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‘Florida Project,’ ‘Yesterday Wonder I Was,’ ’Dive,’ Top Los Cabos

Nicole KIdman receives Lifetime Achievement Award as ‘The Chambermaid,’ ‘Bayoneta,’ ‘Litempo,’ ‘Penumbra, ‘Noche de fuego,’ multiple women documentary makers also score kudos

LOS CABOS, Mexico — Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project,” Gabriel Mariño’s “Yesterday Wonder I Was” and David Pablos’ project “Dive” proved big winners at the prize ceremony of 6th Los Cabos Intl. Film Festival on Saturday night.

Graced by Nicole Kidman and Paul Schrader and in its first year under Hugo Villa, Los Cabos proved a dazzling platform for a new generation of Mexican talent, as TV and digital, as much as film, came to the fore in many new project unveils.

Nicole Kidman accepted an Outstanding Cinema Award at the beginning of Los Cabos’ awards gala ceremony.

Los Cabos also proved a candidate for most outrageous press events organizer of the year as its press corp were made to wait nearly two hours for the Kidman presser – which turned out to be a Televisa co-ordinated Q & A that sidestepped such a burning issue as Kidman’s views on just-revealed cases of sexual assault- and then attended a gala ceremony which began 90 minutes behind schedule.

At least from the U.S., industry presence looked lighter this year, lacking such heavyweights as Micah Green and Roeg Sutherland, Stuart Ford and Alex Walton, all present in 2016.

Shot with an eye for eye-popping color by ace Mexican cinematographer Alexis Zabe (“Silent Light”), Baker’s latest take on America’s margins – here a hooker mother and six-year-old scam-artist daughter struggling to get by at roadside motel flophouse in the shadow of Disney World – was always a frontrunner in main competition, eventually taking its best picture plaudit and Pesos300,000 ($15,700) as a cash prize.

The same could be said of Mariño’s “Yesterday Wonder I Was,” in Los Cabos’ Mexico Primero section. Mariño’s second feature hit Los Cabos off Mexico’s Morelia Festival last month, where it snagged best first/second Mexican film and actress (Sonia Franco). Set against a memorably lensed Mexico City, the B & W low-fi fantasy tale come body-swapping romantic drama will walk away from Los Cabos with both the fest’s Fipresci jury nod and a Cinemex Mexico Primero Award, again worth $15,700. ’

Los Cabos’ Fest’s Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund Awards were spread across 11 titles. But only one scored two plaudits, including the Cannes Film Market’s Cabos Goes to Cannes prize: “La Caida” (“Dive”). To be directed by David Pablos, (“The Chosen Ones”), the  movie project is inspired by a real case of sexual abuse by a trainer of his young female divers in Mexico’s high-board diving team. Winningly, the film looks set to present both the power dynamics which facilitated the abuse and the protagonist’s psychological battle to recognize that she has even been the victim.

Charting four different manifestations of an entity which migrates through different bodies but stays in love with the same woman, a beautiful hairdresser, “ Mariño’s “Yesterday Wonder I Was” underscores one trend in current Mexican cinema: Its robust diversification, said Marú Garzón, Los Cabos programming director.

That can be seen in other Saturday night winners, which took in, of titles playing Work in Progress, Labo Awards for Lila Avilés’ “La camarista” (The Chambermaid), the fiction tale, though with a strong neo-docu grounding, of a chambermaid’s halting, tentative but affecting attempts to forge her own sense of identity; and “Bayoneta.”

Directed by Kyzza Terrazas, latter comes in at immigration through the tale of a Mexican boxer, played by Luis Gerardo Mendez (“Club of Crows”) seeking a career comeback and redemption in the snowy woods and industrial sprawl of Finland.

The Cinemex Audience Award, in contrast, went to “Road to Mars,” a romantic road-movie dramedy, again with Méndez, here playing opposite “After Lucia’s” Tessa Ia, which reps a big release from Televisa’s Videocine distribution operation this December. Two sold-out screenings and a line snaking out of Los Cabos San Luis’ Cinemex multiplex down to its shopping mall escalator would seem to bode well for its commercial future.

Prizes at the 6th Los Cabos Festival also proved a vindication of Mexico’s vibrant documentary tradition. Among Mexico Primero titles, Marta Ferrer won the Premio Art Kingdom for “A morir en los desiertos,” produced among others by Pimienta Films and a record of the dying tradition of choral cardenche – songs sung by three voices – as practiced in the Durango state village of Sapioriz.

Of projects, Trisha Ziff’s “Israela & Talleen,” about the friendship of two trans women –  Israela Stephanie Lev, a 55-year old Israeli activist in the Tel Aviv LGBT community and Talleen Abu Hanna, 22, an Arab trans beauty queen – shared the Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund Film in Development Awards with “Noche de fuego,” the awaited move into fiction by Tatiana Huezo, director of Mexico’s Oscar submission, a documentary, “Tempestad.”

Another project, Lucia Gaja’s “Temple,” which delves into the life and career of Julien Temple, proved a third documentary by a woman filmmaker to take an award at Los Cabos, snagging its LCI Seniors Award.

TV project awards were won by “Litempo,” an inevitably high-end TV and potentially fascinating CIA espionage thriller set at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City in the early ‘60s; and “Penumbra,” a thriller unspooling in a 16th century Caribbean port in which a brilliant young woman astrologer, disguised as a man to escape the Inquisition, fights a battle of wits with a serial killer.

Further prize-winners among projects included “My Tender Matador,” a queer love story under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, which will star Pablo Larrain regular Alfredo Castro.

It was indicative of the way that the industry is trending, and Los Cabos with it, that the biggest industry announcements this year were “Antonieta,” the first high-end TV drama – a miniseries about the extraordinary arts patron Antonieta Rivas Mercado – from Martin Scorsese producer Gastón Pavlovich; “Litempo”; and a strategic co-development deal between Mexico’s Imcine film-TV state agency and the Canada Media Fund, for movies and TV, often digital-first content.

2017 will go down, however, as a year when Los Cabos, a unique industry meet of Hollywood. Mexico and Canada, really caught fire as a festival. 24 of its 41 movies sold out at screenings, said Los Cabos programming director Marú Garzón. Equally, sections looked far more robust, framing “The Florida Project,” Kogonada’s “Columbus” and Eliza Hittman’s “Beach Rats” in main competition, opener “Battle of the Sexes,” from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and “A Fantastic Woman” in International Highlights.

Boasting multiple Mexican world premieres, the biggest, “Road to Mars,” Los Cabos also snagged three international premieres including Jennifer Morrison’s well-received “Sun Dogs,” with Morrison, and producers Bert Hamelinck and Pavlovich in attendance.

Heavily curated, Los Cabos’ movie count edged down this year from last year’s 46-title count, said Garzón. The impression given by this year’s event, however, was that this was much more of festival,

Several factors may be at work. As superhero franchises sometimes falter, “actors and the studios are looking for more interesting content and achieving excellence,” Villa said before Los Cabos. With the international pre-sales market proving ever more difficult, the bar has been raised on the quality a project needs to get made. Equally, Mexico’s newest generation are learning to appreciate non-popcorn movies, thanks in Baja California to Los Cabos round-the-year program. Also, “after six years of working hard persuading people to attend, positioning the festival with local audiences and with sales agents, producers and distributors, there is a confidence in Los Cabos,” Garzón argued.

2017 6TH LOS CABOS INTL. FILM FESTIVAL, NOV. 8-12, 2017: PRIZEWINNERS 

LOS CABOS COMPETITION

“The Florida Project,” (Sean Baker, U.S.)

MEXICO PRIMERO

PREMIO FIPRESCI

“Yesterday Wonder I Was,” (Gabriel Mariño, Mexico)

CINEMEX PRIZE

“Yesterday Wonder I Was”

CINEMEX AUDIENCE AWARD

“Road to Mars,” (Humberto Hinojosa)

ART KINGDOM AWARD

“Morir a los desiertos,” (Marta Ferrer, Mexico)

GABRIEL FIGUEROA FILM FUND AWARDS

LOS CABOS GOES TO CANNES AWARD

“Dive,” (David Pablos)

WORKS IN PROGRESS

“History Lessons,” (Marcelino Islas Hernández)

FILM IN DEVELOPMENT

Noche de fuego,” (Tatiana Huezo); “Israela & Talleen,” (Trisha Ziff)

LABO AWARD

“Bayoneta,” (Kizza Terrazas); “The Chambermaid,” (Lila Avilés)

CTT EXP & RENTALS AWARD

“Dive”

CHEMISTRY AWARD

Penumbra, by Pablo Barrera

TALENT ON THE ROAD / WORLD TALENT HOUSE AWARD

“My Tender Matador,” (Rodrigo Sepúlveda, Chile)

LCI AWARD

“Temple,” (Lucia Gaja)

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Nicole Kidman

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