Good times in Guadalajara

Films, Tequila and Jacarandas

Guadalajara is known as the City of Roses but to anybody visiting in March as I did, the flowers of the Jacaranda trees are everywhere you look, adding a purple patchwork to the urban sprawl.

Guadalajara is Mexico’s second city and lies to the North East of the capital in the state of Jalisco.  It has a population of around 4 million and is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas of Mexico.  Described by Fodor´s guide as the ´hit and run city´, locals lament the fact that most visitors only spend 2 days here.  As the slogan says ´Jalisco es Mexico´, being the home of Tequila and Mariachis it does seem to embody the Mexican stereotype.  Even the name, pronounced ´Gwadalahara´ rolls off the tongue like a mariachi song.  But as I discovered in my ´hit and run´, Guadalajara has a lot to more to offer than any Mexican cliche.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the 24th International film festival of Guadalajara (FICG) as an interloping director’s wife.  My husband is a film director and organiser of Guatemala’s Icaro film festival.  This was my first time joining him on such a trip and how lucky I was that it was Guadalajara, a festival that has grown in size and importance over the last few years to have become arguably the most prestigious festival in Latin America and amongst the most important Spanish language film festivals in the world.  The natives of Guadalajara, known as Tapatios are open and friendly with an easy confidence that lends itself well to hosting such an event.  The festival has been said by foreign journalists to reject the post-colonial globalism of commercial American culture and re-establish identity and significance for Mexican and Latin American cinema.  Which sounds rather serious; but in Guadalajara is it clear to see that despite the economic problems faced by directors in the region, there are still talented and unique voices making good quality independent films.  This is the showcase for Mexican and Iberoamerican talent.  If you are making plans to travel to Mexico and enjoy Latin cinema then you should definitely plan to come to Guadalajara in March.

We arrived on an early flight from Guatemala and were welcomed at the airport by excited young representatives of the film festival and dropped at our hotel by a university minibus.  The Fiesta Americana is the tower block five star hotel which is the centre of the festival.  It overlooks the famous Glorieta Minerva fountain to the south of the city.  The place was already buzzing with activity, old friends and colleagues reuniting, new contacts being made, postcards and flyers strewn over every table advertising films and other festivals.  The lobby and lifts of the hotel always serving as impromptu meeting places and a paparazzi who’s who of Latin Cinema.  We ran across the road for a tasty taco before getting ready for the red carpet.

A recent and valuable addition to the festival is the bustling film market component which shows no sign of being affected by the doom and gloom of the global recession.  There is a lot of business done in Guadalajara, this being an additional reason for some of the big players to turn up.  The Film market and Producer’s Network in collaboration with Marche du Film de Cannes has been growing markedly year by year.  At the same time the festival has been developing its Talent Campus in coordination with the original one at the Berlin Festival.  For the paparazzi and star hunters there were a few celebrities to chase.  Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna were present; continually rising stars since their days working together on the Mexican international hit Y Tu Mama tambien.  John Malkovich was joining Diego Luna (who recently shared credits with Sean Penn in Milk) to give a master class for the Talent Campus.  Manu Chau was on another adventure involved in a project as a curator with collaborator Jacek Wozniac called Cinelandia as well as performing live at various venues during the week.  Emir Kusturica was presenting his new documentary, Maradona as well as performing with his group The No Smoking Orchestra.  The great writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who at 83 had travelled from Colombia to be there joining an impressive A list of home grown Mexican writers, producers and directors.

A festival minibus took us out to Carlos Slim´s Telmex centre, a huge new theatre complex built by the richest man in the world for his hometown.  We potter up the red carpet attempting to look a little bit graceful and head into the auditorium where my husband points out a few famous faces taking our seats next to the guitarist from Café Tacuba as we wait for the theatre to fill up.  Eva Longoria, the chicana, Texas born Mexican actress famous for her role in Desperate Housewives and her LA lifestyle, was due to serve as master of ceremonies along with fellow actor, Daniel Gimenez Cacho.  Although I was curious to see how she coped with such a task, it was fitting that her place had been taken by the wonderful experienced actress Ofelia Medina.  Medina, famous amongst other things for her role as Frida Kahlo (way before Salma Hayak) and her open support of the Zapatista movement including a rumoured affair with sub-commandante Marcos.  She seemed to represent everything that a strong and beautiful Mexican woman should be, from her colourful dress and traditionally pinned up hair to her confident easy manner.  Her beautiful ´sal y limon´ voice husky but powerful projected around the huge auditorium.  Along with Gimenez Cacho, they opened the festival with an unaffected professionalism I have rarely witnessed at such events.

A cinematic tribute to the great actor and singer Pedro Infante was so moving that my eyes were, somewhat unexpectedly, brimming with tears by the time his daughter appeared on stage to collect his posthumous award.  This actor from the golden age of Mexican film seemed to have a place in every Latin heart.  Most of the people in the auditorium had grown up watching his films and his tragic death in a plane crash in 1957 when he was 40 years old, sealed his enduring iconic status.  The years since then have not dimmed the love of Latinos as well as non-Latinos for Pedro Infante, as each year thousands gather at El Panteón de La Republica in México City to honour the man of myth and those unequalled films of la época de oro.  The standing ovation was the emotional highlight of the evening and I now have a CD of his music in my car so my children can know all about this wonderful Latin character.

Colombia had been chosen as the special guest country and the Columbian minister of Culture, a beautiful black woman, helped a frail Gabriel Garcia Marquez on stage so the audience could pay tribute to the great man.  Not just famous for his writing, Garcia Marquez was one of the founders of the international film school in Cuba (EICTV) which has helped to train and support some of the great pioneering film makers of this generation in Latin America.  Colombia is now making its mark as an emerging star of Latin Cinema.  Look out for the classic works of director Victor Gaviria and the new much talked about film Perro come Perro by director Carlos Moreno.  This was to be the biggest national screening of Colombian films ever to take place.  The Colombian film commission launched its campaign “Colombia no es lo que has escuchado, es lo que ves”.Colombia is not what you have heard, it is what you see.

With the ceremony over, more enjoyable than usual, we were invited to welcome the cast and crew of the opening film, ¨Otra Pelicula de Huevos y un Pollo¨ (another film about eggs and a chicken) the sequel to the box office hit `Una Pellicula de Huevos`.  A humorous and beautifully crafted animation it offered light-hearted balance of Mexican humour after all the emotion.  We tumbled out of the auditorium and into the party outside.  A cheeky young waiter (who had wrapped himself around one of the female guests by the end of the night) served us our Tequilas and beers as more and more guests were arriving.  Suddenly the stage was ablaze with the bright colours of a huge mariachi band with women dancers (las amazonas jaliscienses) tossing the skirts of their amazing dresses into the air guided by the smartly dressed charros.  With a projection of film images running on the side of the huge Telmex building and the desert winds keeping us cool on the dance floor, the mariachis were followed by the great Columbian singer and special guest Cesar Moro, playing for us a wonderful selection of salsa and cumbia music, conversing with the crowd as though we were old friends.  We danced and danced and finally escaped in a taxi at 4 am leaving the party still swinging.

The next day after a Mexican breakfast to rival any, I was determined to see more of this wonderful city and a short and typically fast taxi ride got us downtown in 20 minutes. The historic centre of Guadalajara is very impressive and easy to get around compared to most large cities in the region.  We allowed ourselves a quick tasty lunch in La Chata, a local family run restaurant recommended to us, before walking through the large tree filled open plazas where a Tequila fair was taking place.  Feeling too fragile to stop and taste any more Tequila we strolled across the open spaces seeking shade from the desert heat wherever we could find it.  They call these interlinking squares the tourist corridor.  You can take a typical horse drawn carriage (Calendria) around the centre if you are feeling lazy and hot but everything is so close together it is just as easy to walk.  In half an hour you can take in numerous colonial and independence era buildings and statues including Plaza de Armas, Palacio de Gobierno, Teatro Degollado, Plaza Tapatia with its famous modern sculptures eventually arriving at the impresssive Insitut de Arte de Cabañas.  This building alone is a pleasure to stroll around with its interlocking courtyards interspersed with orange trees and bougainvillea.  The collection of the fascinating murals of Jaliscan artist Jose Clemente Orozco can be seen here.  Helpfully placed benches allow you to lie down in the cool interior and spend some time studying the ceilings and walls covered in his work.   We also took in a wonderful exhibition East Wind West Wind celebrating some of the work of great Spanish artists forced into exile and welcomed to Mexico after the Spanish Civil war.  Behind the museum we discovered some wonderful sculptures resembling enormous fairytale thrones their ergonomic metal shapes warmed by the sun.  We sat and rested a while with local children climbing and playing all around us.

 

Another fast taxi ride took us back along the jacaranda lined streets through pleasant looking residential areas reminiscent in places of Habana.  We also passed the impressive university buildings that were housing some of the festival activities.  In fact the university is the biggest supporter of the film festival and takes its civic role of cultural centre to the city very seriously.  It is Western Mexico’s most important institution of higher education, coming only second to Mexico City’s UNAM.   Spanish language undergraduates take note, this would be first on my list of universities for my year off!

We missed the next all night party in favour of a quiet night watching Turistas (Tourists) a gentle and beautifully told Chilean film set in the Siete Tazas National Park directed by Alicia Scherson.  Most of the screenings include a question and answer session where you usually have access to a director, producer or actor or all three.  The film did not finish too late and we were able to take things easy and enjoy our hotel and spend some time studying the bible sized catalogue of films being screened that year.  There really was a film for every taste, to the get the most out of the festival you need to spend some time planning.  I fell asleep with my head full of film synopsis wishing I had more time.

Our early night meant that I was able to get up early the next day and head off to Tlaquepaque, pronounced Telakaypakay (most taxi drivers know what you’re talking about if you give it a try). A little traditional Mexican town consumed by the suburbs of Guadalajara famous for its artisans and pretty pedestrian streets Tlaquepaque lies 20 minutes to the south of the city.  Amongst the silver shops, hand blown glass, craft shops and ceramics museum, I found a wonderful collection of locally crafted pewter and satisfied nearly all my shopping urges under one roof. I wandered around the pretty streets looking through doors into beautiful bougainvillea courtyards.  At the centre of the town is The Parian, a huge square next to the market which houses many typical restaurants.  It has a bandstand kiosk in the centre where mariachis sing for the tourists sitting on the terraces.  Walking straight through here to the local market, I was intent on finding Agave syrup, the new health food must have, and had been told to go to the third floor of the market and look for the lady with light eyes.  Sure enough there she was and the syrup, I bought a litre for around $5, a fraction of the price that the healthfood shops sell it for in the UK.  It is said to have medicinal properties helping with all respiration problems.  Happy with my purchases and the ease with which I could walk around these pretty streets helped by smiling friendly locals, I sat on a bench in the shade and ate my strawberries and grapes from the market, as a sweet old lady peeling a lemon, chatted to me about her diabetes.

That evening the wife of the director of the film festival, Mercedes Moncada, an old friend of my husband’s was presenting her third feature-length documentary in the university Cineforo.  La Sirena y El Buzo, The Diver and the Mermaid, a hauntingly poetic story of the people of the Mesquite coast in Nicaragua, an area regularly devastated by hurricanes, where life is tough for the locals who catch turtles and fish and dive for lobsters on the seabed.  It was wonderful to hear the fascinating and mysterious indigenous language of the Mesquite people and to be allowed a glimpse into a local culture so sensitively filmed.

Back to the Festival Director’s house for Tequilas and snacks and a chance for me to say goodbye to a few old faces and some new ones before heading home to Guatemala.  Garcia Marquez (Gabo) was installed on the sofa surrounded by affectionate admirers like an old patriarch with his family.  One of the cars waiting outside dropped us off at the hotel for a nightcap before I reluctantly went up to pack my bags and read about a few more films.

I felt sad to leave Guadalajara but happy about the wonderful 3 days I had spent there. My ´hit and run´ left me inspired by the Mexican and Iberoamerican film industry, and the wonderful city that showcases it every March.  I would like to thank Jorge, Mercedes and Alejandra for making this trip possible for me.  I will be back and hopefully for a little longer next time.  Maybe I’ll get to that beautiful lake of Chapala, or the brightly painted streets of Ajijic or a trip to Tequila to taste some more local firewater.   And certainly I will get another taste of the wonderful cinema coming out of this region………….. Hasta la vista Guadalajara!

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