Fest Traveler: Morelia Film Festival

The Morelia festival has rapidly established itself as a forum for emerging young Mexican filmmakers, cultivating an atmosphere of artistic experimentation far from the wheeling-dealing hullabaloo of festival markets.

But a swath of success stories underscores the festival’s impact as a font of film talent. Especially considering that, since 2008, Morelia’s short winner qualifies for submission for Oscar consideration, and pics with top plaudits go on to screen at Cannes Critics’ Week.

For starters, Elisa Miller took Morelia’s 2006 short prize with “Ver llover,” which then went on to win Cannes’ short film Palme d’Or in 2007.

In 2010, Miller brought “Alicia, Go Yonder” to Morelia — it was picked up by sales agent Funny Balloons before going on to play Rotterdam.

From Mantarraya Films, Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s “Alamar” preemed at Morelia in 2009, won its fiction feature prize, and after being picked up by sales agent MK2, was sold to about 20 territories.

The list goes on: First-time helmer Mariana Chenillo took the audience prize with 2009’s “Without Nora,” followed by a run through second-tier fests, producing 15 territory sales and theater runs in 40 U.S. cities.

Morelia doc entry “Presumed Guilty” — a scathing indictment of the Mexican judicial system — made a huge impact at the Mexican B.O. and won the fest’s 2009 doc prize.

Festival president Alejandro Ramirez, also CEO of Mexico’s top exhib Cinepolis, was so moved by the project that after two years of problematic distribution deals, he opened a distrib wing of Cinepolis to screen the film in Mexico in February.

It became Mexico’s top-grossing docu of all time, sparking a nationwide debate about the judicial system that continues to this day.

Morelia’s impact on the docu world looks to have been bolstered significantly in “Presumed Guilty’s” aftermath. So much so that organizers of the doc-only festival Ambulante, founded by thesps Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, will hold their inaugural press conference at Morelia mid-festival.

Since 2005, Mexican film institute Imcine has run a producer-centered Lab workshop parallel to the fest.

Machete Prods.’ Edher Campos attended in 2009 with project “The Room.” Three months later, at Ventana Sur he sold international rights to Pyramide Intl. on Michael Rowe’s “Leap Year” — the Cannes 2010 Camera d’Or winner.

“Morelia’s Lab gave me the necessary tools as a producer to face the challenge of presenting ‘Leap Year’ to distributors and agents at Ventana Sur’s (rough-cut) Primer Corte showcase,” Campos says.

The festival sees only a fraction of the industry participation of many other festivals. But the quality-over-quantity factor is palpable as you walk along the tightly knit avenues of colonial Morelia in a sort of running meet-and-greet, or even more so at the industry-only hospitality suite, where you can find yourself at any moment sitting down to eat with visiting festival brass, studio execs, exhibs, distribs, producers and the twenty-something director that just came on the radar the night before at his premiere.

As festival veep Cuauhtemoc Cardenas acknowledges, Morelia is about producers “seeing what’s here, finding talent,” not necessarily inking deals.

Michoacan mission

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