Mexico’s Morelia Film Festival Builds Warm Community of Cinephiles

Mexico's Morelia Film Festival Builds Warm Community of Cinephiles
Mexico's Morelia Film Festival Builds Warm Community of Cinephiles

Glowing reports from the Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia (FICM) inspired me to fly down to Michoacan in late October for the 13th edition. I was not disappointed. After launching as a shorts festival, gradually director Daniela Michel and her co-founder, Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, have added a Mexican Oscar-qualifying shorts as well as a feature competition section to a wide-ranging international program, as well as a works-in-progress showcase for international buyers, complete with cash awards. Arguably, this festival has done much to bolster Mexican filmmaking by nurturing talent, supporting talented shorts directors through their early features.

Slowly but surely Morelia has grown into a world-class festival, drawing a warm community of cinephiles who love to socialize, including a large French contingent led by fest veteran Barbet Schroeder (Cannes entry “Amnesia”) and Cannes director general Thierry Frémaux, who grew up in Argentina and speaks fluent Spanish; he introduced opening night film “Crimson Peak” with an insightful tribute to Guillermo del Toro, who did not attend; he has been nervous about traveling to Mexico since the kidnapping of his father, who was released after the family paid a ransom, decades ago. Del Toro did supply a terrific program of classic Mexican horror films. (I felt safe, no matter what the hour, in Morelia.)

At one gala dinner I talked “Heaven’s Gate” and Michael Cimino with festival tributee Isabelle Huppert (“Louder than Bombs”) and the behind-the-scenes politics of the French Oscar submission “Mustang” with Frémaux, who was discussing classic films like “Hallejujah I’m a Bum” and his Lumiere Film Festival in Lyon with Alfonso Cuarón. He was celebrating with his entire family (including his mother) the Mexican debut of “Desierto,” written and directed by his son, “Gravity” writer-turned-director Jonás Cuarón. Cinepolis is releasing the film starring Gael Garcia Bernal in Mexico, with STX Entertainment handling it stateside.

The British also attended Morelia in force, including Tim Roth (starring in Michel Franco’s Cannes selection “Chronic” and Mexican Oscar entry “600 Miles”), Peter Greenaway, who wisely showed his graphic gay romance “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” at a late show (he has long lavished attention on penises in his work), and Stephen Frears, who accompanied his take on Lance Armstrong, “The Program.”

On the American side, Film Society of Lincoln Center executive director Lesli Klainberg served on the doc jury, director Ondi Timoner screened “Brand: A Second Coming” (Indiewire review here) and SXSW film festival producer Janet Pierson gave a speech at a Sundance workshop. She also drove with me and several jurors to tour nearby Patzcuaro, a quaint fishing town which boasts a lovely theater renovated by Morelia’s Michel and her husband, American academic ex-pat Jim (see top photo).  

At the fest I caught up with animation Oscar contender “Shaun the Sheep,” which was utterly comprehensible in Spanish, as was Trisha Ziff’s breakout documentary “The Man Who Saw Too Much,” an eye-opening portrait of intrepid tabloid news photographer Enrique Metinides, an obsessive man with an eye who turned gore into art (see trailer below). One priceless sequence reveals viewers at a New York gallery exhibit reacting with horror as they take in one of his more horrific pictures. This doc could travel; it won the Guerrero Press Award for Best Mexican Feature Length Documentary and shared the Ambulante Special Award with “El Paso,” by Everardo González Reyes.

Rodrigo Pla’s dramatic health-care expose “The Monster with a Thousand Heads,” which starred Jana Raluy, winner of Best Actress in a Mexican feature film, reminded me of “Wild Tales,” in that it’s about a woman who takes her anger at the system a tad too far. I also admired one-take-wonder “Victoria,” which is exhilarating (we talk to filmmaker Sebastian Schipper here), and Venezuela filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas’ gay drama “From Afar” (our TIFF review here) starring veteran Alfredo Castro as an older man who is drawn to a street tough played by riveting newcomer Luis Silva. It’s on the fest circuit; Angelenos can see it November 10 at AFI FEST.

I spent one day enjoying the luxurious VIP section treatment at one Cinepolis mall multiplex, where you can hang at the food court and bar when not settling into buttery leather chairs and ordering food served by attentive waiters. Cinepolis is the dominant theater chain in Latin America with over 3000 screens and is breaking into the stateside market via similar high-end theaters in Southern California. 

Next time, I’d like to stay long enough to join the Day of the Dead celebration the day after Halloween, much as you see in the stunning opening sequence of “Spectre”; one couple gave me a preview. 

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