Samuel Douek, director of the Hola Mexico Film Festival, has just flown in from Los Angeles, and is feeling a little jet-lagged, tired and hungry.
Samuel Douek, director of the Hola Mexico Film Festival, has just flown in from Los Angeles, and is feeling a little jet-lagged, tired and hungry. But after exchanging a few pleasantries about the weather in LA it’s down to business to talk about the fifth Mexico Film Festival, which screens at Melbourne’s ACMI cinemas until October 31.
He talks enthusiastically about how the festival has grown in just over five years. It is now seen in more than fifteen cities in three countries, including New Zealand and the US, and this year there are some 20 feature films, including five amazing documentaries and a tribute to Carlos Carrera, who Douek describes as one of the best directors currently working in Mexico.
“The Mexican film industry is doing very well,” Douek elaborates. “We’re now producing around 80 films a year. In 2000 we used to do seven films. There’s a lot of variety coming out too – comedies, dramas, documentaries. And not only that, our films continue to win big awards. It’s still not an industry, though. The cost of filmmaking is subsidised by the government and by private companies. The disadvantage of having so much money to produce is that anyone can produce, and what’s happening is they are not producing a good piece of work. Plenty of them are pretty bad.”
The opening night film was Revolucion, produced to celebrate the centennial of the Mexican revolution. Ten of the most prominent directors from Mexico – including Gael Garcia Bernal and Carlos Reygadas – were invited to each make a short film, where they gave their view on the Mexican revolution and what Mexico has become since the revolution.
“It’s an amazing film!” Douek explains. “I think it’s a great way to start a festival – to see works from ten different directors and see different things. We have screened films of these film makers in the past, so it’s a great way to pull them all in together.”
Michael Rowe’s confronting Leap Year, which screened at MIFF in July, is a very brave film and an incredible piece of filmmaking. Rowe is an Australian director based in Mexico, and his debut feature won the prestigious Camera D’Or Prize at Cannes. Douek admits it is a challenging film that not everyone will like. But it’s a very strong story, it has a lot of character, and it has a lot of insight into the solitude of the central character, a woman given over to sado-masochistic sex with anonymous strangers.
We Are What We Are is a really interesting film about a family of cannibals, who are forced to fend for themselves when the father disappears. “There’s been a lot of films happening with vampires, zombies in the last few years, but this film will really break the language,” enthuses Samuel. “It’s been very well received. It’s one of my favourite films.”
Presumed Guilty is a fascinating documentary about a young man who was snatched off the streets of Mexico City by the police and brutally interrogated for a crime of which he was innocent. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and this film documents his fight for justice. Douek describes the film as something of a rollercoaster. “I’ve seen action films, I’ve seen 24, I’ve seen Speed, I’ve seen a lot of things, but this one takes them all. It’s crazy to see how fucked up the Mexican judicial system is, to put it bluntly. It’s an incredible story, and I just couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s an incredible story that you have to see to believe.”
Sins Of My Father looks at the life of the son of murdered drug lord Pablo Escobar. Juan Pablo Escobar moved to Argentina and changed his name to try and escape his notorious legacy. This intriguing documentary explores what has happened since, and explores how he tries to cope with the reality that he is the son of one of the biggest drug dealers that Mexico has ever seen.
This year the special guest is director Carlos Carrera. Even though he has only made three feature films he has been nominated for an Oscar, and won the Golden Palm in Cannes for his short film Héroe, El. His latest film is From Childhood, a terrifying story about child abuse and a powerful ghost story. Also screening as part of the tribute are his first film Benjamin’s Woman and his controversial Oscar-nominated The Crime Of Father Amaro, starring Gael Garcia Bernal as a young, idealistic priest sent to a small town.
The director will also attend Q&A sessions following each of these screenings. “Carlos speaks very good English,” reassures Samuel. “He has a great sense of humour, he has rich experience of film making in Mexico, so I think he is going to give us a good picture of what’s making films in Mexico these days.”
The Hola Mexico Film Festival runs from October 22-31 at ACMI’s cinemas so catch it before it’s all over.