Mexican and American cinema cement their bond at the Morelia International Film Festival


It's only halfway through the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM), but filmgoers have already had the opportunity to see a wide range of new and classic cinema. Just as important, audience members have been able to meet and interact with several of the attending filmmakers. That this all takes place in a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with remarkable architecture is just another bonus of FICM.

Daniela Michel, a founding director of FICM, said attendance at this year's festival is on par with previous editions. "But for us the most important thing is that Mexican filmmakers have a platform, a good meeting point. That they also are made aware of new filmmakers they might not see otherwise. Our Critics' Week series highlights films by first- or second-time filmmakers. It's an important inspiration for young filmmakers here in Morelia."

Mirsad Purivatra, director of the Sarajevo Film Festival, feels that one of the most rewarding aspects of FICM is its Impuslo Morelia series for new filmmakers. This year Purivatra and two other jury members are screening seven works in progress, offering advice to directors and producers and awarding funds to help with post-production costs.

Director Nicolas Philibert brought his new film De chaque instant/Each and Every Moment, a documentary about student nurses as they first confront and then learn to deal with the pressures of illness and mortality.

"This is my fifth time here at Morelia," he said. "The organizers are very loyal. In the big festivals like Cannes, you always focused on your film, on business. You don't meet other people, but here we have time to talk to friends."

Olivier Assayas, who screened Non-fiction as well as several of his earlier features, agreed. "What's great about Morelia is that it's one of the few places where you actually do meet people, where you have young, warm audiences, which is becoming very rare.  The audience for independent cinema can be aging, something I'm struggling against. I'm obsessed with the notion that movies are for young people.  And a lot of the viewers here are that young audience."

Pawel Pawlikowski will be screening the Mexican premiere of Cold War later in the week, but first he is hosting a master class with Alfonso Cuarón. After expressing some trepidation about preparing for the class in Spanish, he complimented Daniela Michel for her work at FICM. "I'm an old friend of Daniela's, and I think in a way the festival is like her. It reflects her. She has a great soul and great taste, and she’s a wonderful host. She loves cinema. And filmmakers. And they love her back and come back every year. It's a special place."

Cuarón will be presenting Roma at the festival as well as overseeing his master class. "It's very important that we're going to show Roma," Michel said. "Alfonso told a story at the Lyon Film Festival about how he was here at Morelia sharing tequilas with Thierry Fremaux [director of the Cannes Film Festival]. They were drinking a lot, and Thierry challenged him, 'Why aren't you making a Mexican film?' The question really upset Alfonso, and it was that moment that he decided that his new film would be about Mexico."

Guests can find themselves involved in several aspects of the festival. Director Paul Weitz not only brought Bel Canto for its Latin American premiere, but also introduced a screening of Santa, the first Mexican sound feature. The screening was part of a special tribute to cinematographer Alex Phillips, who shot over 250 movies with directors like Emilio Fernández and Luis Buñuel.

Cinematographer John Bailey introduced In Caliente starring Delores del Rio, part of a series honoring Mexican actresses who also worked in Hollywood.  Bailey was at the festival with his wife Carol Littleton, an award-winning editor who introduced a special screening of Silverado.

Bailey, who is also the current president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has been attending FICM regularly.

"Speaking in terms of my official position regarding the Academy, I think our relationship with international cinema is growing and growing," he said. "This year we had 928 new members from over 50 countries. Mexico, along with Canada, is our closest neighbor. The relationship between Mexican cinema and American cinema has always been very important. Now it's been renewed with a fresh sense of energy. Right now we have significant, great Mexican artists—cinematographers, obviously directors, including the 'Three Amigos.'

"As a cinematographer, I'm very pleased to see in the Plaza a tribute for Alex Phillips, who was born Canadian but spent virtually his whole career in Mexico. And of course Gabriel Figueroa was one of his students, and worked for a lot of well-known American directors such as John Huston. That's an example of the long history of Mexico and Hollywood relationships. I think Alejandro [Ramírez, FICM president] and Daniela have been working with a great deal of focus to illustrate and highlight these relationships through the decades.

"One of the beautiful things about this festival is this almost spiritual bond, a bond reflected in Mexican's cinema's influence on American cinema and vice versa. It's special in that regard, it's not like going to other festivals that have no particular focus. Still, there are a lot of international films being shown here, a lot of them films that are also the Academy's submissions this year for foreign language films, such as Shoplifters, Cold War, Girl, Roma.

"So there are all kinds of connections on display here in Morelia. And I think Daniela and Alejandro are very keen on securing even stronger this relationship between Mexico and American cinema."