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by Franklin Ramón
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Mexico’s film culture
Panama & los angeles
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1. Mexican post-industrial cinema (1990-2002) Juan Carlos Vargas After a period of artistic and thematic eclosion, generated by the paternalistic and unconditional backing of President Luis Echeverría’s (1970-1976) government, for the next two six-year presidential periods, Mexican film industry was in the hands of arthritic, mediocre and without scruples private enterprises, that produced populistic films of the lowest quality possible, repeating worn out formulas in a cinema of whorehouse themes, sexual innuendo filled comedies and narcotics dealer films, thus eliminating the possibility of a competitive commercial cinema, with a sense of worth, in a market dominated by Hollywood. By the end of the Eighties this production model, with the addition of the new neo-liberal and globalizing politics implemented by president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) brought a deadly blow to the dying Mexican film industry and brought with it the bankruptcy of the national film distributor Películas Nacionales in 1991, and two years later the liquidation of the exhibition chain Compañía Operadora de Teatros (COTSA) companies that in spite of being corroded and rickety, were used to promote national films. On the other hand, the lack of protection and fiscal incentives for national film production provoked that production would drastically fall. Up to the end of the eighties the historic average was of ninety films a year, yet, in 1997, production fell as we can see on the following table: Production Year Number of Mexican Films 1997 15 1998 11 1999 19 2000 32 2001 18 2002 14 1 © 2002, EL OJO QUE PIENSA Derechos Reservados. Guadalajara, Jalisco México
In that sense, industry, understood as a dynamic structure that has an economic and artistic infrastructure in order to produce films in a continuous and sustained form does not exist any more. Since 1990 to date, Mexican cinema has gone through a stage of uncertainty in a post- industrial transition in which its artistic infrastructure has survived, that is we still have directors, screen writers, actors, photographers, editors, technicians, etc., and in spite of the adverse circumstances, filming has been going on specially because of four main reasons: • The effort of the filmmakers themselves to continue their projects; • The — paradoxic — support that the government gives by means of the Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía (IMCINE), as a co-producer and liaison to obtain national and foreign financing; • Co-production with other countries, specially with Spain; • The creation of several private producing companies with fresh ideas. These companies support the launching of films with strong marketing campaigns, with companies such as Producciones Amaranta, Titán Producciones, Argos Cine y Altavista Films, and through other two created by directors, such as Tequila Gang (Guillermo del Toro), and Anhelo Producciones (Alfonso Cuarón). Nevertheless, during this shaky period, in the artistic domain, Mexican cinema achieved the greatest international recognition in its history, most of it through prizes in festivals, examples of these are: La invención de Cronos (1992), first time direction by Guillermo del Toro, and Amores perros (1999), first feature by Alejandro González Iñárritu, produced by Altavista films, they won the prize at the critics’ week at the Cannes Film Festival, also, González Iñárritu’s film obtained another 26 international prizes. In the same context, El héroe (1993), an animated short by Carlos Herrera, took the Golden Palm in that category and Japón (2002), first time direction by Carlos Reygadas, won the golden camera. Reygadas received another twelve international recognitions. On the other hand, Profundo carmesí (1996) by Arturo Ripstein and Y tu mamá también (2001), by Alfonso Cuarón won at the Venice Festival, the first film obtained three prizes and the second one two. Also Cuarón’s film has obtained another 10 prizes outside Mexico. As far as the commercial aspect, much of the middle class audiences that were lost during the eighties were gained back, opening market niches, and box office records were broken. Como agua para chocolate (1990), by Alfonso Arau, was successful in Mexico and sold about twenty-two million dollars worth of tickets in the United States; Sexo, pudor y lágrimas (1998), a first co-production by Titán Producciones and Argos Cine, directed by the debutant Antonio Serrano, made over 118 million pesos (around 11.8 million Dollars) and was seen by five million spectators; Amores perros brought in around 100 million pesos in Mexico and another hundred million internationally; Y tu mamá también made 2 © 2002, EL OJO QUE PIENSA Derechos Reservados. Guadalajara, Jalisco México
103.5 million pesos, and was seen by around four million spectators, and was distributed in forty countries, and made more than fourteen million dollars in the United States, and El crimen del padre Amaro (2002), by Carlos Carrera, favored by the political and religious scandal provoked by the church and ultra right-wing groups that pretended to censure it, became the biggest box office in Mexican film history, in only twenty days it reached a record 118 million pesos, record set by Sexo, pudor y lágrimas, whose box office sales were achieved in twenty weeks of exhibition. In this stage there is also a new generation of directors, actors, scriptwriters, photographers and technicians that not only renew the artistic base, but also presented new ideas and subjects, they used a more contemporary film language and they chose the traditional stories of Mexican cinema such as melodrama and comedy in a more realistic and current way. In the field of feature films more than forty directors made their appearance, among them we can name the already mentioned Del Toro, Carrera, González Iñarritú, Reygadas and Cuarón, and also Juan Mora Catlett (Retorno a Aztlán, 1990), Francisco Athié (Lolo, 1991), Roberto Sneider (Dos crímenes, 1993) Fernando Sariñana, (Hasta morir, 1993), Juan Carlos Rulfo (Del olvido al no me acuerdo, 1997), Carlos Bolado (Bajo California. El límite del tiempo, 1998), Gerardo Tort (De la calle, 2000), Armando Casas (Un mundo raro, 2001), Juan Carlos Martín (Gabriel Orozco: un proyecto fílmico documental, 2002) and Julián Hernández (Mil nubes de paz cercan el cielo, amor, jamás acabarás de ser amor, 2002). Likewise, interesting filmmakers from past generations such as Jaime Humberto Hermosillo (La tarea, De noche vienes Esmeralda), Gabriel Retes (El bulto, Bienvenido- Welcome), Jorge Fons (El callejón de los milagros, 1994), and the already mentioned Ripstein (Principio y fin, Así es la vida), whose films known in Europe and acclaimed in Spain, were able to continue their trajectory. Mexican film also acquired new faces and emblematic female presences: Arcelia Ramírez (La mujer de Benjamín, Cilantro y perejil), Salma Hayek (El callejón de los milagros), Tiaré Scanda (El callejón de los milagros, Sin remitente), Susana Zabaleta 3 © 2002, EL OJO QUE PIENSA Derechos Reservados. Guadalajara, Jalisco México
(Sobrenatural, Sexo, pudor y lágrimas), Cecilia Suárez (Sexo, pudor y lágrimas, Todo el poder) and Vanessa Bauche (Amores perros, Piedras verdes); and also male presences: Daniel Giménez Cacho (Sólo con tu pareja, Profundo carmesí) Roberto Sosa (Lolo, Ángel de fuego), Demián Bichir (Hasta morir, Sexo, pudor y lágrimas), Juan Manuel Bernal (Hasta morir, La habitación azul), Bruno Bichir (Principio y fin, El jardín del Edén), Luis Felipe Tovar (Bienvenido-Welcome, Todo el poder), Damián Alcázar (La leyenda de una máscara, La ley de Herodes), Jesús Ochoa (Entre Pancho Villa y una mujer desnuda, El segundo aire), Diego Luna (El cometa, Y tu mamá también), Osvaldo Benavides (La primera noche, Seres humanos), Luis Fernando Peña (De la calle, Amar te duele), and the internationally best paid Mexican actor Gael García Bernal (Amores perros, Y tu mamá también, El crimen del padre Amaro). Also, labor conditions at the time provoked migration of talented people. Directors Luis Mandoki, Arau, Del Toro, Cuarón and González Iñarritú started a Hollywood career, as well as actress Salma Hayek and some photographers like Emmanuel Lubezki, Guillermo Navarro and Rodrigo Prieto. And even though in this post industrial time you cannot deny an artistic and commercial resurrection of Mexican film, its situation and perspectives are still unfavorable. With the arrival of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) at the presidential elections in 2000, which ended seventy years of party dictatorship imposed by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), this did not bring substantial changes in cultural policy, even though the new government has backed the workings of IMCINE, it has not established mechanisms and concrete laws to back the rebirth of the industry. The new law Reglamento de la Ley de Cinematografía was approved in 2001, and it recognizes the industry as an artistic vehicle with a social importance, it contemplates fiscal incentives and a 10% of screen time for national film, but there are no clauses that penalize violations to law, and the actual screen percentage is very low, furthermore, in December 2002, it pushed a clause of retention of one peso for every ticket sold at the 4 © 2002, EL OJO QUE PIENSA Derechos Reservados. Guadalajara, Jalisco México
cinema box office, yet, there are no rulings to enforce its application, and there has been no tributary system established to make it effective, the net result has only been that exhibitors increased ticket prices. Besides, this measure is facing opposition at the Comisión Federal de Mejora Regulatoria (COFEMER) at the Secretary of Economy, which considers this anti-constitutional and the fact that National and American distributors and exhibitors are promoting filings to avoid its enforcing. Besides, there’s also the explicit and threatening opposition of the president of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) Jack Valenti. See the article: Jack Valenti or All Of The Pesos From The Box Office Are Mine. in El ojo que piensa, issue 1. Nevertheless, it’s precisely the chains of distribution and exhibition the ones that make the biggest earnings, since producers only obtain about 10% of the ticket price, and only when the film has been seen for at least three million people, for this reason most producers do not recuperate their investment, according to Luis Estrada director and producer of La ley de Herodes (2000): One of the greatest myths about the rebirth of Mexican cinema is that it is a good business, because it still isn’t. There are many hidden vices that crawl in it for many years. The fact that the TV stations are not involved in the promotion and commercializations of films, the way the box office is divided, are some of them (…). In spite of the fact that many films are successful, they do not recuperate their investment, although that is not the case of Y tu mamá también, and Sexo, pudor y lágrimas, but it is true of many others, because of the almost forty pesos that the viewer pays at the box office, if you’re doing very well and you recuperate the cost of investments in copies and publicity, you get about four pesos of earnings, but they would be yours only once you’ve paid the cost of production, and that would hardly make the investment put in the film to break even.  Producer Matthías Ehrenberg, from Titán Producciones also thinks that TV companies should back up cinema: 5 © 2002, EL OJO QUE PIENSA Derechos Reservados. Guadalajara, Jalisco México
“I think that in the face of the attack of such a big industry as is the American, the countries that are able to articulate TV quotas will be able to reactivate their film industry, benefiting also the those TV companies. In Mexico this is a debate that is open and has to be retaken… there is nothing been done for the industry, unless your film does very well and we are able to get some significant sells this would allow us to move money around. But there is no pre-sale, no investment, no money comings from the TV channels, which make a lot of dough in their monopolistic exercise”.  And Epigmenio Ibarra, director of Argos Cine, thinks that the state’s active and efficient participation is indispensable: In Mexico doing films is not a good business... what we want is strategic vision of fiscal aid, so that investments dare to risks their capital in Mexican films and see it as a true business. The state has to understand that their participation in cinema is not just a responsibility but also a cultural obligation.  Mexican film’s current panorama makes it evident that one of the indispensable requisites for Mexican film industry to be reborn is that the state backs it, with a decided political will, and that considers it not just a cultural good, but an enterprise that can be competitive and a good business in national and international film markets. In June 2003, the Secretaría de Gobernación invited representatives of the three sectors of films media to three Mesas de Trabajo para el Fortalecimiento de la Industria Cinematográfica Nacional, (Work Sessions for the Strengthening of National Film Industry), with the objective of making a concrete proposal. We will have to wait to see if it is listened to and carried out. Juan Carlos Vargas is the researcher of the Centro de Investigación y Estudios Cinematográficos of the Universidad de Guadalajara. He has written articles for the film magazines Dicine (México), CinémAction (France and Secuencias (Spain). He wrote an entry for the book Tierra en trance. El cine latinoamericano en 100 películas, and is one of the authors of the collective work Historia Documental del 6 © 2002, EL OJO QUE PIENSA Derechos Reservados. Guadalajara, Jalisco México
Cine Mexicano (1977-1994). He just published the book Los Mundos Virtuales. El cine fantástico de los noventa.  Calva Gómez, Araceli, “¿Quién pierde y quién gana en el cine?”, Newspaper Público, weekly ¡Hey!, 26/05/2003, p. 4.  Bernal, Mario, “Pide Matthías Ehrenberg apoyo de las televisoras para el cine”, newspaper El Universal, Entertainment Section, 19/06/2002, p. 11.  Calva Gómez, Ibídem, p. 5. 7 © 2002, EL OJO QUE PIENSA Derechos Reservados. Guadalajara, Jalisco México
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