By Sydney Levine | Sydneys Buzz March 14, 2014 at 12:00PM
Opening night’s screening was the debut film of Mexican filmmaker ---- The Amazing Catfish (Los Insolitos Peces Gato) the debut feature of Claudia Sainte Luce. It is close to autobiographical as it tells of 22-year-old Claudia living alone in a big city in Mexico. One night, she ends up in the emergency room with signs of appendicitis. There she meets Martha, lying on the bed next to her. 46-year-old Martha has 4 children and endless lust for life, in spite of her illness. Moved by the lonely young woman, Martha invites Claudia to come and live with her when she leaves the hospital. At first, Claudia is bewildered by the somewhat chaotic organization of the household, but soon she finds her place in the tribe. And while Martha is getting weaker, Claudia's bond with each member of the family gets stronger day by day. The director’s honest vulnerability touched me as much as the movie.
During the Toronto Film Festival, Claudia told the interviewer at Twitch:
I think every member of the family is amazing and their force is staying together. That's why I called the film The Amazing Catfish.”
Claudia said more to me about the autobiographical part (the rest is fiction):
“I made this movie to thank this family that gave me a sense of belonging. The more I helped Martha in her dying process and living the additional time Death was giving her, I understood that you have to live with the Death by your side every day to value your own life. They saw me; when someone sees you, you become alive, you exist and that's what they gave me, existence.’
This film which premiered in Locarno where it won the Young Jury Award went on to Toronto 2013 where it won the FIPRESCI Critics’ Discovery Award. The next month it played at the Morelia Film Festival. At the Baja Film Fest it won the Mexico Primero Award. It also played at the Rotterdam and the Belgrade Film Festivals. This Mexican-French coproduction was sold by France’s premiere international sales agent Pyramide. Knowing the head of Pyramide International’s Eric Lagesse, the filmmaker can feel secure that she is in good hands and that the film will play to a broad and international range of audiences as it deals with a dysfunctional family, having both funny and sensitive parts.
It has already sold to Strand Releasing for
U.S , Austria went to Polyfilm, Belgium –
Imagine, France – Pyramide, Germany – Arsenal, Japan - Bitters End, Latin
America - Palmera International, Mexico – Canibal, Netherlands
- Imagine , Switzerland – Cineworx, Taiwan - Swallow Wings Films.
The next day we saw Eco de la montaña (Echo form the Mountain), Nicolas Echevarria’s documentary about an indigenous artist of the Wixarika people in Jalisco whose traditional mural, made of millions of small beads, was installed (incorrectly) in the Paris metro station Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre in 1977 at a grand ceremony by the French and Mexican Presidents who failed to invite him. Since then Santos de la Torre has lived forgotten and isolated in his village in the Sierra Madre Mountains. As the film follows him and his family on their yearly peyote ritual and pilgrimage to Wirikuta and other Wixarika sacred places and as he creates a fourth mural is unfolded in such a modern way that I think it should open discussions of how the artistic taps into the higher sources of creativity among the selected guests of this festival. The producer Michael Fitzgerald was here with his wife, in from Taos where they live. Michael Fitzgerald produced such films as Malcolm Loewry’s Under the Volcano and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, another film Arriagas wrote, Bruce Beresford’s Mr. Johnson. Such illustrious company!
Gary Meyer and I sat together during the outdoor screening in the plaza. Of Horses and Men (ISA: Filmsharks), a wonderfully droll film from first time filmmaker and Iceland’s submission for this year’s Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film was just covered in my blog on Indiewire. It was a perfect film for showing here with its magnificent landscapes where horses are part of the villagers’ lives as they are in many part of Mexican culture. For a review and an interview with its director, click here for the interview and here for the review on SydneysBuzz.
Seeing Iceland reminded me of Jim Stark, as did the Zellner Brothers' Kumiko, Treasure Hunter (ISA: Submarine), the sleeper of Sundance. This film of a young Japanese woman’s trip to Fargo, Minnesota in search of the money Steve Buscemi buried in the movie Fargo, with its large snowy landscapes and cold snow which could not be more the opposite of this lush tropical paradise reminded me of Jim Stark’s Cold Fever which was also about a Japanese fish-out-of-water in the freezing Icelandic climates, though David Zellner was not aware of that film until after his own was finished. When we went upstairs for cocktails, how surprised I was to see that Jim Stark himself is also there, as Marina’s guest, giving master classes to the young Mexican filmmakers. He is working on at least two features now with Mexican directors and has bought a house in Mexico City just as he did in Iceland when he was active there.
Continuing the tradition of ArteCareyes showcasing emerging talent, eight young
filmmakers showed their shorts after
which we all had lunch and discussed their films and their plans with them. The filmmakers will be ones you will hear more about in the near future,
so here are their names:
Camacho Bustillo (Blackout, Chapter 4: Calling Neverland), a film Gary Meyer
. Sofia Carrillo (The Sad House), a film Jarrett and I loved.
de Luna Fors (Home Appliance). Everyone
liked this darkly humorous animation
. Amaury Vergara Z (Tide). We called him over to discuss this dreamy, mysterious story of a young man of the land.
Velasco (Music for the ultimate dream).
This film was a marvelous study of music and life
Duran (Supermodern times). Wonderful tug-of-war between Kodak and Digital. Very funny old-fashioned silent take on
Torres Castro (Dry Land). Animation with a message. Well done 7 minutes.
. Dalia Huerta Cano (The End of the Existence of Things). How a boy fasses the loss of a great sadness. Really libertating.
I was sorry that I had to miss the closing night film ¡Que viva Mexico! Partially filmed 1931 by the master Sergei Eisenstein shortly after the Mexican Revolution but never edited and show by the great DP Gabriel Figueroa (whose show at Los Angeles County Museum of Art was extraordinary). The 1931 uncredited version editor was Kenneth Anger. Also uncredited technical advisors for foreign locations are the great muralists Orozco, Rivera and Siquieros (who coincidently has a mural newly restored on Los Angeles' Olvera Street). Completed finally in the 1970s based on Eisenstein’s writings and his own memories, three sements were shown with live accompaniment commissioned by ArteCareyes based on a guiding score Eisenstein worked on with Sergei Prokofiev by the Ensemble Cine Mudo.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate this event as a 12. It is an event matched only by the million dollar trip to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Petershof and the set of Stalingrad which 25 U.S. Distributors, Anne Thompson, Peter and I were invited to by Rosskino in 2012 when our Italianate Eleonora Granata was the Russian Film Commissioner in L.A.
This work in progress shows a promise reaching beyond this event. The practical idealism and magic of the location and the timing of such an Arts & Film event, together with the other elements in this magnificent venue are thrilling. I will always be grateful to Steven, John and Filippo for including me.