Opening Night at Ambulante with Geoffrey Smith

Posted on February 9, 2009

I’m screening my film THE ENGLISH SURGEON at Ambulante, which begins in Mexico City and then goes onto some 20 towns and cities across Mexico for two months. Using Blu-ray DVDs and digital projectors, the festival organizers show a selection of incredible documentaries from around the world that most people in these communities would never otherwise hear about, let alone see. 

At Hotdocs last April, I met Elena Fortes who runs Ambulante. She is passionate about documentary and has assembled a superb team of people who don't get much sleep for three months each year. It was a real thrill when she told me three weeks ago that THE ENGLISH SURGEON would be the opening night premiere at the festival and they’d fly me out. I had been to Mexico last year for the Expression en Corto Festival but haven’t spent any time in Mexico City. Arriving in the heart of this incredible metropolis, I was immediately struck by its vibrancy and beauty. I realized that I had seen very few images of a world in which some 25 million people call home and that I knew even less about those who lived there. 

The next day I did about four hours of press interviews for the premiere and was struck by how many people really seemed to have embraced the deeper side of the film. I started to feel a strong affinity with the Mexican sense of humor and sensitivity, and this feeling has grown across my five days here. The premiere was very exciting as it was held in a lovely cinema called Cinépolis. Elena's red T-shirted team were everywhere, and given the high level of press interest Ambulante had generated (so crucial in our age of infinite distractions), so many people turned up that they had to open up another screen in the same complex. 

Several margaritas later, I embarked on my well-worn ritual of standing outside the cinema doors waiting for that familiar bass note to signal the rolling of the credits. Like most rituals, it has a comforting feeling to it. The questions I was asked that night were probably the best and most varied I had encountered in over 20 festivals. My reaction to the audience can be as emotional as theirs to the film, and that is a glow I always feel very privileged to experience. Over the next few days there were four other screenings, interviews with press and a wonderful master class with a great bunch of film students. Their questions were simply fantastic. My growing sense of affinity with most things Mexican kept me laughing and I learned a great deal about this fabulous country through a group of very lovely people. 

My heartfelt thanks go to Elena, Roxanne, Meghan, Annaliese, Eva, Amanda, Vanessa, Natalia, Martha, Daniela, Greg and all the people who came along to see the film. What's next? I am writing this blog entry at the local airport as I am about to spend nine days with the Tarahumara Indians in the high Sierra Madre Mountains––three hours north of Mexico City. I have become mildly obsessed with their culture of running huge distances as a form of sacred and cultural expression, and from what I saw at the Anthropological museum yesterday I am set for a most thrilling and beautiful experience. The snow in London seems very far away... 

- Geoffrey Smith, filmmaker of THE ENGLISH SURGEON airing this year on P.O.V. (check local listings)

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