’ of documentary film and inspire further production. We envision a future where we may reach the most remote places in Mexico, and perhaps even extend south to Central and Latin America.”
Not only is the mission of Ambulante to promote access to documentary film in the region, but also they endeavor to assist with production of documentaries in Mexico, promoting filmmaking as more than simply a means of expression – in fact presenting it as a social movement. In the words of the program’s press materials, the organizers assert that “promoting a documentary culture is particularly necessary in Mexico, a country that has witnessed an increasing polarization in socioeconomic class, political affiliation, and demographic distribution… Within its mobility it hopes to breed the capacity to gaze and think beyond borders.”
The more than one dozen titles chosen for the inaugural run of Ambulante cover a broad range of material, from Mercedes Alvarez‘s “El Cielo Gira“, about a year in the life of a small village in northern Spain, to Carlos Armella and Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio‘s “Toro Negro“, which exposes the dark side of an alcoholic bullfighter who abuses his girlfriend. English language selections include Jonathan Caouette‘s brilliant experiment “Tarnation“, a collage of his upbringing by a mentally ill mother, and Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar‘s chilling study “The Corporation“, a disturbing psychological examination of the corporate organizational model.
Other films of note in the program are Margarita Martinez and Scott Dalton‘s “La Sierra“, which tells the story of three young people who live in gang-ridden Medellin, Colombia, Guadalupe Miranda‘s “Relatos Desde el Encierro“, about female inmates of Puente Grande who talk about confinement and freedom, and Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni‘s remarkable work “The Story of the Weeping Camel“, which follows a family of nomadic shepherds in the Gobi Desert of South Mongolia who are confronted with a profound crisis when a mother camel rejects her infant calf. The debut program also features Werner Herzog‘s tragic tale “Grizzly Man“, the story of bear expert Timothy Treadwell who, along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, lived and died by the unpredictable creatures they so dearly loved.
Despite the resurgence of serious filmmaking in Mexico, documentaries remain a dicey bet commercially, so Ambulante aims to fill that gap by programming films that would not otherwise get significant distribution. “The ‘choked’ state of the genre is not necessarily due to a lack of production,” says Fortes. “There has been a growing interest in documentary filmmaking over the past few years. The main problem is that documentaries lack distribution – they are considered a risky business and we are willing to take the necessary risks. We believe that the audiences are there, but they have not been presented with the opportunity to watch them.”
Ambulante will give moviegoers that opportunity, while taking the time to nurture new talent, develop important stories that beg to be told, and perhaps most importantly support the new generation of young Latin American filmmakers. “Overall, I believe documentary film has acquired new value in face of the rising controversy regarding the control of mass media over our perception of reality,” says Fortes. “Documentaries serve as an important channel of expression, presenting visions of a reality that surrounds us but that we don’t seem to grasp otherwise.”