Home Screen Features ‘Ollywood – Mexican Cinema

‘Ollywood – Mexican Cinema

In the first of a new feature on film across the world, Michael Gledhill explores the development of Mexican Cinema

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With the increasing potency of Netflix in the film industry and its threats to global cinema, its benefits to some smaller industries is refreshing. The Mexican film industry, which has been faced with a number of peaks and troughs throughout the last century, is now undergoing a rapid pace of growth. Netflix have been investing in Latin America in recent years, totalling 50 notable film productions developing throughout the region, with series such as Diablero being filmed and produced entirely in Mexico. These encompass multiple genres, including 19 stand-up comedy specials, fast paced political dramas such Narcos and 3%. Within these the Mexican film has been one of the most benefitted, with the subsidies allowing arthouse filmmakers to get adventurous and gain global attention. Alongside this, the new Chilhuahua International Film Festival has emerged to supplement those as Guadalajara and Morelia. These developments spotlight Mexico as an exciting film industry to watch in the coming decades.

The Mexican film industry has witnessed exciting momentum before, having its Época de Oro del Cine Mexicano (Golden Age) between the 1930s and 1950, among other less significant highs and lows. This was a time where the most popular film industries such as those in Europe and USA were focused on reflecting and promoting their respective countries in a positive light before, during and after World War Two, often duplicating aspects such as narratives, character types and costumes. Therefore, Mexico was able to capitalise on such a homogenous array of films to produce hundreds of cheap and popular films exploring a variety of genres such as comedy, romance, horror and musicals. Mexico was soon recognised at an international level, exemplified by a number of reputable film studios in Mexico City. This development was catalysed by key directors such as Fernando de Fuentes with films like Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936) and Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1936). Doña Bárbara (1943), with Maria Felix’s renowned performance, broke societal barriers by subverting gender and household stereotypes. Other genres included horror, developed with the precedent set by films such as The Amazing Beast, and the comedy scene developed cult stars such as Germán ‘Tin Tan’ Valdés.

‘The Mexican film industry, dominated by Mexico City, appears to be tied to the growth of interest in arthouse films, streaming services and stories which explore important contemporary issues, such as efforts to explore the lives of domestic workers in the film Roma

Despite the return of other film industries, growth of television, reduction in subsidies and changing tastes leading to a decline of the industry in both the 1960s and then the 1980s, the year 1992 marked a return to growth. Big names such as Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón reinvigorated international scholarly and popular attention which has continued to grow. Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth was nominated for six Oscars in 2008, winning three. Many of these productions shatter the barrier between independent and commercial films, then triumph at international film festivals. However, there is evidence of many films building on the traditions of Época de Oro del Cine Mexicano and therefore creating an industry which can regularly compete with Hollywood’s cinema.

An interesting case study to look at regarding this is the desert state of Chilhuahua, a major filming location for over 25 films since January 2018. Netflix’s recent acquisition of ABQ Studios in Alburqurque reveals the potential that Mexico and the world see in its unique landscape.

The Academy Award Success of Mexican directors, particularly ‘the three amigos’, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Iñárritu, is also notable to demonstrate Mexico’s increasing prominence. For example, Cuarón won Best Director for Gravity in 2013, Iñárritu won Best Picture for Birdman in 2014 then del Toro won Best Director and Best Picture for The Shape of Water in 2018. Since then, Netflix’s Roma has recently faced critical appraisal, among an astounding ten nominations it is the first Spanish-language production to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

The Mexican film industry, dominated by Mexico City, appears to be tied to the growth of interest in arthouse films, streaming services and stories which explore important contemporary issues, such as efforts to explore the lives of domestic workers in the film Roma. Film is becoming increasingly technical, political and niche, paving the way for smaller industries in many countries to attempt comparable success to those much larger. In the next ten years Hollywood may not be the place for local filmmakers to aspire to.

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