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We could say that, throughout the last five years, the The Academy Awards (aka The Oscars) given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been dyed in three colors. Specifically green, white and red; pigments that stain the three strips of the Mexican flag which has marked the nationality of the three filmmakers who have won four of the last five Oscars for the best director.
This trio of Oscar-winners, known in the industry with the nickname “The three friends”, referring to western led by John Landis, is made up of Alfonso Cuarón, winner in 2014 thanks to Gravity; Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won in 2015 and 2016 for a fantastic and extravagant Birdman and The Revenant; and Guillermo del Toro, the last to be made with the statuette for his impeccable work on the equally splendid The Shape of Water. But this thing is not only in the Oscars: although the Mexicans have won fourteen statues at the Dolby Theater in the last five years, they have also swept away at the Golden Globes, at Cannes, San Sebastián, Berlin and Venice festivals. Mexican filmmakers like Carlos Reygadas, Michel Franco, Alonso Ruizpalacios, David Pablos and Amat Escalante have also been around the world.
Critical and public success, as well as industry: if in 2000 only 12 films were produced in Mexico, 2016 was closed with 162 Mexican productions, as healthy as the ones they had in the glorious 60s. Although not everything is good: this success is not being transformed into national economic benefits. Their problem has two reasons: 1) a treaty of 1993 which unlocked the obligation to show at least 30% of their own films in the cinemas and 2) a population which is reluctant to see Mexican cinema. In this way 90% of the billboard is occupied by American cinema (in Spain, for example, it is 70%) and the majority of viewers only see one or two Mexican films per year and sometimes neither they, the Mexicans, are able to see the Mexicans films acclaimed by the great festivals.
How we got here? Mexico is the fourth country in the world in number of movie tickets sold (only behind China, India and the United States) and is the tenth country with the highest box office takings. For Hollywood it is difficult to grow in China, for the quotas in force in this country; and Indian film industry and culture does not make it easy for the conquest of this territory; so for the Americans the Mexican market is very important.
A kind of cultural exile and making American cinema is the only alternative for the Mexican filmmakers. Cuarón, Iñárritu and Del Toro make an easily exportable film that has been detached from the essence and folklore of their country. These filmmakers who bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the big screen with American stars haven’t directed a Mexican film for an eternity (although Cuarón releases this year a movie that was shot there —for the first time in his career in Hollywood— , Rome).
Are “The Three Friends” not doing Mexican cienma then? At the end, Hollywood is a global village, a commune, a Tower of Babel. Cuarón, Iñárritu and Del Toro already belong to Hollywood, and that’s not bad. Maybe their films do not represent Mexican cinema but they represent the Mexican filmmaker inside them.