Short film, you say?

If you know much about your Human Connection Project Team, you’ll probably find this one a bit amusing. Despite our love for a good Leonardo DiCaprio feature or Netflix original series, you can likely count the number of short films we’ve seen on one hand. So how is it that we ended up at half a dozen short film screenings across Mexico City? Carrying projector screens into a juvenile detention center? Waltzing through the doors of Congress? Well, it all started with a cup of coffee…

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Like most of our days in Mexico City, we awoke in search of strong wifi and stronger espresso. The quest took us from our nest in Centro to Casa Cardinal, a hip Roma Norte cafe decorated with industrial fixtures and frequented by “digital nomads” (aka, cheap bastards without a cellular plan) such as ourselves. We were well through our second carafe of siphon coffee when we noticed that an interview was unfolding from a nearby armchair. Kyle was enamored with the sleek, black handycam furnished by a young Mexican man - I with the beautiful, freckled woman occupying the armchair. We were hooked.

For the next 15 minutes, and with a pot of coffee pumping through our systems, we crafted an elaborate introduction to said camera man and freckled woman…that read something like a Dustin Hoffman line from Death of a Salesman. Fortunately, the universe had other plans. Captivated by Día de los Muertos wall ornaments and on her way to a fresh cappuccino, the freckled woman clumsily (prefer: serendipitously) bumped into my chair. This was our first encounter with Charlotte Scott-Wilson, an award winning Scottish short-film director at the center of a two-week festival in Mexico City. 

“A short film director?! Pretty neat,” we thought. Yeah, super neat. Charlotte’s film, Hold On, won best Narrative Film at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, and her 2014 production, After All, was selected for competition at the Palm Springs Shortfest, among others. But we didn’t know this yet. So instead, we politely asked if she’d like to join us for an evening of lucha libre, or professional Mexican wrestling. She obliged.

Masked marauders and Future Shorts: a match

I’m not sure why Charlotte continued to invite us places after that night. Hidden behind the façade of lucha libre masks, we were quite drunk and obnoxious. Perhaps we were a charity case. Regardless, this night marked our first of many spent together, and was also where we first met the Future Shorts MX gang: Jose Luís, Jorge Jure, Pili Alonso, and Octavio Pineda. This cast of dedicated men and women are responsible for Future Shorts’ most robust screening series in the world. They also happen to double as full time legal, banking, and medical professionals - and triple as incredibly generous friends.

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Future Shorts is Secret Cinema’s short film appendage designed to deliver motion pictures to the masses. The London-based company selects a handful of films from hundreds of submissions to package into it’s 90-minute seasonal program, which can be bought by anyone, and screened anywhere, at anytime. The premise relies on a conviction that short film should be a community experience - to be shared with fellow film nerds and curious strangers alike; to be shown in basements, living rooms, speakeasies, and half-built homes.

Joining Charlotte from the UK was Future Shorts front-woman, Amy Hemmer. Amy was on assignment from London to see the Future Shorts production in Mexico City, because, well, no one does it like the Mexicans. As Amy will admit, most Future Shorts screenings are modest. But with a package that only contains 90 minutes of content, what is to be expected? According to Jose Luís and the Future Shorts MX gang, a lot.


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Success en gratis

For the fourth consecutive season, the Mexico City team has managed to stretch the 90-minute package into 10 screenings over 11 days. Although the content of each screening hardly varies, the purpose is distinct: an event at Biergarten Mercado Roma is all about promotion and partnership; a showing at the Nelson Mandela Cultural Center, complete with director Q&A, is all about satisfying local film enthusiasts; 90 minutes at the Congress building is all about securing funding for the future of Mexican film; an afternoon at a juvenile detention center is all about humanizing inauspicious circumstances; and a 600-person gathering at Parque Lincoln is all about building community.

The Future Shorts MX team puts on the festival en gratis. Their motivation is born from a thirst for good film that is only outdone by a belief in Mexican ingenuity. To Jose Luís, Mexico City is a simmering pot of potential filmmakers without a spoon to stir. His goal is not just to instill a culture of film, but to nurture a generation of directors, producers, and screenwriters. His pitch at the Congress building, to ambassadors and elected officials, was that Mexico City has too much young talent, too much creative spirit not to have a premiere film industry. With funding and direction, Jose claims, Mexico could export film like its North American and European counterparts.

Think of your favorite film…

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Enter Charlotte. The Scottish-born, Dutch-educated filmmaker gets nominated, and wins, at major North American festivals. She doesn’t come from an elite upbringing or have industry connections. In fact, she struggled to graduate high school. But with some direction and a lot of hours in front of the silver screen (her favorite film is Dirty Dancing), Charlotte was able to harness her creative spirit, complete a degree in film, and become a permanent fixture of the industry - she’s owned a successful production studio, directed two critically acclaimed short films, and is currently developing a feature. Her involvement with the Future Shorts MX festival did more than legitimize the operation - it served as a line of evidence for Jose’s pitch: with access to film and educational platforms, small market filmmakers can compete on the main stage.

For Charlotte, the power of film is in its universality. We had the opportunity to hear her speak on the subject a number of times, including to a group of convicted Mexican teenagers and a room full of wire-framed-glass-wearing film lovers in Mexico City’s posh Polanco neighborhood. Her message was the same both times: film is a medium that transcends cultural, social, and language barriers. Through visual storytelling, a viewer can connect his or her own life experiences with the director’s edit. Her film, Hold On, is a story about a concert cellist with crippling performance anxiety. But as Charlotte will admit, it’s a bit of a self-reflection about fear, expectations, and coping. She hopes that an audience can absorb her film’s message in their own context.

A look to the future of shorts

Charlotte’s goal is to continue directing film that can illicit emotions from an audience regardless of who they are, or where they come from. And for Amy, this is the perfect tagline for Future Shorts’ evolving mission: to make short film accessible to non-traditional viewers, and to inspire untapped communities of future filmmakers. She wants to make the club…less of a club; the landscape a sea of diverse voices.

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So, armed with 90-minutes of short film, a visionary director, and a cohesive message, the Future Shorts MX team put on one hell of a two-week celebration, complete with challenging discussion, crafty rhetoric, and lots of tequila. The production’s final night was marked by a 600-person gathering at Parque Lincoln, where children, parents, hipsters, and passer-by’s adorned Future Short’s trucker hats and enjoyed an evening full of film. It was redemption for Jose Luís and the gang - one year earlier, they tried to put on the same show at Parque Lincoln, only to leave an audience of 500 enjoying an hour of silent film. This year went off without a hitch.

If our experience with the Future Shorts MX gang is any indication, the future of Mexican film is in good hands. It’s not easy to take on something like the birth of a national film industry. In fact, it’s kind of outrageous. But as we learned, Jose Luís isn’t one to back down from a challenge. He turned us into short film fans, after all.

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*Huge shoutout to Arturo Lamadrid for the beautiful photos of the Future Short events

Kyle Hilken