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Intimate fest leaves good impression

Event unspooled 11 Mexican features

MORELIA, Mexico — On Mexico’s growing festival circuit, the Morelia Film Fest is making its mark.

In its third year, fest offers a panorama of the Mexican industry. While competition is focused on shorts and docs, fest screened 11 Mexican features, nine of which preemed here.

“Morelia is about young filmmakers, and we are doing our part to nurture the next generation,” says fest director Daniela Michel.

Michel says fest has no plans to open a formal market or add features into the competition, pledging to keep the focus of fest devoted to Mexican shorts and docs.

Outside the competition, a gamut of films unspool at the event. A deal with Cannes Critics Week allows fest to show the French selection and Morelia winners are shown in Cannes. This year, fest’s special invitees were Chilean expat filmmakers Raul Ruiz and Valeria Sarmiento.

Among the docs shown was “Toro negro,” a film that went to Toronto and won a nod in San Sebastian. Doc has been promoted by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who enlisted its two young directors, Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio and Carlos Armella, to film his making of “Babel.”

Telluride fest director Tom Luddy says the docs were a “gutsy” selection of social commentary.

Fest is backed by nation’s largest exhib Cinepolis, which is based in Morelia, home of chain owners the Ramirez family.

During fest, Cinepolis and Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal’s prodco announced a nationwide touring fest of docus for 2006 that will showcase 17 docs, including 10 Mexican, to be hosted in Cinepolis theaters in 16 cities.

With everything going down in heart of Morelia — a strikingly beautiful colonial city — festgoers can walk everywhere, from hotels, to screenings, to the hospitality suite where all the names gather for lunch, to the nightly parties in charming restaurants and colonial homes.

The intimacy of the fest allows film critics, academics and local and international industry players to mingle in a manner uncommon in the big fests.

Atmosphere of the event made a favorable impression on international first-timers to the fest and Mexico. Sight and Sound editor Nick James says, “This is one of the top three experiences I’ve had in my 10 years at Sight and Sound.”

Guadalajara may remain Mexico’s best-known fest for some time, but there is no doubt that Morelia is now on the map.

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