Filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro’s triumphant visit to his native city five days after winning three Oscars, the splendid new installations of the Conjunto de Artes Escénicas, and the tragic disappearance of three film students marked a thirty-third edition of the Guadalajara Film Festival with uneven programming and Catalonia as guest cinematography.
The three film students of the University of Guadalajara, organizer of the festival, disappeared the night of March 19 in the municipality of Tonalá on their way back home after doing homework related to their studies. These young people may well have been among the hundreds who a few days earlier welcomed enthusiastically their idol Del Toro, who is related to the festival since its beginnings, when he presented his short ‘Doña Lupe’ in the first edition of 1986 and whose first feature Cronos was produced by the university in 1993.
The festival’s organizing committee strongly condemned “the violence currently afflicting the state of Jalisco,” joining the voices of solidarity, the university community and the families of the students Javier Salomón Gastelum, Daniel Díaz and Marco Ávalos of the Audiovisual Media University (CAAV); demanding “the return alive of the young people and a timely response by the authorities on the real situation of what is happening in Jalisco.”
It is worth noting that the festival’s audience award went to Ayotzinapa, el paso de la tortuga by Enrique García Meza (Mexico), a documentary about pain, solidarity, hope and government neglect around the disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero in September 2014.
In addition to three packed master classes taught by Del Toro, an honorary award for Spanish director Carlos Saura, the presentation of the Mexican film industry’s statistical yearbook, a retrospective of erotic cinema by the Swedish director based in Barcelona Erika Lust, and an exhibition of photographs about the diva of Mexican cinema María Félix ‘La Doña,’ the festival presented a total of 236 films in seven days full of activities that were attended by 150 thousand people.
The extensive facilities of the Conjunto de Artes Escénicas located in Zapopan, to the north of the city — which include a library, a cinema, an agora and numerous rooms for the exhibition of films and art — served as the splendid new main stage for the festival. Although located in an unfriendly area that is still under construction, and somewhat remote due to its distance to other venues and guest hotels, the facilities will be ideal festival headquarters in future editions.
In regards to an anodyne competitive section, the prize for best Ibero-American fiction feature went to Matar a Jesús by Laura Mora Ortega (Colombia/Argentina), “an emotional journey on an essential theme in Latin American society that maintains the tension and moves the audience through its complex and human portrait of the characters,” in the words of the jury that granted the award.
The other two big winners in fiction were the raw, tense and brilliant Alanis by Anahí Berneri (Argentina), originally a short film project that transformed into a feature during filming, which received awards for best direction and the vivacious and sincere acting of Sofía Gala Castiglione. And the impressive Wiñaypacha (Eternity) by newcomer Oscar Catacora (Peru), a sober and spiritual ode to solitude and the abandonment of the Aymara culture that was meticulously filmed at 16,000 feet in the South American Andes, which received prizes for best first film and cinematography.
The award for best male performance was shared by Giovanni Rodríguez, for the aforementioned Matar a Jesús, and Luis Gerardo Méndez for his acting in Tiempo compartido [Time Share] by Sebastián Hofmann (Mexico/Holland), a sly mix of The Great Budapest Hotel-Spring Breakers-Club Sandwich-Safe that won the best script award at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January.
The prize for best script was for Eugenia by Martín Boulocq (Bolivia, Brazil).
Two fiction films that also stood out are Handia [Giant] by Basque filmmakers Jon Garaño and Aitor Arregi, a moving story that won 10 Goya prizes in Spain whose great production value verifies the good moment cinema in Basque language (euskara) is going through; and the very well directed opera prima Estiu 1993 by the young Catalan director Carla Simón, an intimate and subtle story with echoes of Víctor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive that focuses on the trauma of a young girl.
In the documentary field, the prize for best Ibero-American feature went to Nicolás Combarro García’s Alberto García-Alix. La Línea de la Sombra (Spain), “for the deep exploration of what it means to look at and portray an era through a character through a powerful cinematographic form,” in the words of the jury.
The jury awarded a special prize to Pablo Aparo and Martín Benchimol’s El Espanto (Argentina), “a trip to an alien world in which you can identify yourself in the essence of the human, through fascinating narrative and aesthetics.”
It is also worth highlighting Jason O’Hara’s documentary Estado de exceção [State of Exception] (Brazil) that touches upon the activist spirit surrounding forced evictions in the vicinity of the Maracaná Stadium in Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. A timely release that puts into perspective the social injustice surrounding mega sporting events such as the Soccer World Cup, which will be held in Russia in a few months.
And the excellent Abner Benaim’s Yo no me llamo Rubén Blades [My Name Is Not Ruben Blades] (Panama), a perceptive, introspective compendium about the life of the singer, composer, actor and politician who created the salsa con conciencia and composed memorable songs like ‘Pedro Navaja’ and ‘Plástico.’
In the section dedicated to Mexican cinema, Jorge Pérez Solano’s La Negrada (Mexico) stood out for its wonderful execution and entomological touch, receiving an award for the cinematography of César Gutiérrez Miranda. It portrays a history of queridismo from the point of view of women in the heart of an Afro-Mexican community in the Costa Chica of Guerrero. It is the third film that the talented Oaxacan filmmaker presents at the festival after La tirisia (2014) and Espiral (2008).
The prize for best Mexican film went to Restos de viento by Jimena Montemayor Loyo, who also received the best director award.
The award for the best LGBT-themed film went to Tinta Bruta [Hard Paint] by Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon (Brazil) “for creating an honest story that describes the consequences of homophobia in today’s world and the transforming force of love,” in words of the jury. It is the second feature film that this pair of excellent directors of actors present in Guadalajara after Beira-Mar (2015). Granted the Teddy Award at the Berlin Film Festival in February, it is driven by emotions through solid performances, portraying the transformation of a lonely young man who earns money by acting in front of a webcam in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil.
Among the many short films that make the festival happy each year, the prize for best Ibero-American short film was awarded to El escarabajo al final de la calle by Joan Vives (Spain), deserving special mention Anderson by Rodrigo Meireles (Brazil), A Foreman by Daniel Drummond (Brazil/United States), Les Bones Nenes by Clara Roquet (Spain) and Flores by Jorge Jácome (Portugal).
Although programming in the competitive section was not that great in this thirty-third edition, the film industry made a strong and dynamic presence during the festival.
The 14th Coproduction Meeting, connecting film producers to generate collaborations, awarded prizes to Trigal by Anabel Caso (Mexico), Gabriela by Alejandro Fernández Almendras (Chile), Parchís: el documental by Daniel Arasanz (Spain), Clara Sola by Nathalie Álvarez Mesén (Colombia/Sweden) and Martínez by Lorena Padilla (Mexico/Chile), among others.
In the framework of the 12th edition of ‘Guadalajara Construye,’ providing economic incentives to film projects in post-production, the great winner was Perro bomba by Juan Cáceres (Chile), receiving several awards. Miriam miente by Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada (Dominican Republic), Ok, está bien by Gabriela Ivette Sandoval (Mexico), Sumercé by Victoria Solano (Colombia), Triz by André Carvalheira (Brazil) and Zona árida by Fernanda Pessoa ( Brazil) also got awards.
During his visit, Del Toro announced his participation in the production of the next film by Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid, 2017; Casi divas, 2008), as well as in the first feature film by animator Karla Castañeda (La noria, 2012; Jacinta, 2008). He also announced the creation of a new scholarship for film students, Jenkins-Del Toro International Film Grant, to which the director will contribute up to $60,000 each year along with the Mary Street Jenkins Foundation.
The next edition of the festival will have Chile as guest cinematography, will present the exhibition ‘Guillermo del Toro: At home with monsters,’ and will include for the first time a competitive section devoted to animation.