Fortes and the festival’s director, Christine Davila, explain that the U.S. version – Ambulante California running from September 21 – October 4 at various venues around the Los Angeles area – is a very different type of festival because it actually goes to the people.
The idea came out of a documentary filmed in the Mexican desert about a family trying to survive their day-to-day lives. Out of this came the idea for a traveling festival that would bring the films to the people who actually live in areas represented in the movies.
In Mexico the fest goes for a full three months in music-style tours, but moves in a more unconventional way to connect with a broad range of moviegoers.
“We’ve done screenings in garages, we’ve done screenings in public plazas, we’ve done screenings in bars, and universities, all sorts of places ranging from the multiplexes to makeshift kind of venues,” Fortes explains. “And always bringing the filmmakers and having these interactions with audiences around Mexico.”
Last year organizers also decided to attempt to replicate the festival in the United States, as well as to stage festivals south of the U.S. and Mexican borders in El Salvador and Colombia.
“We call it a tour because we also didn’t want it to feel like Mexico’s international film festival.
In partnership with community organizations, the aim of the Ambulante is to activate unique, itinerant exhibition spaces to present stories that reflect communities’ diverse heritage, while enhancing cross-cultural appreciation of other viewpoints and bridging the gap of accessibility of innovative documentary cinema.
Fortes says the name fits very well to the festival, since the word ambulante refers to transitory things, but specifically in Mexico it is also used to describe street vendors who are always on the move.
One of the festivals headliners is the documentary Bronx Obama, which documents the rise of Louis Ortiz, an unemployed Puerto Rican father from the Bronx who happens to closely resemble the president of the United States and ends up becoming a successful impersonator of Barack Obama.
“Bronx Obama is about a Puerto Rican in the Bronx who looks so much like President Obama. And the movie follows him as he realizes that this might be his meal ticket, for lack of a better word,” Davila explains.
Filmmaker Ryan Murdock’s debut feature film covers Ortiz’s transformation during Obama’s first term and the 2012 election season. It also reveals a host of new characters; a manager who pushes Louis hard to “become Obama,” a seasoned “Bill Clinton” who dispenses advice, and a hard-working “Mitt Romney” who bets it all on his newfound career.
According to Davila, Ortiz also attends major screenings of the movie, as do the filmmakers behind the project. Interestingly, she says a lot of people who are not big fans of Obama actually vent at Ortiz and sort of use him as a punching bag for various policies they disagree with.
Click here for more information and to learn more about the films screening at Ambulante California.
Elena Fortes is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Ambulante. Elena has also been part of the programming team for the Morelia International Film Festival since 2007 and has served in numerous festival juries, including Hot Docs, Silverdocs, Sheffield Docfest, Dokufest, PlusCamerimage, RIDM, and Documenta Madrid. She specializes in different aspects of creative documentary, including curation, exhibition, distribution, film festivals, and production. Elena graduated with a B.A Magna Cum Laude in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003.
Christine Dávila is the Director of Ambulante California, the recent U.S. expansion of the traveling documentary film festival. She has been a Programming Associate for Sundance Film Festival since 2008. Other programming experience includes LA Film Fest, San Francisco International Film Festival and San Antonio’s CineFestival, as well as an indie film series for LA’s Downtown Independent Theater. A champion of up and coming Latino talent, Davila tracks filmmakers and the festival scene on her blogchicanafromchicago.com, and is a contributor to Indiewire’s LatinoBuzz column. She curates a collection of films on streaming platform, Seed & Spark, under the conversation “Mas American”.