Mexican Masterpieces

The group behind Tucson Cine Mexico hopes to build on the momentum from last year's festival, which included one film that packed a Harkins Tucson Spectrum 18 theater to capacity—with 200 more people lined up at the door.

It took three different incarnations to get the festival into its current state, and today, the annual festival is offering the community access to films rarely seen in the United States.

"The Tucson audience is a very pampered one," said Carlos Gutierrez, a guest film programmer for Tucson Cine Mexico and the co-founding director of Cinema Tropical, the organization in New York that partners with the UA's Hanson Film Institute and other organizations to produce Tucson Cine Mexico. "Not many cities in this country have direct access to this material. Very few cities have a Mexican festival, and Tucson should be proud."

Through March 6, Tucson theaters will show off the filmmaking prowess of a generation of Mexican cinematographers, a movement started by films such as Amores Perros. The film dubbed the best Mexican film of the last decade will get prime billing during this year's showcase.

"I think what differentiates (Tucson Cine Mexico) from a lot of other festivals is the quality of its programming," Gutierrez said.

Vicky Westover, program director of the film festival and, since 2004, the UA Hanson Film Institute, came to Tucson in 2002 with her husband. Soon, she realized Tucson's potential to show off Mexican cinema.

"With the area, it just made sense," Westover said.

This isn't her first stab at the movie business. She's been programming festivals for years, mainly for Russian immigrants and the African-American community in Baltimore.

"There was a year when I was running the Baltimore Film Forum, and there was a major snowstorm, and people said, 'Surely you are going to cancel your screening tonight.' And I said, 'No, actually, we're not,'" recalled Westover. "And 400 Russian immigrants found their way through the snow—and who knows how they got there, but they got there. They were hungry to see film from their country in their own language."

Westover, who was also the director of the recent Native Eyes Native American film festival, said it's becoming harder to program festivals due to the popularity of the DVD—but she is nonetheless focused on finding films that have entertained audiences from Cannes to Berlin.

All of these Tucson Cine Mexico films are being brought to local movie-goers for a low price: zero.

Tucson Cine Mexico's main sponsors are the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson and the Hanson Film Institute. Cox Communications and Harkins Theatres will also help cover costs.

"We're doing it as something to offer to the community, and to be a part of the cultural landscape of Tucson, and what we would bring in at the box office isn't enough to jeopardize that," Westover said. "If the mission is to provide (films) to the audience to see, and charging diminishes that, it's not worth it."

Westover said her team—including a dozen core members like Gutierrez, plus a handful of student interns—pushed to make short films and documentary films a big part of this year's lineup. For the future, expanding the festival to add screenings in Nogales and searching for more funding to expand its length are on Westover's mind.

What's paramount is focusing on community and diversity.

"For a programmer ... it's important to show that diversity of film," said Gutierrez about this year's Tucson Cine Mexico. "There's a bit for everybody, in terms of narratives and in terms of subject matter. And it's a reflection of Mexico, in terms of its diversity."