Ambulante: a Mexican fest to be reckoned with

Considering it costs one day's wages to see a film in a commercial theater in Mexico, it's no wonder the country's documentaries are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to nabbing audiences. The country's Ambulante film festival is out to change that, and festival director Elena Fortes explains how.
October 16, 2008

Just in case you’re a docmaker looking to throw a pity party for yourself because you feel your country isn’t doing enough to support docs, take a moment to consider the state of docs in Mexico. There, says Ambulante festival director Elena Fortes (pictured), docs are barely ever shown in commercial theaters, most people dismissively lump them into the same category as short films, and there’s hardly any funding available to support them.

To counter this, Ambulante started over three years ago to exhibit docs and to reach out to audiences that may not be able to go to a commercial theater and pay for a film ticket, which now costs the equivalent of one day’s work at minimum wage ($5).

Organized by the non-profit organization Documental Ambulante, and in collaboration with prodco Canana, theater chain Cinepolis and the Morelia International Film Festival, Ambulante is a traveling doc fest that brings docs to theaters, as well as over 40 additional venues in 16 cities. These extra venues are anything but ordinary – they include museums, schools, cultural centers and even prisons.

Over the summer, Ambulante also held screenings throughout Mexico in places with high concentration of immigrant population before releasing a doc on immigration. ‘We’re looking for alternative ways of outreach, and more original and creative ways that don’t take much money but are actually more effective in reaching out to potential audiences,’ says Fortes.

In addition to screening films, Ambulante hosts several affiliated activities, such as workshops, roundtable discussions and master classes. ‘Ambulante is also about raising awareness of the topics discussed in the films that aren’t being represented in the mass media or by the government,’ says Fortes. ‘It allows people to voice their opinion.’

Of the over 40 docs screened at the most recent installment of the fest, which took place from the beginning of February to the end of April, seven were from Mexico, says Fortes. She predicts that next year’s fest will see that ratio increase. The fact that the Mexican Film Institute is now creating more funding opportunities for docs may help, but Fortes remains realistic. ‘To make a documentary in Mexico is almost for the love of art.’

That hasn’t stopped the festival from taking a stab at global domination. Last year, it expanded and took its Mexican film program to Norway, Cuba and the UK. Next year it will branch out into Greece, Sweden and Morocco, and even try to fly over a filmmaker or two for panel discussions in said places.

Another positive sign in Ambulante’s attempt to expand its brand to encompass all things doc production and exhibition-related in Mexico is Ambulante Distribution, which started this year with five titles from last year’s fest. The two that have been released so far have done very well, says Fortes. ‘If it goes well this year, it will continue next year – it’s an experiment,’ she says.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.