Film festival carries on despite economic downturn

After what observers of the Mexican film scene describe as a challenging year, a sober-minded attitude appears to be guiding the 25th anniversary of the Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival. The granddaddy of Mexican film fests, offering the calendar’s largest market for Latin American cinema north of Rio and long a showcase for debuting Mexican fiction and nonfiction cinema, can’t be said to be in a party mood, “but we’re feeling extremely pleased with the overall selection,” says director Jorge Sanchez.

Given the recent demise of FICCO, the well-respected Mexico City fest of international films, and the impact of the global economic downturn on local film production, festival organizers express some relief that the multipronged event is showing no signs of slowing down or significantly contracting.

“It does seem like survival, when we look at all the turmoil going on,” notes programming director Lucy Virgen, “but with the quality and diversity of films we’re showing, I would say that rather than merely existing and standing, we’re thriving.”

With projection of a slight reduction in the overall program, narrative and documentary selections for the Mexican competition sections will number seven and 16, respectively, while the Ibero-American sections amount to 11 narratives and 14 docs. Highlights in the local fiction competition include Carlos Carrera’s “Of Childhood” (aka “On Childhood”), starring Damian Alcazar; Maria Novaro’s “The Good Herbs”; and rising helmer Nicolas Pereda’s mordant “Perpetuum Mobile.” Pereda is set to have a big fest presence, with a new project, “Summer of Goliath,” being presented in the Guadalajara Constructs program of works in progress.

Reflecting a worldwide pattern of festivals disciplining operational budgets and trimming wherever possible, Guadalajara is reducing the number of both ancillary events and international films while introducing one section, Without Borders, a roster of films with no regard to country origin, format or genre.

Alternative Currents, a section introduced last year and overseen by FICCO’s former programmers Michel Lipkes and Maximiliano Cruz, is back, featuring such festival circuit finds as Oscar Ruiz Navia’s Colombian drama, “Crab Trap.”

Continuing Guadalajara’s long-held tradition of integrating festival programming with the market, a national focus is trained on France, which has traditionally had strong ties with Mexico.

For Sanchez, “It’s a way to recognize a national cinema tradition which has inspired us for decades since the New Wave splashed on our shores. But more, we want to open up a deeper discussion in the festival and market about France’s public policy on filmmaking, which can be extremely useful for Mexico going forward.”

An additional focus on the Spanish region of Andalusia is repped in the program by such fest prizewinners as Alvaro Pastor and Antonio Naharro’s “Yo tambien,” a hit in both San Sebastian and Rotterdam.

Another Andalucian entry, Marta Perez de la Fuente and Ana Arribas’ “Comics,” reflects a trend that surprises Virgen: “Maybe it’s because filmmakers want to cheer up audiences, but there are more comedies than ever before.”

The surprises don’t end there. Perhaps indicating Guadalajara’s position as a key Latin American destination for new films, “We received nearly 1,000 submissions, far beyond our previous numbers,” Virgen notes, “and this is including submissions from countries which have never contacted us before.”

Actress Maria Rojo, a favorite thesp of directors ranging from Jaime Humberto Hermosillo to Jorge Fons, Arturo Ripstein and Felipe Cazals (all longtime regulars with films at the festival), is set to receive Guadalajara’s annual Silver Mayahuel prize.

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