LOS CABOS – Two forces of nature – Reese Witherspoon, and the far less benevolent hurricane Odile – took center stage at the opening ceremony of the 3rd Los Cabos Festival, along with the slaughter of 43 students in Ayotzinapa and a posthumous prize for the late great Roger Ebert.

Witherspoon presented Jean-Marc Valle’s true-event-based “Wild,” which saw its Latin American premiere at Los Cabos

Appropriately for a festival which has positioned itself as a meeting place for the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican industries, in “Wild,” Witherspoon plays Cherly Strayed, a woman who sought catharsis from her mother’s death and divorce walking the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to the Mexican border.

“This movie is very close to my heart,” Witherspoon said on stage.

“I optioned the book. This is Cheryl Strayed story .I was so moved about by the book that I knew immediately I had to turn it into a film. It’s a journey about love, and loss, grief, happiness,”

Earlier, at a press conference, Witherspoon had stressed her interest in reaching out to Latino audiences, reminding journalists she had shot and produced a film with Sofia Vergara – “Don’t Mess With Texas” – and had approached Eugenio Derbez with the idea of working together. 20 years ago, Latinos courted Hollywood. Now, increasingly, it’s the other way round.

In the emotional highpoint of the opening ceremony, Roger Ebert’s widow, Chaz Ebert, accepted an award that forms part of a tribute to Ebert, coinciding with Los Cabos screening of Steve James’ “Life Itself.” Extended excerpts were screened at the ceremony-

“My husband would have been so happy to know that I am at Los Cabos Film Festival accepting an award on his behalf,” Chaz Ebert said.

She continued: “He believed that the most noble thing that cinema can do is to put you in someone else’s shoes and let you feel what it’s like to be a person of another race, nationality, gender, age or economic class so that we can all feel the heart of someone else.”

The damage done to Cabo San Lucas by Odile, whose winds reached up to 135 mph, causing a 92% electricity outage, can be seen graphically at the Puerto de Paradise shopping mall, where movies unspool at a Cinemex multiplex. Filmgoers hurrying to screenings mix with workers repairing the mall’s ripped roof. Odile caused an estimated $1.1 billion damage.

“We’all watched of course the news of Odile frpm our various countries and it was very painful moment for all of you. We’re here – and I speak on behalf of many foreign delegates – to support the people of Los Cabos,” said Piers Handling, Toronto Festival CEO, and a Los Cabos Mexico-U.S.-Canada jury member. Diego Luna, a fellow In such a context, the 3rd Los Cabos fest has more emotional heft for local audiences.

“The Festival is very symbolic for us. It shows we are still standing. It shows our spirit, and this will be the best edition to date,” said a moved Ruben Reachi, Baja California Sur Secretary for Tourism.

Fest director Alfonso Aguilar-Castillo, who co-presented the gala, also unveiled the nine winners of Los Cabos’ in-house Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund.

Having accepted their awards, winners counted with the audience up to 43, the number of students who have disappeared in the state of and are now presumed murdered. Their slaughter goes unpunished.

“Cinema is a way of giving a voice to those who haven’t got it,” said Alonso Aguilar.