by Tom Nguyen
The 8th Annual Hola Mexico Film Festival which showcases the most recent cinema from Mexico opens this Friday, May 13 and runs through Sunday, May 22, in downtown Los Angeles. I had a really enlightening conversation with founder Samuel Douek who gave me a frank, honest insider look at the challenges of putting this festival together and marketing it beyond just the Mexican American community in Los Angeles. As daunting as it is, Douek and his hard-working team have put this festival on 8 years strong and I hope you come out and support it! My top 10 picks follow our interview:
EnClave.LA: What’s the purpose of this festival?
Douek: The Hola Mexico Film Festival is an opportunity for people in Los Angeles and surrounding cities to come to the cinema to watch Mexican films in front of the directors and actors…to bring once a year the top films from the region and be able to do it in a festive atmosphere. When I was young, I used to go to the Italian film festival, the French film festival, all of these events…and I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a Mexican film festival, in LA, which is a very Mexican city.
EnClave.LA: About a month ago, I had noticed on Twitter, a site that features “the best of LA’s culture” had tweeted a top 10 list of best film festivals in Los Angeles, and they didn’t list in a majority Latino city, any Latino film festivals. I just had to tweet them back asking why they omitted Hola Mexico Film Festival and so many others. Latino cinema is still very much under the radar here. Are there other ways, as a community and as a film industry, that we should be doing to increase that visibility?
Douek: We used to advertise with KCRW and book programs in places like Santa Monica, West LA and West Hollywood but when we opened our doors, it was mostly Mexican audiences coming. So we do cater to the Mexican audience because that’s the majority of our audience. We still do our website in English and try to be as bilingual as we can. Unfortunately, I stopped advertising at KCRW because I need to put my dollars where the audience is and also KCRW never gave us any editorials, interviews or anything. And when LA Film Festival comes, KCRW does so many days of like…what films to see, an interview with this person, interview with that person.
It’s hard. Our PR person just posted “I just pitched to media and they said, ‘Oh we have a Spanish newspaper. You should talk to them.’ [We reply] ‘No, we want to talk to you because we want to be featured in your newspaper.’ I’m sure it was LA Times and they said, ‘Send this to Hoy’ which is a Spanish [language] newspaper. So it’s really unfortunate that they’re still thinking for the Hispanics, we have this, and for the non-Hispanics, we have that.
EnClave.LA: Exactly. I fully agree with you which is why my site is very grassroots and we’re all about breaking down those boundaries because with our younger demographic, we’re all multicultural, bi-cultural. I’m a Vietnamese refugee but I’m embedded in the Latino community in Boyle Heights because mi corazon es Latino…the things that interest me, the stories and the people that resonate with me…So I think LA of all cities, this global metropolis, the world comes to LA. We don’t have to check off a box of who we are or some label and we can have that freedom to explore. I think what you’re doing is a great thing, especially with this crazy election season with stereotyping and scapegoating against Mexico.
Douek: As someone was saying…it’s every four years, the same thing.
EnClave.LA: I remember your festival in 2014 when the theme was “Mexico vs Its Bad Image” and using cinema to dispel those negative stereotypes. It’s 2016 and we still need that, and we still need Hola Mexico and we still need your cinema to be here in LA.
Douek: Thank you. That’s the idea. I hope people come out, enjoy, watch the films and learn a few things.
EnClave.LA: What are the highlights for this year that you want people to know about?
Douek: The opening night is always a highlight with a great party and a great film [La Delgada Linea Amarilla] which I think is one of the highlight films of the festival. We have the 4 showcases. We have Diego Luna’s new film [Mr. Pig] that was at Sundance. Chile is a guest country for the first time. That’s something we’ve never done.
People have always asked me with all the Mexican films, where are the Colombians, the Argentinians, the Brazilians. I’m the first one to tell you this city really needs a Latin American film festival. Not a Latino/Chicano film festival because there are those that come and go and it’s a community I unfortunately haven’t been able to tap into very well. I do think there’s amazing films coming out of Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and all these areas with amazing films that never come to LA.
EnClave.LA: That’s a great idea. The Brazilian community here is pretty large and they actually have 2 festivals [HBRFF and LBRFF] but definitely there’s never been a Chilean film festival. They just had the first Central American film festival last year so there’s been some really good steps towards highlighting more cinema from Latin America.
Douek: It’s not easy to put on a film festival. People would think it is but it’s really a hard job and more so if you want to do it on a big scale like Hola Mexico. There’s too many pieces involved and a lot of things to do. It’s not easy so I understand why no one has gone and done another Latino film festival.
EnClave.LA: It’s definitely a labor of love. What have been your main challenges? I have to congratulate you because 8 years is an accomplishment in itself to have this long running festival.
Douek: Thank you! It’s not easy. We need to get a lot of sponsorship money. I have a team of people just working and we need 70 hotel nights, or 80 hotel nights, rent a cinema and a venue for the after party, and you add everything and it gets very expensive. Sponsorship is the only way to get this done.
And the other thing is you need to know your movies and make a good selection of films. That’s also never easy because there are too many films. Some of the good films are waiting to hear from bigger film festivals like Cannes film festival or any film festival that would have a market. If that festival has a market, they need to put that festival ahead of Hola Mexico because I don’t offer them value like France, or Australia, or England. So those market film festivals are very important for films to make money. Our festival is doing other things like getting reviews, audiences and different distributors to come and see the films, which are all in LA and is fine but still, we’re not Cannes or Toronto or Berlin and a lot of Mexican films go there and that’s how they make their money.
Then there are the logistics of bringing a ton of people to a cinema, red carpet, press, transport.
EnClave.LA: One of the films that I really want people to see is “Made In Bangkok” which I saw at the LGBT Center and I could not believe there weren’t more people at the screening. I think they were limited themselves in getting the word out in LA so I really love that people have a second opportunity to see it.
Douek: A brilliant film…the film played here [in LA] already twice I think but I saw it….and I needed very strong documentaries…and I said listen, I don’t care that it’s played twice, our audience is not the same audience that goes to Outfest, so I didn’t mind screening [“Made in Bangkok”]…definitely one of my highlights and such a powerful film.
EnClave.LA: And we talked about how do we reach more people and different audiences…there’s a big Thai community here and it’s a way for them to come and look at this film that shows the intersection between Thailand and Mexico.
Douek: That’s a good idea. We haven’t approached the Thai community but there must be something we can do there.
EnClave.LA: I have some contacts in the Thai community so I’ll let them know. Thank you so much for your time. I’m really excited and your film festival is one of my highlights of the year and I’m really looking forward to attending.
Douek: I appreciate that a lot! Thank you and enjoy the festival please!
The festival features 22 films in 6 categories: Documental, Hola Chile, Hola Niños, México Ahora, Nocturno, Nuevas Voces. Here are my top 10 picks [in order of appearance]. The films screen at Regal LA LIVE and the closing night is at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes.
“La Delgada Línea Amarilla” (“The Thin Yellow Line”) – A comedy road trip movie about a rag-tag team of men tasked with painting a yellow line in a desolate, rural stretch of Mexico. Opening night film.
“El Bosque De Karadima” (“The Chuch of Karadima”) – One of two films from guest country Chile is about one priest’s struggle to uncover the physical and mental abuse at the hands of his mentor, a powerful head of the Chilean church.
“Lucha Mexico” – An insider look at Mexico’s Lucha Libre wrestling, which follows many of the luchadores and their trials and triumphs.
“Los Parecidos” (“The Similars”) – If you’re a fan of the Twilight Zone, you’ll enjoy this horror/sci-fi film about stranded passengers in a bus terminal.
“Made In Bangkok” – Like I said, if there’s one film you’ll see at this festival, make it this one! It’s a touching documentary about Morgana, a Mexican transgender opera singer who tries to win a Thai beauty pageant to pay for her gender reassignment surgery.
“Mr. Pig” – Diego Luna’s latest film is about an ailing pig farmer who loses his farm, sets off on a journey to Mexico to find his pig a home, with the help of his daughter whose life he has been largely absent from. Some reviews have called the film perhaps too melancholy and meandering but I say give the film a chance. One of the showcase films with actor Danny Glover in attendance.
“Elvira, Te Daria Mi Vida Pero La Estoy Usando” (“Elvira, I Would Give You My Life, but I’m Using It”) – This film about a woman searching for her mysteriously disappeared husband has drawn comparisons of director Manolo Caro to Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar.
“A Los Ojos” (“In Your Eyes”) – A story about a social worker’s desperate quest to find help for her son’s degenerative eye condition that leads to organ trafficking of street children.
“Las Elegidas” (“The Chosen Ones”) – A street hustler falls for a young girl he has tricked into prostitution and to free her, he must find another girl to replace her.
“Panoramas” – An intimate inside look at one of Latin America’s top alternative-rock bands, Zoé. It’s the closing film and members of the band will be there!