October is a big month for the Mexican state of Michoacán. Known around the country for its sumptuous Día de Muertos celebrations, since 2003 the state’s capital of Morelia has also been the seat of the most important window onto Mexican cinema in the world: The Morelia International Film Festival (FICM).
Positioning itself among Mexico’s other two prominent film festivals, Guadalajara and Guanajuato, Morelia has the distinction of focusing strictly on local production in its official competition, and has become a coveted stamp of excellence for Mexican filmmakers within the ever expanding panorama of local film production. With star-studded red carpets featuring the likes of (who else?) Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, alongside international artist-celebs like Werner Herzog and Tommy Lee Jones, FICM has very quickly become a festival of international calibre.
In this year’s official competition, familiar titles like Dólares de arena and Güeros come home after busy tours on the international festival circuit, while others like Plan Sexenal by Santiago Cendejas will have their world premiere before striking out into the world galas, red carpets, and bizarrely-named awards.
One highly anticipated title that had its world premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival earlier this year is Carlos Armella’s solo feature debut En la estancia (Land of Silence). Armella, who took home Morelia’s top prize in 2005 as co-director of Pedro González-Rubio’s documentary Toro Negro, made his first international impact with the short Tierra y Pan, which told the tragic story of a death in the Mexican countryside through a single, elliptical shot. The short picked up top prize at the 2008 Venice Film Festival before making the requisite victory laps through festivals like Huesca, Ljubljana, and Havana.
En la Estancia seems to hark back to Armella’s documentary roots in its story about two documentarians who form a relationship with the last residents of an isolated Mexican ghost town. The trailer show us a carefully photographed, lyrical style intermixed with muddled camcorder footage that we can assume belongs to the film-within-a-film that En la estancia’s protagonists are shooting. With its simple, poetic conceit, and strong characters, En la estancia promises to be an important addition to this breakout generation of Mexican independent filmmaking.
For those with a spare eight minutes, here’s his critically lauded short, Tierra y Pan.