"I came because of Martin Scorsese," Mexican director Amat Escalante said, explaining his reason for accepting a position as member of the jury at the Marrakesh International Film Festival, which will choose the winning Competition film this evening.
Escalante, the winner of the Best Director award at Cannes last season, was delighted that Martin Scorsese, president of the jury, had seen and liked two of his films, and moreover, seemed to know them "in photographic detail," discussing them shot for shot with the younger director here in Marrakech. It was an honor to receive such enthusiastic appraisal from an esteemed veteran like Scorsese, Escalante told us.
"Being on the jury with Scorsese is great," he added. "He is a good listener. He listens openly to our opinions. Listening to him discuss the films, I learn a lot too."
It was also interesting to be on this jury for Escalante because everyone has "their own opinion, their own criteria. A film will touch one jury member for personal reasons, but not another."
What were Escalante's own criteria for choosing a good film?
"I like a film that will take me forwards and keep my interest, make me curious about what will happens next. I like a film with suspense."
In his own films, he noted, he makes an effort "to make exceptional things happen---like people dying"---since "reality can be pretty boring." Escalante's own favorite movies are genre films, like Westerns and horror flicks.
Does it ever get stressful, trying to come up with a consensus with ten people?
"No," laughed Escalante. "It's after all just a movie."
As for trends that Escalante--who has been on five juries in the last couple years---sees in contemporary films, he joked: "Well, there is a lot of vomit. Yellow vomit even."
But on a more serious note, Escalante pointed out that social issues were at the forefront of the films he has seen.
His own masterful film Heli, which earned him Best Director award at Cannes, is the story of vulnerable bystanders getting in the way of a drug cartel in Mexico, with a much discussed graphic torture scene at the climax, including a penis burnt to a crisp. The film, he told us now, has been very appreciated in Mexico, as Mexicans know the reality of which the film speaks.
"Are you as hopeless about the future as your film?" a journalist asked.
"No," Escalante leaned forward. " Everything can change. It can change in Mexico. What is frustrating is that change is not allowed. The media has numbed and stupefied everybody so they will follow governmental orders. Two channels in Mexico basically control the country: control who will run for president, what people are going to buy. Even soap operas deliver messages. For example, now the president wants to privatize gas. So we have a soap opera star talking about how it would be good to sell petrol. If Mexico could be liberated from this media control, that would be a revolution."