The evolution of filmmaking and the development of a cinematic tradition in Mexico has been, like the tumultuous history of Mexico itself, punctuated by periodic declines, crises, and restorations. The following conversation with Francisco Athié concerns the 1990s generation of Mexican filmmakers. The thematic concerns of this generation emphasize gender roles and identity, the recovery of the Mexican past, and contemporary social problems and political conflict, and concentrate mostly on urban dramas for an urban audience.1 Chon Noriega attributes the current success of Mexican filmmakers to their awareness of "global youth culture,"2 while Alfonso Cuaron warns that this "new openness and commercial success could be fleeting."3
Despite the present success, the future of Mexican cinema is uncertain. The major theater chains are foreign-owned, and Mexican audiences largely prefer Hollywood fare. The Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE) is undercapitalized, and national film policy is determined each sexenio by the cultural politics of the government in office and the vagaries of state officials. The impact of television and video productions and the proliferation of VCRs compete with the box office, decreasing the industry's profitability. With the further deployment of satellite and cable systems, attendance in movie theaters will likely decline. How filmmakers and successive future governments in Mexico respond to these developments and the deterritoralizing and homogenizing processes of globalization will determine the industry's decline or restoration.
Among the 1990s generation of Mexican filmmakers is Francisco Athié, whose films are of extraordinary depth and social relevance to the contemporary period, illuminating societal and postmodern concerns distilled from the Mexican specificity. Athié's film Lolo (Mexico, 1993) won the Coral award for best first feature at the Havana Film Festival and a Silver Hugo for best actor at the Chicago Film Festival. His second feature, Fibra Optica (Mexico, 1998), received the first-place prize at the Latin American Film Festival in New York City, and Athié received a Mexican Oscar, the Ariel, for best original screenplay for Fibra Optica in 1999. His third feature, a visually stunning experimental work, Vera (Mexico, 2003), was recently exhibited in Paris and Mexico.
In the interview, Athié distinguishes the current revival of Mexican cinema from the crisis that severely debilitated the film industry during the 1980s. He reflects on the government's support for local production and the distinct ideological orientations and practices of the two major film schools in Mexico. Importantly, while affirming women's contributions, Athié is not convinced by David Maciel's assertion that women "are exerting major influences in all aspects in contemporary [Mexican] filmmaking from directing to acting."4 And with regard to the representation of race, especially Afro-Mexican identity, Athié candidly acknowledges that "Mexico is a racist society," manifest and reproduced, as well, in its cinema.5 Along with these subjects, Athié engages the controversial issues of Latino and Mexican identities, their national and class distinctions, and the essential role of Mexican filmmakers to the restoration of national cinema and identity against the cultural hegemony occasioned by globalization and the "siege by the multinational corporations." Athié concludes the interview musing about Hollywood and his contemporaries Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inârritu. The interview occurred on April 22-23, 2002, during Athié's visit to Bowling Green State University, Ohio.
MM/BP: Let's begin the discussion with your assessment of the Mexican cinema when you first entered film school during the 1980s.
FA: The period of the 1980s was perhaps the nadir for film production in Mexico. Only one or two important films were made each year. The Mexican film director Arturo Ripstein exhibited his film at the San Sebastian Film Festival, but was never invited to Cannes. …