The animation student and co-founder of the LMU Cinema Club talks to LogLines about serving as the first-ever U.S. student representative on a special jury at FICG.
What were you doing in Guadalajara? I was offered the chance through the film school to participate as a juror in the Guadalajara International Film Festival (FICG) over ten days in March. Specifically, I was serving on the Mezcal Jury, which is a jury of students, both local and international, that selects the best feature Mexican film from those screened at the festival, including documentary, animation and live action. This award is considered the biggest at the festival, as it honors the festival’s beginnings; this was the 30th edition of FICG, which began less as a festival and more of a celebration of the best of Mexican cinema from the year. So as the festival has grown from its local roots to become internationally recognized, this award maintains its original intent.
How many films did you watch? Can you translate that into minutes? We had a little over a week to watch 21 films, plus a few more on the side that I got to see out-of-competition. So at the very least that’s a couple thousand minutes.
That’s a lot of time in a dark theater. The first film would typically be around 9 or 9:30 a.m., and the next after a short break. I’d usually use that time to get down any thoughts on the previous film before jumping into the next – some days we’d watch as many as four in a day, so note-taking was important in order to return to the films later after having watched so many more. Once we’d seen a good block of films, the jury would convene to choose a couple of films that would be contenders in our final vote at the end of the week. While that kept us busy most of the day, we did have many evenings free, so we could use the time to go out for dinner, see the city some, and attend some of the parties.
Thirty international students debated the merits of each of these films? That seems like a large group. How was the critique managed and how did you deal with the language barrier? It definitely is a large group – and that was one of our concerns, since it does make discussions harder to manage. The way the jury is divided is that half come from Guadalajara – again to honor the local heritage of the festival – and the other half come from other parts of Mexico and other countries, mostly throughout Latin America. The language barrier wasn’t so bad. We chose early on that we should express our ideas in our own language, and we had an excellent translator with us so I was able to stay in the discussion throughout. Usually someone on the jury would volunteer as moderator, and would give the floor to whoever wanted to speak. The first meetings were definitely more discussion-based, and the final meeting was more structured; we reviewed the films we had selected so far, and then each made arguments for our top two choices until we felt ready to vote.
Did any key themes emerge among this group of Mexican films? Topics or styles that were favored, for example. Did anything surprise you? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the documentary films were among the best films we saw at the festival, which consistently delved into the more complex and rich themes of identity and memory. Violence was a consistent concern in the dramas, but perhaps most surprising were the soap-opera sensibilities of many of the comedies.
The jury selected 600 millas as the winner of the $40,000 prize. Was that your favorite film, too, and if so why? The jury named 600 millas Best Mexican Film of the festival, which according to the festival’s director was a surprising choice. I thought it was an accomplished film, a first feature from the film’s director, but I did not agree that it was the best film of the festival.
Can you tell us a bit about the film that you championed. Like I said, my favorite films were from the documentaries; Shih was one in particular that I championed, which was an intimate direct cinema study on a young Taiwanese-Venezuelan woman reuniting with her father after their long separation. It’s a film that deals with the fragility of relationships, especially in the globalized world we live in today. It’s an authentic and deeply-felt film, not at all sentimental, and one that I would definitely recommend seeking out.
Were you the “lone wolf” for this film, or were other jurors also fans? I was particularly vocal about Shih, but definitely not the only supporter. We gave two films a special mention, this and another, Tiempo Suspendido, as the group was pretty evenly split on which should receive the mention.
Who are some of the filmmakers that have most influenced your work? I could go on and on. Some of my favorite films are from the silent comedy tradition: Keaton, Chaplin, Tati, Etaix, etc. Their particular approach to character and storytelling through movement has been a valuable lesson for me in my own films, and an approach that is wonderfully suited for animation.
What was the weirdest thing that happened to you while you were in Guadalajara? Being considered an expert on U.S. issues was very strange. I found myself explaining many things from the three branches of U.S. government, Indian reservations, and the California drought.
This was your first time in Mexico. What are some lasting impressions of the country that you will cherish? Guadalajara was without exception one of the most welcoming and hospitable places I have ever been to. I was very lucky to have had some free time to go with a few of my fellow jurors into various parts of the city and get a better sense of the place. Some of the sights there, including the murals at the Hospicio Cabañas and the architectural beauty of the Teatro Degollado were truly breathtaking. As is usually the case, what is really the best part of the trip are the people who I met. My fellow jurors were terrific and close companions throughout my stay. One of my professors, Jose Garcia-Moreno, flew down for a few days as well and introduced me to a close community of professional animators from the area, which was wonderful. And on that last night, I had the chance to meet the directors of Shih. They were both incredibly excited about the special mention, and I spent time chatting with them about their new projects
LMU School of Film and Television is a Community Sponsor of FICG in LA, a regional extension of the Guadalajara International Film Festival, which brings the best of contemporary Mexican and Latin American cinema to the Egyptian Theatre for its fifth year, from August 27 to August 30, 2015.