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Preferred Paradise: ArteCareyes Film & Arts - Part 1

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by Sydney Levine
March 14, 2014 5:17 PM
1 Comment
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Costa Cayeres

Greetings from Paradise.  My blessed good fortune -- actually Steven Raphael, founder of Required Viewing.net (producer rep, publicist, theatrical distributor) -- invited me to join a small group going Costa Careyes, Mexico where the fourth edition of Infiniti ArteCareyes Film & Arts is taking place March 5th through 9th.  

Situated on the Pacific coast of Mexico, a lush tropical forest in the state of Jalisco (a four hour drive from Guadalajara where the Guadalajara Film Festival will soon be held), about an hour and a half north of Manzanilla and south of Puerta Vallarta, Costa Careyes’ beauty defies description.  But I am going to try to describe all that happens in the four days we spent here: nightly open air feature film screenings, contemporary art exhibitions, a charity auction, a live music program, matinee screenings and workshops held in venues sharing the land with huge permanent art installations in a tropical mountain terrain by artists including Retna and Jeffrey Sharf, two muralists whose West Hollywood Library murals illustrate an extraordinary coincidental synchronicity which continued throughout this long weekend.

In our little group, John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, here for the second time, is on the board of Arte Careyes.  His husband Paul Louis Maillard, an executive of Kaiser Permanente, spent hours studying for his Harvard Leadership Course where he will spend the next two weeks.  The documentary filmmaking and married team Jarrett Engle and Cort Tramontin and David Zellner, half of the Zellner Brothers filmmaking team whom John invited to present Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, the sleeper of Sundance which went on to show in the Forum of the Berlinale, were also part of our little group which shared a stunning four bedroom house, built in an extravagant Mexican style incorporating inside and outside living.  David and I were consigned to our own little guest houses just down a flight of stairs.  All our windows looked out onto the ocean which at night was domed by stars in an equatorial splendor, bright and disconcerting, different because we are so much closer to the equator.  I was reminded of that marvelous Ray Bradbury short story, Nightfall

Our late evening talks and early morning breakfasts together with Steven and John telling great stories were such fun and also deepened my appreciation and knowledge of the special part of “the biz” we are in.  

John Cooper has been a member of the Sundance Film Festival programming staff since 1989 and assumed the role of Festival Director in April of 2009 after serving as the Sundance Film Festival's Director of Programming since 2003.  Parenthetically, he is the only gay head of a major film festival, an achievement no woman can claim…yet.

His early work in theater, ranging from performance to design, took him to New York City. By chance, he volunteered at the Institute's Summer Labs in 1989 and fell in love with the process and energy of Sundance (and with his future husband). He returned to California to become part of the Festival programming team, which at that time consisted of two people. In the Festival's early years, Cooper created the short film program and quickly transitioned into programming documentaries and feature films.

 In recent years, he took the lead in developing the Institute's online presence, which has garnered two Webby Awards. As Festival Director, he oversees creative direction of the Festival and has final decision on all films and events.

Other work includes guest curator or juror at major film festivals around the world. From 1995-1998 Cooper served as Programming Director of Outfest, a Los Angeles festival held annually in July, and until 2002 served on the Outfest Board of Directors.

John Cooper was a dancer before he became director of Sundance and though he did not dance for us, his performance skills are top.  Watching him navigate as our “house father” was worth the trip.

Breakfast with our little group: Steve, Cort, Paul Louis, John, Jarrett, David Zellner

The purpose of this art, music and film event as described by its founder Filippo Brignone and the film curator, Marina Stavenhagen, is to link creative people across disciplines – pictorial and plastic arts, music, design, literature and filmmakers in dialogues that will result in greater creativity for the good of the community and beyond.  

Our host Filippo Brignone, who has been working and reworking this event for four years is intent as well about preserving the nature of the area along with incorporating the most progressive education in science and math as well as the liberal arts in a system which includes the interactions between the 100 + families who are creating a community and the children of the families in the town who have been here since time immemorial. 

Our conversations around all these subjects flowed freely among the guests over the past four days. 

The patriarch of the family, Gian Franco Brignone, the 86+year-old Italian onetime banker with an artistic sensibility and a love of nature, bought eight miles of coastline with more than 5,000 hectares of coastal forestland in 1968 and began inviting friends like Bill and Melinda Gates and Paris Hilton to visit. 

The home of Gian Franco Brignone where we we met FIlippo’s father’s just coming out from his massage.

Bignone père and his two sons, Filippo and Georgio, have continued to build Careyes into a glamorous residential community and resort with accommodations ranging from cozy beach bungalows to “castles,” like the six-bedroom, sunshine-yellow aerie Casa Oriente where we stayed. Filippo also took us to his home, equally beautiful and mystic in its nature. 

There’s also a small hotel, a contemporary art gallery,  – curated by Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum Los Angeles Hammer Museum curators Ann Philbin and Laurie Firstenburg, who is also creating a tropical Marfa, were instrumental in organizing both Pacific Standard Time, a citywide showcase of Los Angeles art of the 1950s and 60s and LAXART are curating the art side of this community.   More on the art of Careyes can be read here.

Casa Sol de Oriente

This community also contains a world class polo club overseen by Giorgio, five restaurants, and 8 glorious miles of coastline which Felippo plans to allow families and individuals to build on if they fit certain qualifications. 

Filippo, his brother Giorgio and PR and Communications executive Viviana Dean operate this entire enterprise under the auspices of The ?! Careyes Foundation.  BTW, the Foundation is looking for a general manager who will know how to share the vision of what they are building here.  Filippo himself is a bon vivant with an enormous curiosity and the executive ability to develop his vision.  From speaking with him, my perception of whom they would grant residency to would be those the ability to enjoy the life that is here in all its aspects.  Not only partying (which is extraordinary) and conversational abilities, but intelligence, an excellence in achievement, originality, a compassion which includes curiosity and the wish to include, discuss and implement all aspects of what makes life better for all. 

The ?! Careyes Foundation's mission is to catalyze innovative programs related to education, health, sport, ecology and art in order to improve the well-being of local communities along the coast.  Over 30 years of individual philanthropic efforts in Careyes, Mexico, and the surrounding villages along the Mexican Pacific Coast are consolidated in The ?! Careyes Foundation.  From Perula  to Agua Caliente, the region of initial concentration includes a population of approximately 6,000 people.  In 2013, The ?! Careyes Foundation registered as a non-profit public charity with 501(c)3 tax designation in the United States in order to make its efforts in the region more accessible and impactful. The Foundation is in the process of obtaining a similar status in Mexico and in other countries over time.

The Foundation is overseen by a an Executive Board over which our host Filippo presides and a Board of Trustees and Advisors with expertise in each of the Foundation’s concentrated areas — community, sea, land, and arts. The Executive Committees determine the scope of projects, initiating proposed ideas that prove to be transformational, scalable, and sustainable. Members of the international Honorary Board serve as global ambassadors for the Foundation and its work, supporting programmatic and philanthropic efforts.

On the Executive Board:

Executive Board Secretary, Emanuela Brignone Cattaneo, is an architect who has spent most of her life travelling to Careyes, and lending her design vision to create a large new urban space, the Plaza Caballeros del Sol, including a Sanctuary and the Contemporary Art Space of Careyes. She is also dedicating herself in the restoration of many historical Italian buildings from the XII century transforming them into Museums such as the Modern Art Gallery of Genova or Palazzo Lomellino listed as a UNESCO world heritage.  Emanuela holds a MA from Colombia University in NY and serves as a Trustee of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, the Wolfsonian Foundation in Miami and Genoa. Emanuela is an Advisor of AIRC , the Italian Association for Cancer Research.

Board Treasurer, Isabel SantoTomás, is Vice President of Investments for Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management focusing on portfolio management for ultra high net worth individuals, family offices, and endowments. She joined Morgan Stanley in 2008 and has 26 years of industry experience. Isabel received her Bachelors degree at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has spent the last 25 years in New York City and is relocating to Miami, Florida with her two children. She has been a part of the Careyes community for over 20 years.

Jonathan Congdon, co-founder of Beachbody LLC, has been instrumental in shaping the mission of the company, expanding its vision and growth, and overseeing media distribution channels and International business to increase the Beachbody market worldwide. After starting his career at Procter & Gamble, Jon traveled the world “on walkabout” before teaching science for more than three years in California. In 1995, he launched an educational consulting firm, but soon felt the call back to the world of marketing entrepreneurship. Jon was a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year on two boards, including his second term on the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) Board of Directors. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and holds a degree in political science with dual emphases in American Constitutional Law and International Relations. Jon has been part of the Careyes community for over 10 years.

The fifth member of the Executive Board, Guillermo Barnetche Davison, is also Chairman of Grupo Profesional Planeacion y Proyectos, S.A. de C.V. (PYPSA) where he is in charge of the leadership and operating direction of multiple projects in the industrial, agricultural, sea, infrastructure, and building sectors. Guillermo received his Civil Engineering certification at the National Autonomous University of Mexico before getting a Masters in Hydraulic Resource Planning at Georgia Technology Institute and studying Economy and Systems Engineering at Stanford University. He has more than 40 years of professional experience in civil engineering and is a long-standing member of the Careyes community.

On the Honorary Board (a list in progress):

Ann Philbin, Director of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Daniela Michel, Director of the Morelia Film Festival, Gian Franco Brignone the Founder & Visionary of Costa Careyes, Johan Van Lengen, The “Barefoot Architect”, Founder of Tiba School Brazil and our own John Cooper, the Director of the Sundance Film Festival.

The Advisory Board is made up of:

Jennifer Arcenaux, Director, External Relations Sundance Film Festival, Arceneaux previously served as Director of Development for The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). During her seven-year tenure at MOCA, Arceneaux cultivated philanthropic relationships and fostered the careers of artists and curators in the Los Angeles art community. Arceneaux also launched the successful MOCA NOW communications and development campaign to increase grassroots engagement in fundraising and create transparent communication with MOCA members and patrons. The campaign evolved into the MOCA NEW initiative raising more than $70 million in operating and endowment support. Prior to joining MOCA, Arceneaux served as Director of Development at the Accelerated School in Los Angeles where she executed a $60 million capital campaign for a new campus and community center. Her professional experience spans over ten years working with non-profits and community-based arts organizations including RAND Corporation, Inner-City Arts, CityLife, A.R.T.S. Inc., The Housing Rights Center and more recently in a board and advisory capacity with the Watts House Project, and LAXART.

Sarah Ezzy is a Director of the Global Philanthropy Group.  As a Director at Global Philanthropy Group, Sarah has advised a range of high-profile individuals and corporate clients on their philanthropic strategies. She has worked on a variety of issues including global education for girls, poverty alleviation, domestic homelessness, youth and fitness, and sustainable agriculture. She was previously with Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategy and Organization Practice where she worked with international organizations, developing country governments, and domestic policymakers and NGOs on a range of development issues. Sarah holds a BA in French Studies and Geography from Dartmouth College and a Master of Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She speaks fluent French and is co-founder of SADIQ, a non-profit organization created to support Iraqi refugees in the Middle East.

Douglas K. Freeman, J.D., LL.M. the Senior Managing Director of First Foundation Advisors, Director of First Foundation Inc. and Director of the First Foundation Bank.  First Foundation provides strategic planning and organizational management advice for business, nonprofit, foundation, and family clients.  He brings to First Foundation clients his experience gained as a consultant to nearly 300 family foundations, support organizations and public charities throughout the United States.  Mr. Freeman is a noted retired tax attorney and founder of the Los Angeles based law firm, Freeman, Freeman & Smiley, LLP. From 2005 through 2008, he was recognized by Worth magazine as among the 100 top attorneys in the United States. In 1999, he was featured by Bloomberg Financial as one of the nation’s leading estate planning attorneys. He is the founder of National Philanthropy Day, proclaimed by Congress and celebrated throughout the United States since 1986.  Mr. Freeman serves as a director of family foundations, independent foundations, and public charities. He is the past Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of California, Irvine Foundation and chairman of its $1 billion campaign. He is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of Orange County’s Pacific Symphony and a member of the Board of Advisors of the University of Southern California Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy.

Mr. Freeman is the author of three books and over 30 articles and treatises on philanthropy and wealth planning. His new book, published in 2009, co-authored with Dr. Lee Hausner, Ph.D., is entitled “The Legacy Family… The Definitive Guide to Creating a Successful Multigenerational Family“. He is the co-author with Dr. Hausner of a leading treatise for family foundations, entitled “A Founder’s Guide to the Family Foundation“. He speaks throughout the country on behalf of professional associations, such as the Council on Foundations, the Association of Small Foundations, and the American Bar Association.  He is a graduate of Stanford University (B.A. with Distinction, 1967), University of California at Los Angeles (J.D., 1970), and the University of San Diego (LL.M. in Taxation, 1984). Until retirement, Mr. Freeman was designated a Certified Specialist in Taxation under the State Bar of California.

Members of the Board of Trustees includes members like (list in progress):

Adam Lindemann – Art Collector & Advisor ; Alejandro Ramirez Magaña – CEO of Cinepolis ; Eric Goode – Founder & President of Turtle Conservancy; Esthella Provas – Art Advisor, Careyes ArtCommittee for special projects ; Eugenio Lopez – Collector, Jumex Collection; Patricia Marshall- Art Advisor, Careyes Art Committee; Piero Golia – Artist ; Serena Cattaneo Adorno – Director, Gagosian Gallery Paris, CareyesArtCommittee.


The Solomon home’s main room around which are all the other rooms and the ocean.

Continuing a trend of coincidences occurring for me on this incredible journey, out of the blue, at the first cocktail party held at this event, there appeared Christian Halsey Solomon, the son of a twenty-plus-year resident of Careyes, Michael Jay Solomon, whom I have known since the days when we were in our 20s when he set up MCA Television in Latin America and personally bought prize winning shorts from the company where I was the acquisitions person.  Years later, when I was buying feature films for Lorimar, his company Telepictures bought Lorimar.  Christian and I also go way back to the days when he was 23, and I was working for the first time in independent international sales.  We worked together in Milan, Italy at the MIFED film market with someone who has long since left the film scene.  As if that were not enough of coincidences, my own brother Barry was the photographer for his first wedding.   

Christian pointing to where the home ends.

Michael and Luciana had bought land here twenty years ago where they built their dream house.  It is now home to Christian, his wife and two beautiful children who attend the incredible school here.  Cuixmala School is a private non-profit school teaching core academic subjects in a bilingual environment while it emphasizes experiential learning about nature and the world; the students ride horses, raise their own food and have guests from every field from buddhists to biologists from the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve nearby.  Christian showed me his home which was two doors down from our own Casa Oriente (next door to Seal) and he and his wife invited me back to visit and stay a while to write. 

After each screening we were served delicious locally grown lunches and dinners.  One wonderful night at the "ranchito", there was an art show of the old bones of animals who have died in this area where they are left out for the buzzards to pick clean.  These bones, as if they were a precious as the fur and leather of beasts were decorated like Versace luxury items and showcased as art in the former stables of this former ranch.  The best was the unicorn, a cow skeleton, whose short ribs look like they must have been really delicious before they were cleaned of all meat.  This unicorn however, was missing its single horn.  What a funny art show.  The first two stalls looked like rooms where people were living, only the inhabitants were selling the furniture as art.  Little stools made in traditional simple peasant style, were recreated in heavy marble. You can sit on them, or use them as little side tables. And shipping them home is not a problem.

Elegant community meals put us at the table one night where I sat next to Guillermo Arriaga, his wife, son and daughter.  He was being honored with a tribute and he showed his short film The Blood of God (La Sangre de Dios) from the anthology which he produced as well, Words with Gods.  Another coincidence is that he had just finished his short film Texas from Rio, I Love You, the franchise of our good friend Emmanuel Benbihy with whom we worked on Paris, Je t’aime and New York, I Love You.   The Arriagas’ son and daughter are students at Mexico's private Ibero-American University’s School of Communications where Arriagas himself was a student and then a professor for twenty years and where is wife was a student of his.  Coincidently that is also where he met his future partner Alejandro González Iñárritu with whom he worked on Amores Perros21 Grams and Babel, and where Marina Stavenhagen and her sisters and brothers are alumni as well as the 2013 Academy Award Winner for Cinematography, Emmanuel Lubezki.  

Sr. Arriaga and I spoke quite a while - first about hunting which was not a topic I could speak much about beyond expressing surprise on hearing he was a hunter.  But when we spoke about my Spanish and then about words and their derivations and meanings in Spanish and English, I became more actively interested.  What I only realized afterward was that the conversation about words could have developed into the issue over words that ruptured his relationship with Iñárritu.  The word for screenwriter in Spanish is objectionable to him because the word "guionista" means a tour guide or a writer of travel books and so a screenwriter accredited as “guionista” is merely a tour guide, putting up signposts for the director aka "The Auteur" in French parlance.  I agree that the director alone is not the “auteur” of the film.  Not only is a superbly written screenplay (which Arriagas writes often in close collaboration with his brother-in-law) an absolute necessity if a film is to have any chance to excel, but the producer who turns on the lights and turns them off and produces the money both before shooting and after shooting via distribution deals is required for a film’s success.  Personally we think the producer and writer are the "Auteurs".  The Auteur Theory proposed by Francois Truffaut in Cahiers de Cinema and promulgated in the U.S. by Peter Bogdanovich is merely a theory and not etched in marble.  Pity about their falling out after their collaboraton on three greatest films in new Mexican cinema.  But we did not get into all that.

The curator of the ArteCareyes film program, Marina Stavenhagen, also graduated from the Ibero-American University.  Marina and I spoke the next day more about this event, which by its location and by design must stay small (around 300 - 400 people).  Her thoughts concern creating an artist residency program, perhaps a think tank on a different topic every year such as music for film or producing along with two or three master classes, mentorships and inviting young filmmakers with shorts who can benefit from the intimate setting.  

Marina Stavenhagen is a screenwriter and film developer with over 20 years of professional work in Mexico.  Her work as a writer includes several short film and feature film scripts and has obtained several awards and recognitions.  Marina has been a teacher, counselor and script consultant with many public and private Mexican institutions, and a jury in various national and international film festivals.

As a promoter of film, she has actively participated in the organization of exhibitions and film festivals in Mexico. She has been president of the Association of Women in Film and Television (WIFT-Mexico), and was Director General of the Mexican Institute of Cinematography (IMCINE).  She is Member of the Board of Advisors of the Phoenix Film Ibero American Award and the Academic Council of the Bergman Cathedra, of the UNAM University. For her work in promoting quality films and cultural exchange, Marina was honored by the Government of the French Republic with the Order of Arts and Letters in France.

After leaving her six year term as the head of IMCINE, Marina was invited to create an interesting film program by Filippo Brignone while she returns to screenwriting.

Coincidently (again!), Marina’s sister is Andrea Stavenhagen, who was the head of the Iberoamerican Coproduction Meeting and Director of Industry at FICG (Guadalajara Film Festival) until August 2013. She also co-directed the Morelia Lab Workshop for Young Producers in Latin America at the Morelia Film Festival and is now the San Sebastian Film Festival's new delegate for Latin America. All three of her siblings are in film, as is her husband. 

Marina has invited other creative thinkers here, surprisingly my good friend Gary Meyer, Artistic Director of Telluride, Ivan Trujillo, Director of FICG and Daniela Michel, General Director of Morelia Film Festival, with her husband, an educator, who is also renovating a jewel of an art deco theater just outside of Morelia.  

Filippo took us on a tour of the land his father bought in 1968.  We saw La Copa (The Cup) a folie his father built where the sun at the solar equinox beams a ray into the pyramid inside the mountain several miles away. 

La Copa (The Cup)
John Cooper, Steven Raphael and me at sunset at our Casa Oriente


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1 Comment

  • Catherine Wyler | March 15, 2014 4:38 PMReply

    Such a tough life, Sydney...
    Had a nice conversation with your friend Fogelson. Maybe we'll both learn more about our families, so thanks for sending him.
    xx Catherine

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