In an era where films have been diluted to zombies copulating with lukewarm corpses, hot vampires romancing wolves and fire-cracking cars chasing bomb-carrying mafiosos —who die by falling off a building while checking out the hot lady in diminutive clothing as she leaves the strip club— it’s refreshing to find a film festival showcasing inspiring and life-changing content. This super cool film festival is an outdoor, free event touring.
Ambulante Film Festival is the U.S. arm of Ambulante, a nonprofit organization founded in Mexico over 10 years ago by Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Pablo Cruz and Elena Fortes, which focuses on supporting and promoting documentary film as a tool for social and cultural change. This year the festival will present multiple screenings of most films in the program, which represents a diversity of perspectives relating to social justice, music culture and genre driven film.
I sat down with Christine Davila, director of Ambulante California, to learn more about this great initiative.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: Your slogan is “Discover. Share. Transform.” What do you want your audience to discover and share? What do you hope to transform?
Christine Davila: Ambulante is about carving out spaces in our everyday environment (exhibiting documentaries) so that the public at large can literally stumble upon and “discover” diverse storytelling. “Share” speaks to the communal aspect and inclusionary spirit of bringing disparate people to experience something together in open spaces. And “transform” is about the power of documentaries to reflect our realities and inspire us to go off and create change, within society and ourselves.
MF: Most films carry a socio-political theme. Is this a requirement for your film submissions?
CD: It is not; however this year’s program certainly demonstrates relevant and urgent issues: from urban equitable transportation, reproductive rights and women equality in the workplace. There is a lot more social issues-driven documentaries out there as it is a great way to tackle and spark dialogue, but perhaps lesser known is the many genres within documentary cinema. We also seek to expose people to the innovation of documentary filmmaking. We have some very creatively driven and experimental films, as well as music themes and animation: The Nightmare, Made in America, Twinheads, Biscayne World.
MF: Ambulante is part of a non-profit founded in Mexico by Pablo Cruz, Elena Fortes, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, to promote film as a tool for social and cultural change. What changes have you experienced or witnessed as a result of this film festival?
CD: The festival in Mexico has recently celebrated its 10th year, and while I have not been with them since the beginning, I have heard some really awesome stories of young adults who grew up with Ambulante and are now pursuing filmmaking or dedicating their lives to advocating for the arts. I can say that from our first year we witnessed communities take things into their own hands. For instance there is a marginalized homeless resident area in downtown L.A. After our screening there, the neighborhood banded together to start an iPod drive, to distribute to those suffering from a lower quality of life and to regain positive healthy confidence and esteem. Part of screening in diverse and decentralized neighborhoods is to bring awareness to those communities often overlooked. It starts small and then, like a ripple effect, tides shift.
MF: The idea of a touring film festival is fascinating as it reaches a broader audience. Is your audience predominantly Latino?
CD: I know the tour is kind of romantic that way, like a traveling circus or traveling doctor who delivers holistic cures. Although its kind of punk too because Diego and Elena often liken it to a rock music tour of docs, where the documentarians are the rock stars bringing their stories to audiences far and wide. Certainly because of the name, Ambulante, Spanish speakers are more apt to understand the meaning —moving, not confined— and of course if you know our founders and the fact that it was born in Mexico, naturally we appeal to a Latino audience.
That said, we show films from all around the world. In fact it is very important for us to show films from as many corners of the globe as possible. We have films from Ukraine, Austria and Switzerland. Since Ambulante in Mexico offers labs and post-production grants, and given our vibrant connection to Canana, one of the leading Latin American production companies, you can say that we are on the pulse of the most exciting and emerging content in Mexico, South and Central America. It’s funny that once we extended the project across the border and established Ambulante in the U.S., we were immediately labeled as a Latino festival. Nowhere else in the world that Ambulante has traveled to —and we have showcases everywhere— has that come up.
MF: How’s your submission process?
CD: We are watching films year round. We have a team traveling to film festivals and friends we call correspondents who send us recommendations. We have great relationships with key international festivals like International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and the Sheffield International Documentary Festival and, in the U.S., with South by Southwest, True/False and Sundance. Anyone can submit to our open submissions call.
What I love about this project is that we are not inserting ourselves like some imperialistic entity. We are not just programming films randomly, but also rather programming conversations and spaces. I think they call it “creative placemaking.” There is a lot of field engagement that happens long before we begin the production of the tour. I attend neighborhood council meetings, get to know the stakeholders, attend their neighborhood festivals all with the intent of finding what conversations and interests are relevant to them, and then, given the volume of independent documentaries out there, try to find an organic way of curating a film that will speak to them. It doesn’t have to be obvious; in fact it is much more effective when it is a roundabout way or when a film deals with a particular subject from a very specific region because it offers a different departure point with parallels. The more folks we have on the ground doing this kind of engagement and grassroots organizing, the more robust and sustainable Ambulante becomes.
MF: What is your definition of a Latino Rebel?
CD: Not quitting when things get tough. Creative tenacity. Drive. Doing.
Ambulante Film Festival will tour from September 19 to October 4, traveling over 485 square miles up and down California screening 28 films in 21 different public venues, mostly outdoors. For more information visit ambulanteUSA.com.
Follow Marlena Fitzpatrick on Twitter @MarlenaFitz.