The Oscars awarded to “Roma” writer/director Alfonso Cuarón symbolize the undeniable force of a new generation of Mexican filmmakers. In the past six years, five Mexicans have won Best Director awards. But if this is a golden age for Mexican filmmaking, it wouldn’t be the first.
Dr. Charles Ramírez Berg is a professor of media studies in the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio, Television and Film department. His recent book is titled “The Classical Mexican Cinema: The Poetics of the Exceptional Golden Age Films.” Ramírez says a group of filmmakers, often called the “three amigos” – Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Iñárritu – have won five Oscars among them.
He says these directors started their careers in Mexico, working their way up from shooting student films, to television to Mexican feature films, then they went to Hollywood. But they’ve all maintained their Mexican roots.
“The difference with this group is they also connect back to Mexico, so the fact that [Cuarón] went back to Mexico to make ‘Roma,’ for example – he’s never lost that connection,” Ramírez says.
The first golden age of Mexican cinema was between 1935 and about 1960, Ramírez says. Mexico was a hub for film production at the time and exported films all over the world. That’s due, in part, to new technology.
“What happened was the coming of sound,” Ramírez says. “If you look back to the ’20s, Mexican cinema almost went extinct because it could not compete with European cinema and Hollywood cinema at the time. When sound came in … Mexican filmmakers realized, at last, we can do something that nobody else can do.”
By that, Ramírez means Mexican filmmakers could tell unique Mexican stories with Mexican actors, all in Spanish.
“What they were doing was trying to figure out how to make stylistically authentic Mexican cinema – not copy Hollywood but make their own cinema, and that was their quest, and that’s what set them apart,” Ramírez says.
Mexican cinema started to gain international recognition, but Ramírez says Hollywood didn’t take much notice. Mexican filmmakers won some Golden Globes during the era, but he says most of the accolades came from international film festivals.
Ramírez says in the first golden age, Mexican filmmakers stayed in Mexico to continue to develop their craft. But today, filmmaking is a global venture, and the Three Amigos have been able to work in Hollywood as well as in the Mexican film industry.
“They came to Hollywood … without losing their ties to Mexico, and so they’re able to do both,” Ramírez says.
The recent successes of Mexican filmmakers and their films have had a ripple effect in Texas. Ramírez says Robert Rodriguez, the Austin-based filmmaker who has shot films in Mexico and Texas, is trying to develop the next generation of Latino filmmakers.
“He’s hiring as many of those folks as he can just to try and develop that,” Ramírez says.
As for this year’s Academy Awards, Ramírez says he would have liked to see “Roma,” or Spike Lee’s “BlaKkKlansman,” win Best Picture.
“I thought [they] were better films,” he says.
Written by Caroline Covington.