Oliver Stone Red Sea
<i>Snowden</i> director Oliver Stone received a tribute at Los Cabos International Film Festival 2016. Courtesy of Los Cabos International Film Festival

The warm sea air hits my face as soon as I exit the Los Cabos International Airport.

I’m greeted by what appears to be a sprawling Mexican block party, full of margarita- and Corona-wielding travelers celebrating their arrival with the cheerful knowledge that their adventures are just beginning.

Many come for Cabo’s world-class sport fishing, fiesta atmosphere, luxurious seaside accommodations and culinary delights. But others, like me, are here for the immersive experience of the fifth annual Los Cabos International Film Festival. I marvel at the massive, centuries-old cardón cacti that dot the desert landscape like giant hands reaching up to grab the perfect blue sky. Our hotel van speeds along the desert highway.

“Is this your first time at the Cabo Film Festival?” I ask a fellow passenger. She tells me she’s on her third, and despite her fear of flying she keeps coming back—for the deal-making, discovery of new talent, and relationships she’s formed, centered on the Los Cabos Meet-Mart, the casual yet effective one-on-one market that took place at the seaside ME Cabo hotel this year.

The festival offers a robust sampling of North American cinema, showcasing U.S., Canadian and Mexican offerings. This year’s films in the main sections included Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (winner of the official competition), Woody Allen’s Café Society, Garth Davis’ Lion and Antonio Campos’ Christine, among others. I particularly enjoyed Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic, a quirky and entertaining challenge to the normative ideas of family, education and tradition. Its message, that we must each navigate our own path to find balance between what makes us happy and societal norms, rang true for me.

And then there were the stars. Italian actress Monica Bellucci was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Wearing a brightly colored pink floral dress and cradling the shiny whale shaped trophy, she spoke of her admiration for Mexico’s culture and tradition, and the power of cinema to bridge cultures. Oliver Stone, who also received a tribute at the festival, was present for the Mexican premiere of Snowden and spoke highly of Mexico’s directorial talent. Another tribute went to Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Silence, Passengers).

Monica Bellucci received a Lifetime Achievement Award at Los Cabos International Film Festival 2016

The nightly galas at the Pabellón Cultural de la República punctuated my progression through the festival. My favorite was the performance of Mexican singer Natalia Lafourcade, who played after we watched the world premiere of Bruno Bancalari and Juan Pablo López-Fonseca’s Hasta la Raíz, an intimate documentary about the making of her latest album. While dancing to her music in the Pabellón, I was struck by how the festival had successfully brought me the profound joy of discovering something new, toppling the walls that separate cultures. I marveled at how many other festival-goers must have found similar delight. MM

Los Cabos International Film Festival 2016 ran November 9-13, 2016. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Winter 2017 issue.

Douglas Jackson is the executive producer of the feature, You Can’t Say No, which will premiere in 2017.