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Ambulante En Casa Festival Moves Online


Tribeca, Cannes, Venice - this is normally the time that filmmakers and critics are gearing up to attend a myriad of film festivals, find their new favorite indies and predict the award-winning movies of the year. But the coronavirus outbreak has brought these schmoozefests to a screeching halt, canceling some while others figure out how to take their programming online. The documentary festival Ambulante, though, has been successful in showcasing its lineup of more than 60 films. Actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal founded Ambulante 15 years ago. And what was supposed to be a celebratory year has become an online-only event. Diego Luna and the festival's director, Paulina Suarez, join me now from their homes in Mexico City. Welcome.


PAULINA SUAREZ: Thank you, Lulu. It's wonderful to be here talking with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm glad to have you both. I'm going to start with you, Diego.

LUNA: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What went into the decision to have the festival despite these circumstances?

LUNA: Well, I guess surviving.


LUNA: It has become an event that matters in this country, where documentary has been growing, and audiences are growing. And we didn't want it to stop and to say we could live without, you know, because I think that's happening these days. What's staying is what's crucial for your life. And for us, documentaries are part of that very useful tools that we have as citizens to understand what we're going through. So this moment, it's, in fact - deserves a lot of reflection, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Paulina, tell me about the lineup. Who are you most excited about? How has this all been received?

SUAREZ: Well, we've been very excited to be able to show one of the staples of our festival, which is Mexican documentary filmmakers. So you can look forward to seeing documentaries such as "Yermo," by one of our greatest documentary filmmakers, Everardo Gonzalez. You can look forward to seeing the work of our Ambulante Beyond students, which are these incredible short films. You can look forward to seeing films such as "Silence Radio" by Juliana Fanjul, who is a Swiss-Mexican filmmaker. And she made a fascinating portrait of Carmen Aristegui, one of our most prominent journalists here in Mexico. So they cover a wide range of topics, a wide range of approaches and modalities for documentary media.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Diego, how does this actually practically work? I mean, how does this festival take place?

LUNA: Since the beginning, since we started, we said, we're not going to do a film festival that becomes, like, a very exclusive thing. The idea was to travel through Mexico and go through your city and make sure you find the festival, you know. Like, movies go out to find you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hence why it's called Ambulante, which, you know, means moving. Yeah (laughter).

LUNA: Ambulante - exactly. So the event suddenly becomes your event and makes you feel part of a community. That's the amazing thing the team of Ambulante did this year - was thinking in that way because today everyone's streaming stuff. But here, you stream in one day. So if you want to see that movie, you have to make sure you're available to watch it. And other people are making the same effort. And then at night, there is a conversation about the movie where people join, and you have the directors or the characters or experts on the topics talking about it. But there is a sense of the event happening and you having to connect with others, you know? And I think that's a beautiful reminder in these days, you know? Curiosity is going to save us, you know, in many ways.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Paulina, as more festivals go online, you know, there has been some pushback, some filmmakers saying that they might be hesitant with this new model because their films won't be received in the same way they intended, or they can't get the best deal. Did you have trouble convincing filmmakers to sign up for this?

SUAREZ: I think for sure, we tried to convince them by telling them that this wasn't just a streaming service and that we were forcing them to skip the natural cycle of their films and their opportunity to see the films on the big screen. But this is the festival that we could have, given the circumstances. And luckily, a lot of them really understood that it was a vital opportunity to keep the documentary community kind of alive during this critical time.

And just to emphasize, our screenings are free. So they're really available talk to a lot of people. But given the digital divide in Mexico, they aren't available to people that are not connected to the Internet. So this is an audience demographic that we're definitely going to have to come back to with a physical edition of the festival. But this digital edition really gave us the opportunity to stay relevant in the present moment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Diego, I read that your children had COVID-19. They've now recovered. How are they doing?

LUNA: It was scary because it was at the very beginning, you know? So yeah. It was intense because I was coming back from London. So I thought I was the risk. And, suddenly, I arrived. And my daughter had all the symptoms. And I couldn't see them. And having to accept that you can't hug your kids is something we should never be ready for, you know, basically. So it was intense. It was difficult. The first hug tasted like paradise. It was like the best day of my life ever. You know, after 14 days, I could hug them. And now they can come to my house. And so, for them, to be honest, I see them. And, you know, they have this look of - this very wise look, you know? They had to understand this, you know, before everyone else, in a way. And now they're very strong and very happy. And also, they're - yeah. They're able to move around a little more than others.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm glad to hear it. Paulina, just finally, what's getting you through this moment? I mean, this is a hard moment.

SUAREZ: I think, honestly, the team's effort. Like, I see how our team adapted to the circumstances and how they are facing this with immense creativity and energy and commitment and also the way the art community is organizing. You know, the art community is facing unprecedented cuts to the funding. Like, we are really worried and concerned to lose a whole generation of storytellers and filmmakers here in Mexico. So the way they've organized, the way they've created networks, the way we're demanding and the way we are showing signs of solidarity that we haven't in the past, I think, is a sign that that really gives me a lot of hope for the future because it's going to point to new ways of organizing that are going to be inevitable.

LUNA: You know, let me - can I add something to that?


LUNA: You know, we live in a country where inequality is huge, you know? But this pandemic is making us look at each other, you know? It's making us understand who - like, no one's going to be safe until we're all safe. And I don't think this country has ever thought that way. So it's an interesting moment where we need to look at each other and understand what we're part of.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Diego Luna and Paulina Suarez are founder and director of the documentary festival Ambulante. The festival runs online through the end of May. Thank you both very much.

SUAREZ: Gracias, Lulu.

LUNA: Muchas, muchas gracias. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.