Karlovy Vary Film Festival Pays Tribute to Female Mexican Directors, Otto Preminger

Alejandra Márquez Abella's 'Semana Santa' plays at Karlovy Vary

Karlovy Vary Pays Tribute to Female
Courtesy of KVIFF

LONDON — The Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, which plays July 1-9, will put the spotlight on the current generation of Mexican female directors, and also plans to run a tribute to Otto Preminger.

Festival artistic director Karel Och said: “KVIFF’s special tributes will once again become an exciting meeting point between the modern and the classic. The festival will highlight the vital creativity of contemporary Mexico’s young female directors, and will remember, three decades after his passing, the visionary genius of Otto Preminger, a fellow Central European who conquered the United States with his overpowering charm and unflagging advocacy for freedom of artistic expression.“

The focus on women directors from Mexico includes nine films from the past five years. The festival highlights the founding of the Imcine film institute in 1983 as of “undeniable importance to the increase of female directors in Mexico.” It was this organization, the fest says, which assisted the careers of the country’s leading writer-directors and paved the way toward New Mexican cinema that soon began making a splash at international festivals. Alongside the top names of their more famous male colleagues, the new millennium saw an unprecedented number of women enter the Mexican film stage, the majority born in the early 1980s.

Young female directors, most of them university educated, captured the imagination not only of viewers, but also festival juries and consequently producers as well “primarily with the courageous and spontaneous way they introduce into their films their generation’s specifically feminine take on reality, love and sex, and also issues of parenthood, the quest for the meaning of life and for their own identity,” the festival states. “Yet they also have their own special way of looking at social problems, and of isolating aspects of reality which their male counterparts might overlook.”

In Victoria Franco’s first feature, “Through the Eyes” (A los ojos, 2014), which the director made with her brother Michel, the protagonist is a social worker trying her utmost to help the human wrecks languishing amid piles of trash as the victims of alcohol and drugs. The festival will also present Franco’s short film “Borde” (2014). Elements of social realism will also be found in Claudia Sainte-Luce’s first film “The Amazing Cat Fish” (Los insólitos peces gato, 2013), whose main character is unexpectedly lifted from her tedious existence as a supermarket cashier when she meets an unusual family who take her into their fold.

Humor, if rather unintentional, also underlies “The Pleasure Is Mine” (El placer es mío, 2015), whose author Elisa Miller is the best known Mexican female director in international circles, and the only one to have won a Palme d’Or — for her short movie “Watching It Rain” (Ver llover, 2006). The story of two people living in an unstable relationship and the rejection of the substitute father by the woman’s eight-year-old son is the subject of “Semana Santa” (2015), whose creator Alejandra Márquez Abella made two documentaries before shooting this feature debut.

A romantic encounter fuels the second film by Katina Medina Mora, “You’ll Know What to Do With Me” (Sabrás qué hacer conmigo, 2015), whose protagonists have to deal with health issues and whose treatment betrays the director’s experience in stage direction.

Of the work of the already well-known director Yulene Olaizola, the showcase will include her elegiac meditation on the futility of being, “Fogo” (2012), which in 2012 was part of the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes. Melancholy tones also characterize Tatiana Huezo’s “Tempestad” (2016), recently screened at the Berlinale. Here, too, documentary and feature intertwine in a work that is consistent in its authentic portrayal of the lives of social outcasts. In a certain sense, the characters appearing in Betzabé García’s documentary “Kings of Nowhere” (Los reyes del pueblo que no existe, 2015) are also outsiders, this time set in a partially submerged village in North-Western Mexico.

The festival will commemorate the work of the controversial visionary and independent filmmaking pioneer Otto Preminger (1905-1986), through eight of his films, including “Laura.”

“He could be such a bully on the set and could destroy people, and then he would be a charming, witty companion at dinner who knew the best wines and caviar,” recalled actress Deborah Kerr. “Otto was a terrorist – he’s Arafat, a Nazi, Saddam Hussein – who never knew the difference between lying and not lying,” said author Leon Uris in exasperation over their problematic work together on the film adaptation of his best-selling novel “Exodus,” while Frank Sinatra, the star of “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955), had nothing but words of admiration for Preminger (“Otto was so smart in every possible way”).

The native Austrian who set out across the Atlantic in 1935 broached a number of taboo themes, and so influencing the development of the American film industry. The first ever independent producer working with autonomy in the Hollywood system, Preminger “emerged victorious from a variety of clashes with the censors, and with the gusto of the challenge-inclined he successfully fought against racial, sexual, and other prejudices,” the festival said.

He offered powerful, career-launching roles to well-known actors such as Ben Gazzara and Kim Novak, and gave their much admired colleague William Holden a share in the profits as compensation for a salary cut — the first producer to do so. He brought Jean Seberg to the movie screen, and she went on to become the grand muse of the French Nouvelle Vague, as well as New York graphic designer Saul Bass, and by listing Dalton Trumbo’s real name in the credits he de facto rehabilitated the screenwriter, a victim of McCarthyism, long forced to work under a pseudonym after headlining the Hollywood blacklist.

A director, producer, actor and screenwriter, Preminger belonged to a group of European directors, who, in the 1920s headed overseas and in the following decades fundamentally influenced the character of local film production. By adapting the rules of various genres they created crucial works within an evolving industry.

While the centerpiece of the Karlovy Vary showcase will no doubt be the outstanding film noir “Laura” (1944), there is also the potential for an audience favorite in Preminger‘s adaptation of the theater play “The Moon Is Blue” (1953), with which he entered the history of film not only as one of the first “indie” directors and producers, but also as a fighter against both hypocrisy and the system of censorship, whose antiquated rigidity he turned upon itself to promote his own “scandalous” work.

Also on view in Karlovy Vary will be Preminger’s controversial study of drug addiction “The Man with a Golden Arm” (1955), his adaptation of Françoise Sagan’s bestseller “Bonjour Tristesse” (1958), starring Jean Seberg, the remarkable courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959), the epic “Exodus” (1960), and the acclaimed political drama “Advise & Consent” (1962). The program will close with the informative documentary portrait “Anatomy of a Filmmaker” (1991), in which the audience is taken through the director’s career by his frequent collaborator, actor Burgess Meredith.

For the second year, Karlovy Vary will be holding the Future Frames: Ten New Filmmakers to Follow program, which is organized in cooperation with European Film Promotion. Based on the nominations of EFP member organizations, the festival has selected 10 students of film schools from 10 European countries whose work shows great potential. During two days of the festival, the young filmmakers will personally present their films to the public, and will have the opportunity to meet leading figures from the film industry.

This year, Karlovy Vary, in cooperation with Barrandov Studio, will open a new Industry meeting place “Film Industry Pool,” located above the Thermal, where film industry professionals and filmmakers can meet during the festival.

The festival industry program includes Works in Progress, with a prize for the most promising project from Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet countries, Turkey and Greece.

The industry program will offer various events including a few new ones:

The festival will be presenting the first Eurimages Lab Project Award, which will be given to a European project that is on the edge of the conventional approach to film and presents a new form of artistic and visual expression. The eight projects that have been chosen and presented will vie for the award with a financial reward of 50,000 Euros. Submissions will be open until April 30.

Traditionally, documentary projects from Central and Eastern Europe in the production and post-production phases (Docu Talents @KVIFF), as well as Czech and Slovak projects that are still in the development phase but have international co-production potential (Pitch & Feedback @KVIFF), will also be presented.

For the second year in a row, the festival will be hosting the annual gathering of the network of independent European distributors, Europa Distribution, whose workshops on the theme of “Film Education and Literacy” will also be open to film professionals. At the same time the festival hopes to be devoting more time to the issue of the digital market in the context of new strategies from the U.S.
Educational platforms at the festival enable filmmakers to meet experts in their fields. The partnership with Torino Film Lab opens up an opportunity to look at the comedy genre — how to approach it properly so that it works on an international level. About 60 TFL graduates and tutors will be meeting in Karlovy Vary to examine the genre’s opportunities and pitfalls.

This year for the first time the MIDPOINT screenwriting platform, in cooperation with experts from the Sundance Institute, will be presenting an intensive program as part of the Karlovy Vary festival.