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‘600 Miles,’ ‘Ixcanul,’ ‘Alias Maria’ Play Colombia’s Cartagena Festival

Memory-themed fest balances sense of where it comes from with new Latin American cutting-edge talent

MADRID – Opening with awaited Colombian title “Alias Maria” (pictured), threading the concept of memory – including fest’s own past – throughout its program, the 55th Cartagena International Film Festival, Latin America’s oldest fest, bows today under a new artistic director, Diana Bustamante, one of Colombia’s leading international producers (“The Wind Journeys,” “Crab Trap,” “La Playa D.C.,” “Refugiado” ).

It shows. The 55th FICCI, as it is known in local parlance, picks up, via a section dubbed 5 + 5 FICCI, on signature past Cartagena Fest titles from Latin America, and with a second sidebar, Gabo: The Films of My Life, on movies which impacted Colombia’s Nobel-prize novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a writer who studied cinema, taught cinema at Cuba’s San Antonio de los Baños Film School and whose novels inspired some 20 films. Arguably, his finest film creation, son Rodrigo Garcia, closes FICCI with “Last Days in the Desert.”

“The concept of memory impregnates every aspect of the program we have put together in a titanic effort that brings a wonderful saying to mind: ‘We are what we come from,’” said Bustamante.

Hosting tributes to Argentina’s Pablo Trapero and Korea’s Kim Ki-duk, respectively a founding father of the New Argentine Cinema (and still one of Latin America’s leading directors) and, in arthouse terms, the most recognizable international face of recent Korean cinema, Cartagena pays tribute not only to Darren Aronofsky but to two filmmakers who have helped to launch one of the two film seachanges – with the digital revolution – which have shook the film industry to its very foundations: the explosion of film industries around the world outside of traditional Western European strongholds and Japan which now challenge U.S. indie movies for market share.

At one and the same time, however, FICCI’s Official Fiction Competition zeroes in on Latin American titles, sometimes of very recent vintage, which have helped sustain the region’s robust momentum as ever more titles play international fests, win prizes – 23 at 2015’s Berlin Fest alone – score sales agent deals and sales. (The rub remains their international box office).

Drawn from Ibero-America, FICCI’s Fiction Competition features its two highest-profile 2015 debuts to date, both Berlinale winners: Mexican Gabriel Ripstein’s Tim Roth-starrer “600 Miles,” a humanistic U.S.-to-Mexico road-movie-thriller which won Berlin’s Best First Feature Award; and Guatemalan Jayro Bustamante’s “Ixcanul,” about the plight of a girl who is under-age, a villager, and Mayan who facing unwanted pregnancy. “Ixcanul” took Berlin’s Alfred Bauer Award winner for a feature film that opens new perspectives.

Also in the mix is Brazilian docu filmmaker Adirley Querois’ first play at fiction, “White Out, Black In,” which world premiered at Brasilia’s Festival of Brazilian Film and may be heading to cult status, mixing documentary, fiction and, yes, time travel, as two real-life victims of police racist violence fight back. Section also takes in Franco Lolli’s class-difference-themed ”Gente de bien,” a 2014 Cannes Critics’ Week player and maybe the most appreciated Colombian debut of last year.

Of other potential Fiction Competition highlights, “Sand Dollars,” from Israel Cardenas and Laura Amelia Guzman, features Geraldine Chaplin on fire as a self-deluding elder woman in love. Section also takes in, in an assertion of Bustamante’s desire to program formally bolder fare, Gust Van den Burghe’s “Lucifer,” the tale of the devil’s sojourn in a Mexico village shot in a round Tondoscope format, as well as Lisandro Alonso’s open tale of obsession, paternal love and oblivion “Jauja,” a Fipresci winner at Cannes with an empowering performance from Viggo Mortensen; and “Horse Money,” from Portugal’s Pedro Costa, a phantasmagorical study of a haunted mind. Both have sparked critical raves.

Cartagena’s Colombian Film Competition showcases, of higher-profile titles, “Pink Noise,” a hotel loners’ drama from Roberto Flores (“Chasing Fireflies”), “Three Scapulars,” from Felipe Aljure, a Tarantino-esque tale of two guerrilla sicarios, one a take-no-shit girl, dispatched to murder a snitch; and Peruvian Hector Galvez’s straighter arrow social-issue art film, “NN,” a co-production with Colombia, whose forensic procedural narrative denounces governmental indifference to mass murder during Peru’s Dirty War.

Further fest guests include legendary French photographer-turned-documentarian Raymond Depardon, distinguished Israel director Amos Gitai (“Kippur,” “Kedma,” “Free Zone,” “Disengagement”), whose films, depicting conflict, in not just war but social relations and intimate feelings, are of particular relevance to Colombia filmmakers as they seek to go beyond stock narco-thrillers or by-numbers portrayal of civil conflict.

Also in Cartagena, Michael Fitzgerald, producer of John Huston’s “Wise Blood,” Sean Penn’s “The Pledge” and Bertrand Tavernier’s “In the Electric Mist” and an executive producer on Nicolas Echeverria’s 2014 Guadalajara winner “Eco de la montaña.” A legendary raconteur, his master-class, if he gave one, would rate as a festival highlight.

The winners of Cartagena’s first PuertoLab Works in Progress competition will be announced Saturday.

Backed by the Bogota Chamber of Commerce and Colombian film agency Proimagenes, the 2015 Bogota Audiovisual Market (BAM) will also be presented at Cartagena. Going into its 6th edition, BAM runs July 13-17, maintaining its main sections dedicated to projects – chosen for their co-production potential- , screenings and BAM Talks, a discussion forum. Mexico will be this year’s guest country of honor. On Thursday, a BAM round table will analyze alternative distribution. Panelists include

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel , from Mexico’s Morelia Fest, Pere Roca at Spain’s Media Business School), Diego Ramirez at 64A Films, one of Colombia’s top film-TV production outfits, and Ricardo Giraldo at Cinema23, an enterprising Mexico-based Ibero-American film promo org.

Fest opens Wednesday with Jose Luis Rugeles’ “Alias Maria,” a vision of Colombia’s inhuman armed conflict, seen through the eyes of a young – and pregnant – girl soldier.

An “intimate drama,“ “Alias Maria” is an attempt to dissuade young audiences from taking up arms in Colombia, said its producer Federico Duran at Rhayuela Cine. The average age of recruits in Colombia in 2013 was 12.5 years of age. Some sources assure that nearly 50% of combatants are under 18, and almost half of these under 15, he added.

In multiple ways, “Alias Maria” symbolizes cutting-edge Latin American movie production today. It turns on a touchstone dilemma in a sizeable number of Colombian movies – “Three Scapulars” is another example – where characters are forced to choose between violence and life-enhancing action. Any social vision takes second billing to its central human drama. In industrial terms, “Alias Marias” was framed as an international co-production, between Bogota’s Rhayuela, the producer of Wild Bunch-sold “El Paramo,” Gilles Duffaut’s Paris-based production-distribution-sales co Axxon Films (“Irina, the Scarlet Briefcase,” “Wax”) and Buenos Aires’ Sudestada Cine (“Refugiado,” “El Paramo,” “Solo”). Paris/New York-based UDI acquired international sales rights at the American Film Market with the film still in post-production. Fox + pre-bought pan-Latin American rights. Pic forms part of a multi-platform roll-out, including workshops and “Alias Yineth,” a docu-portrait of a real-life ex-guerrillera.

Cartagena closes Tuesday March 17 with the Latin American premiere of “Last Days in the Desert,” from Rodrigo Garcia (“Mother and Child,” “Albert Nobbs”), son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which is lensed by Mexico’s great cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, but produced out of the U.S. and toplines Ewan Mcgregor as both Jesus and Satan. Critically praised – Variety’s Justin Chang called it an “austere and stirringly beautiful drama” – it is a testament like Oscar winner “Birdman” to what crossover Latino/international talent – of which there will be much more in the future – can achieve.

OFFICIAL FICTION COMPETITION

600 Miles”, (Gabriel Ripstein, Mexico, U.S.)

“Ixcanul”, (Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala, France)

“The Mud Woman”, (Sergio Castro, Chile)

“Ragazzi”, (Raúl Perrone, Argentina)

“White Out, Black In”, (Adirley Queirós, Brazil)

“Horse Money”, (Pedro Costa, Portugal)

Sand Dollars”, (Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán, Mexico, Dominican Republic)

“Gente de bien”, (Franco Lolli, Colombia, France)

Jauja”, (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina, U.S., Holland, France, Mexico, Denmark, Germany, Brazil),

“Lucifer”, (Gust Van Den Berghe, Mexico, Belgium),

“Six-Year Plan”, (Santiago Cendejas, Mexico)

“NN”, (Héctor Gálvez, Peru, Colombia, Germany, France)

 

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

“At 60 KM/H”, Facundo Marguery, Uruguay)

“Antigone Awake”, (Lupe Pérez García, Spain)

“Echo of The Mountain, (Nicolás Echevarría, Mexico)

“No Place Like Home”, (Carlos Hagerman, Mexico)

“The Silence of the Princess”, (Manuel Cañibe, Mexico)

“Invasion”,  (Abner Benaim, Panama, Argentina)

“Tea Time”, (Maite Alberdi, Chile, U.S.)

“The Inflated Jungle”, (Alejandro Naranjo, Colombia)

“Not All is Vigil”, (Hermes Paralluelo, Spain, Colombia)

“You and Me”, (Oriol Estrada and Natalia Cabral, Dominican Republic)

“The Good Life”, (Jens Schanze, Colombia, Germany)

 

OFFICIAL COLOMBIAN FILM COMPETITION

“Before the Fire”, (Laura Mora, Colombia)

“Cord”, (Pablo González, Colombia, Germany, France)

“The Silence of the River”, (Carlos Tribiño, Colombia, Uruguay, France)

“Gente de bien”, (Franco Lolli, Colombia, France)

“Four Men Alone”, (Francisco Schmitt García, Colombia)

“The Inflated Jungle”, (Alejandro Naranjo, Colombia)

“The Seed of Silence”, (Juan Felipe Cano, Colombia)

“NN”, (Héctor Gálvez, Peru, Colombia, Germany, France)

“Pink Noise”, (Roberto Flores Prieto, Colombia)

“Wasted Time”, (Alexander Giraldo, Colombia)

“Three Scapulars”, (Felipe Aljure, Colombia)

“Letter to a Shadow”, (Miguel Salazar and Daniela Abad, Colombia)

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