Joaquín Rodríguez, In Memory of His FriendshipBy: Roberto Fiesco
This personal and moving text, in which Roberto Fiesco pays homage to his friend Joaquín Rodríguez, was originally published in the tenth edition’s catalog and in the book Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia (FICM). Una década haciendo historia. Joaquín Rodriguez was a founder member of the FICM Organization Committee and a programmer. On the eve of the festival’s 15th anniversary, we keep honoring his memory with love as he remains as fundamental part of our organization.
Today I returned to Joaquín’s apartment, the second time I have done so since he died. Only a few objects from when he lived there still remain: the table, an armchair, a sculpture and painting by his uncle Mathias Goeritz, and some other items. The majority of his belongings, like his posters and books, and the thousands of DVDs, are now properly stored at the Filmoteca of the UNAM. His mother, an example of fortitude and love, recently discovered what is perhaps the most valuable object he saved during his life–a simple Scribe notebook in which young Joaquín had pasted carefully trimmed clippings of movies listed in the newspaper from 1980 to 1982, indicating the date when he saw them in the theaters of Durango, Alameda and Dorado 70 in his hometown of Durango. It seems he would go every day, sometimes escaping the vigilance of his family, to see some films more than once, something that often worried his parents.
The clippings included a rating system that went from B (Bad) to E (Excellent), which only films like Trapeze by Carol Reed or The Sound of Music in its umpteenth revival merited; others, like Saturday Night Fever and The Empire Strikes Back received a VG (Very Good); and of course, several from that period were given an A (Average) rating. At the end of the notebook, there was also a list of films actually organized by studio! The list included films produced by MGM, Fox, Paramount and Universal that he most certainly did not want to miss, and would eventually become some of those he loved the most.
Julián Hernández and I first met him in 2003 in a hallway at the Hotel Plaza del Sol. It was our first festival in Guadalajara and we were presenting in competition Mil nubes de paz cercan el cielo, amor, jamás, acabarás de ser amor, our first feature, which fortunately Joaquin liked. We immediately liked him and I dare say also noted a feeling of solidarity. Even then, he always had a timely and witty comment, along with a likeable smile and a handsome face. And his great height made him stand out when he left a screening or theatrical presentation or–better yet–in the midst of a party or cocktail, places where we began to see each other more often. We soon became friends–a friendship, like family, that would last forever.
At that time, he was already a well-known journalist. He had worked for the magazine Primer plano, and then for Cinemanía, Cine Premiere and El Financiero. He was also the supervisor (or should I say, ‘censor’) in film direction at RTC, after having graduated with a degree in communication from the Ibero in Torreón, and for years he was screenwriter and host for 24 x segundo, whose episodes served as a film guide for millions of viewers on Channel 5 for many years. There he met Oscar Uriel and Daniela Michel who, in addition to being his colleagues in a thousand battles, festivals and junkets with all kinds of film stars and starlets, were also like his brother and sister.
His television appearances also included programs like Abrelatas and Corto circuito, which were dedicated to short films. With the support of public television, these programs launched the careers of many budding filmmakers and–at times–also functioned as an extension of the Jornadas de Cortometraje and the Morelia International Film Festival that Daniela led as one of the most important film promotion projects in the country. Joaquinito, as we immediately started to call him, was the programmer for those festivals, but we also knew he would do much more than this title indicated. He would contact distributors and filmmakers, set up screenings, write reviews for the catalog, translate, view countless shorts and features, and lead the opening ceremonies. He would also present the films and conduct the Q+As following the screenings with his tempered tone of voice and elegant manners, which always betrayed him when he felt passionate about a film, whether he was for or against it. I remember him walking by the Cinépolis Centro in Morelia, wearing one of his traditional guayaberas, microphone and program in hand, welcoming everyone, like a king in his palace, but always taking the time to share a few minutes with his friends.
When I met him, it seemed as though he had given up acting, but that was not exactly true. While in Guadalajara in 2003, Sin ton ni Sonia (dir. Hari Sama) premiered; Joaquín played one of the mute lieutenants of Tara Parra and the film launched the career of Juan Manuel Bernal, one of Joaquin’s favorites. His studies at the Forum directed by Ludwig Margules, an unforgettable teacher, and the works he did with José Caballero, David Olguín, Lorena Maza, and then with Antonio Serrano and Marco Antonio Silva, among others, were part of a past that above all left him with remarkable friends (including some very important ones like Plutarco Haza and Santiago Roldós). He felt infinite love for them and nostalgia for those times that he always considered as the best of his life–those of formation around his great passion, the theater. He never abandoned it as a loyal viewer of all types of staged productions, and he most recently returned to the stage with his dear Miguel Cooper in David Hevia’s Kant en Altamar, which appeared at the Casa de la Paz last year.
His angry outbursts were memorable, especially because it was hard to imagine that such a charming man could turn into a truly wild person, full of rage and anger. I experienced them a couple of times and his reaction seemed so disproportionate that I swore I thought he would never speak to me again. The first fight occurred during the baptism that is traditional for all filmmakers at the end of the shoot. I am so fanatic about this, sometimes I think I only make films so that I can engage in this great explosion of fun. That night I was having fun throwing paint and tying up the victims in the parking lot of the Centro Cultural Tlatelolco. When we tried to involve Joaquín in the game, he suddenly appeared bigger than life and began shouting at me, saying that the tradition seemed completely idiotic and that in no way was he going to be an accomplice to such stupidity. He then left furious, leaving me stunned holding a rope destined for him.
“Now we lost him!” I thought. I greatly regretted it because the end of that shoot corresponded to Rabioso sol, rabioso cielo, a film in which Julián had written a special part for him: Andrés, a grimacing man who frequented dark streets and solitary theaters in search of carnal pleasures. In this underworld of the darkest passions, Joaquín became another person, his sweet gaze was transformed into that of a man full of evil, capable of the worst abuses toward the character played by Javier Oliván, another life-long friend.
Not only was he with us the days he appeared in the scene; he was there throughout the entire filmmaking process, keeping a log of what happened day by day during the shoot, which was at times difficult, at others funny. Alex Cantú, the photographer, named him Mr. Log, and from then on he became friends with the entire “milnubera” gang. The truth is, the day was not complete without his glorious appearance and without his fraternal support in a very complex shoot that took us to Querétaro, Guerrero, Morelos and throughout Mexico City. Joaquín was fascinated by the film’s atmosphere, until it was time for the christening. Of course within a few days he called on the phone and acted as if nothing had happened and the matter was settled. Fortunately his level of repentance was similar to that of his wrath.
When the film was finished, we traveled together to an even more tense Berlinale, which always seemed lightened by his good humor, especially because we ended up winning the Teddy Award, a moment we celebrated together with unusual euphoria. I am proud that the only photos he put up on Facebook had to do with that film and our stay in Germany. That year the festival dedicated its annual retrospective to movies filmed in 70 mm, and it was in that way we were able to enjoy West Side Story as never before. Musicals were in a category all of their own for Joaquín. Life came to a standstill every time he would escape to New York or London to see one, or on the day of the Tony awards.
He felt the same way about musical motion pictures, with directors like Busby Berkeley, full of splendid choreographies, or Stanley Donen and Jacques Demy, alongside actors like Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and his favorite, Julie Andrews. These musicals formed the real Olympus of his enormously diverse film collection (where Mexican cinema was always present) that he shared throughout the country, as if he were Rosaura in Río Escondido (Hidden River), a devoted teacher communicating his enthusiasm and passion for cinema to hundreds of his students.
I can recall many memorable trips with him, but my fondest is the time we stayed together in Cannes. We shared a room and he put up with my terrible snoring, which automatically made him one of my best friends for life. We witnessed our first digital screenings there in 2006, unable to believe how perfect they were, and we finished off some nights in Zanzibar, where years before Rock Hudson also had a few drinks. We stayed in his hometown of Durango, invited by Juan Antonio de la Riva, during the height of the swine flu, and I had the privilege of walking with him through the streets where the abandoned movie theaters of his childhood still stood.
Few people were as busy as he was; it was not unusual for him to eat at his office in Holbein and call any time of day to talk about some film, ask for a phone number, comment on an adventure that occurred the night before or the weekend premiere. After arriving from Cannes, his suitcases had not even gone through customs before we were talking on the phone and I listened enthralled at his overview of what he experienced there, and of the plays he was able to see in London. There was no respite or schedule for our talks–he knew how to make every moment of life interesting and worthwhile, telling a funny anecdote which always made us explode into laughter, in spite of the seriousness of the matter at hand. I generally do not like it when people talk about films or books, but with him everything sounded so new and unique that you didn’t want to miss any of his comments.
The UNAM organized a tribute to him a few days ago, and I can’t imagine what the Gay Film Festival, which he hosted every year with the heroic David Ramón and Mauricio Peña, will be like without him. Now that Julián is editing Quebranto, I can see him making a brief appearance with the person who did us the honor, the same as in Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo, where he appears as the host of a television program. I am comforted knowing that other films that he participated in during the last few months, like La hija de Moctezuma, which Iván Lipkes directed for the greater glory of India María, or Cuatro lunas, by Sergio Tovar Velarde (his last appearance on screen), will soon be released.
It will be impossible to go through the portals of Morelia or enter the Hotel de la Soledad, where we always had adjoining rooms during the festival and had breakfast together or stayed out late at night with the gang, without thinking of him. Joaquín left friends around the world, hundreds.
Daniela recently told me jokingly, that he had one of the busiest date books in the city. I am proud to think that I’m one of his friends and I still cannot believe that he is no longer here. Perhaps for that reason I have not cried. Sometimes I imagine my telephone will ring and that I will hear his voice saying, “Robertito…!” Other times I imagine him in “musical heaven,” if one even exists, where I’m sure he is singing and dancing, like a Fred Astaire with wings, while we, in Chorus Line, one of the movies that won a VG in his notebook, sing along in tune:
Love is never gone.
As we travel on,
Love’s what we’ll remember.