04 · 28 · 15

A Closer Look at Mexican Experimental Cinema

By: Ma. Cristina Alemán, editora en jefe (@mcristina)

Experimental cinema usually doesn’t reach as broad an audience as commercial or even art-house cinema, and Mexican experimental cinema is no exception. With this in mind, ten years ago, Angélica Portilla Cuevas founded Mex-Parismental, a Latin American film festival in Paris.

{{La invención de Morel}} (2006) by Andrés García Franco.

In an interview with FICM, Portilla Cuevas shared with us the origins of the project, and spoke about the talent of Mexican filmmakers who have been working in the area for more than a decade. Below, you can read the full conversation with Portilla Cuevas and see some videos that she recommended to help us get to know Mexican experimental cinema a little better.

How did Mex-Parismental start? What were its aims?
It started in 2001 as part of a project for my Masters. I had to create a cultural event, and I’d just started to take a class on experimental cinema, which I loved. I asked myself: does this exist in Mexico? So I did some research in Mexico, looking at the film schools, and then finally at the “Centro de la Imagen” (a photography institute in Mexico City) I came across Jesse Lerner (part of the documentary jury at the 1st edition of FICM), who wrote a book that I was looking for at that time – Cine Mexperimental: 60 años de medios de vanguardia en México / Mexperimental Cinema: 60 Years of Avant-Garde Media Arts from Mexico, co-written with Rita González. He introduced me to his students and I also got to know other important people, like Naomi Uman (part of the documentary jury at the 10th edition of FICM), who gave workshops on ‘Handmade Cinema’. When I started, they all told me ‘this has no future’, but over the years it has continued to grow. For example in France there are three distributors of experimental cinema. The distributor I work with (Collective Jeune Cinemá) has been going for more than 40 years, and they even have a festival (Festival des Cinémas Différents de Paris) that is now in its 17th year. I have been following these people for 13 years, always asking them to send me their work. Now, finally, in Mexico they are starting to be recognized.

Mex-Parismental is a very important project. My original idea was to start in Paris, and then move to Mexico, or have things running at the same time, but that didn’t work out. Maybe one of my next projects will be to hold some editions in Mexico next year, or in a couple of years, to show a kind of Mexican cinema that isn’t well-known within Mexico.

VIDEO- Trailer from the 10th Festival des Cinémas Différents de Paris, by the Trinchera Ensamble:

How would you define “Experimental Cinema”?
There’s no definition. For example, the festival run by the Collective Jeune Cinemá doesn’t call it ‘experimental cinema’, but ‘different cinema’, because it can encompass many different things. That is to say, although we work in the same area, and we like experimental cinema, today we have a completely different definition. There are shared elements, such as the experimentation with visuals and sound, but I think it is totally subjective. To explain it better – it is for people to watch first, and then ask questions later.

* A little later Portilla Cuevas added: “When I talk about experimental cinema, I mean it to encompass everything: video, installation art, expanded cinema… everything. It’s really about experimentation with all art forms.”

Do the creators of this kind of work identify themselves as filmmakers, or visual artists? Is there a difference?
There’s no difference. I think it’s based on how the artist started out. I mean, you can be an artist, and then make experimental cinema, or you can be a filmmaker that studied classical cinema at the CUEC (the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos) and then discover experimental cinema. I don’t think it matters.

VIDEO – Juquilita (2004), by Elena Pardo

What distinguishes Mexican and Latin American experimental cinema from the work produced in other parts of the world?
I don’t think there’s a difference, although artists are always inspired by their own context. At first, in Mexico, perhaps they were inspired more by the US and Canada, and in Argentina by European cinema. But now in Mexico ‘found footage’ is all the rage, the re-appropriation of the image is a novelty. That’s the peculiarity of experimental film – what was a novelty for some in the ‘60s and 70’s is now a novelty in Mexico. But really there’s not much difference – perhaps they touch on ‘Latin American’ themes, but only someone from Latin America would notice that. So far there is no “school” of Latin American cinema.

How is Latin American experimental film received in France?
Audiences are always on the lookout for this difference that you mention, then in the end they say ‘oh, it’s not that different’… Still, they really like it, and they want to see more, but there’s just not that much being made.

VIDEO – La virgen Lupita (2000), by Ivonne Fuentes

What effect has the Internet had on experimental cinema?
The Internet changed everyone’s lives, especially for these kinds of filmmakers. For example, for them, it was impossible to see any of the theory they learned put into practice, unless they went to Europe and bought some super expensive DVDs. But, with the Internet, people started uploading videos, and for the formation of experimental filmmakers this was essential. Now there are many more visual references, it’s not just theory. In terms of distribution, the Internet also changed everything. For example, Mex-Parismental plans to be like the Collective Jeune Cinemá, but in Latin American, and we are working on making a website with a catalogue of everything that we’ve made, so that we can get this out directly to festivals.

VIDEO – Sinfonía Insania (2004), by Manuel Trujillo

Finally, Portilla Cuevas recommended a couple of Mexican filmmakers for those who are interested in experimental cinema: Elena Pardo (who has presented two films at FICM), Amaranta Sánchez, Rafael Balboa, Manuel Trujillo, Ivonne Fuentes, Bruno Varela (who has presented eleven films at FICM), Maria José Cuevas, Andrés García Franco (who has presented two films at FICM), Julián Bonequi, Francisco Westendarp and Pedro Jiménez Gurría: as well as others who are better known, like Ricardo Nicaloyevsky and Ximena Cuevas. Portilla Cuevas also mentioned the Trinchera Ensamble, a collective dedicated to audiovisual improvisation who have been working for ten years, and who have created installations for the Centro de Cultura Digital in Mexico City and in the Festival des Cinémas Différents in Paris.

VIDEO – Trinchera Ensamble in Paris, 2006

Portilla Cuevas’ work is a way to get to know a kind of Mexican cinema to which we are not often exposed here in Mexico. Don’t miss the opportunity to see the videos included in this article, or to look for more information about each one of the artists mentioned here. We also recommend that you visit Mex-Parismental’s official website: mex-parismental.blogspot.mx