BAFICI Diaries: Film Awards, the Peruvian Coen Brothers & the Closing Night Party We Missed

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This is part of our ongoing coverage from the Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente (BAFICI).

The Buenos Aires Film Festival came, went, and left me pining for sunny South American mornings spent hidden away within the cinematic bowels of a mall while watching films on autism in Ecuador (Carlitos), transsexual identity in Chile (Naomi Campbel: It’s Not Easy to Become a Different Person), contemporary multiculturalism in Argentina (La Salada), and deranged zombie policemen in 80s New York (Maniac Cop). It’s strange, to be honest. After a fortnight of cinema, cinema and more cinema, you’re almost looking forward to the thing ending so that your life can return to some semblance of normality. Then, once it’s actually over, you long to be back in front of that massive screen, slipping ever deeper into total sensory wipeout brought about by prolonged art-house exposure. It’s a little like that old guy in The Shawshank Redemption who can’t handle life on the outside and hangs himself. All you want is to find a way back in. After so long in the can, it becomes all you know.

So once the last film has played, the prizes have been given, and all that white, powdery residue has been wiped down from the flat surfaces in the restrooms, what is it about BAFICI that makes a man remember the festival with such rose-tinted fondness? Well, for one, the program was astoundingly diverse, the film-going equivalent of Willy Wonka’s factory, as for a couple of weeks, Buenos Aires resembled a Hollywood-free zone of independent cinema from around the globe. There was also something gloriously slacker about getting up and heading straight to the cinema while all around you the drones who inhabit this place called reality filed in and out of their nine-to-fives. Perhaps BAFICI’s real narcotic is the fact that, for all the Tarantino or Kevin Smith-type fan-boy nerdiness of watching five films in a row without even getting up, you know it’s only temporary and that pretty soon you have to come back down to earth. There’s a tunnel at the end of the light.

In short then, it was a special time. One which blended creativity, intellectualism, social commentary and free alcohol. BAFICI’s low admission cost and central locations helped to create a sense of brotherly inclusiveness, as pretty much anyone could go, not something which can be said about all film festivals. The fact that many screenings I had planned to attend were sold out therefore became an easier pill to digest, even if it was a barbed shock at first (‘But… but… I have a press pass,’ I babbled like a self-entitled fool when I couldn’t get in to Brit psyche-noir Dead Man’s Shoes).

BAFICI’s egalitarian camaraderie, however, couldn’t hide the fact that this is a cutthroat industry, and one which is about rewarding the best. And what would a festival be without a little friendly competition? For the home team, the prize for best film was won by El Escarabajo de Oro (The Gold Bug), directed by Alejo Moguillansky and Fia-Stina Sandlund, a reworking of the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name which applies Poe’s storytelling strands to the film’s own production. Although the winner in the national competition, El Escarabajo de Oro was actually a joint Argentinean-Swedish-Danish production, the cinematic equivalent of treacherous sports stars who switch allegiance to countries with a better chance of winning stuff. But a controversial choice? Alas, no. This was one bug that nobody wanted to swat.

I must confess that I was unable to attend the international winner of best film, US/French documentary Fifi Howls from Happiness, but there can be no disputing the phenomenal art-house credentials of its title. Mitra Firahani’s film centers on the figure of radical Iranian artist Bahman Mohasses, a renowned mover on Tehran’s cultural scene prior to the 1979 revolution, since when little has been heard of him. The filmmakers tracked Mohasses down to Rome to make this character study of the artist.

The most popular winner among my assembled party, which consisted of me, was the film from the Peruvian Coens, Diego and Daniel Vega. El Mudo (The Mute) was a meandering tragicomedy about a Lima judge who gets shot in the line of duty (i.e. pissing off everybody he meets) and is left unable to verbally communicate. The Vega brothers snapped up the prize for best international directors while leading man Fernando Bacilio was a worthy recipient of best actor. Some people are just born to play certain parts (think Schwarzenegger as the Terminator or that kid who plays King Joffrey in Game of Thrones) and, with his rotund frame and perplexed frown, Bacilio was perfect in the role. The film was a real gem.

It wasn’t all such rewarding fare but then that wouldn’t be the point of independent filmmaking. There were some films which had me scrambling over those in the neighboring seats to get to the exit door. That being the case, then, BAFICI was as thrilling as it was varied, showcasing that global independent filmmaking is currently riding a wave of real verve. They might not have let me in to the closing night party (apparently a press pass doesn’t actually mean you are a fundamental element of the festival) but it didn’t really matter in the end. See you next year.