The Vail Film Festival turned 10 this year, and as a pre-birthday present it received a baby sister. Sean and Scott Cross, co-founders and co-directors of the Vail festival, helped create the inaugural Baja International Film Festival, which took place Nov. 14-17, 2012. And while the Mexican festival can be seen as a coastal counterpart to Vail's mountain event, the Baja bash hit the scene with its own personality intact. Despite the natural symbiosis between the two, both are distinctive events.
"There seems to be a strong connection between Vail and Mexico, and Cabo in particular," Sean Cross explained. "We met quite a few attendees from Colorado who divide their time between Vail and Cabo, or travel to Cabo once or twice a year on their vacations. I think Vail locals who have experienced Cabo often go back, and many people from Cabo love to come to Vail. It's the perfect combination of snow and beach."
Just as in Vail, the Baja event had a mix of screenings, parties and concerts. And also similar to Vail, the setting was a siren song for attendees, who often were lured out of the screening rooms and into the ocean. Snorkeling, boating, beachcombing, pool-lounging and other water-based activities were the norm - sometimes with a drink in hand. Most of the hotels in the area are all-inclusive, so spending a day pool-side is relaxing and affordable.
"People loved the international atmosphere and ability to meet filmmakers and film fans from South America, the U.S. and beyond, in an unparalleled beach setting," Cross said. "Many of the attendees who'd never been to Cabo were surprised at the natural beauty, and the contrast of the desert and beach. For the festival itself, people raved about the quality and diversity of the films, and the nightly parties and amazing settings, as well as the large variety of gourmet food."
The party component
Though there were many celebrities and industry movers and shakers at the festival, one of the biggest stars was the area itself. Instead of having the events sequestered at one or two base lodges/centers, there were activities and parties at a variety of carefully chosen spots. It gave a good overview of Puerto Los Cabos.
Most films were shown at the new convention center, which was built for the 2012 G-20 Mexico summit. Located on a hillside above the town, a wall of windows runs the length of the space, which includes ocean views and "living walls" thick with plants. The closing-night awards dinner was also held at the convention center, and drew the likes of Ed Norton, Matt Dillon, Gael Garcia Bernal and Virginia Madsen and other celebrities.
Several films were shown in Puerto Los Cabos' zocolo, or town square, on a large outdoor screen, for free. Locals filled the seating area and stood in the back, engaged in the film while eating typical food-cart snacks such as fried plantains and piping hot churros. Another outdoor screening, coupled with a filmmaker reception, took place a mile or so away at the Wirikuta Cactus Garden. People were buzzing about the party all weekend.
"Festival guests found themselves in one of the world's largest cactus gardens," said Sean Cross. "The garden was lit throughout, and over 1,000 people gathered to watch a movie on a large outdoor screen, then walked through to an open area with food and drink offered by more than 20 of Cabo's top restaurants."
Another highlight on the party scene was the Art Walk and Cocktail Party, followed by a Hotel Cafe concert that will sound familiar to Vail festival-goers. Afer sunset, people walked a path that wound down a hillside, marked by sculptures and other works of art. At the bottom was the marina, with several yachts at dock in the Sea of Cortez, and a large grassy area replete with booths from several restaurants. People mingled with food and cocktails, or reclined on the many couches studding the lawn. Sara Bareilles, Cary Brothers and other musicians performed.
Knowing Cabo's reputation as a late-night party town, it's no surprise that the parties were an important component. But it was, after all, a film festival. And though an international fest, it really showcased Mexico's filmmaking scene.
"The Mexican film landscape is very different from that in the U.S.," said Sean Cross. "Filmmakers in Mexico are strongly supported by the government and don't rely as heavily on filmgoers to recoup their financing. For this reason, Mexican filmmakers can make films that are more experimental and artistic."
He cites Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna's breakthrough roles in "Y Tu Mama Tambien" as instrumental in bringing Mexico's reputation to the international stage, but it's a style of filmmaking that has been developing for a long time.
For more information on the Baja International Film Festival, visit www.bajafilmfestival.com