Taco Crawls, Free Mezcal & Movie Marathons: This Is What a Film Festival in Mexico Is Like

Lead Photo: Photo by: Montserrat Roma/Indie Rocks
Photo by: Montserrat Roma/Indie Rocks
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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 (about 160 miles outside of Mexico City) on Friday, July 17 for nine days packed with films, press conferences, and red carpets. Below we document our day-to-day craziness during the first half of the festival in San Miguel.

Keep an eye out here for more in-depth coverage and part two of our festival diary to follow our adventures in Guanajuato.

Friday, July 17


Vanessa Erazo: I’m not a morning person so getting up at the crack of dawn is only reserved for two things: air travel and imminent danger (a fire might get me up… might.) On Friday morning, when my alarm went off at 4:30 am, I gave myself a pep talk and dragged myself out of bed. Bleary-eyed, I made it to my 6:30 am flight to Dallas and then hopped on another plane headed towards Mexico City. After a long wait in immigration and meeting up with Andrew (one of our staff writers), an almost-five-hour bus trip through D.F.’s clogged roads got us to San Miguel de Allende at close to 10:00 pm. I was working off three hours of sleep and just survived a 14-hour trip so after heading to el centro for a mediocre dinner, I hailed a cab in the rain, headed back to the hotel, and around midnight crashed, hard.

Andrew S. Vargas: Today’s highlight was a sweaty, physically awkward sprint through Mexico’s Terminal Norte bus station. Getting sent digital bus tickets in .pdf format is all well and good and 21st-century — if you have a printer — but otherwise it makes for some pretty desperate maneuvering through throngs of travelers as you follow a litany of contradictory directions toward a mythical computer lab somewhere deep in the belly of the station. Finally printed the tickets and made it to the departures area just as the bus was pulling out, but the driver wasn’t too interested in letting me on. Luckily a timely intervention by one of the ticket agents did the trick.

After that we made it to San Miguel de Allende without a hitch, but it seems we were too late to pick up our tickets to the inaugural bash. Nevertheless, I’ve learned over the years that a lack of tickets should never stop one from pursuing their dreams; todo en la vida se resuelve con un poquito de actitud. A few hours later I was suited up, wining and dining with the beautiful people of the Guanajuato International Film Festival. Films to come tomorrow.

Saturday, July 18


Vanessa: I was so excited about our first full day of marathon movie-watching, that I was up at 7:30 am (remember how I hate mornings), was eating breakfast at 8:30 am, and then on the bus to our homebase, the Sala de Prensa at Bellas Artes (a pretty famous art school that has over the years attracted of a lot of foreign bohemian and creative types.) I got off to a running start and saw four movies: a doc on midwifes called La primera sonrisa; the very weird/interesting/low key but sometimes funny flick about an angel falling from the sky that I missed at Tribeca, Lucifer; a charming little feature about an elderly couple in D.F. selling tamales to get by that I wasn’t sure about in the beginning but totally won me over by the end, El comienzo del tiempo; and Plastico, an opera prima by CCC film student, Ricardo Soto, that has eternally burned the image into my brain of an old lady in a wheelchair repeatedly ramming a dildo into a woman strapped to a table with saran wrap. I can’t remember if this was before or after the same woman was fucked by a dog. Yeah, it was that kind of movie.

Getting from place to place involved lots of cab rides. One taxi driver stopped to pick me up even though he already had a white-haired lady and her small pug in the front seat. After dropping her off, he told me she was a millionaire. Then he told me the hotel I am staying at is owned by a big time narco (this piece of information is still unconfirmed). Then we drove past a wedding procession that involved a donkey wearing a wreath of pink flowers and huge paper puppets of a bride and a groom. We capped off the night with a party where I was a bit star struck by ridiculously charming Tenoch Huerta who’s on the jury this year straight off an Ariel nomination for his performance in Gueros. I tried to play it cool and was like, “You’re an actor right?”

Andrew: I was foolish enough to actually wake up at 8:30 for breakfast as we were instructed. I’ve been living in Mexico long enough to know things don’t actually work like that and I easily could have gotten a couple more hours of sleep. The festival headquarters is in a beautiful colonial building with a huge, landscaped interior patio and all was abuzz with the comings and goings of staffers, volunteers, renowned international filmmakers, and me. The Costa Rican feature Viaje by Paz Fábrega was the first film on my docket and ended up being the highlight of the day. Small, unpretentious, but packed with real emotions and strong performances. A Q&A followed with incredibly buena onda cinematographer of the project, Esteban Chinchilla, who talked about his transition from still photography to cinematography and their decision to shoot the film in black and white, among other topics.

Then came the Fiesta Mexicana. Oh boy. Free mezcal, free tequila, free chelas. Things got funky. Press was holding down the dance floor with representatives from Televisa and TV Azteca showing the filmmakers how to do it, while Mexican super actor Tenoch Huerta gave several women a master class in sweaty cumbia spins. Things closed out with a grab bag of Bruno Mars, The Village People and banda norteña. Then press went off looking for an after party and Remezcla went to bed.

Sunday, July 19

Vanessa: I watched four movies again. I <3 that festival life. My first animated movie of the fest was the underwhelming La increible historia del niño de piedra, a part of the children’s program, and then checked out a docufiction, La maldad, that I was already on board for but when the director revealed at the Q&A that the principal actor was his grandfather whom he only recently met, I liked it even more. In it, his eighty-something-year-old abuelo takes a script he wrote to the offices of IMCINE (the Mexican Film Institute) and asks for $10 million pesos to make his movie. (Spoiler alert: they call security to escort him out of the building.) Then, I saw my favorite movie of the fest so far. The adorable comedy about a kid genius and his parents that just don’t understand, El Jeremias. It’s sort of like Little Miss Sunshine but if Wes Anderson shot it in Sonora, Mexico. The first time feature by Anwar Safa is still looking for distribution and absolutely has the potential to fill theaters, on both sides of the border. After, I caught Carlos Hagerman’s very personal doc about his parents, El patio de mi casa.

By this time it was late, I had barely eaten, it started raining, and I got cranky real fast. So, I decided to head back to the hotel and call it a night. But, fate intervened. On the street while futilely trying to hail a taxi, I ran into Esteban Chinchilla, the cinematographer of Viaje, whom I had briefly met in New York during the Tribeca Film Festival. We ate tacos de pastor from a cart, chatted up the locals while he took photos of everything/everyone, and then while in search of a supposed festival-sponsored karaoke party we bumped into Neto Villalobos, director of Por las plumas, (I guess all Costa Rican filmmakers know each other?) and ended up drinking mezcal at a dark bar and listening to Juan Gabriel and War’s “Lowrider.”

Andrew: La Obra del Siglo. Wow. Yeah this Cuban feature already picked up a Tiger Award at Rotterdam, and was made by some of my film school homies, but I can say with confidence that this movie is the real deal. Aside from the fact that throngs of people were still walking into the screening literally an hour in (pet peeve), I was utterly hypnotized by this mashup of Cuban stagnation-realism and triumphalist found footage. Favorite film of the festival so far, and it’s honestly going to be hard to beat.

Dinner involved picking little meat particles out of some very non-vegetarian friendly quesadillas and trying futilely to soak up some of the pork grease with napkins, then it was on to the erotic short film cocktail. Side note: DO NOT DRINK Dos Equis Radler. I repeat: DO. NOT. DRINK. It’s like taking a Sprite, adding five packets of sugar and then a drop of light beer. Guácala.* Anyway, aside from the terrible beer, the erotic shorts ended up being more of a backdrop to friendly conversation. And then suddenly “erotic” turned very quickly into “porn” and things got just a liiittle awkward. Iphones came out en masse, conversations grew louder. I guess if you mix porn with news footage of the Vietnam War it’s art?

Vanessa: *Don’t listen to Andrew. Dos Equis Radler is delicious! It’s like Bud Lite Lime plus more sugar. (Dos Equis, if you are reading this, send me some.)

Monday, July 20


Vanessa: Sleep, must sleep. That’s what was running through my head every time I hit snooze on my alarm in the morning. Eventually, it wasn’t morning anymore. I missed breakfast, but I didn’t care. Since there weren’t too many movies that afternoon, Andrew and I headed to the centro to take photos of local Miguelenses for a photo gallery that was inspired by Humans of New York. We wanted to talk to regular people, take their picture, ask them about living in San Miguel and if they felt that their town was being taken over by Americans. We got some colorful shots, got serenaded by a guy who calls himself Marco Polo, and listened to a gringo expat go off about Mexican “illegals” crossing the border into the U.S. I guess the irony of him being an immigrant to Mexico escaped him. After lunch, I was running to a screening and randomly stumbled upon some type of religious procession. There were nuns, puppets, dancers twirling colorful ribbons, and a little girl wearing angel wings.

Later that evening there was a reception for the industry contingent attending the fest. It was pretty low-key but like every evening event so far, “el after” was where the real partying went down. When we got to La Cucaracha in the late hours of the night/morning, they had the lights on and were about to shut down. Enough people showed and with the promise of even more festivalgoers on their way, the owners were convinced to stay open and the lights went down again, provoking loud cheers from the tipsy crowd.

Andrew: Today was the “Humans of San Miguel” shoot. Boy we met some characters. Tip: Never ask a Red-State American expat living in Mexico what he thinks about undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The answers don’t change much on either side of the border. Is Fox News even available on Mexican cable?

Finally got to see the Oscar-nominated short doc from the CCC, La Parka. Really nice little piece. Then we made our way to the festival’s exclusive Industry party. Things were tame enough until we got the boot around 1:00 am and the fiesta moved to a series of progressively more shady cantinas. Ended up singing drunken boleros at 5am with what turned out to be a Hollywood studio exec. Only in Guanajuato, folks.

Tuesday, July 21


Vanessa: Tuesday was mostly dedicated to boring stuff like catching up on emails (and sleep), packing, and taking a bus to Guanajuato where the rest of the festival will take place. During lunch, I spent some time getting to know press from other outlets covering the fest. Most of them were pleasantly surprised that I had come all the way from New York since most of the outlets there were national. They were even more impressed that I was actually watching movies, since the majority of the prensa cohort was there to shoot video for the espectáculos beat, meaning all the fancy stuff: red carpets, celebrities, conferences, etc.

Andrew: Slept off hangover. Took a bus from San Miguel over to Guanajuato capital for the second leg of the festival. Slept off hangover.