MORELIA, Mexico – In a relatively brief ceremony, the 17th Morelia Int’l Film Festival handed out the best film Ojo Prize Thursday night to “I’m No Longer Here,” Fernando Frias’ novel take on immigration from Mexico to the U.S., cast not as a battle for integration but rather a struggle to preserve a sense of identity.
Produced by Panorama and long in development and then post-production – Variety first reported the title as a project in 2014 – “I’m No Longer Here” kicks off as a portrait of a Monterrey urban tribe called Los Terkos who spend their days listening to Cumbia and going to dance parties until their leader is forced by cartel violence to migrate to Queens. There his Cholombiano style – sheets of straight hair pulled over their cheeks and bald back of the head – and dance moves to slowed-down Cumbia – is seen as a fashion commodity.
The drama also nabbed the audience award, a good sign of its commercial potential. A dumbstruck Frias dedicated his prize to “The Terkos, to the youth of Mexico and to Monterrey.” “Viva la Cumbia!,” he declared.
Joshua Gil won the best director prize for his mystical drama “Sanctorum,” which also closed Venice Critics Week. The drama was recently picked up by Berlin-based Pluto Film Distribution whose Daniela Cölle said, “‘Sanctorum’ is giving the unheard a voice; in terms of significance and astonishing visual style, we believe that Gil is a relevant voice in international cinema.”
Additionally, Luis Alberti won best actor for his lead role in David Zonana’s directorial debut, “Workforce,” produced by Teorema, Michel Franco and Lorenzo Vigas’ new production company.
Sold by Wild Bunch, a Toronto Platform world premiere before playing main competition at San Sebastian, “Workforce” asks whether construction workers, when they move into a luxury home they’ve built, can construct a more just society than Mexico’s. Shot with a telling use of largely static cameras, “Workforce” delivers a skeptical answer.
Mariana Treviño took home best actress for her performance in fellow actor Jose Maria Yazpik’s directorial debut, “Polvo.”
“This is a recognition for the cultural diversity of Mexico,” said Chiapas native Maria Sojob, speaking in both Mayan and Spanish, whose documentary “TOTE_Abuelo” won two prizes: the Ambulante Documentary and Best Documentary by a Woman.
An emotional Marcela Arteaga, who snagged the Best Documentary prize for her moving account of Mexicans seeking political asylum and the immigration lawyer trying to help them (“El Guardian de la Memoria”), said, “This is not a film about Trump or Calderon but it’s the memory of what we have been living and cannot ignore, but more than anything, it’s a film and this recognition makes me happy.”
Among other festival highlights, some indicative of market trends:
Redford breezed into Morelia for the first time to receive not one, but three honors. Aside from accepting an award for Artistic Excellence, Redford unveiled an armchair with his name etched on it, a time-honored tradition in Morelia for its visiting luminaries. To top it all, Festival president/ Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez surprised Redford by presenting him with plaques naming the Morelia Cinepolis’ Cinema’s largest screen, Sala 4, in his honor. In his welcome speech, Ramírez said: “his work is notable, not only because of his wonderful performances, but also for the type of characters he has chosen throughout his career: characters that defy convention and explore the complexity of human nature.” “We are neighbors, we are friends,” said Redford before presenting the gala screening of his iconic film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
In a first for the agency, possibly any Hollywood agency, CAA made its presence known with a fiesta at the tony Casa Grande during the festival. TV agent Nick Lafferty led a team that had flown in from Los Angeles to tout its new representative in Mexico, Fernanda Buzo, a former talent manager at Talent on the Road. CAA’s presence in Mexico is indicative of the country’s burgeoning position as a major production hub in the Americas, with Netflix setting up shop and announcing 50 projects from the get-go and other media companies ramping up production.
Docs Dominate Impulso Morelia WIP Sidebar
After three days of screenings, Impulso Morelia announced four award winners and one special mention from the field of six pix-in-post which participated in this year’s sidebar.
Documentaries scooped all but one of the honors. Mexican festivals have long been a foundation for factual filmmaking in a country without a big PBS or BBC-type public broadcaster commissioning documentary projects, as is often the case in the U.S. and U.K. The prizes and recognition received at high profile festivals go some way to sustaining the artform.
Luciana Kaplan’s “The Spokeswoman” was the day’s big winner scoring a jury special mention, the Ambulante Award of $2,600 in cash to be used for post-production and the Churubusco Azteca Studios Award of $42,000 in post-production and sound services. The documentary follows Mexico’s first ever indigenous presidential candidate María de Jesús Patricio from her appointment as spokesperson for the National Indigenous Congress through to the presidential elections of July 1, 2018.
The Cinépolis Distribution Award, handed out by a high-profile international jury, went to Luis Kelly’s “I Don’t Know,” a narrative black and white documentary in which its protagonist Tania recounts the often-traumatic story of her life, always with a hint of a laugh and a smile.
“The Last Feathers” from Alejandro Alatorre was the sole fiction feature bestowed a prize, the Splendor Omnia Studios Prize of a week’s sound mixing and color correction. The film follows Leonardo, a solitary 16-year-old boy who wanders the streets of his hometown questioning reality after being abandoned by his loved ones.
Morelia, Imcine Spotlight Indigenous Women Filmmakers
Twelve indigenous female filmmakers were invited to participate in an intensive, two-day forum focusing on questions of race, gender, equality, language and much more.
Since 2007 Morelia has hosted an Indigenous Filmmakers forum in one form or another, but this was the first time it has been dedicated exclusively to women. In addition to the nearly eight hours of conversations, audience questions and debate, four feature films – two in competition – and six shorts – one in competition – were screened.
Morelia and Sundance Present Third Story Lab
For the third consecutive year, Morelia and the Sundance Institute International Program hosted the Morelia/Sundance Story Lab to support the development of feature film scripts.
Screenplays from Nicaragua, Laura Baumeister’s “Daughter of Rage”; Colombia, Laura Mora and María Camila Arias’ “Los reyes del mundo”; and Mexico, Samuel Kishi and Carlos Espinoza’s “Alondra dejó el nido,” Pierre Saint-Martin and Iker Compeán’s “No nos moverán,” Astrid Rondero’s “Sujo: bajo el nombre de un caballo” and Miguel Lozano and Antón Goenechea’s “Una historia falsa” were selected to participate.
Each participant received tutoring and advice from a panel of professionals led by legendary Mexican producer Bertha Navarro. Past participants include Betzabé García, (“Los reyes del pueblo que no existe,” “The Girl with Two Heads”), Tatiana Huezo (“Tempestad,” “El lugar más pequeño”) and Marcela Said (“Los Perros,” “The Summer of the Flying Fish”) among many others.
The festival will continue screening films until Sunday Oct. 27 when it officially wraps.
John Hopewell contributed to this article.
17th Morelia International Film Festival Winners
“I’m No Longer Here,” Fernando Frias
Joshua Gil, “Sanctorum”
Luis Alberti, “Workforce”
Mariana Treviño, “Polvo”
Documentary Audience Award
“Maricarmen,” Sergio Morkin
Documentary Audience Award, Special Mention
“Retiro,” Daniela Alatorre
2019 Impulso Morelia Winners
Cinépolis Distribution Award
“I Don’t Know,” Luis Kelly
Jury Special Mention
“The Spokeswoman,” Luciana Kaplan
“The Spokeswoman,” Luciana Kaplan
Churubusco Azteca Studios Award
“The Spokeswoman,” Luciana Kaplan
Splendor Omnia Studios Award
“The Last Feathers,” Alejandro Alatorre