By José Raúl Guzmán
The city of Guadalajara in the western state of Jalisco, has morphed over the past years into an important production hub and exhibition space for film in part by drawing on an ample pool of innovative independent filmmakers. Birth place of noted filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, Gael García Bernal, and Patricia Riggen, and host to one of the leading film festivals in Mexico —the city has become an active center for new filmmaking talent.
This summer a couple of films shot in Guadalajara, both debut features, have secured a theatrical run in the U.S.: Claudia Sainte-Luce's Los insólitos peces gato / The Amazing Catfish (pictured left and below) and Samuel Kishi Leopo's Somos Mari Pepa / We Are Mari Pepa.
Veracruz-born Guadalajara-based director and screenwriter Sainte-Luce received a Visual Arts degree from the University of Guadalajara in 2004. A year later she participated in the Festival Expresión en Corto in Guanajuato where her short film Muerte anunciada / Death Announced won several awards. Her first feature length film The Amazing Catfish received support from Sundance Lab and the Toscano Foundation and had its world premiere at last year's edition of the Locarno Film Festival where it won the Young Jury Prize for Best Film.
Starring Ximena Ayala, Lisa Owen, Sonia Franco and Wendy Guillén, The Amazing Catfish follows Claudia as she befriends Martha, a mother dying of AIDS. "An outstanding debut of tremendous heart and appeal" wrote the Los Angeles Times about the film which was theatrical released in the U.S. by the hand of distributor Strand Releasing this past June and it received very positive reviews.
Another young director that has been receiving attention is Kishi Leopo (born in 1984), who also studied at the Universidad de Guadalajara. His debut feature film We Are Mari Pepa (pictured left) has been a favorite at numerous festivals where it has participated: Morelia, AFI Fest, Berlin, and Tolouse, among others. The charming coming-of-age tale, based on the director's short film Mari Pepa, follows Alex and his friends as they spend the summer in Guadalajara trying to write a second song for their punk rock band. At the same time Alex juggles taking care of his ailing grandmother.
The film will be premiering in New York next week as part of the 15th edition of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Latinbeat, and audiences will also able to see the film in limited release at Anthology Film Archives in New York this August distributed by FiGa Films in partnership with Cinema Tropical.
Another filmmaker from Guadalajara with a notable recent feature film is Kenya Márquez. A graduate of the screenwriting program at the Centro de Capacitación Cinematrográfica, was the former director of the Guadalajara Film Festival (2002-2005) until stepping down to pursue a directing career. Her first feature Expiration Date / Fecha de caducidad (pictured right) was filmed on location in Guadalajara.
Starring Damián Alcázar, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Marisol Centeno, and Eduardo España, the dark comedy follows the widow, Romana as her life unfold when her only son, Osvaldo disappears. The film premiered at the Morelia International Film Festival in 2011 where it won several awards and later completed a successful festival run.
The city has also attracted directors from other states. Director Beto Gómez (Puños rosas, Saving Private Pérez), originally from Culiacán, Sinaloa, filmed in Guadalajara El sueño del Caimán / Caimán's Dream in 2001, back when finding an experienced film crew was a difficult if not impossible task since most production facilities were located in Mexico City.
Gómez’s most recent film Flying Low / Volando bajo, (pictured left) is a tribute to Mexican cinema of the 70s and 80s, it premiered in May at the Hola Mexico Film Festival in Los Angeles and was just released in theaters in Mexico last week. Starring the iconic comedian Rafael Inclán, the musical comedy follows the members of a popular 80’s band years after they disband.
Next at bat are two promising directors, whose documentary feature projects have been recipients of the Tribeca Film Institute Latin America Media Arts Fund: Carolina Platt's La hora de la siesta / The Naptime and José Villalobos' El Charro de Toluquilla.
The Naptime is a visual elegy through the eyes of the director that follows how families learn to live with the loss of a child, while El Charro de Toluquilla (pictured right) tells the story of Jaime García Domínguez, an HIV positive mariachi singer as he juggles raising his young daughter with the demands of his singing career. Platt's film should have its world premiere later this fall or early 2015, while Villalobo's documentary should be ready by next year.
The exponential growth in Mexican film productions has benefited Guadalajara greatly. The city has since become a magnet for investment; this year the first tenants moved into the Creative Digital City, a multi-billion dollar project that when completed will create the biggest digital media development park in Latin America. As the city continues to cement itself as an important production hub improvements in productions facilities will continue to give these new crop filmmakers ample tools to continue delighting audiences with dynamic and exciting storytelling.