Nov. 9, 2012 -- The Morelia International Film Festival, which takes place from November 3 - 11, is not very well known in the United States. But every year, it serves as a crucial meeting point for dozens of young Mexican filmmakers who share their work, discuss new projects, and look at some of the best films and documentaries that are being produced around the world.
In Mexico, and increasingly in Europe, the Morelia lnternational Film Festival has become synonymous with independent, innovative film, drawing the likes of Werner Herzog and Quentin Tarantino and also attracting prominent figures such as Guillermo del Toro, Tommy Lee Jones, and Mexico's Gael Garcia Bernal, who attends the festival every year.
During the festival, which ends Sunday, the cafes lining the small city's plazas fill up with cinephiles. Producers, actors and distributors stroll around Morelia's 17th century cobblestone streets, chatting away about the next hot project, or reflecting on the film that they just saw.
Morelia is just a four-hour drive from our Mexico City office. So we couldn't help but go there to check out the festival for ourselves. Here are some interesting films that we learned about during our brief stay in Morelia.
You may see some of these reaching U.S. theaters. Others you may never see. But this list provides an interesting insight into what Mexican filmmakers are up to these days.
Most films are shown at the Cinepolis, in Morelia's 17th century downtown district.
This is the most crowded category in the Morelia Film Festival, partly due to the fact that shorts are cheaper to make than features films.
One short that stands out is Ciudad Juarez, an animated film about a flea who is attempting to convince his peers that they live on a round head. "This story relates to both modern Mexico and to the country [as it was] 500 years ago," the official description reads.
Equally as philosophical but more musically focused is a short called Tintico's Afternoons. Its plot? Under the beautiful Quebrada cliff in Acapulco, a group of mosquitoes addicted to tropical music desperately tries to bring happiness back into a rumba director's life.
Otilia Portillo, 32, is the proud director of Diario a Tres Voces, a film that shows how love is experienced at different stages of life.
While at the festival we had the chance to watch Diario a Tres Voces [Three Voices] a one hour, beautifully shot doc in which three women of different generations, including a 90-year-old, a 50-year-old and a teenager, describe how they fell in love, how they became disillusioned, and how they keep on going with their lives.
"I wanted to develop stories about things that affect us every day," said director Otilia Portillo. "Love is one of those universal things that is often explored in fiction, but not often developed through documentaries," added the 32-year-old, who has a regular job as an architect in Mexico City, but somehow finds the time to produce documentaries.
A bit less elaborate but still interesting is Todo Se Vale, or All is Possible, a short documentary about a woman in the state of Zacatecas, who finds a sense of purpose in life, through the sport of ultimate fighting.
"I identify with the main character," said 30-year-old filmmaker Edin Martinez. "Like many young people, she has a void that she wants to fill, and she is looking for that thing that motivates her."
Political docs are also making their mark on the film fest. Among them, El Ingeniero [The Engineer] a film that gets up close and personal with Mexican Presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas as he makes a third –unsuccesful- run for office.
Morelia's 17th century cathedral is one of the landmarks that surrounds this film festival.
One film that might make some news is El Alcalde which follows the controversial Mayor of Mexico's richest municipality, [located right next to Monterrey] and discusses the "polemic" tactics that he has used to keep drug cartels out of his turf.
Day of the Dead figures greet festival goers in downtown Morelia.
The Mexican features on offer this year seem like they will do justice to the country's rich film tradition. It's difficult to know if any of them will be as big as Babel, Pan's Labyrinth or Amores Perros. But here are some good candidates:
Tau talks about a biologist studying rare species of plants, who is forced to fight for his life –and goes on a spiritual journey—after he is assaulted in the remote Wirikuta desert. It was directed by 29-year-old Daniel Castro. No Quiero Dormir Sola [I don't want to sleep alone] tells the story of a woman who takes on many lovers because she suffers from insomnia if she has to sleep alone at night. Her life changes drastically when she is forced to nurse her ailing, alcoholic grandmother.
Aqui y Alla [Here and There] is about a Mexican immigrant who returns to his home village after spending many years in the U.S. He finds that he has lost his bond with his daughters, and that his friends are obsessed with heading up north. This film is part of a special "critic's selection," promoted by the Cannes Film Festival.
The Morelia Festival also shows a big selection of thoughtful international films.
A Monkey on My Shoulder, a French production starring Juliette Binoche, sounds like something that would play at independent theaters in the U.S. It talks about a couple, both of whom are surgeons, who descends into chaos after Juliette's character gets pregnant.
Another film screening at Morelia and opening in the U.S. this month is Anna Karenina by British Filmmaker Joe Wright, with Keira Knightley in the titular role. This is a cinematic version of the 19th century Russian literature classic.
And finally there's NO, which opened the Morelia festival and is Chile's official entry into the 2013 Oscars. In this highly anticipated historical drama, Gael Garcia Bernal plays a publicist who must convince millions of Chileans to vote against the continuation of the Pinochet dictatorship, in a crucial, and tumultuous, referendum. NO will open in the United States in February.