Guadalajara Film festival marks a quarter century

19/03/2010 at 5:05 pm 1 comment

American actor Matt Dillon was the star attraction at the opening of the 25th Guadalajara International Film Festival. Flash bulbs popping as he strode down the red carpet, he said all the right things, even proclaiming his love for the city. But many for cinema industry insiders, his presence was something of a sideshow.

“I’ve no idea why he was here,” Variety film critic Robert Koehler told the Reporter. “I think they just picked a Hollywood star to bring down and give him a prize.”

The star of films such as The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, You, Crash and There’s Something about Mary won the “International Prize” and admitted he wasn’t sure what the award was or why he won it.

The 46-year-old New Rochelle, New York native gave a press conference in which he called Guadalajara “the most Mexican city in the world.” Dillon also admitted last time he was in town he wandered “from cantina to cantina.”

But as encroaching cameramen became over aggressive, Dillon asked them, “No more pictures, please.”

Not that they took much notice. Perhaps the photographers didn’t understand English or perhaps it was because this year’s festival lacked the star names in comparison to other years, especially considering this was the festival’s silver anniversary.

Ads for the festival on local television announced that Spanish-speaking cinema legends such as hometown director Guillermo del Toro and Spaniards Antonio Banderas and Pedro Almodovar would be in attendance. None showed up to the opening night inauguration party. There were also empty seats in the  8,000-seat Telmex Arena.

President Felipe Calderon attended the opening night of last year’s Morelia Film Festival; Guadalajara’s big anniversary year couldn’t even get state governor Emilio Gonzalez on board.

Often hailed as Latin America’s most important film festival, the story of the stars that failed to show perhaps hides the significance the event holds for those working in the region’s cinema industry.

“A look through the who’s who of the roster of attendees and there is representation from all South America,” said Koehler, in town for the sixth year running.

“Compared to the European and American festivals, Guadalajara’s is much smaller, but it’s a regional market, comparable with say the Hong Kong Film Festival,” added Koehler. “My understanding is that this is the biggest in Latin America.”

The key players in the Latin American film industry come to Guadalajara every year to wheel and deal and review the latest films. This fact, far more than the infrequent red carpet appearance from a celebrity, has cemented the success of the Guadalajara Film Festival over the last 25 years.

“Since its modest beginnings as a tiny university-sponsored showcase for Mexican cinema, the event has morphed into a monster on the Latin American fest circuit,” wrote John Hecht in the Hollywood Reporter last week.

As with the annual book fair, the support from the Universidad de Guadalajara has been pivotal and the festival has provided a platform for up-and-coming filmmakers such as del Toro, whose short “Dona Lupe” was shown at the festival’s first edition in 1985.

Many of the films selected in Guadalajara have also been showcased at festivals like Berlin, San Sebastian, Cannes, Venice and Toronto.

“When I first came it was a real problem to review the films because they were all in Spanish,” said Koehler.

For English speakers looking for films to see, the real problem is finding out which ones have English subtitles, despite the bilingual website and chunky film guide.

“Most major festivals have lots of information one or two weeks beforehand,” said Koehler, the only U.S. film critic to attend this year. “There is a problem with the website, it’s very underdeveloped. I’d say it’s second or even third rate.”

The most worrying problem for Mexican cinema in general, however, is that only five percent of box-office revenue came from Mexican films in 2009, highlighting the firm grip Hollywood has here and – possibly – explaining festival organizers’ zeal in making Matt Dillon the centerpiece of the show.

Sourced from The Guadalajara Reporter


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