The Evolution of GIFF: Going Back to the 1950s

The Evolution of GIFF: Going Back to the 1950s

The International Film Festival of Guanajuato—GIFF—has changed its dates from July to September 17 through 22. It will have its usual venues this year, but it will have an unusual way of showing the films. People will be able to enjoy the films at drive-in movie theaters—just like good old days. This is what we found out when we spoke to Sarah Hoch Delong, executive director of GIFF.

Looking ahead

In February, Hoch attended Berlinale—the International Film Festival in Berlin—and shared some of her experience there. “The tension was already present, the virus was in Asia, there were visitors from all the countries where there was COVID-19. It felt as if this would be the last festival,” she said.

When she returned to Mexico she started thinking ahead and posited two dates; the first would be the usual date for the festival; the second was in September. She knew they could not cancel, that was not an option and she added, “We didn’t know how complicated it would be. Many festivals have gone online, or were cancelled. Until August and September there will not be large events on the global level.”

In San Miguel the plans are to show at least 40 percent of the program digitally, although it is hoped that by the date of the festival the city—and the world—will be open. “We don’t want thousands of people arriving, but we feel responsible to the service providers who have supported us for 21 years. They are going through difficult times. We need events that do not draw thousands of people, but still the festival films will be distributed and San Miguel will be in the spotlight,” said Hoch.

Health comes first

This year we can’t expect to have massive events with openings in the Jardín, for instance, or long lines to get into a movie theater at midnight. “We’ll have a new normal in schools, houses, businesses, and above all else, at events. We understand clearly that we cannot have massive events,” added Hoch.

It will be imperative that audiences’ health is protected and events are safe. In order to achieve this, GIFF will be working closely with the Health Department which has worked with the festival for several years. “We will have the backing and support in the coordination [of the event] with the Department of Health.” There will have to be face masks, antibacterial gel, and gloves—if necessary—used by food providers.

Drive-ins, picnics, and Nicholas Cage

GIFF is looking for open spaces that would have a capacity of 250-500 cars for the drive-ins. Ideally they would have a concrete floor so that waiters can come by with drinks and snacks, just as it was done in the 1950s. There is also talk of bringing antique cars that could be displayed in public and private spaces. The screen will be LED so that films could be shown during the day.

“I went to the drive-in when I was a little girl. One person would drive and the others were in the back. That’s not the case now. To see various movies one has to be comfortable. The idea is to go with the people you are quarantined with,” said Hoch.

As far as doing a day in the country with picnics, the logistics are still being worked out. They are looking into using golf courses where people would arrive in their cars and flags would be placed to mark parking at appropriate social distances. Those who come could bring their tablecloths and blankets “and you would buy your picnic basket at the entrance.” Movies would be projected on LED screens starting at 3pm.

Some have questioned whether the timing of GIFF might interfere with the Mexican Independence Celebration. Definitely there will be no overlap. The national celebration goes from September 5 to 16 and from September 25 to 27, while the festival will take place from September 18 through 22.

The long awaited Nicholas Cage, who had been scheduled to come for the 2019 GIFF, and canceled, will not be coming this year either. The whole situation surrounding guests is an unknown factor because of the pandemic and the uncertainty about flights, other means of transportation, as well as logistics and health concerns. Regarding other invitees and honored guests, Hoch said, “We are thinking through carefully how to do it in a responsible way. It’s too early to confirm.”


Hoch told us that a lot of the work for the festival is being done from home: “There are no schedules, but there is no lowering of the work rhythm. We have increased our activities.”

She also mentioned that in order for everyone to have access to the movies, various productions are being transmitted online by Filmaglatino, special programming on Channel 4, government web channels, and live streaming on Facebook.

“Every week on Facebook we release a digital book from the library. We have produced 13 books, one per week. They are free, they are available on Amazon for easy reading. Every Wednesday we have a talk with a writer or character from a book. We are now on our fifth book. Salón de la Crítica (Critique Salon) continues every month with film critics. “We give the opportunity to those who wish to write a movie critique and we publish it online. We have been doing this for two years and we continue. Documentaries about identity and belonging continue to go forward in their very busy creation. Since everyone is staying at home we have doubled the workshops and conferences on Facebook, and we meet weekly to revise the projects. They take three workshops per week. They have been quarantined for seven weeks,” said Hoch.

Lastly, she remarked that GIFF is the most interactive Mexican film festival as far as access, themes, critiques, and direction. “We have the largest offerings online of all the festivals in Mexico. We are the first to advance in technology, platforms.”

“We feel that we are indebted to the service providers. They have always supported us. They are going through difficult times. We want to give and support workers during this stage of the reactivation. We want to generate good publicity and continue being a creative center in the universe of culture and art. We have a responsibility to support Sanmiguelenses so they return to their work and help generate a stable situation,” said Sarah Hoch