And thousands of Americans just googled Jodorowsky.
Kanye West –rapper, pop star– is known for his bluster and bravado. I feel a bit bad for him, he makes a lot of money but no matter how many hits he gets, it`s never enough. He has been out on tour lately and venting in public again, calling himself an unappreciated creative genius…like Tesla, like Jodorowsky…and making people scratch their heads. I, too, was befuddled to read that West modeled his tour stage set up after Alejandro Jodorowsky´s film, The Holy Mountain, and I am sure many other people were like, Alejandro who?
On days like this I really mourn the passing of the daily newspaper. So much of inspiration comes from random facts deposited into your lap. My parents still receive a daily newspaper, and I always read it when I visit. I think of it as the one hour time suck that keeps me sipping my coffee long after its gone cold. But wow, you sure do feel smart after reading it. A whole pile of things you would never google, served onto your plate for contemplation every morning–and none of it pre-selected for your advertising value. So that is why I know Kanye West is into the esoteric Chilean-French movie director and spiritualist, Ajejandro Jodorowsky. I am into Jodorowsky, because I just saw him at the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) –which reminds me, I have missed my deadline.
In yet another example of the boss being the worst employee, I did not turn in my article. I started to write it, I didn’t finish it, and despite repeated thoughtful reminders on the part of the FICM, I have not earned my coveted FICM press credentials this year. Thank you Kanye, for supporting the unappreciated creative geniuses of the world and thank you for inspiring me to do my homework.
Morelia is the capital city of the state of Michoacán, just four hours inland from Zihuatanejo. 500 years ago it was the capital of New Spain, and it has long been a cultural center, home to universities, cathedrals, theaters, a plethora of annual world-class international events and festivals, and home to the Morelia International Film Festival, one of Latin America´s most prestigious cinema events. The Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) has been an inspiration to me for over ten years now. Founded in 2003, the year before we founded the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival, it became the world class event just down the road. The shining example of what we could do if we could just get it together. I have watched them grow from a small, predominantly film student attended event, to a world class festival with a substantial international red carpet crowd, renowned invited guests, and prestigious premiers (not to mention a whole army of volunteers and a fleet of transport vehicles!). The audience is still predominantly students, and it is one of my favorite festivals.
FICM 2013 brought back the ever popular Quentin Tarantino as special invited guest. He first came to Morelia in 2009 and enjoyed it so much that he has developed a real partnership with the festival, over the years loaning films from his own private collection to screen during the event. In 2010, he loaned three prints of classic spaghetti westerns by Sergio Corbucci and a series of Mexican horror and sci-fi films as part of a special presentation to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Mexican revolution. Seeing him at the press conference for his film, Inglourious Basterds, in 2009 really enlightened my opinion of him as a director and an artist. He is engaging, polite, and very passionate about his work. His knowledge of Mexico and Mexican cinema really endeared him to me and left a lasting impression on everyone in the room. In 2013, he again offered the FICM access to his personal film archive and was welcomed as a special invited guest to screen a selection of films as part of their homage to the Mexican actor Arturo de Córdova. He also presented three cult titles of the 60s and 70s from his collection (Blue, Shark! and Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary). Always a favorite, Tarantino is well loved in Morelia and it is no surprise he chooses to come back so often.
I am sure he had some influence on the decision to invite his longtime friend and collaborator, director Robert Rodriguez, this year. Rodriguez attended with star Danny Trejo to screen the premier of their latest project, Machete Kills, the sequel of 2010´s, Machete, and the vehicle of Rodriguez´s desire to turn Trejo into the, “Mexican Jean-Claude Van Damme or Charles Bronson.” Famous for his debut feature film, El Mariachi, that with its $7,000 dollar budget is considered a cornerstone of modern independent filmmaking, Rodriguez has gone on to direct a string of successful films in many genres, from the critically acclaimed, Palme d’Or nominated, Sin City, to the hit franchise, Spy Kids, to a handful of Tarantino collaborations that indulge their mutual love of blood. I have been a long-time fan of Rodriguez since his school days writing a comic strip in the college newspaper when we were both students at the University of Texas in Austin, I was thrilled when he came to Morelia.
But the highlight of the FICM this year by far, was the inclusion of Alejandro Jodorowsky. An iconoclast, artist, filmmaker, playwright, actor, author, musician, comics writer and spiritual guru, Alejandro Jodorowsky has been making movies for almost 50 years. Not one to pursue commercial success, his work–described as violent, surreal, mystic, religious, visionary–has been widely ignored by the American mainstream. He was born in Chile, the son of Jewish Ukrainian immigrants. He now lives in France. A respected artist in France and Latin America for many years, he has a huge following and a long history in Mexico. In 1967, his first feature film Fando y Lis–the love story of a cannibal and a paraplegic in the apocalypse–was filmed here, (it was also banned here and police had to protect him from rioting crowds at screenings). Even the synopses of his films tend to be baffling, think of them as parables, quests, journeys. Jodorowsky himself says, “I ask of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs.” Long a cinema cult hero, he is starting to become known outside of cinema circles and 2013 was a banner year for him.
The author of dozens of books (dare I say a Carlos Castaneda type figure) he is mythologically celebrated in Mexico. A special invited guest at the film fest in Morelia, he caused a stir everywhere he went. I dutifully attended his speaking engagement, honestly not knowing much. And when I arrived at the theater (twice relocated to a larger venue) and saw the thousands of people lining up outside in the rain, I wasn´t sure if I was in the right place. In an amazing bit of luck and FICM graciousness, I was put right down front to see the beautiful spectacle. Billed as a master class, what actually ensued was a rambling heartfelt discourse on the merits of film, philosophy and being human–interrupted often by audience members asking for hugs. (He gave so many hugs, so indulgently, I thought it might create a frenzy and we´d be there all day—till every last one of us got a hug! I was close enough, I could have jumped up on stage myself. I considered it. A warm affable guy, he seemed very huggable.) Mexican audiences are so full of love. Music and theater events routinely inspire multiple standing ovations, and the heated clashes at sporting events sometimes require military intervention. A passionate country! It was wonderful to see the crowd so excited about Sr. Jodorowsky. Despite the size of the theater and it’s full to bursting capacity, many were turned away, and the question and answer period could have gone on for hours. Surrounded by an adoring crowd, Jodorowky went on to sign copies of his books long after his talk and then rushed off to the cinema for another full house screening of the Mexico premiere of his latest film,La danza de la realidad, based on his autobiographical book of the same name. At least here in Mexico “creative geniuses” are well appreciated, perhaps Kanye needs to come to Mexico to feel the love.
The eleventh edition of the FICM was another great celebration of cinema and a wonderful excuse to get excited about art. Beyond the celebrity guests and inspiring speakers, the festival´s primary function is to promote Mexican cinema. The festival screened a large number of films in competition: Mexican short films, feature films and documentary films (many of the FICM winning films go on to win some of the industry´s highest honors, including the Cannes Film Festival´s Palme d’Or), as well as memorials and homages to Mexico cinema greats, and Michoacán specific screenings. Held every year in October, it´s a great week of great cinema at the truly incredible price of 35-70 pesos per ticket. Highly recommended, www.moreliafilmfest.com for more information.