Volume 79, Number 02 | June 17 - 23, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


June 23 through 28
Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street (between 5th and 6th Ave.)
(212) 255-8800 or www.holamexicoff.com

A scene from Roberto Sneider’s “Tear This Heart Out”

‘Unique and specific’ films bring focus to Mexican culture

Sweeping epic, horror, family fare & a pop icon on the plate

By Steven Snyder

Samuel Douek says he never could have imagined, when he first launched the Hola Mexico Film Festival some 8,000 miles away in Australia, that the event would resonate every bit as strongly with New Yorkers as it did with audiences half a world away. “I was in Australia starting my Master’s and I’ve always loved film and I started noticing that they’d have all these ethnic movie festivals; each new week, there was an Italian and Russian and German film festival,” recalls Douek, a native of Mexico City. “These festivals all ran much the same way, showing 15 or 20 films in a single week, and so I started thinking: Why is there nothing here to celebrate Mexican films, which are every bit as unique and specific as those other cultures?”

The initial plan was modest: To bring Mexican films to a select few Australian cities. But what started as a regional affair quickly grew in popularity, spreading across the outback and then across the Pacific. In 2008, Douek returned to North America after his masters, and agreed to arrange a handful of screenings as part of the New York International Latino Festival. “It was a much smaller thing, where we only did it for four days, and had a smaller slate of titles,” he says. “But the crowds that turned out really caught us by surprise — more than 2,000 people, and a lot of them recent new immigrants who were in town to work or go to school.”

Douek had tested the waters, and received a tidal wave of encouragement; and so, he set about launching a far more ambitious plan for 2009. The result: The largest incarnation of the Hola Mexico Film Festival yet, making a series of North American stops in Los Angeles (June 9) and Chicago (June 19) before arriving in New York at the Quad Cinemas June 23.

The eclectic 2009 program — a total of 26 events, which incorporates a slate of more than a dozen films— is a testament to the diverse stories and themes that permeate Mexican cinema. Douek says the highlight of this year’s fest is an Angelica Maria tribute scheduled for the evening of Thursday, June 25th. “She’s a pop icon in Mexico who, as the Mexican film industry started dying, started appearing in some 150 films,” Douek says. “She helped to bring people out, and it was very interesting, some of the writers and directors she worked with. I’m hoping this helps to explain to audiences what was happening, and why these films were so important in helping our industry to move forward.”

Maria will appear in person as part of the celebration. This festival centerpiece will also include a lecture on Mexican popular culture by Jose Agustin, a special message from Luis Zapata, as well as screenings of two Maria hits: 1968’s “Five of Chocolate and One of Strawberry” and 1971’s “La Verdadera Vocación de Magdalena.”

Working in the Mexican film industry from 1950 through 2002, Maria racked up a dense and diverse portfolio, and Douek said he sought to match that diversity in crafting the festival’s full lineup. “Hola Mexico” opens on June 23rd with “Tear This Heart Out,” Roberto Sneider’s sweeping epic that in many ways parallels the iconic American masterpiece “Gone With the Wind.” Swapping out the Civil War for Mexico’s turbulent post-revolutionary era of the 1920s and ‘30s, “Tear This Heart Out” focuses on a young woman who’s wooed and wed by an older, magnetic general. More than just a compelling story, the film doubles as a thorough entrée for unfamiliar audiences into Mexican culture — the big-screen adaptation of a novel by Mexican author Angeles Mastretta and starring both former telenovela star Ana Claudia Talancon and the long-time Mexican leading man Daniel Gimenez Cacho. A soaring spectacle in every possible way, it’s little surprise that it was selected by Mexico to be the nation’s Academy Award entry for the 2009 best foreign-language film.

Other notable festival titles include “I’m Gonna Explode” (showing June 27, 28), about a teenage boy and girl who escape a world of depression and sexual harassment and launch a “coup” against the adult world. “The Old Thieves” (June 26, 27) chronicles the daring and audacious bank heists that roiled Mexico in the 1960s, turning the successful criminals into everyday heroes of the masses. “Teo’s Journey” (June 25, 28) is a timelier story, about a 9-year-old trying to illegally cross the American border by night, separated from his father when the group is attacked by drug cartels. The movie chronicles dozens of characters and their fruitless attempts to cross into the nation to the north.

Douek says the primary focus of his programming was diversity — integrating a full mix of documentaries, family films, horror thrillers and animated movies in hopes of revealing the wide-ranging variations of the Mexican experience. “When you talk about ‘Mexican cinema,’ some people get one vision in their minds,” he says. “But we’re hoping to show a Mexico that is far more cutting-edge and cosmopolitan than some people might expect and to broaden their perspective, that Mexico is a far more varied and richly textured place.”

Douek is also sensitive to the fact that the Hola Mexico Film Festival arrives on a wave of negative press about his country. Just a week ago, the headlines involved a shootout between police and drug cartels in Acapulco. Earlier this year, Mexico City was forced to shut off its water for several days due to severe drought. Poverty is gripping the country, illegal immigrants continue to stream into America, and even the global H1N1 pandemic has been traced back to a small Mexican village. “This has definitely been a hard time, and some of our films reflect that,” Douek says. “But we’re also hoping to show people a different side — to show New Yorkers that Mexico isn’t just overwhelmed with problems and conflicts but also that it has a rich culture with important things to say. You can learn a lot about us through these movies.” 

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