Female directors gain voices in Mexico
Women bust into genres typically dominated by men
Mexico’s famed “Tres Amigos” have made a name for themselves in Hollywood and beyond, directing their way to a bevy of Oscars. Less well-known: the emerging wave of female auteurs from Mexico.
The directors range from Patricia Riggen and Issa Lopez, both busy with Hollywood projects and gaining their own international recognition, to women from indigenous communities, such as Maria Sojob, a Tzotzil native, and Elizabeth Pina, of Otomi Hnatho descent. The latter two are making their first documentaries. Also part of this wave: Tatiana Huezo and Alejandra Marquez Abella.
“It’s just marvelous what’s happening now; there are more female directors in features, and even more making short films,” says Maria Novaro, freshly installed head of Mexican Film Institute (Imcine) and who fought against chauvinism early in her directing career. She is best-known for 1991’s uplifting dance drama “Danzon.”
According to the latest findings from Imcine, women from Mexico directed 42 films in 2017, the highest tally since they were first tracked in 2007. Of these, 42 percent were documentaries and 58 percent fiction, an increase of 34 percent and 30 percent respectively, compared with the previous year. Women participated as directors, scriptwriters or producers in 52 percent of the year’s productions.
Novaro, now 67, is also heartened by the growing number of female cinematographers in Mexico today. When she tried directing her first features in the late ’80s, she went up against powerful male-dominated unions that imposed a draconian set of rules for women that obliged her to work with all-male crews and banned female lensers. To skirt these rules, she formed a cooperative and hired a mostly female crew.
But that didn’t protect her from blowback. Novaro alleges that people affiliated with the union damaged “Danzon” during production. “They punished me by deliberately destroying a week’s footage of ‘Danzon’ at the lab with sand,” she recalls nearly three decades later, pointing out that Tatiana Huezo’s documentary “Tempestad” (“Tempest”) represented Mexico in the foreign-language film category of the Academy Awards last year.
there weren’t many other female directors working in Mexico back then.
Riggen and Lopez are leading the pack of today’s female auteurs from Mexico, busting cultural biases to direct traditionally male dominant genres of action, fantasy or horror. Riggen began directing in earnest after moving to the U.S. and is now one of the handful of women of color to break into the so-called boys’ club of network pilots. She recently directed three episodes of Amazon Prime’s
high-octane thriller series “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and three pilots: supernatural thriller “Run for Your Life” for Blumhouse TV, CBS’ Matt Reeves-executive produced suspense thriller “Surveillance” and Fox’s legal drama “Proven Innocent.”
In the latter two pilots, her director of photography/husband, Checco Varese (“It: Chapter Two”), served as the cinematographer, as he has in many of her films, led by “The 33,” the fact-based Chilean miner drama starring Antonio Banderas; faith-based “Miracles From Heaven”; coming-of-age drama “Girl in Progress”; and her Sundance breakout, “Under the Same Moon.”
“As a female director it’s sometimes very hard to find people who believe in you and so it’s been great that I have at least one crew position I don’t have to worry about that much,” Riggen says.
Mexico City-based Lopez started out as a writer of hit comedies skewed toward teens and women.
“It was easier to evolve as a writer or even a producer in chauvinist Mexico,” she notes. It was only after she wrote and shot her own eight-minute short to prove she could direct, that she helmed her first feature, “Side Effects” (Efectos Secundarios). Her next challenge was to break out of rom-coms, which she did with “Tigers Are Not Afraid.”
Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro took notice, with the latter expressing his desire to produce her next film. She is now working on the first draft of the supernatural period film he will produce.
“He’s a man of his word; he’s such a wonderful mentor on both the creative and business side of filmmaking,” she says.
Meanwhile, Lopez has been attached to write and direct two English-language movies: “Three Sundays,” a drama set in the Banda music scene of New York City’s borough of Queens, with Paramount Players, and a still-untitled supernatural revenge thriller.
Huezo, whose evocative documentary “Tempestad” (“Tempest”) represented Mexico in the foreignlanguage film category of the Academy Awards last year, says: “I don’t approach a story thinking that I am a woman and I certainly don’t make films so that they are only seen by women; I have never thought about cinema in this way.”
Earlier in her career, Marquez Abella struggled to be taken seriously as a director. “(Crews)wouldn’t believe I was the director and would point me toward costume design, but now the crew appreciate my quiet style,” she says. “My personal mission is to bring the feminine experience to the fore; we are half of the planet’s population after all!”
She’s now writing “La Triste,” based on her paternal grandmother’s experience immigrating to Chicago. Talks with investors are underway.