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Fernanda Valadez’s feature debut “Identifying Features” (“Sin Señas Particulares”) has collected the 18th Morelia Int’l Film Festival’s Best Film Ojo prize as well as Audience Award and best actress plaudit for its lead, Mercedes Hernandez.

In a spare and sparsely attended closing ceremony on Sunday evening, Hernandez was among only two winners who were present to come on stage. A visibly moved Hernandez said: “My son, when asked what I do, says I earn my living by crying, probably because he has seen me act in plays or movies.”

“Paradoxically, my character in this film cannot cry as she has to contain her rage, she has to persist in looking for her son… as there is nothing worse for a mother than not knowing if her son is dead or alive.”

The topical drama, about a mother searching desperately for her son who has vanished while attempting to cross into the U.S., has snagged a clutch of awards on the festival circuit since its world premiere at Sundance. There it took home the Audience Award and Special Jury Award for best screenplay at the Utah festival’s World Cinema Dramatic section in February. It also picked up prizes at Lima and at San Sebastian where it won the Horizontes Award. It scooped the main Films in Progress prize when screening in post-production at San Sebastian last year.

Morelia’s hybrid edition ran for only five days instead of 10 due to the restraints of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw many festivals cancel this year.

“This edition has been the most difficult to pull off,” said festival director Daniela Michel. “We started planning a hybrid version in March and it was quite clear to me at the onset that we’d have to reduce our number of days but not our support for Mexican filmmakers,” she asserted, adding: “If 90 films competed last year, then we’d have the same number this year, that was our priority.”

While some films were screened under strict safety protocols in cinema theaters, they were also made available online on Cinepolis Klic, Imcine’s FilminLatino and Canal 22. Festival President and Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez reported that close to 8,000 people saw the films in theaters while nearly 54,000 viewed the films online in Mexico.

“We worked hard to build the technological support arm of the festival which will serve us well for the years to come,” said Michel. “It will become more important for festivals to have a virtual component for people who can’t come to the festival,” she observed.

Out of the 729 projects submitted to the festival, 24% were by women, Michel noted. In the final selection of 90 films, 38% were from women filmmakers.

The festival’s industry section, Impulso Morelia, now in its sixth year, saw Teresa Camou trounce fellow contenders with three prizes, the Jose Maria Riba Cinepolis Distribution award and two others in kind from PR agency Icunacury Acosta & Co and LatAm Cinema.

The highlights of this year’s edition included the presence of Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu at the inauguration, which opened with a screening of a remastered version of “Amores Perros,” his breakout film that now marks its 20th anniversary.

“It was a film that changed the history of Mexican cinema forever,” said Michel who pointed out that the festival was dedicated to its late mentor and constant friend Jose Maria Riba, who headed Cannes Critics’ Week when he discovered Guillermo del Toro and Iñárritu. Morelia paid tribute to Riba in a special ceremony hosted by filmmaker Lila Aviles.

Morelia also showcased some films from Cannes Official Selection and Critics’ Week sidebar in its long-standing support of the festival, which was forced to cancel its edition this year. These included Suzanne Lindon’s “Spring Blossom” and “After Love” by Aleem Khan.

Other international titles included “El Gran Fellove” by Matt Dillon, “Siberia” by Abel Ferrara and Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand.

Michel Franco screened his Venice Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize winner “New Order” at the festival. He has released it across Mexico despite the pandemic.

“Michel did not hesitate to release his film during this period to contribute to the reactivation of the film industry,” a grateful Ramirez pointed out. “Last week it was the number one movie in Mexico and it is still scheduled to screen in more than a thousand theaters,” he added. Cinepolis has been gradually opening its cinemas in Mexico and around the world. They currently remain closed, however, in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Bahrain and Oman.

The festival wrapped with David Pablo’s “El Baile de los 41,” penned by Monika Revilla, about a scandal that took place in 1901 where police raided a private home in Mexico City and exposed a high-society party of men in drag, including the president’s son-in-law.

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Tu’un Savi Courtesy of Morelia Int’l Film Festival

Winners, 18th Morelia International Film Festival

Best Film

“Identifying Features,” Fernanda Valadez

Best Director

Nicolas Pereda, “Fauna

Best Actress

Mercedes Hernandez, “Identifying Features”

Best Actor Martijn Kuiper, “Ricochet”

Special Mention, Best Actor

Mario Palmerin, “Animo Juventud!”

Best Documentary

“Tu’un Savi,” Uriel Lopez España

Special Mention, Documentary

“La Mami,” Laura Herrero Garvin

Audience Award, Fiction

“Identifying Features,” Fernanda Valadez

Documentary Audience Award

“Las Flores de la Noche,” Eduardo Esquivel, Omar Robles

Best Michoacan Film

“Voces en la Línea,” Jessica Herreman

2020 Impulso Morelia Winners

Jose Maria Riba Cinepolis Distribution Award

“Cruz,” Teresa Camou

Churubusco Azteca Studios Award

“Los Amantes Se Despiden con la Mirada,” Rigoberto Perezcano

Splendor Omnia Studios Award

“Cartas a Distancia,” Juan Carlos Rulfo

Icunacury Acosta & Co Recognition

“Cruz,” Teresa Camou

LatAm Cinema.Com Recognition

“Cruz,” Teresa Camou