'Nora' takes home audience prize

MORELIA, Mexico — The Morelia Intl. Film Fest handed top honors to one of Mexico’s most buzzed-about directors and a breakout female filmmaker in its closing ceremony Saturday night.

Helmer Amat Escalante garnered the jury prize for “Los bastardos” (The Bastards), his follow-up to “Sangre.” Mariana Chenillo’s first feature-length project, “Cinco dias sin Nora” (Five Days Without Nora), took home the audience prize in the sixth edition of the fest held annually in the capital of the central Mexican state of Michoacan.

Shot on location on an estimated $1 million budget, “Los bastardos” features 24 hours in the lives of two down-on-their-luck day laborers in Los Angeles who turn to violence for revenge. The gory pic was produced independently through Mantarraya Films, which will also distribute in Mexico. Foreign distribution will be handled through frequent Mantarraya collaborator Le Pacte.

Escalante, who won the 2005 Fipresci Prize in Cannes with his first outing “Sangre,” continues to please juries using patient, artful cinematography to portray lives in crisis. “Los bastardos” preemed at Cannes in Un Certain Regard, and made its Mexican bow last week in Morelia. Mantarraya prexy Jaime Romandia told Variety he was worried about getting U.S. distribution due to negative American reviews at Cannes.

Chenillo’s “Cinco dias” chronicles the days following the suicide of titular Nora. The film has yet to land distribution.

Christiane Burkhard took the top doc prize with “Trazando Aleida” (Tracing Aleida). Pic centers on a woman’s search for her brother during Mexico’s “dirty war” between left-wing activists and government forces in the 1970s.

Doc previously won a Gucci/Ambulante post-production grant and will tour 16 Mexican cities and seven nations next year as a part of the Ambulante Documentary Film Festival.

The year’s other Gucci winner, Juan Carlos Rulfo’s “Los que se quedan” about the families and communities left behind by U.S. migrants, made its world debut here last week. While generating a great deal of buzz, a source close to the film said it was not entered into competition in Morelia because its chief backer was Spanish bank Bancomer — a chief festival sponsor.

Other notable Mexican premieres at the festival included Guillermo Arriaga’s “The Burning Plain,” which also played in Venice and Toronto this year, Steven Soderbergh’s festival frequent “Che” “Paraiso Travel” from Simon Brand.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more