Friday, June 25, 2010

There’s more to Tijuana than just donkey shows and cheap meds.

Last night I attended the first of two parts of a Tijuana films showcase at Echo Park Film Center. The program was curated by celebrated, award-winning filmmaker Giancarlo Ruiz, who just got back from Cannes where his film St. Jacques was part of The Short Film Corner.

Last night’s line-up was:

Under the Sycamore Tree-- Joseph Perez
Invasion de los Chinos--5y10 Producciones
Abraham Avila --
Antropofagos-- Abraham Sanchez
33 ½ -- Aaron Soto
Issbocet-- Ricardo Silva --
Los Z-- Giancarlo Ruiz

I will try to review the films next week, but from what I’ve seen from Tijuana filmmakers in the past and from what I saw last night, the films definitely share a vision of the border. The themes and styles are definitely influenced by the region and the city’s quasi dystopian status as outsider; neither belonging to the U.S. nor to the rest of Mexico.

Only Ricardo Silva and Ruiz were in attendance, but the Q &A session was lively and fascinating. The filmmakers’ enjoy outsider status within the Mexican movie-making machine. Silva pointed out that even though they were only 3 hours away from Mexico City by plane, and 3 hours from Los Angeles by car, they could not be farther away from both. Yet, filmmaking is thriving in Tijuana. More and more films are being shot and universities have taken note and have started to offer classes in film and video.

IMCINE pretty much controls the funds for filmmaking in Mexico. It is a very capital-centric fraternity. Their films are always technically first rate; slick and accomplished, and quite different from the Tijuana product. Silva expressed that it was the technical and stylistic differences that made their films beautiful. They don’t have worry about shooting on film because they can’t and they don’t worry about breaking the rules because they don’t have to. It’s this kind of freedom that makes their films exciting and fresh.

Ruiz illustrated this elitism and the mafia-like mentality of IMCINE. In Cannes, he ran into representatives of IMCINE who showed him their list of filmmakers and films at Cannes. He asked them why he was not on the list, since he was, in fact, a Mexican filmmaker at Cannes. Their answer was pretty much, if you’re not an IMCINE filmmaker, you don’t exist. So, if you’re not with IMCINE, you are on your own with no hope of ever receiving funds from the federal government. This is, of course, the modus operandi of almost every industry in Mexico.

Not long ago, the Mexican government passed a law to help filmmakers find private sector funding for their projects. On paper, it looks great. Corporations fund your movie and in turn they get a tax write off. According to Ruiz and Silva, this is problematic, since it has turned out to be a tax racket. They give you an amount of money (allegedly the budget), you make your film for a fraction of the budget, and return the rest to the corporation. It sounds like reverse money laundering to me. Can you imagine if we had such a law in the U.S.? For now, U.S. filmmakers will have to settle for Kickstarter and the like.

Rather than let frustration hold them back, these filmmakers have embraced their limitations and chosen to go ahead despite the difficulties of trying to create in a corrupt and closed system. They will make their films, there is no question about that. However, distribution, as we all know, is a different matter altogether. As it turns out, the handful of festivals in Mexico cater to IMCINE as well. For now they have to settle with self-organized screenings and the internet.

I celebrate Tijuana filmmakers’ tenacity, but when I asked them if they ever thought about their audience, it seemed they had heard the word for the first time. You can’t worry about distribution without first knowing who your audience is. I know the product will continue to evolve and improve and I hope that soon these talented filmmakers will take note of The Audience and discover how far they can go if they make the effort to nurture it.

If you happen to be in Los Angeles, please come to EPFC tonight and check out these films. It might be your only chance.

Tijuana Filmmaker Showcase
June 24-25, 2010 @ 8:00 p.m.
$5.00 at the door
1200 N Alvarado St. (@ Sunset Blvd.) Los Angeles, CA. 90026

(213) 484 - 8846

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