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Mexico – Expresion en Corto, 2008 edition wrapped

A scarcity of Mexican production and the absence of exhibition platforms prompted Sarah Hoch Delong to establish the festival Expresion en Corto eleven years ago which she has helmed ever since. As a publicly funded film festival, Expresion en Corto had a primary focus on short films. By 2008 it has morphed into one of the most important Latin American fests offering a comprehensive program with productions drawn from seventy countries. Several features distinguish Expresion en Corto. For once about 75% of its funding come from public sources, specifically the state governments of Guanajuatu, permitting with few exceptions programs that are free to the public. More than 70 thousand individuals are reached including a large proportion of young people. Another unique element is having two consecutive locations where the festival program is presented; San Miguel de Allende and the state capital Guanjuato.

San Miguel, one of the foremost Mexican culture and art destinations with a large number of resident upscale Americans expatriates, the festival is bracketed by the city’s history. Each evening jammed public open air screenings were held in front of a cathedral dating back to the 16th century (initially built with indigenous slave labor). Hospitality for participating jurors, creative professionals and the press was provided in a luxury mansion by the US American Rosewood company, a real estate development group and the Los Sanderes project, a long term endeavor to built a film city on the outskirts of San Miguel embedded in a future luxury residential estate, replete with spas, riding stables, art studios and other amenities for the affluent. The art accent of the fest was also expressed in an evening for festival participants at the fabrica la aurora, a large complex of forty plus art galleries and antique shops housed in an old weaving and printing plant dating back to the end of the 19th century. Some of the galleries such as the Marilo Carral Espacio displayed superb art that holds comparison to the best Manhattan galleries.

Expresion en Corto continues presenting unusual programs rarely part of other film festivals. There are the traditional John Carpenter horror film midnight screenings held in San Miguel´s cemetery and in Guanajuato´s subterranean tunnels. Probably no other film festival has in its program at the same time superb documentaries on pressing political or social issues and evenings of productions on non-traditional sex patterns. Expresion en Corto showcased in San Miguel this year, as part of its sub theme on identity maintenance, an exhibit and documentary aptly entitled WHAT REMAINS OF US, on the repression of the indigenous populations of Tibet. But festival goers could also view at the Kunsthaus Santa Fe the latest shorts on producing and distributing pornographic material in Mexico, PORNO-MEX, and PORNO MEX 2 ,(2007), by Alfonzo Virues. Also projected was a bizarre seemingly unending compilation of Lesbian sex scene TRIPLE X SELECTS: THE BEST OF LZSPLOITATION, (2007) produced by the US American film maker Michelle Johnson. As it was pointed out both groups constitute repressed minorities.

In 1997 the Expresion en Corto program carried 38 productions. This year’s program included more than 450 short and feature-length films culled from 1750 submissions or entered by invitation. More than 300 feature films were screened to select just 44 for the final program. In short, the festival certainly has delivered on its original motto Mas Cinema, more films.

Like other important festivals, there is a strong emphasis on original production concepts and execution, yet the fest has retained over its development a strong undercurrent of commitment to social, political and human rights issues. Thus the festival´s traditional Oscar Night component included the best current documentaries on the human tragedies of the Iraqi and Afghan wars; the special India segment had an Indian Midnight Madness part with productions about gay, lesbian, transsexual, and eunuch (hira) themes; Spike Lee’s homage presented his famed documentary on the New Orleans disaster WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE, and special attention was paid through one of several exhibits to the Chinese repression of Tibet.

Each year Expresion en Corto focuses on a different film making country. Last year the fest had an extraordinary collection of current and traditional shorts and feature films from the United States, an intensive but effective introduction to US film making. This year India was the country chosen with a program including more than forty productions, several seminars on her film industry and distribution system, master presentations by distinguished directors like Deepa Mehta and Shyam Benegal, bracketed by a selection of Satyajit Ray films and more popular features from Eros International and UTV, two of the largest Indian distribution and production companies , The Indian productions in the 2008 edition of the Expresion program accounted for ten percent of all festival films.

It is difficult to identify the best of more than 440 productions from about 80 countries screened at the fest. For the 44 feature films alone one would need more than two working weeks of back to back screening to find the best. Thus let me draw attention to some noteworthy productions. In the documentary section Eddy Amoretti’s HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD (2007), an audience favorite, provides a convincing portrait of the fate of the only heavy metal band in Iraq and its struggle for survival before and after Saddam Hussein and subsequent exile.
ECLIPSE (2007) by Mark Lapwood, a coproduction from India, Australia and New Zealand offers a visually stunning non verbal meditation on the streets of Mumbai with thematic and cinematographic structures reminding the spectator of Philip Glass and Godfrey Reggio. Also from India came THREE OF US (2008) by Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni documenting in fifteen minutes effectively how a small family survives with their severely crippled son in a cramped single room with affection and love, a demonstration of their spirit.
SALIM BABA, (2007) by Tim Sternberg, an India USA production, is devoted to Salim, an aging film enthusiast who screens scraps of old films for neighborhood kids using a hand-cranked projector, a celebration of his devotion to film. The Argentine film maker Gustavo Taretto shows in his rather original short fiction essay HOY NO ESTOY - Not Available Today (2007) a young man who wants to blend into the environment.
Equally innovative is the Belgian parody MISSING (2007) by Mathieu Dock, about a man who tries to prove that he is present though everybody including police and mass media have the conviction that he is missing.
An intriguing entry is the feature film 40 DAYS, (2007) by the Mexican director Juan Carlos Martin, dissecting in this road movie the interior landscape of three Mexicans tied together in a journey of unintended self-discovery lasting forty days in Mexico and the United Statues.
As noted earlier WHAT REMAINS OF US, (2007) a Canadian documentary reflection on ethnic identity by Hugo Latulippe and Francois Prevost, shows how the Tibetan identity is systematically destroyed by the Chinese occupation and how the Tibetans react to it, as indicated in their subdued response to a video tape message from the Dalai Lama.

The 2008 edition of Expresion en Corto provided a truly complex and differentiated program. It served the public without compromising on subject matters, quality, and controversial presentations and offers an exemplary program composition most commercial festivals would not embrace.

Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent

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