Morelia: Online Shorts Selection Showcases Mexico Talent, Trends

34-title spread is an innervating indication of Mexican filmmaking energy, ambition, growing cosmopolitan breadth

David Zonana’s “Princesa,” produced by Michel Franco (“Chronic”) and Gabriel Ripstein (“600 Miles”), toon pic “A Nap on the Train” – which underscores the sophistication of Mexican animation – and Ileana Leyva’s “In the Hallways,” a film suggesting its geographic spread – are featured in the Morelia Fest 2nd Online Mexican Short Film Selection.

Near double in size– 34 titles vs. 2014’s 19 – the titles will play YouTube and a fest micro website during Mexico’s Morelia Fest, which runs Oct. 23 to Nov. 1.

Requiring permission from producers to play online, selection takes in half of the shorts that will screen from Friday at Morelia. Some buzzed-up titles – Juan Jose Medina and Rita Basulto’s “Zimbo,” or the eco-conscious “Jaguar” in animation; Alejandro Gerber’s “Luces brillantes” in fiction – aren’t in the cut; which will of course lend even more excitement to the short films’ cinema theater exhibition at Morelia.

But, an enterprising attempt to broaden the shorts’ distribution, the Online Selection also offers a priceless window onto bubbling-under talent and trends – industrial, artistic – now coursing through the short sector, which still reps much of Morelia’s fest heart, in an industry – Mexico’s – whose young talent in increasingly on Hollywood’s radar.

In “Princesa,” from Franco and Ripstein’s Lucia Films, which also co-produced Venice Golden Lion winner “From Afar,” a teen is raped – or so she says – recovers with her mother, then goes to a bar, meets two middle-aged strangers, has sex with them in a lavatory. There are several explanations for her behavior, all disquietening.

“A Nap on the Train,” by Francisco Fernando Herrera, features sophisticated, imaginative illustrations to relate a man’s nightmarish descent into the subway system.

Shot in b/w at Paris’ Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse with austere formal rigor – wipes and slow sideways tracking shoots, abstract out-of-focus lensing of dancers – “In the Hallways” goes behind the scenes of an elite dance school, featuring a lucid interview with former Merce Cunnigham dancer Cheryl Therrieu; while one young dancer talks about his concerns, another dances.

Flush with tax incentives, Mexican feature film production has skyrocketed of late, to 130 long-features in 2014, the highest figure since 1959.

At 535 titles in 2014, short film production in Mexico is more volatile. So the Official Selection’s online growth may well reflect a build in short submissions in general.  Per Chloe Roddick, Morelia film programmer, the number of shorts submitted – fiction, animation and documentary – has increased 30% in the past two years to over 700 in 2015.

There’s also been an increase in the number of shorts directed by women: 19 out of a total 44 fiction works this year, she added.

A clutch of films underscores the ambition of young Mexican filmmakers. “Films that come from the CCC, or other film schools, or that have Imcine funding, generally have (and historically have had) high production values,” said Roddick.

But “We are seeing higher production values in independent shorts,”  she added.

Exquisitely shot by D.P. Juan Pablo Ramirez, and with detailed art direction, and with echoes of Carlos Saura’s “Raise Ravens,” Lucero Sánchez’s half-hour “Mauve,” about an eight-year-old’s first experience of death, is produced by the CCC, with the help of Monica Lozano’s Alebrije Producciones, producer of “Instructions Not Included.”

Penned by Colombia’s Patricia Guerrero, “Le-go Solutions,” was made with help from Rob Schneider.

“Work Sets You Free” lasts 25 minutes, features overlaid music-laced images of Mexico City at night as a mall sweeper, who reads “Moby Dick,” wants to “do something,” travels from beyond Satellite City to central D.F., and succumbs to a “Taxi Driver”-ish reverie.

In Arie Socorro’s fantasy horror “Let Her Go,” a graven voice phones a man on his wedding night, advising him to let him bride go. Boasting prosthetics, VFX, and a three-minute credit crawl, it is a calling card for its producers, MCO Film Works, Cluster Animation, Color Space and EFD.

Also, said Roddick, “We’re starting to receive more works from Mexican directors working at schools outside of Mexico: This year we have six shorts in the official selection that were made outside of Mexico: Two from Germany, one from Sarajevo; one from Barcelona; and two from the U.S.”

“Isabel in Winter,” co-directed by Nicaragua’s Laura Baumeister, who teaches directing actors at Mantarraya’s film workshop, and Germany’s Teresa Kuhn, is produced by Munich’s HFF Munich.

“Oak Leaves,” from Paulina Riojas, who studied at the CCC and DAAD, unspools in Mexico City then Germany as a young woman attempts to trace her German father’s family.

Nicolas Gutierrez Wenhammer’s “Bird and Woman,” a world premiere, is produced by Barcelona production company El Dedo en el Ojo, shot in Catalonia, spoken in Catalan.

Of animation shorts, the simply illustrated “The Lost Boys” by Paula Assadourian, about two boys’ adventures in a forest, is voiced in English, the more conceptual poem-based “Rebote,” with simple illustrations of homeless dogs superimposed on text, in French.

In Fernando Rangel’s near painful-to-watch “The Promised Daughter,” a married couple places the dead body of their seven-year-old daughter in the trunk of their car and set off across tall-grass lands of Mexico to find a clergyman who brings back people from the dead. But their hope, then their car, fails them. The faith cannot change reality.

Some other shorts pack social issue reflection. More common leitmotifs of Online Selection fiction shorts, however, are broken or unhappy families – sometimes with obvious social import, sometimes not and coming-of-age narratives, or teens struggling with their sexuality.

“Fosforo,” from UNAM student Mauricio Hernandez, is the psychological portrait of a young, increasingly directionless Mexican, expelled from the U.S., who plays – literally when a child, figuratively as an adult – with fire.

Laura Baumeister and Teresa Kuhn’s “Isabel in Winter” portrays a dissatisfied mother who can’t relate to her young son, desperately wants to leave her benighted German farmstead; “Le-go Solutions,” made with help from Rob Schneider, is a concise tale of domestic abuse seen from the POV of a brutal machista padre’s young son, as he plays Lego.

At least one short – it would be a spoiler to say which one – suddenly, shockingly, reveals pedophilia, at the heart of its family members’ distance and sense of boding.

“Agua” (“Water”) by Ricardo Esparragoza, made with arresting minimal imagery, a shy teen swimmer struggles to come to terms with his sexual identity. “Cipriana,” from Marauni Aline Landa Beligny, chronicles a schoolgirl’s sexual awakening, taunts in class for her “melon”-size breasts, her awkwardness and fantasies. Directed by Lucero Sanchez, “Mauve’s” Estela, aged-8, has her first experience of death, when her friend is killed in a car accident. She attempts, alone, to process the event.

The Michoacan Section, featuring shorts from the state in which Morelia is located, has also grown t0 13 films in 2015. “This increase in production output from Michoacan is, in large part, due to the festival’s influence in the state,” Roddick said.

Of Michoacan shorts, “El Camino del Pancracio,” by Angel Antonio Delgado, alludes to domestic violence, featuring quite harrowing scenes of a couple wrestling each other with lamps and other objects. Hector Estrada’s “Where You Will Never Die,” from Heart Eye Films, a plea for press freedoms, has a girl falling for a courageous government dirt-digging journalist.

“One strength of Mexican documentary over the last six-to-seven years is that ​filmmakers are approaching documentary issues in innovative and diverse ways, not only in terms of storytelling, but also in the means of production,” said Daniela Alatorre, Morelia documentary programmer. “You have all [different] genres of narrative fiction. In documentary, it didn’t used to be so open,” she added.​

So docu shorts, as features, at Morelia, range widely from, in its Official Selection online, portraits of individuals (Argel Ahumada de Mendoza’s “Benny,” Esteban Arrangoiz’s “The Diver,” “Muchacho en la barra que se masturba con rabia y osadia,” from double Berlin Teddy winner Julian Hernandez) and their environment (“Mi paraiso,” from Nicolas Aguilar), to more formal experiment (Clemente Castor Reyes’ “Vacuo”) and timeplay (Miguel Enrique Ortega Barrera’s “Niña mirando a traves de una ventana que dejo de existir).

Arturo Baltazar’s “The Absence” turns on an elderly woman whose family visits once a year, for her birthday. It means the world to her. Produced by Ambulante Mas Alla, “PAAX,” from Maria Bello Buenfil, turns on Mayan Poetry, a Maya-language hip-hop group. “Down Southern Roads,” from Jorge Luis Linares Martinez, chronicles a teen’s growing understanding of her activist father.

Audiences will be able to vote for their favorite short. Winner receives an Online Mexican Short Film Award, which includes a six-month distribution prize from la Ñora Distribuye and a Pesos 50,000 ($3,000) cash prize.

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