With more than 200 movies screened at the Guanajuato International Film Festival, the fest offered a panoramic look at filmmaking at home and abroad. As part of our coverage of the fest, we put our efforts into watching and highlighting the films in the Mexican competitions, both features and shorts and of all genres. From stop-motion animation to horror, to deeply personal documentaries and feel-good comedies, we waded through the selections and put together a list of the directors that impressed us the most. Whether it’s their first feature or their second or third, all of these filmmakers have one thing in common: they’re diversifying what we understand Mexican cinema to be. In other words, they are defying stereotypes of what people expect from a Mexican film and are forging their own path. Here’s our list of 11 Mexican directors you should know.
Having made the 2008 short comedy La Gordiranfla, Anwar Safa’s first feature, El Jeremías, centers on a young boy whose intellectual ambitions are restricted by his deeply skeptical parents. “Self-taught, my ass” is his mom’s encouraging reaction when Jeremías announces his intentions to educate himself. There is something Wes Anderson-like in the flamboyant characterization and frontal framing of Safa’s film, as it examines our tendency to be suspicious of those who exhibit ideas above their perceived status. El Jeremías competed in the Official Mexican Feature Category and won the Press Award for Best First Film.
This young graduate of the CCC first caught the world’s attention as the cinematographer for the short film Ver llover, which won the Palm D’Or at the 60th Cannes Film Festival. She followed up with her first short film as director, Como pez en el agua, then jumped into the world of feature filmmaking with Tierra de Nod, which premiered in the Carte Blanche section of the Locarno Film Festival. Her latest film En la sangre (In Your Blood) tells the story of a love triangle of self-involved Mexico City millennials and screened in the Official Competition – Mexican Feature section at this year’s GIFF.
A bonafide all-rounder when it comes to cinematic wizardry (producer, editor, cinematographer, writer), Moisés Aisemberg’s first film as a director was 2010’s Nunca Nunca No Dejé Ir, a documentary short about the lifespan of a rollercoaster and its longtime janitor. Aisemberg re-enters the realm of kidult entertainment with Dulce Dolor, the story of a human piñata who flees the violence of a children’s birthday party to find solace in the arms of a garbage collector. Dulce Dolor was featured in the Official Mexico Selection at Guanajuato.
A graduate of Cuba’s International Film and Television School (EICTV), Juliana Fanjul made a whopping 11 short documentaries before finally making the leap into feature territory with Muchachas. Her thesis film, 2010’s Si seguimos vivos, played at a number of international film festivals where it picked up a handful of important awards, while Muchachas made its way to GIFF’s Official Selection – Mexico after a world premiere at the prestigious Visións du Reél film festival in Switzerland. Through interviews with three women who worked as maids in the director’s home throughout the years, the documentary explores the relationship between domestic workers and their employers.
El Comienzo del Tiempo is Arellano’s third film, following Zoogocho (2008) and Entre la Noche y el Día (2011). His latest work follows a couple in their 90s, Antonio and Bertha, who must resort to underhand or unconventional means of survival after the government stops their benefits. Long neglected by their uncaring family, the couple’s lives are thrown into confusion by the sudden arrival of estranged kin. Arellano professes an interest in socially marginalized groups. The film was nominated in the Best Mexican Feature category.
Young director Arturo Baltazar made his directing debut at Guanajuato in 2013 with the four-minute Jabo, in which the case of a runaway pooch opened a portal into a couple’s disintegrating relationship. His latest offering, La Ausencia, is a slightly longer, intimate portrait of the filmmaker’s own family, centered on the figure of his grandmother, who has lived in solitude since the death of her husband. Her approaching birthday brings with it a rare period of fleeting happiness in this thoughtful study of aging and memory. La Ausencia participated in the Official Mexico Selection.
Joshua Gil Delgado
Having displayed a penchant for seedy underworld narratives in 2007’s The Last Silence and the following year’s A Bullet for Quintana, Joshua Gil Delgado delves into familiar territory in La Maldad. One of a number of films that takes the elderly as central protagonists at this year’s GIFF, it charts peasant Rafael’s decision to retrace his life by embarking on a movie project. His mission brings him into conflict with his only companion and sends him into the unforgiving landscapes of the urban sprawl. La Maldad was screened in the festival’s Official Selection Mexican Feature category.
Making her directorial debut with this striking stop-motion animation film, Islas draws influence from the nightmarish fairy tales of Guillermo Del Toro and Tim Burton in El Regreso. Tienlu is a girl who inhabits a barren, inhospitable, and post-apocalyptic world of permanent gloom and hunger. Respite comes in the form of magical dreams brimming with color and life, giving the child something tangible to drive her forward: hope. Although even the gods seem to have abandoned her, Tienlu embarks on a quest to find beauty in this wretched place. El Regreso was chosen for the festival’s Official Selection.
Arturo González Villaseñor
Director, film critic, and founder of Acanto films, this multifaceted millennial has only one feature documentary under his belt, but thus far he’s managed to make waves in festivals across Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Entitled Llévate mis amores (All of Me), the documentary’s deeply compassionate portrayal of a group of humble, small town women who prepare food for passing migrants is testament to González Villaseñor’s patience and humanist vision. The film played as part of GIFF’s Méxicomorfosis showcase.
Alba Herrera Rivas
A Master’s candidate at UNAM’s renowned Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC), Herrera Rivas carries on the socially conscious tradition of her school with her participative, anthropologically rigorous work. Her breakout documentary, Mover un río was featured in the Méxicomorfosis showcase at this year’s edition of GIFF, and has been received with enthusiasm by indigenous studies scholars and film festivals across the Americas. The film’s story of the Yaqui people of Northern Mexico’s ongoing struggle for water rights is also a moving reflection on the continued marginalization of indigenous peoples throughout the world.
The only director on our list with two films screening at this year’s GIFF, this Guanajuato native and CCC graduate is an unapologetic genre fanatic, and his short films are chock-full of guns and gore. His 2010 debut short Y volveré… (And I’ll Come Back…) premiered at the prestigious Spanish genre fest SITGES, and went on to win best short film at the 2010 edition of GIFF. This year, his short Masacre in San José (Massacre in San José), which is about a humble farmer defending his land from narcos, was featured in the Official Selection – Mexico, while Jaral de Berrios – one of several shorts that make up the omnibus horror feature México Bárbaro – screened in a cemetery as part of the Cine de muertos program.