World-class festival winners are bowing at the 14th Morelia Int’l Film Festival, including Damian Chazelle’s Oscar-buzzworthy “La La Land,” Nate Parker’s controversial Sundance hit “Birth of a Nation,” Ken Loach’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake” and Berlinale Golden Bear prizewinner “Fire at Sea” by Gianfranco Rosi.
The 10-day fest opens Oct. 21 with Pablo Larrain’s latest opus, “Neruda,” which reps Chile at the Foreign-Language Oscar race, and stars Gael Garcia Bernal who will present the pic. Guests of honor this year include Willem Dafoe, Giada Colagrande and Audrey Tautou. Rising Venezuelan star Edgar Ramirez will be presenting two high-profile pics he stars in, “The Girl on the Train” and “Hands of Stone.”
But Morelia remains an important barometer of the latest in Mexican cinema. Mexican thesp Demian Bichir, Oscar-nommed for his lauded perf in 2011 drama “A Better Life,” is staging the world premiere of his directorial debut “Un Cuento de Circo & a Love Song” (formerly titled “Refugio”). Produced by AG Studios’ Itaca Films, “Un Cuento de Circo…” turns on a young man called Refugio who was born in a circus and journeys from Mexico to New Orleans in search for his lost love. Its cast is led by Bichir, his co-star in FX’s “The Bridge” Diane Kruger, Jason Patric and Eva Longoria.
Meanwhile, Ecuador’s most-renowned helmer Sebastian Cordero (“Europa”) has also chosen Morelia for the Mexican debut of his latest pic, “Sin Muertos no hay Carnaval,” a co-production between his shingle with producing partner Arturo Yepes, Carnaval Cine, Mexico’s Salamandra Prods. and Germany’s Atkis Film Prod. The thriller, which bowed in Ecuador on Sept. 2, is set against the real conflict in Guayaquil’s Monte Sinai shantytown between the squatter families, who claim they bought their land legally, and the authorities.
Both much-anticipated pics, while not in competition, lead a showcase of strong titles in Morelia’s local feature film, docs, and shorts categories. Clear evidence of the production boom in Mexico is some 800 submissions to Morelia this year. “Submissions are up by 10% every year,” said festival director Daniela Michel.
Morelia’s official features competition includes Amat Escalante’s supernatural pic, “The Untamed,” which is a departure from the themes of his reality-based pics (“Heli,” “Los Bastardos”). “It’s good for a filmmaker to reinvent himself,” said Michel.
Also eagerly anticipated is Claudia Sainte-Luce’s “The Empty Box” whose debut feature “The Amazing Catfish” wowed critics and auds alike in 2013. Again somewhat based on a personal experience, “The Empty Box” centers on how an ailing father, who is in the process of losing his memory, forms a stronger bond with his daughter.
Among the 15 pics in competition are “Todo lo demas,” the feature debut of docu filmmaker Natalia Almada, acclaimed for her stirring docu about a sprawling graveyard favored by Mexico’s slain drug lords, “El Velador” (“The Night Watchman”).
Daniel Castro Zimbron (“Tau”) delivers his second pic “Las Tinieblas” (“The Darkness”) to vie for the big prize. The fantasy psychological thriller, which participated in the Guadalajara Ibero-American co-prod meeting and Cannes Cinefondation workshop in 2014, pivots on a father and his three children who seek shelter in a cabin in a menacing forest.
Also emblematic of the expanding genre auteur tradition in Mexico is Emiliano Rocha Minter’s dystopian horror-fantasy “Tenemos la carne,” sanctioned no less by Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Carlos Reygadas, a co-producer. Set in a post-apocalyptic Mexico, the pic tracks a pair of siblings who, while wandering in search for food and shelter, meet a man who offers to help them survive, then encourages them to indulge their basic instincts.
Standout docs in competition include Tatiana Huezo’s “Tempestad,” a recent best documentary winner at the 20th Lima Festival and first presented at the festival’s works-in-progress initiative, Impulso Morelia, last year. It traces a woman whose pained and disembodied voice leads the audience on her journey home after being released from a notorious prison. Another 2015 Impulso Morelia participant, Lucia Gaja’s “Batallas Intimas,” also vies for the Best Documentary prize.
Also notable is the debut feature docu of Guatemalan Izabel Acevedo, “El Buen Cristiano” (“The Good Christian”), produced by top Mexican film school CCC, which turns on the genocide trial of General Jose Efrain Rios who led a military coup that annihilated an entire community in Guatemala.
Shorts, which Morelia has always championed, includes “Verde” by Alonso Ruizpalacios who won the First Feature prize at the 2014 Berlinale with his offbeat black and white dramedy, “Gueros.”
“More female directors have submitted documentaries and shorts this year,” noted Michel, adding that out of 51 fiction and docu shorts in competition, around 15 are by women. “It’s always been our mandate to give equal attention to features, documentaries and shorts,” she added. The festival also includes a section devoted to entries from the region of Michoacan, of which Morelia is the capital.
Now on its second year, pix-in-post showcase Impulso Morelia will also include projects in development for programmers, buyers, sales agents and producers to peruse. This year’s Impulso Morelia jury is comprised of British producer Lisa Marie Russo, Antonio Saura, producer and general director of the international sales agency Latido Films, and Vincenzo Bugno, director of the World Cinema Fund at Berlinale.
To celebrate the Mexico-Germany Dual Year program aimed at promoting their respective cultures, industries, trade and innovations in each other’s countries, Morelia will host a Berlinale Spotlight where more than two dozen pics from the 2016 Berlin Int’l Film Festival will screen at the fest with Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick, a regular Morelia guest, and his team in attendance.
The 14th Morelia Int’l Film Festival runs October 21-30.
“Day Six,” (Juan Pablo Arroyo)
MEXICAN FEATURE FILM SECTION
“3 ZENE or Waking Up From My Bosnian Dream,” (Sergio Flores Thorija)
“The Empty Box,” (Claudia Sainte-Luce)
“She Was Dania,” (Dariela Ludlow)
“Lupe Under the Sun,” (Rodrigo Reyes)
“Minezota,” (Carlos Enderle)
“Pacífico,” (Fernanda Romandía)
“The Romantic Barbe,” (Iván Ávila Dueñas)
“The Untamed,” (Amat Escalante)
“Mara’akame Dream,” (Federico Cecchetti)
“We Are The Flesh,” (Emiliano Rocha Minter)
“Time Without Pulse,” (Bárbara Ochoa)
“The Darkness,” (Daniel Castro Zimbrón)
“Everything Else,”(Natalia Almada)
“The Night Guard,” (Diego Ros)
“Zeus,” (Miguel Calderón)
MEXICAN DOCUMENTARY SECTION
“Intimate Battles,” (Lucía Gajá)
“Beauties of the Night,” (María José Cuevas)
“The Good Christian,) (Izabel Acevedo)
“El charro de Toluquilla,” (José Villalobos Romero)
“The Letters,” (Pablo Chavarría Gutiérrez)
“Bronze Nation,” (Julio Jesús Fernández Talamantes)
“While Looking for the Devil,” (Danniel Danniel, Diego Gutiérrez)
“Kids From Nowhere,” (Jaime Villa)
“The Swirl,” (Laura Herrero Garvín)
“Resurrection,” (Eugenio Polgovsky)
“The Modern Jungle,” (Saul Kak, Charles Fairbanks)
“Speaking Tongues,” (Kyzza Terrazas)
“Tempestad,” (Tatiana Huezo)