Tucson Cine Mexico gave the Tucson community an opportunity to explore Mexican and culture through the big screen- for free. The event took place from March 22 through March 26 and showed a variety of Mexican films that were hand-picked for the festival.
“Bellas de Noche” was the opening film, a documentary-style work about five of the most popular vedettes, or showgirls, from Mexican culture who saw the pinnacle of their stardom in the 70s and 80s.
The film has received attention and won various film awards, including the Best Documentary award at the Morelia International Film Festival in 2016.
The film followed Olga Breeskin, Lyn May, Princesa Yamal, Rossy Mendoza and Wanda Seux, all some of the most iconic and popular vedettes. Rather than focusing solely on being a historical type of film, “Bellas de Noche” presented the women in their present lives. This is something the director María José Cuevas did intentionally because she had an interest in portraying the humanity of each woman herself, not a memory of what she once was or simply her fame.
While giving a short speech introducing “Bellas de Noche” in English and Spanish, Cuevas told audience members that the film was a rollercoaster of emotions, but what she learned most making it was how to celebrate life.
The film showed the women in all facets of their life today: gleefully dancing at this age in their showgirl outfits, crying, talking about beauty and the fickleness of fame, battling cancer, singing, reminiscing and cherishing the life they have been able to live.
The film received a standing ovation when it concluded, and Cuevas received the Tucson Cine Mexico Jaguar Award for “the most impressive directorial debut.”
She said it was an honor to receive the award and to see the women on the big screen telling their story.
This was followed by a Q&A session where Cuevas spoke about why she wanted to make the film and how the women are today, about a year after the film first premiered.
Cuevas enjoyed the opportunity to show the Tucson community “Bellas de Noche,” and appreciated the turnout. She said in the little time she’s spent in Tucson, she felt it was like home.
“What I want for us to learn is how to celebrate life,” Cuevas said in Spanish. “I want us to keep moving forward. I believe that the secret to life is to know how to reinvent yourself. Life has many stages and we should learn which ones to live to the fullest.”
She said she learned that the women in the film were warriors and she wanted the Tucson community to see that truth as much as she did.
“We should erase all prejudices and be strong and fun and enjoy life like they did,” Cuevas said in Spanish.
Carlos Gutierrez, the co-director of Tucson Cine Mexico and director of Cinema Tropical, believes the Tucson Cine Mexico festival gives Tucson a unique chance to view the many sides of Mexican culture through films like “Bellas de Noche” and the other films that were shown.
“The films that we show are very different,” he said. “Each one is very, very different. So I think they all provide a different perspective on Mexican culture, and Mexican politics and Mexican society. It’s much more complex than mass media in the U.S. represents.”
Gutierrez also said it’s why the films are shown in Harkins Theatre on the south side of Tucson, as it’s a great opportunity to bring in local communities.
“There’s not that many Mexican film festivals in this country and this is the longest one running,” Gutierrez said. “The people in Tucson should be proud to have a festival like this.”
Vicky Westover, the co-director of Tucson Cine Mexico and director of the Hanson Film Institute, said the purpose of the festival was to show the diversity and the “rich variety of style, tone, and genre” found in Mexican cinema.
“Mexicans are able to see their culture on the big screen which doesn’t happen very often for them,” Westover said.
She also said the festival gives people the chance to see films that likely will never be shown again.
“They don’t show ever again in Tucson, some of them don’t show ever again anywhere nearby,” she said.
Westover said she felt strongly that the festival should be free.
“It’s one of the things that allow for the diversity of the audience, because if you go to another film festival, it’s often quite of an elitist thing to go to a film festival and it’s often expensive,” she said.
One of the people who attended the “Bellas de Noche” opening showing was Myrna Seiter, who works in the UA College of Medicine. She found out about Tucson Cine Mexico through an email and brought along some friends she knew were interested in Mexican culture.
She said she was expecting many good films that she wouldn’t otherwise see if it weren’t for the festival.
“There are really good movies and very good filmmakers in Mexico that are not being promoted,” she said. “So I think this film festival does a good job of it.”
Seiter also said that the festival allows people to see Mexicans as the people they are, living life each day like we all do, through the films shown while exploring more of the culture.
“I hope they see us as human beings, you know, and not just somebody that wants to cross the border and take their jobs and rape their women,” she said.
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