Fest Traveler: Morelia Film Festival

When inviting films, most festivals contact the print source, which can be the sales company or the producer or, in a few poverty-stricken cases, the filmmaker.

But when it came to inviting Bela Tarr’s “The Turin Horse” to the Morelia film festival’s ninth edition, artistic director and founder Daniela Michel went several extra steps, and personally delivered an invitation into Tarr’s hands in Budapest.

“It was my way of saying that we truly, truly want your film,” Michel says.

Morelia is a fest that has earned, with dramatic speed, an international rep for extending the welcome mat further, presenting films better, and delivering the entire festival-going experience more vividly than many other events of its medium size and age.

“The smartly programmed official selection captures very well the energy and diversity of contemporary Mexican independent film,” notes critic and Museum of Moving Image editorial director Dennis Lim. “They’ve also done a great job bringing in a wide range of international guests to present retrospectives or premieres,” such as Quentin Tarantino, who unveiled his personal stash of Mexican B-movies last year.

Michel credits a set of coincidences that positioned the festival as a must-see event. Having forged a strong network of filmmaker relationships (including Fernando Eimbcke and Rodrigo Pla) through her short film festival held at Mexico City’s Cineteca, Michel saw there was little support for younger Mexican filmmakers during an ebb for local production in the mid- and late 1990s. During a 2001 visit to Morelia, headquarters to exhib chain Cinepolis, Michel was invited by Cinepolis topper Alejandro Ramirez to set up a Morelia-based event spotlighting shorts and docs.

“It was the right move at the right time,” she says, with a convivial and beautifully preserved colonial city as host, an enthusiastic exhibitor, hungry and ambitious filmmakers ready to burst out with a flood of adventurous features, plus a mix of private support and public aid via the state of Michoacan. The tone was set the first year in 2003 with the presence of Werner Herzog and Salma Hayek, who drew press, and a small but respected Mexican film lineup, which established the festival’s ongoing central theme: What’s new and vital in independent Mexican cinema, especially in docs and shorts.

More than most newer Latin American fests, Morelia has established its international credentials with a combination of factors: frequent repeat visitors such as helmers Barbet Schroeder, Gus Van Sant and Telluride co-director Tom Luddy; deliberate selection of important film artists, such as director Cristian Mungiu, for the competition juries; and cooperative programming ventures with the likes of Cannes’ Critics’ Week, in which both festivals present a selection from the other’s lineup.

“From our first meeting with Daniela, we were impressed with her ambition for the festival, and in particular her promotion of young Mexican talents,” says Critics’ Week program director Remi Bonhomme.

FEATURE COMPETITION

“Malaventura” (Michel Lipkes)
Feature debut is a hotly anticipated new film from Mexico’s emerging generation of filmmakers.

“Artificial Paradises” (Yulena Olaizola)
With her first narrative feature, Olaizola returns to Morelia where she was acclaimed for her doc debut, “Intimacies of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo.”

“The Prize” (Paula Markovitch)
Markovitch’s Argentina-set family drama won two Berlin Silver Bears for artistic achievement.

“The Last Christeros” (Matias Meyer)
This could be Meyer’s breakout film, after impressing auds and critics in Toronto.

“See You, Dad” (Lucia Carreras)
Co-scribe of Camera d’Or winner “Leap Year,” Carreras’ directorial debut preems in Morelia.

“Machete Language” (Kyzza Terrazas)
Terrazas, former producer-writer for hot shingle Canana Films, debuted his film at Venice’s Critics Week.

DOC COMPETITION

“The Open Sky (Everardo Gonzalez)
Among the most discussed docs in this year’s Guadalajara fest.

“The Tiniest Place” (Tatiana Huezo)
An audacious directorial debut, inviting comparisons to Reygadas’ “Japan.”

“The Mexican Suitcase” (Trisha Ziff)
Widely traveled doc on Spanish Civil War photographers is in the Oscar doc hunt.

“Rivers Of Men” (Tin Dirdamal)
Dirdamal won a Silver Ariel for first doc, “No One,” so expectations are high on this look at Bolivia’s water wars.

“The Night Watchman” (Natalia Almada)
Almada looks to be hitting stride with her third doc, a standout at New Directors/New Films.

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