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DISPATCH FROM MEXICO | Growing Morelia Fest Spotlights Docs, Mexican Artists and Indigenous Film

DISPATCH FROM MEXICO | Growing Morelia Fest Spotlights Docs, Mexican Artists and Indigenous Film

An increasingly important Mexican film event — the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) — got a boost on opening night here in the capital city of the state of Michoacan with a surprise appearance by Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The head of state praised the festival for, in just five years, emerging as “one of the most important and most representative film forums of Mexico and Latin America” as the fest opened with Juan Antonio Bayona‘s “The Orphanage” (El Orfanato).

The support from Calderon came as the event, and its primary backer, local exhibitor Cinepolis, toasted Gael Garcia Bernal, who like the festival, has in recent years been a part of instigating a wave of awareness for Mexican cinema. Also on Tuesday, as the Morelia fest launched a new program for indigenous work, the festival also looked ahead, toasting a roster of artists selected for support by Renew Media. During this year’s festival, set in and around Morelia’s bustling downtown historic district, the event also launched a new feature film competition for Mexican feature films.

“Filmmakers not only produce art, they also perform a social and existential function,” said Calderon speaking in Spanish, in remarks prepared for the fest opening, “an essential human function [that] projects ideals, emotions, passions, dreams, virtues, defects, contradictions, fears and joy onto the screen that are characteristic of people, societies and nations.”

Garcia Bernal screened his directorial debut, “Deficit,” on Monday night, with his father in town for the festival, and the next day Ambulante, the traveling documentary festival formed by his production company, was in the spotlight. Now in its third year, the non-profit was formed by Garcia Bernal, and partners Diego Luna and Pablo Cruz‘s Canana Films to support documentary awareness, production and distribution in Mexico

On Tuesday here in Morelia, Ambulante unveiled a new section, Sonidero, for music documentaries that will also incorporate live concerts, and organizers unveiled a plan to take public screenings to correctional facilities and prisons in Mexico City and surrounding areas. The additions will join the official selection of Mexican and international documentaries, a section exploring censorship in film, experimental documentary work, a program of videos presented in partnership with WITNESS and a pair of docs programmed with Africala, the first African Film Festival in Mexico. Screenings at each venue are matched with panel discussions, workshops, and presentation of the Gucci-Ambulante grants that provide up to $40,000 USD for the completion of Mexican documentaries. This year’s recipients include Christiane Buckhard‘s “Trazando Aleida,” Roberto Hernandez‘ “El Externante,” and Natalia Almada‘s “El General.”

Chatting with indieWIRE on Tuesday, festival director general Elena Fortes noted that the event is still screening submissions for the 2008 event. The fest roster will be announced next month and the event is set to run from February 1 – April 24, 2008 at Cinepolis sites and other venues in some 16 cities.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon (right) and Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez (left) on the opening night of the festival in Morelia. Photo provided by the festival

Cinepolis, the largest theater owner in the Latin America with more than 1,600 screens, is a major player here, with its CEO Alejandro Ramirez serving as the Morelia festival’s president. Ramirez’s outfit also supports Ambulante and U.S. based Renew Media’s annual Mexican Media Arts Fellowships program (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and LAPTV) which are supporting four Mexican artists. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the recently renamed Renew Media announced on Tuesday that filmmakers Iria Gomez Concheiro and Francisco Vargas, both from Mexico City, and animator Luis Felipe Hernandez Alanis from Morelos will each receive a $20,000 grant, while indigenous filmmaker Jose Alfredo Jimenez Perez from Chiapas will receive a special $10,000 grant. Last night, the organization toasted its recipients with a festive late-night bash that featured dancers, drumming, an eclectic DJ, and a steady stream of tequila.

News of the support for Jimemez, a young director from San Cristobal de las Casas, coincided with Tuesday’s launch of the inaugural Foro del los Pueblos Indigenas, a series of programs, backed in part by UNESCO, spotlighting the culture and history of “the primary nations of the world” and indigenous filmmakers telling their stories. Introducing the new section during an event at the Cinepolis on Tuesday evening, organizers spoke about spotlighting the often “intangible heritage” of indigenous communities.

Alongside the roster of films vying for prizes in the documentary and short film competitions here in Morelia, organizers are also showcasing new narrative cinema in the inaugural feature competition for Mexican movies. The six titles competiting for the prize are Laura Amelia Guzman & Israel Cardenas‘s “Cochochi,” Nicolas Pereda‘s “Where Are Their Stories?” (Donde Estan sus Historias?), Rene Villarreal‘s “Cumbia Callera,” Francisco Franco Alba‘s “Burn The Bridges” (Quemar las Naves), Jose Luis Gutierrez‘ “Todos Los Dias Son Tuyos,” and Rodrigo Pia‘s “The Zone” (La Zona).

The Morelia International Film Festival continues through Sunday in Mexico, with additional indieWIRE coverage coming later this week.

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