Guadalajara film fest, Entry 5

Jose Avellar


By Robert Koehler

Good stuff….Brian De Palma was here with Redacted, but unlike almost any director who ever attends a festival with his/her own film–exceptions include Lisandro Alonso, Pedro Costa, Jose Luis Guerin, the other “Joe,” Lav Diaz, Raya Martin, Albert Serra, Monte Hellman and the late Curtis Harrington–he actually went to see movies….This whole film-viewing thing proved too much for De Palma at one point, when he had to leave a botched screening of the even more botched Cuban film Personal Belongings, since the Cuban print source forgot to send the festival an English-subtitled print (blame Cuba), and look for his driver. Walking out, he looked at me with his arm outstretched in total frustration and confusion: “What are we supposed to do now?” (Indeed–at least two juries, with non-Spanish-speaking members, were stuck in the screening.) “You escaped,” I told him. He smiled, then wandered around the large Cinepolis multiplex looking for his driver, who had become lost. De Palma found him….

More great Argentine films than the mind could handle, with Tan de repente and Born and Bred and La cienega and Extrano and, our favorite, La libertad (and where oh where was Parapalos or Silvia Prieto?), all as they say back on the big screen where they belong. Even if the first reel of La libertad (so is this the print that Alonso keeps under his bed?) was out of sync….Lots of guys on screen, like Alonso’s Misael, could be seen catching animals and cooking and eating them over open flames in the woods. This happened in more than one film (three, at least), and maybe it suggested the future of eating out…..Lots of films featuring refugees leaving their homeland and grinding poverty for opportunity, from Teo’s Journey to 14 kms….

The lounge area of the Hotel Fiestamericana, the official festival hub, turned into a moveable feast and watering hole for festival guests, including AFI Fest director Rose Kuo and AFI programmer Shaz Bennett; Cinevegas’ inimitable (and Sundance’s go-to-guy for their best section, New Frontier) Mike Plante (get this dude going on James Benning, and forget whatever plans you might have for the evening); Fernando Eimbcke roaming about and looking understandably happy; Eimbcke’s equally pleased sales agent, Peter Danner of Paris-based sales company Funny Balloons, which has quickly become an ace at handling many of the best Latin American films; PoChu AuYeung, program director of just about my favorite festival, Vancouver; Joseph Beyer, of Sundance Institute Online; the ever-friendly Raymond Phathanavirangoon of Fortissimo, who chatted about Fortissimo’s fabulous pressbooks (if you get your hands on their book for Syndromes and a Century, never let it go!); Variety‘s Madrid (and now Paris) correspondent, John Hopewell; Variety‘s once and (maybe?) future Mexico City correspondent Michael O’Boyle and his Hollywood Reporter counterpart John Hecht, mensches both; IMCINE’s new director Marina Stavenhagen; Huelva festival director Eduardo Trias; indefatigable producer Donald Ranvaud, whose Buena Onda Pictures is now re-settling in Los Angeles from Miami, where “things just didn’t work well”; Juan Carlos Rulfo, he of the masterful doc Into the Pit, embarking on an ambitious project as a producer of films by new Mexican filmmakers; a glimpse of Argentina’s grand old cineaste, Fernando “Pino” Solanas; Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival director Marlene Dermer (Los Angeles being all over Guadalajara); former Variety critic and current director of the Cineteca in Mexico City, Leonardo Garcia Tsao; and elsewhere–most memorably in the Guadalajara market area of the hotel, on Skype video with his wife in Rio–Jose Avellar, dean of Brazilian film critics and creator of his own wonderfully visual website,, that’s a close cousin in some respects to David Bordwell’s fine site; and Mad Filmes’ sales person from Lisbon, Susana Rodrigues, who knows her cinema….

And nobody knows their cinema quite like Jean-Pierre Garcia, director of the Amiens film festival, who eat, drinks and sleeps cinema–particularly American and Latin American cinema, especially by filmmakers maudit (Cy Endfield is one of his latest projects)….When I happened to mention my love of Nikkatsu Studios, Garcia happened to have a copy of a book published by the Amiens festival (why don’t American festivals do the same?) on Nikkatsu and its bevy of maverick directors. This is part of Amiens’ longterm project to survey great non-Hollywood studios around the world, from Studio Babelsberg to Cinecitta….

Plus some thanks are more than due to festival programmer Lucy Virgen, who has as much as any one person provided Guadalajara with an injection of imagination and breadth, and to press director Paco Fernandez, who’s a model of his kind….

A festival is about the films, first, and the people in the dark rooms, second, but I had some wonderful neighbors for the eight days of screenings, including Roger Alan Koza, the extremely enthusiastic programmer/critic/cinephile straight from La Cumbre, Argentina; Israeli critics Dan and Edna Fainaru (best known to English readers as Screen Daily‘s critics, and who also run Israel’s only long-running film journal, Cinematheque), who also happen to be a terrific married couple; Mr. FIPRESCI himself Klaus Eder, desiring to get more American and Canadian film critics to festivals (always a good thought); Salon‘s film critic Stephanie Zacharek, who was the only other American critic besides myself in Guadalajara; and last but certainly not least Cristina Venegas, the mind behind Santa Barbara festival’s terrific Cinemedia section of Ibero-American film, which contained about as many fine new films from Mexico as could be found in Guadalajara this year, which won’t exactly be remembered (well, at least so far) as a banner year for Mexican film…..

Not-so-good stuff…..Almost nobody with the festival ever introducing a screening (what’s up with that?)….Many significant films poorly attended, with some of those who did deploying their cell phones at all times during screenings….Talking, talking, and more talking….and more talking….Lots of flubs in the Cinepolis projection booths, including frame alignment, screen masking, sound control (as in no sound at times), improper aspect ratio, and my personal favorite, just letting the final reel run through the projector until there’s nothing but the glaring projector light on screen….Those pesky projected English subtitles under the screen were almost always on cue, but damn, were they ever hard to read (making the experience of watching and reading the chatterbox The Elite Squad rather a strain)….great volunteers, but guys, let those of us waiting for the next screening know when it’s starting, OK?…..

Above all, the Guadalajara festival should have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, that gifted group that imposes the Golden Globes on us every year (except this one, when they were blissfully reduced to a suitably numb press conference….Someone at the festival (who?) thinks it’s a wonderful notion that the competition juries should suggest Mexican films to be considered for the foreign Globes nominations (this year, it was Lake Tahoe and The Desert Within)….Someone (the same person(s)?) thinks it’s also a nifty idea to have a member of the HFPA on one of the juries….Any American reader with any awareness of the movies knows how fairly ludicrous this is, but the shame is that the joke that is the HFPA hasn’t caught on in Mexico…..Well, let it start now: HFPA is a joke, and Guadalajara, if it’s to become a festival ready to go to the next level, should stay clear of it….