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The election is contested yet again

A documentary about Mexico's presidential race seeks distribution. Quashing claim is made.

September 07, 2007|Reed Johnson | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY -- In 1988, filmmaker Luís Mandoki left his native Mexico to work in Hollywood because at that time, he says, "it was very difficult to make quality movies in Mexico." Mandoki went on to direct such Hollywood fare as "Angel Eyes" with Jennifer Lopez.

Now Mandoki says one of Hollywood's major players, Warner Bros., is partly responsible for blocking the release of his new documentary about last year's disputed Mexican presidential election. According to Mandoki, the company's Mexican representative feared that parts of the film might displease the heads of Mexico's giant Televisa entertainment network and the powerful Cinépolis movie theater chain, among other interests.

Mandoki says Warner Bros. Mexico backed out of a verbal commitment it had made this summer to distribute the documentary, tentatively titled "La Democracia Simulada" (The Simulated Democracy), through the Mexican company Videocine, which is owned by Televisa, whose chairman and chief executive, Emilio Azcárraga Jean, and executive vice president, Bernardo Gómez, are depicted briefly and unflatteringly in the film.

"Basically, we were closing a deal with Warner for distribution," Mandoki said in a phone interview this week. "Warner Bros. Mexico and Televisa blocked it at the last stage. There were intimidations and threats, and they said at the end they couldn't do it."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, September 15, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Filmmaker's name: An article in the Sept. 7 Calendar section about documentary filmmaker Luis Mandoki misspelled his first name as Luís.

Juan Manuel Borbolla, director of Warner Bros. Mexico, did not respond to repeated phone calls from The Times after previously agreeing to an interview on Wednesday. But in interviews with Mexican newspapers this week, he insisted that Warner Bros. had passed on distributing the documentary purely for business reasons.

A spokeswoman for Warner Bros. corporate offices in Burbank also said that the company's choice not to distribute the film was a business decision. She declined to discuss the matter further on the record.

Fernando Pérez Gavilán, director of Videocine, was quoted in Mexican newspapers as saying that the decision not to distribute the film was made because documentaries generally don't do well at the box office in Mexico. "Luís is doing all this with the eagerness of selling his product to another distributor," Pérez Gavilán said. Asked whether his statements were a strategy for gaining publicity for his film, Mandoki said, "My response would be it's not me who's doing this, it's them who are doing this. We had a distribution deal, we closed it verbally, they backed off."

The documentary deals with the complex and controversial events surrounding last year's presidential contest between the victorious Felipe Calderón of the conservative, pro-business National Action Party and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-leaning populist and former Mexico City mayor known by his initials as "AMLO."

After backtracking through Mexico's history of revolutionary upheavals and political repression, the film recounts last year's campaign and its bitter aftermath, in which López Obrador and his supporters raised accusations of widespread voting fraud, leading to a civil disobedience campaign that continues to this day.

Mandoki already has released a separate documentary, "¿Quien Es el Señor López?" (Who Is Mr. López?), after being given virtually unrestricted access to the then-candidate. Mandoki says that movie has sold 2 million DVD copies in Mexico.

Mandoki and the new film's producer, Federico Arreola, publicized their grievances at a packed Monday morning press conference at a downtown hotel here. From its inception, Arreola said, the documentary had encountered financial challenges due to its political content. "It was very hard to finance this project," he said. "All the world was afraid."

The two men said that Borbolla had responded positively to the film after they showed it to him last July, and that he had agreed to negotiate a distribution contract with their company, Contra el Viento Films. They said that Warner Bros. had offered to make 150 copies of the movie and had planned to open it in Mexico in November.

But Warners began getting cold feet, according to Mandoki and Arreola, after Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, chief executive of the Cinépolis movie chain, the largest cinema chain in Latin America, told Borbolla that he would not exhibit the film because he is a personal friend of President Calderón.

Ramírez could not be reached for an interview. But in a statement issued by Cinépolis, the company disputed the filmmakers' claims. "Cinépolis has not been contacted by any distributor in order to establish an agreement of exhibition about the said material," it read in part.

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