Luis Estrada: “All Mexicans are PRI members and it will take 100 years until it leaves our DNA”

The director Luis Estrada (Mexico City, 60 years old) was born and raised in the Churubusco Studios, the mecca of Mexican gold cinema. Son of also director José Estrada, the boy ran around cables, spotlights and sets since he was little. There he saw Luis Buñuel shoot and when he grew up he was an assistant to Arturo Ripstein and Felipe Cazals. “I am a dinosaur and every day I become more aware of it,” he says sitting in the office that he has in the studios. There, in what has always been his home, is the headquarters of Bandidos Films, his production company, with which he makes his films and which is actually himself, a computer, several movie seats, a screen, a table office full of cigarette burns, a coffee pot that fans strong coffee like oil and a bathroom. On the walls hang some posters of his most famous works: Herod’s Law (1999), A wonderful World (2006), Hell (2010) and the perfect dictatorship (2014). In the nooks and crannies of this hideout, books, films and memories of a lifetime dedicated to cinema or “making films”, as he calls it, accumulate.

For something Estrada is one of the most recognized and applauded Mexican directors. His personal brand is to be politically incorrect with an acid, irreverent, provocative and sarcastic tone that raises blisters to power regardless of which party is in government. His films criticize classism, racism, violence and the idiosyncrasies of a country as complex as Mexico. His criticism does not leave anyone indifferent because he shoots at everything and everyone no matter who he is in front of. That has earned him many friends and many enemies, so many that they have even offered him to be a multi-member deputy and senator. “I have done this to all of them” and he sticks out his middle finger. “I make movies. Don’t mix me in your filthy stuff,” says Lenguaraz.

After eight years in silence, the filmmaker announced that he would return to the fray with what he considers his “most ambitious” film, a blockbuster paid for by Netflix, entitled Hurray Mexico! where he portrays the polarization and intolerance that the country is going through in times of the fourth transformation, the political project of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. But one day before the premiere, Estrada blew everything up and opened what he calls “Pandora’s box.”

He fought with Netflix over the exhibition of his film in a handful of movie theaters, he bought the rights to the tape and decided to handle the distribution himself. He assures that with Netflix “the most important studio in the world in terms of production”, he maintains a good relationship and that after the theatrical release, his film can be seen on the platform. Although he also questions the unconscious way in which the film industry is throwing itself into the arms of the entertainment giant because there is little public budget for culture. At the moment the film still does not have a release date.

Estrada lights a cigarette and begins to speak passionately. His ideas pile up on the tip of his tongue and he jumps from one subject to another quickly, as if running out of time. His two beady eyes peek out from above a thick white beard, he gestures with his hands and when the conversation ends he decides to pose with dark glasses in a casual way “a la James Dean”.

Ask. You have denounced that the cultural authorities rejected your film up to five times. Do you think the current government has made it difficult for you to film ¡Que Viva México!?

Response. There is no way for them to justify what they did. There is no way. From any reading it was arbitrary and an act of censorship. Censorship is disguised is not how we understand it in its classic definition. But sabotage is a form of censorship. Boycott is another form of censorship. There are prior and post censorships. There are economic censorships, there are legal censorships, there are censorships of all kinds. The act of censoring is the same, but they cannot have the same level of authoritarianism and impunity.

Q. Why?

R. Because you make it public and then you speak. And you expose them. And it has an effect because it has always backfired on them. There is no act of censorship that does not make the object something more desired.

Q. Have you ever censored yourself about what you say or think?

R. Never. The only thing worse than censorship is self-censorship.

Q. Previous governments tried to prevent them from being released Herod’s Law, Hell Y The Perfect Dictatorship Despite having been made with public money, do you feel that the same thing has happened to you with your latest film?

R. They are different times. After three consecutive rejections by the IMCINE with Zedillo, by dint of kicking in the door, I was able to film Herod’s Law with the support of the Mexican State, not the Government. Because if the difference between Government and State is not understood, then nothing is understood. The Government did not support me, the State supported me, whose obligation is to protect culture and cinema is culture. When I made Hell, in the time of Felipe Calderón -one of the most sinister episodes in this country- and look, we have the history of the PRI… they rejected me in all the calls, until an exceptional call came out for the Bicentennial. Being a full-fledged bastard, I raised the funds and ruined his Bicentennial party. And then, The Perfect Dictatorship it was the fury of Peña Nieto. The EFICine and Televisa itself gave me money, although they later tried to boycott the theatrical release.

Q. Do you think that Mexicans have a hard time laughing at power?

R. No not at all. Black humor has saved us. We have a fantastic tradition of the best cartoon in the world. We come from the tradition of Posada, of Abel Quezada, of Chango García Cabral, of Naranjo, of Helio Flores. We Mexicans have mocked death and all the sons of bitches who have confronted us. The best way to understand this country is through political cartoons.

Q. You found a vein doing political satire in the cinema…

R. Yes, but that vein came only and exclusively from two very important things: the bastard rage to see what was happening in this country and the love for my children. I am a guy who has compelling reasons to do what he does and say what he says because I am very tired of this country.

Q. What do you intend to achieve with your films?

R. Let them help try to make this country a little better. I do not believe in cinema as propaganda. I don’t believe in cinema as a tool. I don’t believe in cinema as a pedagogy for people to understand. I don’t think so, because then it would be a shit to make films to enthrone an ideology, a party or a character.

Q. Let’s talk about your next movie. What it’s like Hurray Mexico!?

R. It is a film about the idiosyncrasies of Mexicans, about why we are the way we are. He doesn’t explain it, but makes a cartoonish portrait. It’s like Diego Rivera’s painting Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda Central. You can spend an hour watching it. It explains how we are, where we come from, who has been important in the history of this country.

Q. And how would Luis Estrada say that Mexicans are?

R. We are very complex. It is almost impossible to define ourselves. But idiosyncrasies exist and we have very particular traits that others do not have. There are good and bad; ugly and handsome; healthy and sick; left and right. But there are idiosyncrasies. Yes, there are things that are quite common in people who grew up, who were born and educated in a country. And when you live in a country for a long time, you start to do things that you didn’t intend to do, but if everyone does them… everyone says: here you can’t pee leaving the bar, but you pee because there are eight others. Hears, stop, I in my five senses would not have done this, but everyone does. Or a policeman stops you and says: “Hey, young man! Look, you’re going to have to accompany us to the corralón, but they already closed, so you’re going to have to pick up your car until Monday and you have to bring two original copies of your bill…” and that’s when you say: “couldn’t we arrange it another way, officer?”.

Q. And would you say that after 70 years of PRI governments, the country also has a political idiosyncrasy?

R. This country is made up of PRI members. We are all PRI members and it will take us 100 years for it to leave our DNA. Fox was a PRI president. Calderón is a PRI president. Peña Nieto, of course, too, and López Obrador is a hard-core PRI member. The most faithful representative of what the PRI thought is. It is being left and right at the same time. He is to be Catholic and agnostic; he is being macho and feminist. Because in the PRI everything fits, but it is an essential part of our idiosyncrasy. My hope with López Obrador was that, perhaps, he could begin to get our PRI culture out of our blood and brain. But it looks like I’m not going to see it. In his actions, in his way of exercising politics and implementing it, he continues to be a PRI member.

Q. Did you vote for López Obrador?

R. Whenever López Obrador has run for a popularly elected position, I have voted for him. Why do I do it? Well, because the others seem more pitiful to me. Because he had a speech that I did buy him. He pointed directly to the power mafia. And he promised me that if he became president, he would do justice against those sons of bitches and he hasn’t done it. He takes photos with them and invites them to dinner at the National Palace.

Q. What repercussions do you think the polarization we are seeing in the streets and on social networks has for Mexico?

R. The problem in this country is that the grays were lost. And when the grays were lost, moderation was lost, intelligence was lost. And above all, tolerance was lost. So we are involved in a war that I don’t know where it will end and I am very scared.

Q. In your film you directly criticize the social programs of the current government, why?

R. Indeed, you have to help the poor and I fully subscribe to it. But between helping the poor and patronage there is a very dangerous nuance. Because it turns out that the old people do not receive something fair, they receive a gift from the president and people call it “the president’s pension”, and it is not the president’s pension because it is given by the State. Once again we return to the problem of the Government and the State. We are all the State, it is not the president.

Q. And do you believe that the State is personified in the president at this moment?

R. The president right now is omnipresent and omnipotent.

Q. And what do you think of that?

R. It seems to me a very dangerous democratic setback. But I don’t think there is anything original or new about it.

Q. Are you afraid that you will not be able to release your film?

R. LOL. I’m afraid I’ll hit them. For my pistols I will take it out as I have taken each of my films. And I see unprecedented success coming.

Q. Why?

R. Because I think that nobody is going to like it and that nobody is going to leave indifferent. Never has a film dared to say what is said in this one about López Obrador. Oh by the way! The president acts in it.

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Luis Estrada: “All Mexicans are PRI members and it will take 100 years until it leaves our DNA”