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Güeros have more fun at the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival

Güeros have more fun at the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival

Posted by PanamericanWorld on September 02, 2015

According to Christian Sida-Valenzuela, güeros have more fun. “Look at the governors, the politicians, everyone—it’s a huge privilege,” says the artistic director of the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival. Sida-Valenzuela speaks from a position of some authority as he joins the Straight at a Gastown bar, being a güero himself. The word refers to the lighter-skinned, fairer-haired citizens of Mexico and Latin America, and as you’d probably guess, the closer you are to white, the easier life becomes.

“The film talks about that and it’s a good thing,” continues the programmer, referring to the movie, also called Güeros, which opens the 13th annual edition of VLAFF on Thursday (September 3). It’s a great choice. A firm festival hit, the debut feature from writer-director Alonso Ruizpalacios also took a whopping five Ariel awards, the Mexican equivalent of the Oscar, if that was a valid comparison, which it isn’t, necessarily.

“There isn’t a Mexican film industry in the way we assume. It’s not like an industry in the U.S. that produces a lot of money,” explains Sida-Valenzuela. But there is, he adds, massive state support for homegrown product. In the last 10 years, Mexican cinema has once again matched the output of its so-called “golden years” leading up to the ’60s and exceeded the period in terms of worldwide critical appreciation. American product still dominates Mexico’s box office, but it’s no coincidence that with Gravity and Birdman, the last two Oscar seasons were swept by unusually ambitious films made by Mexican émigrés.

Indeed, Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot both movies, studied film at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which figures prominently in Güeros. Specifically, the black-and-white movie uses the dramatic 1999 student strike at the university as the backdrop to its shaggy-dog tale of two brothers on an odyssey through Mexico City in search of an ailing and forgotten rock ’n’ roll musician.

“We always try to open with a film that will appeal to a broader audience but also has the intellectual weight we’re looking for,” says Sida-Valenzuela, who describes VLAFF as “a festival for the audience, not the industry”.

“It’s a different kind of film,” he continues. “People that know cinema will say that it reminds them of Truffaut or Godard, but people who don’t will still recognize a unique style of film.” Either way, viewers get a subtle but ingratiating assessment of modern Mexican life, high on style and long on sensitivity, not to mention entertainment value.

Güeros spearheads Mexico’s role as the guest country at VLAFF 2015, a program that includes Michael Rowe’s sexually provocative 2010 feature Leap Year and the equally controversial dramatization of child sexual abuse inside the Legion of Christ, Perfect Obedience. VLAFF also brings three titles by filmmaking great Juan Antonio de la Riva, including his classic 1985 debut, Wandering Lives, and two collaborations made in Mexico between Luis Buñuel and Canadian cinematographer Alex Phillips.

As always, the rest of Latin America is represented in a 10-day schedule of films as vibrant, varied, and complicated as the region itself. Sida-Valenzuela is particularly excited about El Salvador’s The Crow’s Nest, a movie he describes as “a miracle”.

“It’s been difficult to have any meaningful artistic and cultural production,” he explains, of a country that’s fitfully struggled to recover from the civil war that ended in 1992. “And this is the first narrative film from El Salvador in over four decades. It’s insane!” Perhaps just as remarkably, the slight but affecting story of a piñata salesman desperately trying to appease an extortionist was partly financed out of Vancouver, with one of its production credits going to local actor Alfonso Quijada. A proud Sida-Valenzuela expects the local connection to show up en masse for the film’s Vancouver premiere—assuming they can get in.

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