Father & Daughter Film Report
Before we talk about the Oaxaca Film Festival, or even the beautiful city of Oaxaca itself, we have to talk about Mezcal. Now you can look it up in Wikipedia and find out it is an alcoholic beverage from the maguey plant (a form of agave), and the word roughly means “oven-cooked agave”.
However it is more like tequila on steroids. But smooth. Very smooth going down. Some distillers of this precious local commodity, such as MezcalDelirio, have their recipes going back hundreds of years, and were kind enough to let us sample some in- between films with the customary sliced limes, ground chili peppers, and other delights that it is often served with.
Alonso Hernández of MezcalDelirio educating the film-makers in front of Teatro Juárez on the beauty of mezcal.
Oaxaca Film Festival. My goodness. Where do I start? So much was going on. They had tours to ancient Mayan pyramids. Really! They had Sundance Institute Artist Services panel discussions. Conversations with industry experts from Kickstarter, Indiegogo and VHX. Workshops for screenwriters. Parties every night. After parties after the regular parties every night….well, actually by then it was morning.
Oaxaca Film Festival is called the “Sundance South of the Border”. Actually I think it’s bigger (maybe that’s the Mezcal talking, but events were going on all over town), in either case, this is one serious film festival on many levels, and one every film maker & screenplay writer needs to experience....at least one in your life.
For one, it’s educational as you are going to see not only the finest films from all over the world, but an inside look at the film industry of Mexico par excellence. Another thing is the culture here. Every ‘out-of-towner’ I spoke to here said the same thing: “One gets inspired here!” - - - I certainly was, I mean, look at the beauty & culture of this place:
Can you image going to such a beautiful, interesting place to watch some great films, have some mescal, and enjoy some wonderful Mexican cuisine?
Speaking of Mexican food. I have to plug a fabulous place, called PEZ, which means ‘Fish’, and of course that is their specialty. However the owner, Bastian Bui, is a master chef who studied in Paris, and let me tell you, his salsa & sauces are worth their weight in gold. I told him right away he ought to bottle it up and sell in stores. That advice was not only to help his business but also because I wanted to take some home right then and there...!
One of the things that really make Oaxaca a truly unique & special film festival are its judges. All filmmakers and screenplay writers worry about this when they enter a festival. “Whose judging this?” is the question being asked by many a film maker or screenplay contestant…or is a question that should be being asked...
Casting Director Ron Leach, who stated he “came out of the womb asking when the next movie was going to start”…joking or not, let's face it, anyone who can even THINK of such a statement is certainly someone who is into films!
The Judges. The Oaxaca jurors read like a who’s who of the film industry…on an international scale not seen in many places. From Mexico, there is producer & actor Orlando Moguel Granados, chosen Person of the Year 2009 by the newspaper El Sol de Mexico with a career of 17 years, over 20 films & 4 TV series, Ron Leach (Canada), International award-winning director, acclaimed casting director and juror for the International Emmy Awards (Television), the Canadian Screen Awards among many others, from the USA was Keya Khayatian (Agent, United Talent Agency, need I say more?), Director Mariana Musalem Ramos who as awards all over the world for her films as well as degrees in such things as Centro de Capacitacion Cinematograficia and even Hispanic Literature. I could go on-and-on, but I think you have the idea. You want your work looked at by some power players? Then Oaxaca is one you will want to enter your films, or come here to see what these judges found interesting. It’s a win-win, whether you are a filmmaker or just coming to watch.
The Films. I’ll be honest. There was no way I could see all the films that went on here. Amanda was doing the Austin Revolution Film Festival (my backup up when there are two sets of films being shown at the same time) and even if she was here, we both still couldn’t have seen them all. This film festival is that massive. Really.
We try to feature a few films we as father & daughter both were really moved by (that’s our brand, remember), however this time I will only do one, for I want to spend some time on the screenplay contest, since we really never have in past reviews. The film I’ve chosen to share with you is something that even me (who is not often at a loss for words) can now say I am at a loss for words. The images. The story, all were…overwhelming. Like the Oaxaca film festival itself, this film had so many different things going on, and on so many different levels, seeing it one time is simply not enough. But enough to make a huge impact….its called La Malda (Evilness) by Jeoshua Gil Deigado, and according to IMDb:
“Rafael is an elderly peasant who decides to write his life story, which he visualizes as a screenplay for a movie. The desire to make his film leads him to betray his only friend and leave everything behind to seek financial support in the capital city. Evilness is the story of a man who embraces loneliness and the lack of hope.”
Now in my opinion the above logline does not do the film justice, and really, no logline could. For example when he goes to Mexico City to ‘seek financial support’ one almost feels like moving into the Matrix after we are so used to seeing Rafael (the lead character, played by himself, Rafael Gil Moran) in the transfixing plains surrounding Mexico City.
The Berlin International Film Festival reviewed it as “an abstract contemplation on life, death, and the passing of time”. Yes, but it is also masterfully done in a way that anyone seeing it can relate to as Rafael, who finds out he as cancer so wants to have the screenplay of his life made, basically does what we all would do, or want to do.
The visuals of this are stunning and deeply moving. It starts with a field burning…and burning…and just as you start to wonder if this is going to be the entire film, the faint light of the rising sun almost seems to be the force that has the fire finally dies down. Wow. Masterfully done. With no dialogue that opening scene was a story in and of itself, and set the tone for the rest of the film beautifully. I could go on and on…click on the image below to check out the trailer then try and find this film to see for your self…it’s worth whatever trouble you have in finding it:
Screenplay Contest. Or I should say Global Screenplay Contest, for like the films in the festival, this had entries from all over the world. I had the honor to meet and interview the winner of the contest, as well as many other screenplay writers who also came to Oaxaca, and I must say this was a great group of individuals. All were happy to meet other screenplay writers, converse, share tips and what was learned at various workshops or courses we had all taken. What an exceptional group. Or maybe it was the mezcal.
Here’s a photo of Dave Ryan, winner of the screenplay contest, who made sure his lovely wife and daughter were up on stage to share with him the honor…says a lot right there, don’t you think?
Here’s the interview with Dave, I’m sure you’ll enjoy his thoughts and philosophy:
What gave you the idea to enter this festival?
The script is set in a town which is on the border between Old and New Mexico. I'm convinced that the script is very commercial, but I was having trouble getting interest in Hollywood. I thought maybe if I could get it read on the other side of the border that the project might resonate with a Mexican director or producer. While pursuing that possibility, I've found that winning the Global Script Challenge has resulted in renewed interest here in the States both in the project and myself as a writer.
What was the most difficult thing you had to deal with in writing this film? Either filming-wise, organizational-wise, business-wise, editing, etc....?
I was intrigued by the idea of writing a Spaghetti Western/Horror hybrid. They are two of my favorite genres and my feeling was that the larger than life characters of the former would work well with the dark settings and themes of the latter. I was really excited about the vampire as first a metaphor for one country sucking the life out of another...and then as a symbol of humanity's greed without any regard for consequence as represented by the mining of the earth's resources. The script has many influences...Orson Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL, the films of Sergio Leone, and James Cameron's ALIENS, to name just a few. The challenge was to be inspired by those works and when possible pay homage...without being derivative.
What did you learn about yourself personally by creating this screenplay?
I've written about 25 screenplays so far...and this one reminded me of the simple lesson to write something you love...not something you think you can sell. It's great if that happens...but the reality is you're going to be inhabiting this world and living with these characters for some time...so you should choose that world and the company you're going to keep wisely.
What advice can you give others who wish to write a screenplay?
See as many films as possible. Watch both bad and good movies...so you can see what works and what doesn't. When I started writing, I thought I was going to be a playwright...but learned that it is next to impossible to make a living doing that. But in preparation, I read every play I could get my hands on...and I think it gave me a great education on how to write dialogue.
Where do you see the future of films heading? As an industry? In distribution? Creatively?
The business of film is always evolving...but at the same time there are things that stay the same. People want to see compelling characters in great stories. I think that in order to be able to sell your work...you need to develop an entirely different skill-set than you develop as a writer. But you need to be good at both...and lucky...to make a go of it.
In your own words, what makes Oaxaca festival unique?
I work in Hollywood...which can be an incredibly negative environment. People are always looking to tell you "no"...until you can finally get them to say "yes". I found everyone at Oaxaca Film Festival...the staff of the festival...the entrants...and the people who call that beautiful city their home...all incredibly positive and supportive. I brought my wife and four-year-old daughter with me...and everyone there embraced them as if they were family...and we left with many new friends.
Whether you are a producer, director, screenplay writer, or just want to see some great films while having a great time, Oaxaca is a must-do film festival. Period.
Great films. Great atmosphere. Wait a minute, let's say magical atmosphere...in such a way that, as I mentioned before, inspires an artist in such a way that is life changing. Really.
But as you have seen and heard over and over again in this article, from Dave's interview, and from I'm sure anyone who ever attended the Oaxaca Film Festival, this little piece of the world is so welcoming. So much so that it actually changes you inside and out.
So, besides being a great film festival, Oaxaca is certainly worth the trip just for that....