Yucatán’s nascent film industry is waiting for its closeup

3 Mérida filmmakers share their perspectives while dealing with the pandemic

Film production in Yucatán got its start in 1938 with the film “La Golondrina,” which was about Alma Reed, an American journalist who fell in love with the state’s famous governor, Felipe Carrillo Puerto.  

Since that time, film crews have come and gone, but Yucatán remains a bit of a backwater when it comes to movie production. This is not to say there is nothing interesting going on. A small but dedicated community, centered mainly in Mérida, has produced films, television and other content here for decades.

The same locations that bring tourists to the region have also attracted foreign filmmakers. Examples include 2017’s  “Song to Song” starring Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman, as well as the 2020 Netflix production “Chef’s Table,” which highlighted Yucatáns’s famous cochinita pibil and a traditional cook from Yaxunah, Rosalía Chay Chuc

Efraín Conde (center) on the set of “Revolucion de los Godinez.” Photo: courtesy of Efraín Conde

Efraín Conde, a filmmaker from Mérida, said that the film industry in Yucatán is still in what he calls a gestation period.

Conde has worked on projects such as 2019’s “Nuestras Madres,” which won the prestigious Caméra d’Or at the Cannes films festival.

“Up until the beginning of the pandemic I had been lucky to work on up to six projects a year, but things have all but shut down. All we can really do at the moment is write scripts and prepare for when things start up again, but we have no idea when this will end, and that is very concerning,” says Conde. 

Máquina production crew preparing for a day of shooting. Photo courtesy of Rodolfo Hernandez de Anda

Rodolfo Hernandez de Anda, the proprietor of Máquina Producción, shares Conde’s concern but sees that after a three-month complete shutdown, the industry is starting to inch its way back.

“The issue is that COVID-19 has made our work much more difficult and expensive. We are working with skeleton crews and there are tons of new associated costs, such as constant COVID-19 testing and strict sanitary protocols, which sometimes can go as far as to double our production costs.”

Rodolfo’s team now relies heavily on video calls with crew members and producers.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s the way things have to be for now,” Rodolfo says with a sigh.

A filmmaker from Mérida, Mike Villasuso, is now in Los Angeles to further his career. Photo courtesy of Mike Villasuso

Mike Villasuso is a filmmaker from Mérida who is pursuing a career in film in Los Angeles. A lack of investment has prevented Mexico from growing its film industry, he suggests.

“Mexico is not like in California where people see money in film and entertainment,” says Villasuso. “Mexican movies tend to fall into one of two categories. First, you have silly comedies with cheesy titles featuring spoiled rich characters. These are financed with resources coming from the connections of the filmmaker’s rich family. Then you have shoe-string budget independent films that shed light on problems such as corruption or crime. Once in a while, something comes along that breaks the mod, but not often.” 

Villasuso produced the 2014 short animated film “El Maestro y la Flor,” which won Mexico’s top award for film, La Diosa de Plata.

All three said that if filmmaking in Yucatán is to ever flourish, more funding is needed from private investors and organizations such as the Mexican Film Institute.

“Dreaming of a film industry like California’s is so far out of reach that it’s ridiculous, but just look at what other developing countries like India and Nigeria have been able to pull off,” says Villasuso. “Why not Mexico?”

Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.