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Mexico’s ArteCareyes Film and Arts Festival Marries Cinema With Mother Nature

Nestled amidst a quiet, remote strip between Puerta Vallarta and Manzanillo on Jalisco, Mexico’s Pacific coast, Costa Careyes is a luxury resort paradise, lush with jungle and surf and bright, candy-colored casitas. Founded by Italian banker Gian Franco Brignone in 1968, Careyes has since become a coveted vacation spot for the elite traveler — Bill and Melinda Gates, Heidi Klum and Cindy Crawford have all been guests here — complete with a polo club, private villas and two oceanfront castles with moat-like infinity pools that blend in with the azure sky. With its bohemian flair and Mediterranean-esque architecture, the tropical hideaway is also home to ArteCareyes Film and Arts Festival, an annual gathering that celebrates film, photography, music and contemporary art from Latin America and around the world.

Entering its eighth year, the strictly invite-only event, running April 26-30, is not your typical film fest. Held in collaboration with the Careyes Foundation, which establishes programs in education, sports, ecology and the arts for local communities, the emphasis of ArteCareyes is not on buying up content for distribution or negotiating sleek film biz deals, but on nurturing one’s inner artist and igniting the creativity in all who attend, a select guest list of some 500 people ranging from billionaire jet-setters to aspiring actors, writers and directors. Ecology is also a focal point of the gathering — this is a fest with a low carbon footprint.

“We work with the surrounding communities — a total of 10 villages and about 7,000 people — to respect the nature and give them tools that will help them in the future,” says Careyes Foundation president Filippo Brignone, Gian Franco’s son, who resides in a palatial sea-blue villa named Tigre Del Mar (Gian Franco, now 92, lives in Casa Mi Ojo, an open-walled, cobalt blue estate with dramatic views of the ocean and a suspension bridge that stretches across crashing waves to a small private island.)

“If a place doesn’t grow it dies; if a place grows too fast it dies,” says Brignone, who works diligently to preserve Careyes’ signature esthetic. “Everything is done in harmony with the land and its people. We are stewards of the environment for the next generation.”

At Careyes, there are no crowded press junkets or glitzy black-tie galas. Rather, movie screenings are held outdoors in the Plaza de Caballeros del Sol, with its cobblestone walkways and the mellifluous twitter of tropical birds overhead. Al fresco dinners are laidback, communal affairs, at which it’s not unusual to find celebrated filmmakers such as Lee Daniels and Paul Haggis, who attended the 2017 fest, in casual conversation with budding directors. Those seeking majestic views are welcome to climb inside La Copa del Sol, a 35-foot-tall structure considered an acoustic and visual marvel that is perched atop a cliff overlooking the sea. If you’re lucky, you might spot a newborn sea turtle at Careyes’ Sea Turtle Protection and Conservation Center, the second-oldest in Mexico.

“This is not an ordinary festival,” says Alejandro Bracho, co-founder of ArteCareyes. “Here, you can expect that you are going to get together with different people and appreciate all different kind of works, from contemporary art to experimental music. The environment is amazing for people to get together and discuss new projects from different points of view. It’s a private space where everyone is in touch with nature, where you feel the mysticism in your surroundings and it’s a magical thing. You become like family for four days.”

The crown jewel of the event is the Careyes Creation Lab, which runs for five days leading up to the fest. Produced by the Careyes Foundation and with the support of the Ingmar Bergman Chair in Film and Theater at Mexico’s National U., the Morelia Intl. Film Festival and Cinema 23, the lab, which begins April 23, is a workshop at which preeminent international filmmakers lead classes for young actors and filmmakers from Mexico and Latin America. Jim Sheridan, the Oscar-nominated writer-director of “My Left Foot” and “In the Name of the Father,” and Joan Darling, Emmy-nominated TV series director (“Mash,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) and actress, are this year’s invited instructors.

“It’s not always easy to have the discipline when it comes to creating art, so we organize these educational programs that are so important for the rising artists from Mexico and Latin America and around the world,” says Brignone, who hosts the budding filmmakers at his home, where they eat authentic Mexican meals in a windowless yellow dining area with balmy breezes and panoramic views of the wild blue Pacific.

“It’s such a beautiful and inspiring place,” says Marina Stavenhagen, Mexican filmmaker and ArteCareyes Film and Arts Festival curator. “We seek to bring out the organic natural talent in the filmmakers we bring here. It’s pure magic when it happens.”

The fest is punctuated by nightly fetes filled with food and music and gaggles of young cineastes in macrame dresses and white cotton blouses. One such bash is held at Samadhi Nest, a collection of Mongolian yurts arranged along Teopa beach, with rows of twinkling candles planted in the sand, emoting a spiritual-meets-Mayan-hippie vibe.

“When we founded this project about nine years ago it was after we happened upon this place that was such an exclusive spot surrounded by nature, and we thought, why don’t we do something for a small group of people who can meet and understand Mexican talent and international art from around the world,” says Victor Martinez, co-founder of the fest.

One such artists, JR, the Parisian-born self-described “photograffeur” who earned an Academy Award nomination for co-directing the 2017 documentary “Faces Places” with Agnes Varda, will receive the TANE Tribute at this year’s fest. British composer Michael Nyman, who scored the soundtrack album to Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning film “The Piano,” is also the recipient of this year’s TANE award. Past honorees include actor Diego Luna (“Rogue One”), screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (“Babel,” “21 Grams”) and writer-director Carlos Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Sugar Kisses”).

The fest also features village “art crawls” exhibiting the works of emerging and established artists such as Berta Kolteniuk, Sofia Taboas, Victoria Nunez Estrada and Lucia Vidales.

“There’s no crazy press, there’s no pressure; it’s just all positive energy,” says Leopoldine Huyghues-Despointes, a French-American actress (“Big House”), disability-rights activist and ArteCareyes’ international relations director.

“We’re all stranded in one place, and it’s very simple in a way,” she adds. “Everything is done with simplicity: we are barefoot, we are wearing simple dresses. The energy coming from the place is very specific. Everybody is welcoming, everybody is accessible. Everybody who comes knows they are going to meet emerging actors and emerging artists, so they come with an open mindset to actually help people. We want to build a creative, inspiring and innovative networking opportunity where your place of birth does not matter. We all come as equals, whether you are the CEO of a company, or a backpack traveler. We welcome all, because we know that artistic expression is a universal language.”

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