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What global success of Mexican filmmakers means for the next generation at home
Judy Woodruff: Mexico has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.
The country's celebrated filmmakers have helped raise funds for those who have lost jobs in the industry, one with a rich history and recent remarkable international success.
Jeffrey Brown traveled to Mexico City earlier this year, before the pandemic, and continues his series on Mexico's art scene tonight and the next two nights, as part of our ongoing arts and culture coverage, Canvas.
Jeffrey Brown: An introductory class at one of Mexico's top film schools. This is the renowned Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica, or CCC, in Mexico City.
Today, young students are learning the finer points of camerawork, audio, scripting, scene building. It's a school that keeps enrollment under 200, but faces high demand, due in part to the stunning success and increased international profile of Mexican directors, three in particular, Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who together account for five of the last seven best director awards at the Oscars.
Alfredo Loaeza: There's always the expectation of success.
Jeffrey Brown: Alfredo Loaeza is the director of the CCC.
Alfredo Loaeza: "The Shape of Water," there were like 600 applicants, no? And then the next year, it was like 500. And then Cuaron, and it's like 550. So, sometimes, people are very appealed by the flashes that they think comes with the job.
Jeffrey Brown: But Loaeza, who's also a graduate of this school, is more focused on making sure students find their own voices.
Alfredo Loaeza: Some of them, they do want the expectations. They do want to win an Oscar or want to be recognized in streets or working with champagne or whatever.
Alfredo Loaeza: But some of them are really comfortable with the kind of movies that are made here.
Jeffrey Brown: It's a bit of a paradox, enormous success for Mexican filmmakers, the so-called Three Amigos, but largely achieved after they left Mexico.
And until Cuaron's "Roma," about the life and struggles of a domestic worker in 1970s Mexico City, none of those recent Oscar-winning films were said here.
Fernando Solorzano, one of Mexico's leading film critics, says the success of the Three Amigos led to a renewal of Mexican cinema, but at some cost.
Fernando Solorzano: Many people only think of them when they think of Mexican filmmakers. And there's a new generation, maybe two generations already, of filmmakers that have made good movies that don't have that spotlight.
Jeffrey Brown: There's a thriving film culture here in Mexico City. We met Solorzano at the sprawling Cineteca Nacional, a hub for Mexican and international cinema, where 10 theaters show films that often can't be seen elsewhere.
It's also a shrine to the rich history of filmmaking here, with facilities for delicate restoration and digitization, as well as archive vaults that house thousands of old film reels. It's a reminder of what's called the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, between the 1930s and 1950s, after the bloody revolution, when the nation's film industry produced more than 100 films a year, like Fernando de Fuentes' "Vamonos con Pancho Villa" reaching audiences throughout Mexico and beyond.
But at big box movie theaters around Mexico City, work by Mexican filmmakers can be hard to find.
Fernando Solorzano: Some audiences sometimes, they would rather pay a ticket to see a Hollywood film, because they know that it's going to be entertaining or entertainment. And they're not sure about the Mexican film.
So, that's a thing we have to overcome as audiences.
Jeffrey Brown: Part of the problem, in a country overwhelmed with violence, poverty and corruption, is subject matter.
Fernando Solorzano: Many people reject the fact of going to a movie and watching what they see in the news every night. So, it's hard for people to have a weekend. Like, they want to enjoy.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Fernando Solorzano: And so it's a tough sell.
Jeffrey Brown: Fernanda Valadez, is one filmmaker addressing the serious issues directly. A recent graduate of the CCC, her first feature film, "Identifying Features," won a pair of awards at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
It's a gut-wrenching story about a mother in search of her son, who's disappeared on his way to the U.S.
Valadez acknowledges the challenge of showing films like hers in Mexico, but is firm about their importance.
Fernanda Valadez: It's part of our reality.
Film and art in general can be enjoyable in a way. It's not entertaining, but can still be enjoyable, because you have an emotional connection through art.
Jeffrey Brown: She says the success of the Three Amigos has paved a path for Mexican filmmakers. There's now even an expectation at international film festivals.
Fernanda Valadez: It's like being perhaps an American that goes to the Olympics, and, oh, it's American, so it's a good athlete.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Fernanda Valadez: So, for filmmakers, if you're Mexican, oh, you must be a good filmmaker if you're Mexican.
But then every generation wants to make something different, of course. It's good for us to think about doing films in Mexico. And perhaps our generation can change that.
Jeffrey Brown: Mexico's most famous directors remain active, working on new films, with a new generation already finding its own success.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in Mexico City.
Judy Woodruff: Terrific report.