Mexico’s largest documentary film festival, Ambulante, will be expanding to California this September. After nine years of taking hundreds of documentaries to Mexican cities large and small, Ambulante will now cross the border in search of new vibrant communities.
This week, Ambulante directors announced their expansion in the same place they first launched back in 2006 — the Sundance Film Festival. They said the first screenings will take place in the greater Los Angeles area, under the name of Ambulante California.
“It has been great to come back and now announce an expansion,” said Elena Fortes, Ambulante’s executive director. “We wanted to have a space where we could reach out to a larger film community and Sundance offers that.”
The nonprofit festival founded by the Mexican trio Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, and Pablo Cruz in 2005 aims at sparking social change by bringing non-fiction films to people who otherwise likely wouldn’t see them.
Ambulante has brought documentaries to all sorts of audiences across Mexico, and Fortes said in some ways taking it to such a diverse city as Los Angeles will be a similar experience.
“It’s like a microcosmic of Ambulante Mexico within a city, (celebrating) the diversity of identities and neighborhoods.”
Although the two festivals have their commonalities, film producer Pablo Cruz said moving a Mexican project to California is like starting all over — especially when it comes to finding audiences.
“I’m looking forward to going back to Los Angeles and go to the obvious places like Echo Park and (…) the trendy areas of Los Angeles, where I’m sure we’ll have a good reception. (Also), to go to east L.A. and places where you know documentaries are not something people are accustomed to,” said Cruz. “It’s like evangelizing people in a way, it’s fascinating,” he added.
Ambulante California will hold free screenings every night at parks, museums, high schools, universities and outdoor spaces. The team hopes to create excitement for the festival by staring out with “Cesar’s Last Fast”, a film about the California labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.
The festival's directors said that although they are excited to share with the Latino community, they’re also looking forward to extending the screenings to other neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
“The idea is to be as inclusive as possible, said Christine Davila, Ambulante California’s newly appointed director. “We want to be able to work with all kinds of subcultures and multiethnic communities that traditionally haven’t had the same level of access to documentary culture.”
Organizers explained that the launch of Ambulante California will serve as a pilot program, since they are hoping to develop a framework to make the festival go global.
“Our utopian vision (…) is that we will somehow be able to train people everywhere in order to replicate the festival (…) and not depend on some sort of a centralized structure,” said Fortes.
In the meantime, Mexico’s version of Ambulante kicks off next week in the D.F. It will be screening 106 films in 12 states, with an expected audience of 100,000 people over three months.
Angela M. Santos is a freelance reporter based in Utah.