Let’s face it: we’ve all watched the Oscars, and even with Neil Patrick Harris running around in his underwear, or Jack Black wailing through a hard rock number about Hollywood’s faded glory, awards ceremonies tend to be kind of boring. But even if you opt for a more succinct rundown of the big winners the day after, there’s no denying that these types of spectacles still hold a special place in our collective imagination. The pageantry, the choreography, the stunning ensembles – it’s like a royal wedding mashed up with a TMZ greatest hits compilation.
This year’s closing night ceremony at the Guanajuato International Film Festival (GIFF) was no exception – minus the half-naked Doogie Howser, of course. But with the flashing cameras, the smiling celebrities, and the fawning public lined up down the block for a brief glimpse at the Mexican glitterati as they paraded down the red carpet, it could have easily been a scene out of Cannes or Hollywood Boulevard. Sure, the ceremony itself may not have had the song, dance, and comedy numbers mixed in to make the Oscars palatable for primetime, but there was still ample room for gaffes, goofball presenters, rowdy audience members, and surprise winners to make it all worthwhile.
As an international festival, plenty of the prizes were reserved for features and short films from countries like France, Iran, Japan, Netherlands, and Germany, but Remezcla was there strictly for the Latin American fare, and luckily there was a solid representation on the podium. After the beautiful people (and me) settled into their seats, the first awards were given for the student competition Identidad y Pertenencia, featuring documentaries about Guanajuato made over the course of six months by students from local universities, and the Rally Universitario, which brought in bigshots from the country’s major film schools to script, produce, and shoot short films over the course of 48 grueling hours. Unsurprisingly, the teams and their cliques were full of energy, hootin’ and hollerin’ when their projects were called out. But not all could walk away winners.
In the Identidad y Pertenencia competition, El guardián took home third prize, Bajo las brasas came in second place, and La música desde un rincón took home the top prize for its loving exploration of a small Guanajuato town where over 50 percent of the residents play a musical instrument. From the Rally Universitario, the narrative short Suerte para la próxima picked up the audience award while La Ribera won over the festival jury.
In the official competition, the prize for Best Guanajuato Short Film went to El Regreso, by Nadia Islas, and the Best Mexican Short Film award was split entirely unintentionally between La ausencia by Arturo Baltazar, and Ausencias by Tatiana Huezo. Meanwhile, the prize for Best International Documentary Short took things even further south with Peruvian director Ricardo Léon’s Paulina picking up top honors. In a running theme for the evening, none of the directors were actually present at the ceremony to receive their awards, but they were gracious enough to send proxies to the podium to read off their thank yous and shout the refrain that came to define the 18th edition of GIFF: “Más cine, por favor!”
The award for Best Mexican Documentary was given to Made in Bangkok, by Mexico City-based Argentine director Flavio Florencio. The film chronicled the sexual reassignment surgery of a transgender opera singer named Morganna, who also happens to be a native of Guanajuato. After hearing the announcement, both director and subject made their way to the stage in a visible state of shock and Florencio first took to the mic to double check that they had read correctly. After Morganna managed to shout out Guanajuato and give effusive thanks to all, Florencia mustered up a few words, saying, “When we made this film, Morganna told me her dream, and I told her mine. Hers was to get operated, mine was to make a film. And I’m so happy because we did it.” Picking up an Honorable Mention in the same category was Argentine-born Natalia Bruschtein, whose documentary Tiempo suspendido also picked up important prizes at Guadalajara earlier this year.
Finally, things made their way to Best Mexican Feature, which oddly went to Lucifer, a Belgian feature by a Belgian director that was co-produced and shot in Mexico. Naturally, the director was in Belgium and unable to receive his award, but an Honorable Mention did go to the stylish CCC thesis film Plástico, which tells the fragmented tale of a brother and sister fallen from grace and united by childhood trauma. Emerging from the audience visibly moved, director Ricardo Soto made his way to the stage along with actors and crew and dedicated the award to his late father in a brief acceptance speech.
The ceremony ultimately wrapped up with the award for Best International Feature which went to Tejano director Daniel Garcia and co-director Rania Attieh for their Upstate New York sci-fi creeper, H. While Attieh had been at the festival earlier in the week repping for her film, by the time the awards rolled around, she was in Europe with García working yet another festival. The two, however, were gracious enough to send along a very sincere thank you video in which they brandished a bottle of mezcal and García proudly showed off his Mexico soccer jersey.
Here’s the full list of Latino award winners for your reading pleasure. Fingers crossed that some of them make it to U.S. theaters soon.
Press Award, Best First Film (Opera Prima)
Director: Anwar Safa
Anwar Safa’s first feature 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 framing of Safa’s film as it examines our tendency to be suspicious of those who exhibit ideas above their perceived station.
Best Short, Guanajuato
Director: Nadia Islas
Tienlu survives alone in a bleak and empty world. She only knows hunger and cold, but dreams of beautiful things and visions of the myths of her ancestors keep her going.
Best Mexican Short (Tie)
Director: Arturo Baltazar
A portrait of an elderly woman who lives alone in the countryside, away from her loved ones and her late husband. For her, remembering has become something as essential as performing daily household chores. Her birthday is coming and with it the promise that her family will come visit her.
Best Mexican Short (Tie)
Director: Tatiana Huezo
Lulú wakes up to the silence of an empty house. After five years, absence has turned her life into a limbo, sharing that space with the desire, hope, and struggle to find her husband and 9-year-old son Brandon alive.
Best International Documentary Short
Director: Ricardo León
A neighborhood, a difficult coexistence, a tragedy. Paulina is accused of starting a fire that destroyed hundreds of homes. Now she must start over again, or give up and run away.
Honorable Mention, Mexican Documentary
Director: Natalia Bruschtein
This documentary is about the memories of a woman who fought tirelessly against historical amnesia and for the justice of the crimes of state in Argentina. Today this woman has lost her memory, liberating her from the pain. She bids farewell to this life without betraying the family she once lost.
Best Mexican Documentary
Made in Bangkok
Director: Flavio Florencio
Morganna, a Mexican transgender woman, crosses the world to fight for her dream: a sex-change operation. A beauty contest in Bangkok is her only option as she moves between uncertainty and risk. Morganna will face the great dilemma of modern times, affirming her identity in spite of those who do not accept her, rather than living a life of self-deception.
Honorable Mention, Mexican Feature
Director: Ricardo Soto
Ana and Leo are marked by an event from their childhood: the suicide of their father. Separately, they lead their lives as well as they can, without being able to escape the feeling that everything might end up being as disposable as plastic.
Best Mexican Feature
Director: Gust Van Den Berghe
Country: Belgium, Mexico
On his way from Heaven to Hell, Lucifer passes through the earthly paradise of Mexico, where elderly Lupita and her granddaughter Maria live. Lupita’s brother Emanuel pretends he’s paralyzed so he can drink and gamble while the two women tend to the sheep. Lucifer senses an opportunity and plays the miraculous healer. He forces Emanuel to walk again, seduces Maria, and makes Lupita lose her faith. He didn’t bring bad luck, he only illuminated the line between good and evil, where it didn’t exist before.
Best International Feature
Director: Daniel García, Rania Attieh
Country: USA, Argentina
H. is a modern interpretation of a Greek tragedy in which two women named Helen live out their mirrored lives. The first Helen is in her sixties, lives with her husband Roy, and looks after a baby doll which she cares for as a living baby. The second Helen is in her thirties, has a successful art career and is four months pregnant. One night, something falls out of the sky and explodes over the town. Inexplicable things start to happen, many people go missing, and the two Helens find themselves.