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Celebrating Ambulante

Left to right: Elena Fortes, Director of the Ambulante Festival speaks with Pat Aufderheide and Carolina Koppel, Director of Ambulante Mas AllaIf you want to show docs to people who never watch them, try holding your events outdoors. That’s one of the tips that Elena Fortes, programmer of the renowned Ambulante traveling film festival in Mexico, shared on Nov. 1, at the Katzen Arts Center.

Inaugurated in 2005, the travelling festival was launched by world-famous Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal. In a short video that kicked off the program, Garcia Bernal extolled the festival for its “generous” spirit, for reaching beyond the screen to engage with people, and to communicate the best values of democracy. Fortes stressed the importance of the “army of volunteers” who, in each city, take charge of mounting, hosting and documenting the festival, as well as finding local speakers to conduct discussions.

Fortes showed a short film—an unusual format at the festival, which showcases films from around the world—to demonstrate the range and reach of the festival. The film, Nicolas Peredas’ "EntrevistAmbulantea con la Tierra," or “interview with the earth,” features a young boy whose best friend died while they were collecting cactus to eat. Touching, somber, and thought-provoking, this challenging film was included in an outdoor program targeted at young people.

Fortes’ colleague, Carolina Coppel, runs the Ambulante Mas Allá, or Ambulante Beyond program. In this program, people who otherwise would not have their voices heard learn how to make a film, and make a short film that can be shown in the festival.

Coppel showed "Campo 9," or “Field #9.” This film, made by a Mayan farmer, Carlos Rivero Uicab, documents an intercultural exploration. (Watch the trailer.) Mennonite farmers settled in the territory traditionally farmed by his Mayan family and neighbors with their machetes. With their tractors, trucks, fertilizer feeds and irrigation, the reclusive Mennonites intimidate and appall the Mayans, who fear ecological destruction. The filmmaker, delegated by his community to make contact with the Mennonites, befriended one family, and this foray is touchingly chronicled in Campo 9 .

Ambulante’s entrepreneurial spirit, its continuous reach beyond the traditional art house, and its success in grassroots engagement are all important models  for documentary enthusiasts everywhere.