Morelia Film Festival
Morelia Film Festival

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was calm compared to the one I took from the Berkeley Hills to Oakland – and thence to the San Francisco Airport – once I realized that the e-ticket itinerary I’d printed out that afternoon was not for the Sunday night redeye flight I’d requested, but Saturday night – i.e., three hours hence.  And I was not yet packed.  And had arranged for a ride 24 hours later.  And had never done quite such a stupid thing before.  At least, not when it comes to travel.

The upside is an extra day at the Festival, which is upside indeed as I spend an hour perusing the 300-page catalogue in my hotel room.  Even though I’ve seen many of the big-ticket items from this year’s festival circuit –from just on Saturday, Morelia’s opening day, “The Master” and “Argo" to “Beasts of the Southern Wild”– there are plenty more to choose from. Morelia covers the waterfront – in addition to the usual suspects, and strong Mexican programming that includes competitive sections for short films, documentaries, and screenplays as well as features, it offers rich cinephile surprises. 

There’s a tribute to cinematographer Jose Ortiz Ramos, who died in 2009 at the age of 98, after shooting well over 200 movies, including several for Luis Bunuel. I’d love to see the movies Sam Peckinpah shot in Mexico again, or the four-film tribute to Henri-Georges Clouzot, or the rather oddly-programmed shoutout to Universal on its 100th anniversary (three 30s horror flicks and Sirk’s “Magnificent Obsession”?), or, from the UCLA Film and Television Archive, Lubitsch’s “The Love Parade,” or the Criterion Collecton’s offering of “The Night of the Hunter." But that would be great indulgence, when I can catch up on the early films of hot German director Christian Petzold ("Barbara"), or Young Hungarian Cinema, or two films by a Spanish director of the Golden Age, Manuel Mur Oti. I’ve never heard of him.

And so I begin my festival with a Mur Oti double bill---after attending a massive, lavish, and surrealistic lunch arranged for “los invitados,” held in a gorgeous colonial courtyard, where, in addition to course after course of needlessly overwrought cuisine, powerful Italian opera singers stroll between the round tables. Daniela Michel, the tireless Director General, introduces me to Anne Wakefield, who contributed a lucid essay on tributee Gregory Nava in the catalogue. We hang with Rachel Rosen, Programming Director of the San Francisco International Film Festival, who’s serving on the Mexican short film jury, Nick James, editor of “Sight and Sound,” who’s on the Mexican feature film jury, and Gary Meyer, co-director of Telluride, who’s attending Morelia for the first time.

Gary shoots pictures of a young girl singer made up as a skeleton –  the streets and squares and parks are still piled with beautiful brightly-colored Day of the Dead floral displays – before we hot-foot it to the central Festival multiplex.  We’re joined by Nick and Brit Geoff Andrews, writer of the witty and helpful catalogue essay on Kiorastami.