Hola Mexico Film Festival’s Samuel Douek talks festivals and Mexican stereotypes
An angry Mexican with a thick black moustache and a Marriachi uniform of sorts strides into a bar. The camera focuses on his destabilizing eyes and zooms into his face. Down at each end-tip of the villain’s long-hanging facial hair-handles, are two teeny-tiny guns (made possible thanks to the wonders of CGI).
With a piercing, dangerous gaze over at the ‘Mexican cliché’s’ at the bar, the walking embodiment of a ‘Mexican cliché’ shoots down the stereotypes around him.
The villain-cum-hero blows the smoke from each gun – one hanging left and the other right of his face on his moustache. “Why am I angry?” he asks. “Because I am Meh-i-hano. And Mexico is much more than just clichés.”
And so the message of the Hola Mexico Film Festival trailer is revealed: Mexico is not just sombreros, tequila and bad westerns. According to the director of the film festival, currently travelling around Australia, it’s a cultural mecca of rich modern day stories borne often – but not always – from ancient traditions.
“We want people to learn more about Mexico than just the clichés,” says the festival’s founder, Samuel Douek.
“We’ve brought a variety of films to the festival that deliver that message. Every film has a different message. If you combine all of them all, you will definitely learn about Mexico.”
Currently showing at Sydney’s George Street Event cinemas and yet to visit Adelaide and Perth, the Hola Mexico Film Festival aims to deliver audiences the best Mexican action films, dramas, comedies and real stories that are changing the culture, and making its people reflect on life.
But Douek’s goal is more than just showing films. He believes that movies can transcend cultural boundaries and clichés; encourage audiences to challenge stereotypes and see the ‘real Mexico’, as it is day-to-day. Hence the festival theme, ‘Adios Clichés’.
“If you are Australian, I’m sure you realise that a lot of people think of Australians in terms of clichés. But you want people to have a better impression of what it means to be Australian. And so, there is more to Mexico than just its clichés. It is a modern country full of culture, great food and it also has an ancient culture.
“…If you go to see every film in the festival, you will have a Masters in Mexican culture.”
The Hola Mexico festival has already hit Melbourne and will be in Sydney until Sunday November 4. After that it will travel to Adelaide and Perth, where it finishes on November 15.
“I think this year is one our strongest programs,” Douek comments. “I really like all of the films.”
Douek goes on to explain each movie but I lose him after the pronunciation of the first Spanish title. I later catch up and note the highlights. The opening night selection, which screened last night in Sydney and will open the festival at each city, is the light comedy in English, Mariachi Gringo.
There’s the Mexican documentaries: De Panzazo!, which tells of the gross negligence of the country’s education system; and Felix: Autoficciones De Un Traficante, a film that investigates the illegal world of smuggling.
Last of the many films he highlights is Cristiada (also titled For Greater Glory), a 2012 drama and historic epic. Based on the true story of the Cristero War, the film depicts the rebellion, which arose out of the government’s persecution of the Catholic Church in the early 20s. It’s said to be jam packed with great special effects and although filmed in Mexico, the dialogue is in English.
“Come and see an amazing mix of films that you have never seen before and that you may never have the chance to see again,” he says.
“These films are coming from a very sincere and authentic voice. They are great films. They’ve got great actors, great productions, great directors and great stories from a country that’s very important in world of arts.”
The Mexican-born, LA-local Douek has a soft spot for Australia, and of course his motherland. Having lived here for around eight years on and off, he started the film festival back in 2006 in Sydney and its been supported ever since.
“There were plenty of Mexican stories and Mexican films – really good Mexican films but back then none of them were coming out in Australia,” Douek says.
He adds that he just wanted to do something he was passionate about. And, to his luck, “the stars just aligned” and the annual tradition of the Hola Mexico Film Festival began.
“The opening night of the first festival was really amazing because it was the first time a Mexican film festival event had happened here in Australia. They were really good films – and we were very excited. The challenge for us [since] is to keep bringing good films to the festival.”
Now in George Street’s Events Cinemas, the festival was first held at Paddington’s Chauvel in Sydney. “In some ways, it has grown. It now goes to more cities – six cities. And it’s also operating in the US.
“But it’s really hard to organise a festival when you are so far way. We need to concentrate our efforts. Programming-wise, we do amazing and I am very happy with it. But it’s hard when you are not here to talk about the festival. And a festival is about communities and support, and word of mouth.”
But, he insists, the show will go on for many more years to come. “I think as long as people come and support us like yesterday, and the sponsors are happy then it will keep happening and "as long as we deliver good films”.
Samuel Douek introducing the festival's opening night movie, Marriachi Gringo, at Sydney's Event Cinemas on George Street.