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Locarno: Casa Wabi, Mantarraya Launch Film Prize

First award to be given at Locarno this Saturday

LOCARNO, Switzerland — Mexico’s Mantarraya Group, producer of Cannes Best Director winners Carlos Reygadas (2012’s “Post Tenebras Lux”) and Amat Escalante (2013’s “Heli”), is establishing another festival presence in Europe, teaming with art foundation Fundación Casa Wabi to adjudicate a new prize at the Locarno Festival’s newly competitive Signs of Life section.

Opening this year with the world premiere of Disney’s “Coco,” the Morelia Intl. Film Festival will also support the Fundación Casa Wabi-Mantarraya Award, which will be adjudicated Aug. 12 at Locarno’s prize ceremony.

The prize is a meeting of like-minds. Launched in 2013, and borrowing the title of Werner Herzog’s first feature, Signs of Life set outs out to explore cinema’s frontier territories through “novel narrative formats and innovation in filmic language,” the Locarno Festival’s website explains.

This year’s 11 feature lineup includes Nelson Carlo de los Santos Luxbox-sold “Cocote,” set against a background of Los Misterios, a syncretic mix of West African beliefs and Christianity in Santo Domingo; Brazilian Adirley Queiros’ “Once There Was Brazil,” a (typical for the director) political thriller come sci-fi mockumentary; and “The Dead Nation,” a well-reviewed doc-feature from regarded Romanian director Radu Jude. These film can be anti-establishment, politically worrisome – Jude’s film returns to Romanians’ persecution of Jews in the 1940s, swept under a carpet, and how images do not illustrate but obfuscate reality – and formally adventurous. That’s in line with the film of Reygadas and Escalante whose last, Venice Best Director winning “The Untamed,” set out to explain modern Mexico via sci-fi monster movie parable.

Casa Wabi, meanwhile, is an artists residence set on the Oaxaca Pacific coast, a multi-ethnic region is lower Mexico. The Award Fundación Casa Wabi-Mantarraya consists in an up-to-three month residency there, designed to promote both “multidisciplinary encounters” and “introspection” for artists who are expected to contribute to the promotion and development of the local Oaxaca communities, in one of Mexico’s most multi-ethnic states. The winning director will be chosen on the basis of “artistic qualities that explore the seventh art in cutting-edge ways and whose work relates to social commitment,” Fundación Casa Wabi and Mantarraya said in a joint statement. Artists in residence include a strong mix of U.S. (Korean-American conceptual artists Michael Joo, for instance), and Mexican (Diego Quemada-Diez, director of “La Jaula de Oro”)  artists. Tapping into Signs of Life will help spread the Fundación’s net wider.

The Fundación Casa Wabi-Mantarraya Award will be presented on Aug. 12 by José Luis Mejía Razo, managing director at ND Mantarraya, the distribution joint venture between Mantarraya and Reygadas’ Nodream Cinema and an ex Locarno Academy International-Morelia alum. Signs of Life already sports one prize, a 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,200) grant from Zurich’s electronic-art.foundation.

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