| MEXICO CITY, March 3
MEXICO CITY, March 3 As Mexico basks in the glow
of its first best director Oscar for Alfonso Cuaron and his
blockbuster film "Gravity," a new generation of homegrown
filmmakers wonders if the magic of the golden statuette will rub
off on them.
Cuaron's 3D space thriller scooped seven Oscars, the most of
any film on Sunday, and was lauded for groundbreaking special
effects conveying space and weightlessness, though it lost the
best picture award to drama "12 Years a Slave."
The movie, which stars Sandra Bullock as an astronaut cut
loose from her space shuttle, has already earned $700 million at
the worldwide box office and Cuaron's win is the first best
director Oscar for a Latin American.
However, the 52-year-old Cuaron has spent most of his career
outside Mexico, after he struggled to raise financing for
projects back home, and fellow leading directors Guillermo Del
Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu also both moved abroad.
Back in his homeland, a new generation of Mexican directors
has been quick to point out Cuaron's work has had little to do
with the domestic industry. "Gravity" was made for an estimated
$100 million by Warner Bros. Pictures, while directors in Mexico
have to scramble to drum up just $2 million for a film.
Many Mexican independent filmmakers have had more commercial
success abroad than in their home country, where filmmakers
complain they can't compete against the big budgets of Hollywood
studios, whose films dominate screens at cinemas.
"The only place where you cannot see Mexican film is in
Mexico," said Ivan Avila Duenas, who debuted his fourth feature
film at the National Autonomous University of Mexico's
International Film Festival, FICUNAM, on Sunday.
Though Cuaron cut his teeth in Mexico, most of his best
known works have been Hollywood-backed projects.
In the 1990s, he left Mexico to work in the United States,
then Britain, and became more known for his movie adaptations of
British authors, including the third installment of J.K.
Rowling's work, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," as
well as P.D. James' dystopian "Children of Men."
Ironically, success abroad enabled Cuaron to direct with
bigger budgets in Mexico, where his 2001 Spanish-language road
trip film "Y Tu Mama Tambien," helped launch the international
careers of actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
When Cuaron scored his first hit in the 1990s, Mexican film
output was anemic, with only 10 or so films a year. Last year
yielded over 100, aided by tax breaks for corporate sponsors and
co-productions between Mexican and foreign companies.
NOT MADE IN MEXICO
Cuaron's fellow expatriates Del Toro and Inarritu, to whom
he paid tribute in his Oscar acceptance speech, have also both
been backed by big U.S. studios.
The fact is not lost on those still working in Mexico.
"These three do not make Mexican film. They do not make
their film in the Mexican system and their themes do not result
from living here in the society where the rest of us live," said
Julian Hernandez, whose brooding, homoerotic films have won
international awards and foreign distribution, but which have
seen little commercial success in conservative Mexico.
"This makes us all happy, to see a Mexican recognized,"
Hernandez said. "But this doesn't mean that it will get any
better for Mexican cinema."
Since the "three amigos" - Cuaron, Del Toro and Inarritu -
rose to international fame, another generation of filmmakers has
matured and won a string of international awards.
But the new crop have struggled to achieve the same level of
box office success and support from Hollywood.
Mexico's art-scene directors have won honors at the world's
top festivals in Cannes, Berlin and Venice, with gritty,
personal visions that mix elements of fiction and documentary.
Mexican drama "Despues de Lucia", or After Lucia, by
writer-director Michel Franco, took the top prize in Cannes Film
Festival's Un Certain Regard category in 2012.
And the minimalist films of festival favorites Carlos
Reygadas and Amat Escalante, who won the best director award in
Cannes last year, star non-actors in fictional tales. Last
month, Alonso Ruizpalacios won Berlin's best first feature award
with his debut "Gueros."
Meanwhile, other directors like Eugenio Polgovsky and Juan
Carlos Rulfo have pushed the boundaries of documentaries.
"The challenge is getting more of these movies actually
distributed and released," said Robert Koehler, a Los
Angeles-based film critic with publication Cinema Scope, who
argued that filmmakers should look at "Gravity" "as the Trojan
horse for importing Mexican cinema into the United States."
After more than a decade of growing critical success, the
local industry is finally scoring some big commercial hits.
Last year saw two box office records for local films, first
with "Nosotros los Nobles" (We Are the Nobles) a comedy that
lampoons Mexico's upper class, that made over $26 million.
It was followed by "Instructions Not Included," which
starred TV comic Eugenio Derbez as an Acapulco playboy forced to
raise a baby dumped on his doorstep.
"Instructions" nearly doubled "Nobles" domestic take and
went on to become the top grossing Spanish-language film in the
United States, with a worldwide take of over $85 million.
Speaking backstage after winning, Cuaron said he hoped his
success would spur more interest in other Mexican filmmakers.
"I don't think there is enough attention paid to Mexican
culture and what is happening in Mexico," he said.
(Reporting by Michael O'Boyle, Julia Symmes Cobb, Alexandra
Alper and Liz Diaz; Editing by Simon Gardner and Eric Walsh)