Ajijic has a number of film professionals who have retired here. First, we consulted a friend who had been a former President of Paramount Pictures for Worldwide Distribution. "Why not? Go for it!" was his simple suggestion. Through Gordon we met Marcella, a retired film distributor and public relations "legend" from Mexico City. She introduced us to Pedro Armendáriz Jr, a popular film and TV star in Mexico. He also encouraged us to take on the challenge since there are few festivals in the country. With the help of Gordon and Marcela and a number of adventurous others in the Anglo and Mexican community, we put a call out for films and screenplays using the internet as our prime communication tool. Within a month through the help of a local network provided we had our website up and running.
The first Ajijic Festival Internacional de Cine was held in November of 1999 with 111 entries from 21 countries. When we began, we thought we would watch films on VHS video in hotel convention rooms or at the small gallery in the village. Hearing of our plans, a local Mexican businessman, funded through family in Chicago, moved up plans to complete a theater complex in the village and rushed construction. The electrical connections were made the day before the Festival was to open. We opened the next night with a smash party and the screening of "Crazy in Alabama," Antonio Banderas' first directing job with his wife Melanie Griffin. Besides feature films, we showed animations, short subjects and documentaries and read screenplays from struggling writers.
The village was wowed. The doubters who said it would never happen had to admit it worked. Many old and new friends had come out to volunteer with assistance with public relations, social events, ticket sales, and the merchandising. In 18 short months we had brought this diverse community together in new ways. What's more, it was not only the Anglo community who joined in, but many in the Mexican community both businesses and individuals who could share in this truly bicultural event.
The Festival continued and grew larger each year for three more years.
Jim was Festival Director and Robin served as the Program Director, responsible for receiving all film entries on videotape. Videotapes went out to the different categories of film (animation, short subjects, documentaries, feature films and screen plays.) With all the information from the film producers, Robin then put together both the printed Festival Program and website each year and scheduled all films for the event. A gruelling task and one that meant balancing many factors and personalities. Jim worked on raising funds, giving press and television interviews to publicize the Festival and generally keeping all aspects of the Festival on track..
At our last Festival in 2002, we had over 230 entries from over 30 different foreign countries and gave out over 25 Awards. But ultimately we had to retire again. While we had wonderful support from the local community, we were unable to attract major commerical sponsors to support the event. Without that support, we could not bring in the film press and celebrities that we needed to take the Festival to a truly international competitive level. Besides, we were wearing ourselves to a frazzle and hadn't been able to travel and really retire.
We had a great time over the four Festivals. One of our invited jurors celebrated the Festival and her experiences in an article she wrote for a film magazine and we saved a few of our photos from the Festival, including one of us with Dancing with the Stars 2008 runner-up, Chilean actor Christian de la Fuente.
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