Mariana Chenillo: A Brief Introduction

In 2010, Mariana Chenillo was the first female director to have won an Ariel for her opera prima. The award for first film is technically for direction, but is distinct to that of direction. Established in 1947, Ariels are the Mexican film academy awards and a woman has yet to be awarded specifically for direction. There are always hopes that this will change. In the past, there have been many deserving contenders, but there is a current upsurge in the numbers of female directors getting international attention, which may result in a win for a woman.


Chenillo has directed two features to date. Cinco días sin Nora (2009) is about Chenillo’s grandmother’s suicide and the subsequent family fallout. Unexpectedly, it is humorous. Dark humour characterises her work. So, too, does the way women in her films have non-standard and disruptive bodies that present challenges to the social constructions of wellness and women’s agency.

As well as Cinco días sin Nora and Paraíso: ¿Cuánto pesa el amor? (2013), Mariana Chenillo’s recent short film work gives an insight into her idiosyncratic position in Mexican film. In 2010 she made two shorts that formed part of anthology films: “La tienda de raya” [company store] made in response to the commemoration of the 1910 Revolution, Revolución [Revolution]*, produced by Canana; and “Amor a primera vista” [Love at first sight], distributed as the anthology film, Sucedió en un dia [It happened one day], and was part of the Primer Rally Malayerba PRO challenge asking ten directors to make a short in twenty-four hours. In Revolución her work sits alongside names that are well known internationally including, Fernando Eimbcke, Amat Escalante, Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo García, Diego Luna, Gerardo Naranjo, Rodrigo Plá, Carlos Reygadas, and Patricia Riggen. This is an entrepreneurial group who have portfolio careers primarily as actors and/or directors and, more latterly, also known for their work as producers through the arthouse and film festival circuits. Whilst in Sucedió en un dia Chenillo is alongside a group of directors who have had a consistent output and some circulation internationally, but are more embedded in the national film market. These include, Daniel Gruener, Beto Gómez, Julián Hernández, Gustavo Loza, Alejandro Lozano, Issa López, and Ignacio Ortiz. To have created work for both of these anthologies reveals her unusual position amongst contemporary Mexican filmmakers, she is both part of a select group of transnational arthouse filmmakers and embedded in the national film and television industries.

My chapter “Paraíso ¿Cuánto pesa el amor? (2013): Challenging the Neoliberal in Mexican Cinema” will be published in Carolina Rocha and Claudia Sandberg eds., Resisting Neoliberalism: The State of Contemporary Latin American Cinema (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2018).


*I wrote about Revolución in Revolution and Rebellion in Mexican Film.


Further Reading

As well as the hyper-linked citations, I read the following to help me formulate my ideas around the neoliberal in Mexican film:

Couldry, Nick. 2010. Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics After Neoliberalism Los Angeles & London: Sage.

Sánchez Prado, Ignacio. 2014. Screening Neoliberalism. Mexican Cinema 1988-2012 Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.

In addition, I found this text a useful exploration of neoliberalism in reading and academic process:

La Berge, Leigh Claire and Quinn Slobodian. 2017. “Reading for Neoliberalism, Reading like Neoliberals.” American Literary History, vol. 29, no. 3: 602-614.


Access, distribution and research: Marcela Fernández Violante

As part of a project on Latin American women filmmakers (mostly directors and producers) I will be writing about Marcela Fernández Violante. She has been at the centre of Mexican filmmaking since the 1960s. She was one of the generation of first filmmakers who were educated in film school and later she became the director of the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográfico as well as the first female chair of the Mexican guild of screenwriters. You can find a brief bio here from the New York Times, which describes her as “as one of Mexico’s best filmmakers”, there is more detailed information, here, here and here, in Spanish and an open source text which contextualises her work in relation to her contemporaries, here.

Despite being at the forefront of Mexican cinema, having won multiple awards her work is difficult to obtain. One of the few films that can be found is Cananea (1976), an excellent film about a mining strike which was one of the events that led up to the Mexican Revolution. I wrote about it in my book, Revolution and Rebellion in Mexican Film. Some clips and supporting material can be found on YouTube. For example, in this video there is an interview with her and several others involved in the production as well as critical reflections on the political relevance of Cananea. Here are the list of participants and the credits of the makers of this short documentary:







An interview can also be found with Fernández Violante on her work on Misterio (1980), a film that can be purchased in a Mexican chain retailer.

There are three brief interviews to be found, the first in English of her talking about screenwriting in Mexico, the other two are in Spanish: a news segment at a Film Festival in Tuxtla and another is a phone interview accompanied with images.

The lack of detail, analysis of her work, and even access to her films is frustrating given that she is recognised as an influential and important filmmaker. It is a zero sum game, which means that: her work is not seen; she is occasionally interviewed, albeit mostly for her assessment of the industry; and her films are not getting the attention they deserve because of lack of distribution, therefore,her work is in danger of being ignored and her role will be read as solely one of mentor and teacher, but not creator.

In this era where there is much talk of ready access to all materials and information, the inability to source a renowned filmmaker’s work is deeply frustrating. The lack of access to such films has profound implications in terms of who and what gets studied on University curricula, and who those who acts as the cultural curators of cinema can study. It’s not that we academics are lazy. We have limited resources (time, finance, energy) to constantly chase up all of those whose work is out of distribution, inaccessible and unavailable. Sometimes it’s an impossible task. The most frequent conversation I have with other Latin American cinema specialists is, “how do you access material?”, and often we are not talking about secondary sources, it’s the primary texts that are hard to find. The response is often generous in its honesty, frequently a story of navigating a way through particular conditions, and sometimes, an account of pure happenstance.

If we are only studying what is readily available internationally, transnational corporations become the gatekeepers of knowledge. Here, I want to emphasise that those films that do get international distribution deserve attention, and those who study them are not taking an easy option. It is important work. But, it is also vital that other films and filmmakers, -the hard to locate, the ones with minimal distribution, the other key figures who have not made films that the international marketplace is interested in – must be studied.

In the meantime, if anyone can suggest to me sources where I can get Fernández Violante’s films, I would love to know.