The Guadalajara Film Festival (FCIG) has unspooled its 36th edition this year in a world still reeling from COVID-19. The pandemic has battered film festivals around the world, leaving programmers and administrators re-assessing how to fulfill their mission to bringing films to large numbers of the public and the industry.

“I think we really have to find better ways to enforce the COVID-19 protocols,” says Estrella Araiza, FCIG’s Director General. “We’ve reduced the number of invitees and the size of the parties, but everyone wants to unwind. So, we have to find a way to allow people to kick back and enjoy themselves while being effective in ensuring the mask mandates, the social distancing and other practices that have been thrust upon us.”

FICG is Mexico’s largest and oldest film festival and is generally considered to be the most important festival gathering in Latin America. Although there is plenty of activity this year with co-production meetings continuing unabated, overall numbers have decreased significantly. According to Araiza, some 5,000 participants were invited and accredited in pre-pandemic years as opposed to only 1,200 accredited guests invited in 2021. The number of films was also reduced. The main competition section for Mexican films, usually 21-23 features, presented just 11 features this year.

“We reduced everything this year not only because of COVID but also because of a cut in government funding,” Araiza said. “For the first time in 36 years, we did not receive any funding from the government.”

There seem to be no clear reasons for the funding cuts. Reportedly, the festival was told that since it had been on the receiving end of the government’s largesse in recent years, it was time to spread the wealth to other festivals. Additionally, government trusts that had been used for film festival funding have been dissolved with the money now going to the current administration’s pet projects.

Although the cuts and the pandemic have had their effects on the festival, Araiza does not view the effects as entirely negative.

“It’s a little bit more relaxing and easier to manage with the reduced size,” she reflected. “It could be a good idea to keep it smaller.”

The size has not affected the quality of films, nor has it affected the optimism of producers looking to get their projects off the ground. The large space reserved for Guadalajara’s Co-Production Meetings, it’s industry centerpiece, was buzzing. The fest’s Episode 0 sidebar opened up another interface, hosts creators looking for funding and other support to underwrite TV projects.

And, in the end, 2021’s edition still satisfied the goal to of addressing FICG’s two audiences: Latin American filmmakers who seek an industry-oriented venue to screen their films and interact with colleagues across the spectrum of the film industry; and the Guadalajara public that covets the opportunity to see international films in top-notch settings. Hence, the choice of “Dune” as the festival’s opening night film.

“We love Denis Villeneuve and we had the opportunity to screen ‘Dune’ in one of the few theaters with a sound system capable of handling its sound design,” Araiza says. “It was a perfect fit.”