Latin America’s Biggest Film Awards Turn Political

Lead Photo: Photo by Rocket K /
Photo by Rocket K /
Read more

Mexico has always been a country of stark contrasts, from the rugged central mountains that give way to the lush rain forests of the south, to the gaudy opulence of Mexico City neighborhoods sprouting up abruptly alongside precarious shacks. Perhaps for that reason it was of little surprise when the long-anticipated Premios Fénix celebrating Iberoamerican cinema became a pulpit for impassioned denunciations of Mexico’s increasingly volatile social and political reality.

With a red carpet stretching the length of a city block and big-name stars like Viggo Mortensen, Gael García Bernal and Maribel Verdú in attendance, the event was undoubtedly one of the most glamorous of its kind in the history of Latin American cinema, but from the very outset it was difficult to ignore the droves of protesters amassing on the edge of the velvet ropes that separated the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony from the poorly illuminated streets of Mexico City’s notorious historical center.

“Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos,” was the most audible chant penetrating the rarefied atmosphere amidst loudspeaker announcements of arriving celebrities. It has become the rallying cry for a nation reeling over the tragic disappearance of 43 students from the rural teacher’s college at Ayotzinapa, the apparent government connections to the crime and the droves of unrelated mass-graves that have been discovered as police have searched for the missing students.

But rather than protesting the event itself, it seems the crowd merely wanted a compassionate ear for their denunciations, something that they readily found in the Iberoamerican glitterati that walked the red-carpet in designer evening wear accessorized with images of the 43 missing students, hoisting signs announcing that “Ayotzinapa somos todos”, or bearing images of Mexico emblazoned on hands and arms in a bloody brownish-red for the awaiting press to see.

The event itself, despite all of its carefully choreographed television rituals, began with a seemingly impromptu reading of the names of the disappeared students by Maribel Verdú and Daniel Giménez Camacho, met by an enthusiastic applause from the crowd. From there on, it was almost standard practice for presenters and winners alike to recognize their deep concern for Mexico’s suffering; from Spanish actress Marisa Paredes, who openly denounced the role of the country’s elite in the student’s disappearance, to comedian and filmmaker Eugenio Derbez who, speaking to the press after receiving an award for Instructions Not Included, proclaimed that he fully supported the protesters formed outside the historic Teatro de la Ciudad.

It’s similarly of no surprise that the two biggest winners of the evening – Amat Escalante’s Heli and Diego Quemada Diez’s La jaula de oro – are both masterfully executed works of art and devastating explorations of Mexico’s twin problems of narcoviolence and immigration. In his own speech, Quemada Diez pointed out that 2014 has been the worst year for immigration on record, but politicians on either side of the border didn’t seem to care.

With a 72-hour general strike called for on Wednesday, November 5, it’s possible that the Premios Fénix and other politically-charged events that have punctuated daily life in Mexico over the past few weeks are only the tip of the iceberg for a broader social movement across the country. Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the artists and beautiful people of Iberoamerica are willing to put themselves on the line for what they think is right.

List of Winners

La jaula de oro

Amat Escalante (Heli)

Viggo Mortensen (Jauja)

Leandra Leal (O lobo atrás da porta)

Sobre la marxa

Amat Escalante y Gabriel Reyes (Heli)

Julián Apezteguia (El ardor)

Chris Garrido (Tatuagem)

José Luis Arrizabalaga y Arturo García (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)

Matías Barberis, Raúl Locatelli, Michelle Couttolenc y Jaime Baksht (La jaula de oro)

Joan Valent (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)

Felipe Gómez y Paloma López Carrillo (La jaula de oro)