Sharknado, Red Carpets & More Tacos: This Is What a Film Festival in Mexico Is Like Part 2

Read more

Covering a film festival as a member of the press is always an insane marathon of movie watching, party attending, and binge drinking. Somehow in the middle of all that, you’re supposed to find time to eat, sleep, and write about what you’ve been seeing. The Guanajuato International Film Festival was no exception. One of our staff writers, Andrew S. Vargas, and I (Film Editor at Remezcla) took on the challenge. We arrived in San Miguel de Allende on Friday, July 17 for nine days packed with films, press conferences, and red carpets and then halfway through moved to the festival’s second city, Guanajuato, the capital.

Below we document our day-to-day craziness during the second half of the festival in Guanajuato.

Keep an eye out here for more in-depth coverage and read part one of our festival diary here.

Wednesday, July 22


Vanessa: Since the festival basically starts anew in Guanajuato, there was an opening ceremony in which Festival Director/Founder Sarah Hoch gave a brazen speech about the state of Mexican cinema, “Dicen que no hay públicos, pero yo me atrevo a contradecir eso, porque si no los hubiera no tendríamos ahora más de 100 festivales de cine en México, no dos ni tres como hace 15 años.” She went on to lambast Mexico’s cultural institutions, government, and film industry for the lack of support for national cinema and ended with the festival’s refrain, “Mas cine por favor!” I spent the rest of the day watching Mexican short films including La Ausencia, an intimate doc directed by Arturo Baltazar, about an elderly woman who is determined to celebrate and have fun on her birthday even if her family doesn’t show up.

Afterwards, two of my favorite documentaries of GIFF were screened in the same program, bringing together stories about the unfathomable pain a mother goes through when a child has been disappeared. In Tatiana Huezo’s follow up to El lugar mas pequeno, her award-winning, globe-trotting opera prima — the short Ausencias sticks to her unique audio-visual style, where she records interviews separately from the image and we never see the subject actually speaking. The profoundly moving Ausencias allows Lulu, a woman whose husband and son were kidnapped in Mexico five years ago, tell her story. After the short was the feature documentary, Tiempo Suspendido, in which the director, Natalia Bruschten, shares her grandmother’s struggle with dementia and memory loss. Once a vibrant activist and part of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Laura Bonaparte even sued the Argentine government for the disappearance of three of her children during the dictatorship. Now in her eighties, she barely remembers their names. It makes you wonder if her inability to remember those painful experiences is a blessing or a curse?

Then, there was (another) opening night party, of course. It rained a lot and we were under a tent which gave me flashbacks to that wedding video that’s been circulating on YouTube of when a white tent collapses on the guests during a storm. I was half scared, half didn’t care because of the free beer.

Andrew: The day kicked off with the inaugural ceremony. Yes, that’s a second inauguration — this time for the Guanajuato capital leg of the festival. The whole thing definitely feels a lot bigger now: more glitz, glamour, red carpets and all that. The inaugural screening was a series of short documentaries made by local university students who weren’t necessarily experienced with film production. The topic: Identidad y Pertenencia, and the results were an interesting panorama of life in the towns and cities of Guanajuato. Standouts included El Guardian about a mystical site of volcanos and craters that according to local folklore provides protective energy to all of Guanajuato. Then there was Sin Polvo: a fascinating character study of a clown struggling with personal demons. Everything closed out with the bombo y platillo of a Banda de pueblo from a nearby town who got the whole auditorium skippin’ and jumpin.’

On my way back to the press headquarters at the picturesque University of Guanajuato I ran into my roommate (who happens to be the red carpet coordinator for the festival), and he invited me to take a backstage peek at the the preparations for “Project Glamour” – a special event in which a select group of celebrities and otherwise important cultural figures would be dressed for the red carpet by Mexican fashion designers. Lots of hairspray and flowery jackets ensued, but it was cool to get a first hand look at the great work Mexican designers are doing outside of the traditional centers of Milan, New York, etc.

Cut to a very stormy red carpet. After the whole rain-soaked spectacle wrapped up, we headed over to the inauguration party and were greeted by a Cumbia karaoke version of a Maroon 5 song (they all kinda sound the same to me) by a cover band seemingly teleported in time from 1980s Miami. Thus far the parties have been sorely lacking in the salsa/reggaetón dept — I mean, cumbia’s great, but you gotta mix it up a little more — so out of boredom I took the opportunity to compulsively photograph everything I saw. Photos forthcoming.

Thursday, July 23


Vanessa: I started my day on a depressing note: a panel on the missing students of Ayotzinapa. The impassioned speeches and denunciations pushed me past the sadness though, on account of all the speakers encouraging audience members to get involved in the movement for a better Mexico. They even handed out postcards to mail to the government to demand change. I was able to catch the SXSW-premiering doc El Monte Adentro, about a family who survives in the isolated Colombian mountains by using mules to carry cargo up and down the rugged terrain. I also squeezed in an interview with Anwar Safa, the director of El Jeremias and caught a glimpse of its adorable little star, Martin Castro. Afterwards, I caught another Mexican shorts program. My most favorite cortometraje was the clever and colorful fantastical story Dulce dolor, in which a piñata comes to life. Found on the street by a garbage man who falls in love with her, he takes her home and quickly realizes that she’s into kinky shit like being bit with a stick and having rope tied around her neck. (Seems natural for a human piñata, right?) After a days-long partying streak and despite my bad case of FOMO, I decided to skip the night’s fiesta.

Andrew: Today was movies, movies, movies. Started out with a shorts program that featured works from Argentina and Uruguay, along with Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Sundance sensation, Stop. Even with the presence of traditional film powerhouses like the UK and Denmark, I can say with confidence that the Latin American and Latino U.S.A. shorts blew away the competition. As usual the Cono Sur representation was packed with style and humor, while Stop is so masterfully succinct and forceful that it should be a fixture on every film school syllabus.

From there I hauled back to the University of Guanajuato for a screening of the Mexican indie feature La Maldad, a docufiction hybrid made on a minimal budget with moments of humor and powerful imagery. The visual style was a bit rough around the edges, but the characters brought a strange and hypnotic charisma to the piece. Unfortunately this was followed up by a screening of the Mexican feature En la sangre. Imagine one of those quirky hipster New York love stories that exist in a universe of exclusively white faces and never venture out of Williamsburg… then move it to Mexico City. I might have liked the film a little more if it had just gone the straightforward rom-com route, but moments of unnecessary “artsy” pretension just kinda killed the whole thing for me. But that’s what film festivals are about. You win some and you lose some.

After that it was back to the hotel for work, followed by a brief salsa dancing outing to Guanajuato’s infamous tropical night spot “La Dama de las Camelias.” Great music and some really pro dancers, but it was missing just a touch of Caribeño sazón. Around 3:00 am the rest of GIFF suddenly showed up and things got packed and sweaty. Dunno if you’ve ever seen an average Frenchman try to salsa dance in a packed club, but the image of a bull in a china shop comes to mind.

Friday, July 24


Vanessa: I was finally able to catch the deceptively simple-looking black-and-white Cuban beauty La obra del siglo and then stayed in my same seat at the University of Guadalajara’s auditorium for a panel discussion with some of the biggest names in Mexican cinema. The topic: “Apologia o combate al crimen en el cine” brought together both masters of cinema and contemporary auteurs Carlos Bolado, Luis Mandoki, Gerardo Naranjo, and Amat Escalante. They expounded on the current situation that Mexico finds itself in with Bolado opining that a filmmaker’s job is to use their art to, “show and explain what is seen in newspapers” and Escalante confessing that he doesn’t think fiction films like his can create change, but that he has more faith that documentaries can. After watching some more shorts, we headed to the fiesta de realizadores (filmmakers’ party) and got one free beer before they ran out. Then, on to another party, where we drank more. And then some tacos. Side note: It’s funny that sometimes you have to go all the way to Mexico to meet a bunch of directors that live in your neighborhood back in NYC.

Andrew: Today, I finally got around to seeing the Mexican feature Plástico, which was made as a thesis film for perennial film school juggernaut, the CCC. When I saw the packed line running around the block and got a mouthful of venom from some cranky theatergoers unhappy with my press access, I realized it’s officially the weekend and things are gonna get hectic. In the end it was a student film, and the young director has a lot to work on in the narrative department, but the piece was overflowing with evocative, non-traditional style. I do think he has a bright future ahead of him, but maybe a screenwriting partner would help strengthen his voice. (BTW: Guanajuato’s Teatro Juárez is beautiful and gave the screening a whole new level of elegance and pomp.)

After grabbing dinner with Vanessa and Ambulante USA’s Christine Dávila, we headed over to the filmmakers’ party — by which I mean a dimly lit rooftop with virtually inaudible music blanketed by a constant sprinkling of cold rain. Everybody was huddled uncomfortably under a pop-up canopy, and I was in a cheese-induced food coma so I headed down to the bar with the regular folks and enjoyed a goofy hardrock cover band and their rowdy coterie. After it winded down we headed over the “Whoopies” for the Rally Universitario party and the music improved exponentially (literally the first time I had heard reggaetón in a solid week). Got down. Got Funky. Ate tacos. Went to bed.

Saturday, July 25


Vanessa: I got to see La delgada linea amarilla, a feel-good and little bit trite but well-intentioned dramedy about five men painting yellow lane dividers on the highway. It’s ensemble cast brings together some of Mexico’s most-recognized actors: Joaquín Cosío, Damián Alcázar, Silverio Palacios, Gustavo Sánchez Parra, and newcomer Américo Hollander. With this crowd-pleaser now under my belt, I almost reached my goal of watching every Mexican feature in competition. I only missed one, Jimena Montemayor’s En la sangre.

I caught some more shorts and was struck by the simplicity of Roberto Fiesco Trejo’s Tremulo, a 20-minute chance encounter at a barbershop between two young men, one a soldier, that slowly turns romantic. It’s understated style proves that sometimes the quietest of films has the loudest of messages. Then, it was on the awards ceremony. With overflowing crowds crammed on the street in front of the Teatro Juarez, and an everlasting parade of celebs, directors, and big names on the red carpet it was quite a big affair, and once the show moved indoors, as people were scrambling to find seats, I was very thankful for my press badge. Once the prizes were handed out, and I guzzled some champagne at a low key reception for the winners, we headed over to the closing night party known as Tunnel Fest. It’s not easy to explain this behemoth event but it was what I imagine a 90s rave in a Berlin warehouse looked like. And that was it for GIFF. I headed back to my hotel room around 4:00 am and had to get up at 6:00 am for my flight. It was going to be a long day.

Andrew: Yeah the nightlife’s really starting to wear on me. Got a late start to the day and since the screenings were winding down, I figured it would be a good time to knuckle down in the press office and get some work done before the closing night ceremony. In the evening, we were once again treated to a star-studded red carpet and some jaw-droppingly revealing famous people dresses, then we moved into the Teatro Juárez to see the night’s big winners. Let’s just say I was a little disappointed that the prize for Best Mexican Feature went to Lucifer: a Belgian film by a Belgian director that seems to take place in Mexico just cause. These prizes come with thousands of dollars and even more money with in-kind services for the director’s next feature, and it would have been nice to see all that go to a Mexican filmmaker. Pero qué vamos a hacer?

It was awesome to see U.S. Latino director and Texas native Daniel Garcia and co-director Rania Attieh pick up the award for Best International Feature for H., but like most of the award winners, they weren’t present in person to accept the honor. They did, however, send a cutesy thank you video from Poland where it seems they’re rocking yet another festival at the same time.

The closing night party was in one of Guanajuato’s emblematic traffic tunnels carved out of the city’s subterranean underbelly. Cool setting, but after 9 days of packed screenings and events, the last thing that’s going to wake me up is monotonous house music. I made my peace with Guanajuato and went home early. Yes, I went home early.

Sunday, July 26


Vanessa: Three planes, no trains, and two automobiles later I was back in New York. Albeit tired, but the little cinenerd that lives inside my brain was very, very happy.

Andrew: Bus. Home. Finally. Home. A nasty cold and pitch black ojeras are a small price to pay for ten glorious days of #ThatFestivalLife.