It’s movie night, in the starlight

Times Staff Writers

Racked by corruption, poverty, ethnic inequality and violent drug trafficking, Mexico certainly has no shortage of subject matter for documentary films. Nor does it lack a pool of talented young documentary filmmakers.

What it needs is more financial support for documentary production, and possibly a jolt of Hollywood-grade star power. That’s where Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, two of Mexico’s most bankable young actors, think they can help.

Through April 6, a whirlwind tour of documentary film screenings titled “Ambulante” is taking place in 15 cities across the country, including Cuernavaca, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Oaxaca, Merida and Monterrey. Twelve of the documentaries were made by Mexican directors, and seven by non-Mexicans.


“Ambulante” is the creative offspring of Garcia Bernal, the star of such international hit films as “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and “The Crime of Father Amaro,” and his friend Luna, who co-starred in “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and has since gone on to work with the likes of Tom Hanks.

The purpose of “Ambulante,” the actors said at a recent press conference here, is to promote more documentary filmmaking and viewing, and to give Mexicans living outside the nation’s capital a chance to see quality documentaries, which often are limited to art-house theaters and cultural television channels.

The festival is being sponsored by the Cinepolis movie theater chain and other unnamed private patrons. Part of the proceeds from the tour, which began earlier in February, will be used to help finance documentary film projects in which neither actor will be involved.

“ ‘Ambulante’ was born of the love that we have, the longing that we have that the documentary would have its own space, that young people can see these works that we love, and for the necessity of there being cinema that makes you think, that provokes debate and in which you see yourself reflected,” Luna said.

Garcia Bernal told reporters that he and Luna have a personal as well as a professional stake in promoting more quality documentary filmmaking in Mexico. “Our careers were born here, we live here, we want to see better movies,” he said.

Some of the films that will be shown in “Ambulante” were made several years ago, a sign of the relative paucity of Mexican documentary making. Among the Mexican titles in the festival are “Toro Negro” by Carlos Armella and Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, “Tropico de Cancer” by Eugenio Polgovsky, “Ninos de la Calle” by Eva Aridjis and “La Sierra” by Margarita Martinez and Scott Dalton. Several of these films deal unflinchingly with the hardships and inequities of contemporary Mexican life. Polgovsky’s 53-minute film looks at families who live in the desert regions of San Luis Potosi and survive by hunting and selling live and dead animals. “Ninos de la Calle” offers a disturbing, intimate look at Mexico City’s street children, many of them drug addicts, who face daily perils in one of the world’s most dangerous capitals.

The foreign-made documentaries include “The Corporation” by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan and “Farmingville” by Catherine Tambini and Carlos Sandoval, the latter of which looks at the tensions generated between Mexican migrant workers and residents of the titular Long Island community.

Several directors will be on hand for the film screenings, which will take place in the regional centers of Puebla, Veracruz, Metepec, Ciudad Juarez, Villahermosa, Cancun, Morelia and Leon, as well as the Mexican capital. Some screenings will be held in the regions where the films were made.

The two actors said the idea for a touring documentary festival began with their decision to give support to Polgovsky’s “Tropico de Cancer” after it was shown at the Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia in the state of Michoacan, which has promoted documentaries through its programming. All the documentaries in “Ambulante” have won prizes at Morelia’s and other festivals.

Daniela Michel, the Morelia festival’s director, said at the press conference that “Ambulante” is “a platform for supporting documentary culture.” “It has been said that there is no audience in Mexico for this genre, but clearly there is a public and an interest in documentaries,” she said. “And with this genre, we want to show that it can succeed in other regions of the country, to promote discussion.”

Luna said that while he and Garcia Bernal have “many plans to direct our own documentary,” they won’t be using any of the resources for “Ambulante” to do so.

“The purpose of this project isn’t so that Gael and Diego can crystallize their own projects,” Luna said. “It’s because we need to have the people see documentaries that are made in Mexico, that have won many outside prizes. Also, we believe that the documentary is a great chance to find your own voice.”


Sanchez reported from Mexico City and Johnson from Buenos Aires.