In three Mexican cities along the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, the Riviera Maya Film Festival launches its annual program of free screenings for the public. Most theaters in the region screen commercial films, but RMFF believes that people deserve to see other kinds of movies, and so the festival brings films from many of the heavy hitters: Cannes, Toronto, Berlin and Venice among them.
Riviera Maya has managed to attract some starry talent, too. And why not? It’s in a temperate environment, away from the flash bulbs of Hollywood. Last year the red carpet rolled out for Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and in the past the festival has recruited Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen, Susan Sarandon, Patricia Arquette, Stephen Dorff, Vanessa Hudgens and Christian Slater.
The festival also has its own Lab, which bolsters emerging independent film projects and invites “work-in-progress” screenings, giving filmmakers a chance to screen their work to the public before submitting to major film festivals (Cannes included).
A lot of the Riviera Maya program screens right on the beach, flush with the Caribbean as waves break within earshot at dark. I’m happily attending for my second consecutive year. Highlights from the 2015 fest circuit include Guy Maddin’s delightfully demented “The Forbidden Room,” Andrew Bujalski’s comedy “Results,” Sebastian Schipper’s one-take thriller “Victoria,” Michael Fassbender western “Slow West” and Jafar Panahi’s Berlin Golden Bear winner “Taxi.”
From 2014, Riviera Maya screens Celine Sciamma’s lovely coming-of-ager “Girlhood,” Bertrand Bonello’s experimental YSL biopic and French Oscar submission “Saint Laurent,” Ulrich Seidl’s creepy doc “In the Basement,” the Safdies’ heroin drama “Heaven Knows What,” hot fest horrors “Goodnight Mommy” and “Cub,” Larry Clark’s “The Smell of Us” and acclaimed Chinese films “Red Amnesia” and “The Golden Era,” and much more.
Gala films, in a festival generously full of genre fare, include Joe Dante’s return to form “Burying the Ex” and Asia Argento’s “Incompresa.”
The Riviera Maya Film Festival runs April 23-29.