RiverRun International Film Festival
This year’s RiverRun International Film Festival — which starts Thursday in Winston-Salem — will live up to the “international” part of its title by putting a spotlight on Mexican movies.
Andrew Rodgers, the festival’s director, said that for the 2010 festival, organizers wanted to include a “curated sidebar,” with experts introducing each of the films and discussing their importance.
“We’ve had a longstanding connection to the Mexican filmmaking community,” Rodgers said, “and we’ve had a number of Mexican directors come through here.” Thanks to those connections, he said, festival organizers “realized that we knew enough people in the Mexican film industry to provide a lot of curatorial assistance in selecting the films.”
What cinched the deal was the fact that 2010 is the Ano de la Patria (Year of the Nation) for Mexico, celebrating both the 200th anniversary of Mexican Independence and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution.
“It all just seemed to be a natural fit,” Rodgers said.
Organizers consulted with filmmakers and film historians both in the United States and Mexico. They also reached out to such groups as the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington and IMCINE, a film organization in Mexico, and sent a representative to last year’s Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico.
“We ended up with a lot of lists that we used as a starting point, then started trying to find 35 mm prints for all the films we wanted,” Rodgers said.
They selected six classics, from 1944’s Maria Candelaria to 2001’s Y Tu Mama Tambien, to be part of a “Spotlight on Mexican Cinema” during the festival.
Juana Suarez, who teaches Latin American Cinema at the University of Kentucky and used to teach at UNC Greensboro, is one of the experts coming in to introduce the movies. She said she was pleased with the selection of films, describing them as “classical gemstones of Mexican cinema.”
“Mexico has always had a very strong film industry,” she said. “I think that they (RiverRun organizers) had the concept of classical films pretty much in mind, and also legacy, which I think is very important.”
One of the films in the spotlight is 1950’s Los Olvidados from director Luis Bunuel, which has gained acclaim for its unflinching portrayal of children struggling to survive in the slums of Mexico City. “It was very daring for its time,” Suarez said. “It carries so much historic value…. It keeps its value regardless of how much the city changes.”
The festival will also include a more recent Mexican film, 2009’s Norteado, as part of its narrative-feature competition, as well as some short films.
“All the films we are showing this year are exemplary in their own ways,” Rodgers said, “and each film has a story about its particular significance to Mexican film culture…. There is a real vibrancy and life to Mexican cinema, and a real ability to deal with difficult or taboo subjects in a compelling way.”
Carlos Flores Vizcarra, Mexico’s consul general in Raleigh, will attend the festival and speak on opening night. He said that the lineup of Mexican movies “shows the energy and creativity Mexican cinema has always had.”
“This effort contributes to creating an objective bridge between (this region) and the past and present of Mexico,” he said.
“Some people think that Americans are not interested in other places,” Flores Vizcarra said. “Increasingly, there are more Americans open to learning about the world as a whole…. It is very important that we have opportunities to connect with our realities through films.”
Rodgers said that the festival has worked with members of the Mexican community here (including Flores Vizcarra) and in Mexico to promote the festival and bring it to the attention of the local Mexican population.
One of the people involved in that promotion is Maria Sanchez-Boudy, the executive director of the Hispanic Arts Initiative in Winston-Salem. This organization helps the film festival and other funded members of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County attract more of the Hispanic community to their events. And it acts as a kind of clearinghouse for Hispanic artists whom funded members can employ at various functions.
Hispanic musicians, for example, will perform at the festival’s opening, thanks to their connections to the Hispanic Arts Initiative, and a popular local dance band, West End Mambo, will play for the closing-night party.
Sanchez-Boudy played down expectations that the festival will attract large numbers of Hispanic patrons, saying that most of them are “blue-collar workers” who wouldn’t be interested. “Are they the type of person who would typically go?” she said. “I’d say the answer is no. They do go to the movies, but RiverRun is a specific event; it’s brainier than your regular event.”
This is not to say that art is unpopular with the majority of Mexicans here. It’s just that much of it happens in spontaneous fashion on the streets or at free community festivals, Sanchez-Boudy said. She spoke of “a growing number of Hispanic professionals in the area” who would be more likely to attend the festival. But they are virtually unreachable, having assimilated to the point where they live more in the mainstream world than they do in the Hispanic community, she said. But she described RiverRun’s attempts to reach out to the Hispanic community as “admirable.” “It’s the first step in a process,” she said.
Suarez said that film-going can be a good way to bridge cultural differences. “I think films in general help us see the very complex world we inhabit — beyond the boundaries of nations,” she said.