Morelia Festival Celebrates Mexican Helmers, Opens With ‘Birdman’

When the Morelia Intl. Film Festival, Mexico’s premiere showcase for local talent, kicks off Oct. 18 with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman,” it will be the second time in two years the fest hosts the same opener as in Venice, after Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.”

But the festival’s creative director isn’t worried about following Venice’s lead — he’s happy the festival is a big draw for Mexican filmmakers, both emerging talents and established Hollywood helmers.

Inarritu, like Cuaron last year, will come down for the gala screening, a point of pride for Morelia’s creative director Daniela Michel.

“I think it’s critical that we’ve become the most important meeting point for Mexican filmmakers,” Michel says. The festival runs Oct. 17-26 in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico.

Last year, Morelia opened the main feature competition to more seasoned directors, introducing separate prizes for feature and new work, making it possible to have, in one section, heavy-hitters, such as Nicolas Pereda and Julian Hernandez, and promising sophomores, like Bernardo Arellano and Rigoberto Perezcano.

It also began drawing on the talents of former Guadalajara industry organizer Andrea Stavenhagen to put together a strong set of panels covering everything from the frustrating exhibition system in Mexico to the evolving dynamic of mainstream vs. auteur Mexican cinema.

For this 12th edition, the festival will host a conference with MPAA chief Chris Dodd, among many of the panels and events scheduled.

Nevertheless, the number of films showing is roughly the same at around 200 and Michel likes it that way.

“We thought it was important to open the competition, but we never thought, ‘Oh let’s make this a market, or let’s make it an international competition.’ The center of discourse is always Mexico,” Michel says.

While the festival is Mexico-centric, it has always had strong ties to the broader festival circuit, in no small part due to  Michel, whose ties to the festival circuit landed her a seat on this year’s Critics’ Week jury at Cannes, a section from which Morelia has regularly pulled pics since its 2003 launch.

Locarno artistic director Carlo Chatrian will sit on Morelia’s main feature jury, along with former program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center Richard Pena, helmer Pawel Pawlikowski — who will have a retrospective at the festival — d.p. Fred Kelemen and Mexican thesp Gabriel  Gimenez Cacho.

Juliette Binoche will be the guest of honor at the festival for the national premiere of Olivier Assayas’ “The Clouds of Sils Maria.” Other special screenings with directors in tow include Kornel Mundruczo’s “White God” and Alice Rohrwacher’s “The Wonders.” The festival is also hosting a retrospective of Israeli director Amos Gitai.

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