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Mexico: International Film Festival of Guanajuato (formerly Expresion en Corto)

Considered the largest film festival in Mexico the Expresion en Corto Short Film Festival run annually since 1997 has morphed this year into the International Film Festival of Guanajuato.
Held from July 22 – August 2, the festival has further expanded drawing more visitors and adding more programs in spite of economic constraints.
According to the latest figures, an audience of close to 90 000 attended this primarily publicly funded festival which received about 2500 submissions from more than 90 countries for its international competitions. As a nonprofit state sponsored endeavor, the screenings of more than 400 shorts, documentaries and feature films in twenty venues were free and open to the public.
Numerous screenings, concerts and other events were held in public spaces as part of the festival in San Miguel de Allende, a favorite watering hole for American retirees. After five days the festival moved to the Guanajuato, the state capital. Both cities, founded 450 years ago, excel in their baroque colonial splendor and are UNESCO designated world heritage sites, thus providing an ideal setting for the film festival and its 2010 focus, celebrating the 200 year anniversary of Mexican and Argentinean independence. These cities are also safe venues thus are promising for the further expansion of this international film festival, as distinct from the Monterrey and other Mexican film festival venues confronted with drug related violence or the threat thereof.

Over the last fourteen years the festival has considerably expanded beyond the original focus on short films which certainly have remained an essential focus of the festival. Yet sections covering first features, long documentaries, and special screenings which included this year the final restored version of Lang’s METROPOLIS, as well as offbeat side-bars are giving a special flair to the festival. Among these sidebar programs which have become regular features are the presentation of Oscar winning short, documentary and feature films. Also included are mid night screening of horror films in the San Miguel cemetery and Guanajuato’s underground tunnels, special presentations of erotic films at San Miguel’s Kunsthaus, as well as a new program Libercine, with films on gender and sex diversity. As in past years there were homages to distinguished directors and actors, including in 2010 Graciela Borges, Eliseo Subiela, Pedro Armendariz and others, as well as seminars and panels. These seminars covered the annual international pitching market and bi-lateral workshop with the country honored by the festival. This year Argentina was selected. Apart from the offbeat programs and popular orientation, the festival has retained its progressive political traits. The celebration of the independence of Mexico and Argentina provided ample opportunity. In a special section Cinema and Liberty, 200 years of liberation, numerous features and documentaries were shown focusing on the struggle for independence and its aftermath of revolutionary movements. A feature length documentary on Daniel Ellsberg THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA as well as other short and long form documentary productions had political overtones. They included the South Korean IRON CROWS (Park Bonh Ham) on labor issues in the ship-breaking yard of Chittagong; the Finish GOERINGS’S BATON (Pia Andell) , new original newsreel material depicting an encounter between Mannerheim and Goering; and several shorts, the Polish WHERE THE SUN DOESN'T RUSH by Atej Bonrick on the bleak life in a Slovak village; the portrait of a terrorist’s girl friend in TUSSILAGO by Jonas Odell, and the German-Indian co-production WAGAH, on the daily ritual of opening the Indian Pakistan border crossing, a film that originated in the berlinale’s famed Talent Campus.

There are two films worth recalling for this writer. ALIAS a long term documentary feature project by the German director Jens Junker which he finally realized in 2009 after finishing film school. The film is a fairly detached biographical analysis of the film maker coming to term with questioning his own identity. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian home he learns in his twenties that he has a different biological father and engages in a voyage of discovery leading him to his real father in Lebanon. Questioning his relatives and parents Junker shows no fear in discovering the unknown in denials and repression and proceeds with great sensitivity and honesty telling his story. Junker who is also an accomplished producer of commercials certainly applied his film school training as a story teller extremely well. WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (SOMOS LO QUE HAY) the first feature by the Mexican filmmaker Jorge Michael Grau also deals with family dynamics. Yet perspectives, setting, and story are totally different. Both films won best awards at the 2010 Expression en Corto in their categories. The Mexican feature is clearly my favorite, actually one of the best films I have seen this year. Grau scores in virtually all areas with his grim and fascinating story of a mother and her three teenage children engaged in ritualistic religious cannibalism. His film excels in originality of the screenplay, cinematography, acting, set and sound design and carefully constructed story telling. It is not a horror film, though there is sufficient blood and violence for an audience fascinated by evil. But WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is more of a family character study set in the somber darkly lit underbelly of a Mexican metropolitan area. Grau and his team deliver a remarkable piece of work.

As in past editions Expresion en Corto or now
known as International Film Festival of Guanajuato delivered on the promise of outstanding programming with reflexive content.

Claus Mueller
New York Correspondent

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