It's 1 AM in the lakeside town of Pátzcuaro, Mexico and I am witnessing for the first time a particularly spirited sight that has become something of a legend on the genre festival circuit: Nacho Vigalondo is dancing.
It's the opening night party of
the 6th annual Mórbido Fest (aka El Festival Internacional de Cine Fantástico y de Terror Mórbido), and the Timecrimes director is attempting to balance a drink on his head while he struts his stuff to the delight of party goers. For me, this is where the night ends. It's been a long journey from Los Angeles and it's time to do my job and write; something I've not had the energy to do in nearly 48 hours. But now with a couple shots of mezcal and some good spirited conversation to warm my innards this is where our story truly begins.
If you had asked me at the beginning of the year if I expected to be visiting Mexico, I probably would have said "not likely." My time in L.A. has been spent setting roots, which means house and pet sitting merely to stay in one, relatively same area. That is to say there hasn't been a lot of financial wiggle room for travel of any kind. Two and a half weeks ago that all changed with a simple email from Todd asking who might be available to attend Mórbido. My answer: If I could get my passport in order, then yes, I could do it. Success came smoothly on that front and still buzzed from AFI Fest I left L.A. early Tuesday morning, heading abroad for the first time in five years, going to Mexico for the first time ever, and perhaps most importantly... attending my first film festival outside of the states. I thought "what am I doing? This is a genre fest... I'm not one of the guys at ScreenAnarchy known for his unabashed love of genre, I write about... what do I write about?"
And before I knew it I was in Mexico City. Tired and hungry, there wasn't much sense beyond satisfying those needs and so ten hours of sleep later I found myself on a van heading to Pátzcuaro; one of three such white passenger vans heading across Michoacan's newly paved highways. We traversed through hills and valleys, places that looked distinctly Mexican, for lack of a real description, but also like upstate New York or Bavaria. The van ride was a mix of napping and talking with my fellow passengers. Up front was Tim Luna, German producer of Masks and a short film playing Mórbido, Trip. Up next was Natalie Vegas, an artist who will be presenting an exposition at the fest entitled Tarot de Berlin Noir. Rounding out our crew was SFX sculptor and makeup effects artist Bruce Spaulding Fuller, whose credits range from T2: Judgment Day to Thor, and makeup artist Ana Gabriela Quiñonez. Our talk wavered from Roger Corman productions to the Cecil Hotel and the drowning/suicide of Elisa Lam. It's a strange and wonderful thing to feel both included and alienated all within a few minutes.
Truth be told, I'm more than a little nervous and I am feeling mighty embarrassed about my lack of Spanish. Amidst the brief rest stops (one bathroom doesn't have paper towels but an old lady is selling them for 3 pesos) I get a glimpse of the passengers of the other vans: many faces and names pass by me: Hardware director Richard Stanley, composer Simon Boswell, Agnosia's Eugenio Mira, the director of Here Comes The Devil, Adrián García Bogliano. Names and faces regular ScreenAnarchy readers should be smiling about. Mira is presenting Grand Piano at the fest, and though he isn't in the van, the film's star Elijah Wood is coming too. The sun dips behind clouds. It rains. The sun shines again. The wind sweeps through the valleys. Shadows pass. The afternoon moves on.
Bienvenidos a Pátzcuaro
Excited, relieved, exhausted, we arrive in Pátzcuaro. It's been roughly six hours since we left Mexico City. For those of us in the van (Bruce, Gabriela and myself) who have never been it's pretty clear, pretty quick that this place is magic. Through streets lined with armies of trees, we wind our way up to the center of town. Doing as little research as possible on the place Wikipedia tells me it's considered one of the 100 World Treasure cities listed by the United Nations, and I can see why. The streets are centuries old, some areas of the town dating back to the 1320s. There's a history that is vibrant yet worn and warm here. This place lives. Vendors sell their wares under the deep awnings of buildings. Hip students from the local college Antiguo Colegio Jesuita walk the streets in small cliches, excitedly engaged in conversation. The clouds part and we make a stop at Teatro Emperador, the theater where most of the fest will take place. We get out and stretch. Hugs and handshakes are shared by friends. I stand off to the side, a little overwhelmed and a little amused.
At our hotel, we are guided through the colorful courtyard to our rooms by the Canadian owner. She cites to me that I have the best bathroom in the whole joint. And it's true, or at least it's very big and covered in warm red titles. There's so much color in Mexico. My German roots are reacting badly to that, but I can't help but smile. Finally, something is happening. I feel alive, I feel ready, which is good because I have just a little over an hour to iron my clothes, take a shower and walk down the street for a cocktail party.
The crew from the van cross one of the town's plazas and to another hotel where we are the first to arrive. Five years ago had you seen me at a party of any kind, I'd be the guy in the corner sticking to the one familiar person there like glue. But it's now, and the problem is, these are all new faces. Bright and friendly to be sure. As more folks arrive, it's clear how small of a group we really are, maybe only 30 people. "Good," I say to myself, "you can do this." I briefly introduce myself to Nakata Hideo, The Ring director who is presenting his latest The Complex here, before falling into a conversation with García Bogliano about Amoeba Records, the importance of physical media and soundtracks.
The evening speeds up and I am introduced to perhaps the man I was most curious about during my brief glimpses over the course of our ride... Michael Bartlett, an American wearing a panama hat, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Malcom McDowell. Bartlett is a Juliard trained violinist and violist who played in the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic before switching over to filmmaking. He's presenting his Lynchian thriller The House Of Last Things. Our conversation careens from E.T. and Christ allusions to our unabashed love of Leos Carax's Holy Motors. We soon rope in Eugenio Mira and Elijah Wood and continue on about the possible cuts to Snowpiercer, media literacy and the value of a cinematic lineage, which then leads us to declaring our woes at the striking emptiness of Man Of Steel and the question of whether the cinematic art form will become stagnant or do we have to merely ask that question for such a thing not to happen? Soon enough we are being asked by young bright faces to please head to our vans. It is time to walk the red carpet.
I find myself now sitting next to Sam Zimmerman, managing editor for Fangoria.com, and we quickly realize we're the only international press at the fest, and yes, we're being told to walk the red carpet. As Sam steps out of the van, I can't help but laugh. This. Is. Bizarre. Up ahead Sam is being questioned by a springy little man in devil makeup. A crowd of photographers and audience members look on as Sam makes his way through a greeting and a few amused words. I am next. "No, I don't speak Spanish. I am quite embarrassed about it." The red carpet devil asks if there are any beautiful girls out there I have an eye for. Pardon? I tell him I can't really see because of all the lights, but truth be told I can see fine, and yes, there are a number of beautiful girls. I am then told to pose for the press (hey, wait I am the press!) and then whisked inside to my seat. Earlier in the van, Natale tells us newcomers that the opening ceremony could be hard to follow for those of us who don't speak Spanish.
The Teatro Emperador is a beautifully restored century old theater, with upwards of 400 seats, most of them already filled. I smile and laugh as I watch the rest of the festival guests being introduced via video screens, (I try not to think about a theater full of people seeing me on those screens). Before too long two little people in devil costumes are prancing around the stage backed with fire. The music builds... is that Shostakovitch's 7th being used... the music swoops... and now emerging from the depths of the stage is Satan himself... or well festival director Pablo Guisa Koestinger. Large horns curl atop his forehead, and a pair of some bad-ass wings fan out just as the stage bursts, for a brief moment, into flames. Flames flash before our eyes. Real flames. Yes. The audience erupts in applause. Pablo is outdoing the general boyish antics of Fantastic Fest's Tim League and the bright pink suit of NYAFF's Grady Hendrix by a yard and a half. He is going to be dressing up in different characters for every single show. And what happens next? A magic show.
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking... that seems quaint, or why at a film fest? But the thing about Mórbido is its rather joyous insistence that it is a celebration and gathering of culture and tradition. The local audience is ecstatic and one can see that this is why Mórbido exists. The fest certainly has the fortitude and ability to grow into a powerful entity, but from my sense of things, thus far, it shouldn't and doesn't have to, to be an exciting and relevant destination.
Card tricks, a brush with a scorpion, more flames, more card tricks, and the crowd cheers. I step out into the rain with Tim Luna and Mórbido executive producer Karyna Martinez González. Soon we are whisked off to the opening night party, and once again, we're the first to arrive. Luckily that means we're the first to eat. It's a strange thing to realize you haven't had a meal all day, and you've somehow tricked yourself into thinking that that is okay. Soon enough I am surrounded by many faces -- most new, some familiar. Sam and I chat about the Berlin School and Michael Bartlett expresses his utter amazement that I picked out the Shostakovitch music during the ceremony. I grab a second plate of food with him and that's when we notice Nacho up on the post of the space heater, a white t-shirt wrapped around his waist like a sash. The night is young, but it is cold, and a whole week of Mórbido is calling. Better get some rest. Sam and I walk through the now empty, and thus very ghostly streets of Pátzcuaro. The light is dim and yellow. The cracks in the cobblestones cradle the remnants of the evening showers. We both snap a few photographs. This is most certainly the perfect town for a genre fest.
P.S. I'd like to give a special shout out to our own Andrew Mack. Mack attended Mórbido last year, but was unable to come this year. Each and every post I do from the fest is dedicated to you, Mack. I will do my best to find the largest Lucha Libre mask this town has.
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