Beyond borders

Guitar hero … Shawn Ashmore stars in <i>Mariachi Gringo</i>.
Guitar hero … Shawn Ashmore stars in Mariachi Gringo.

Pick of the week

It was while filmmaker Tom Gustafson was working as a casting director on Russell Crowe's Master and Commander in Baja, Mexico, in 2001 that he fell in love with the country. Now the New York-based director is opening the seventh Hola Mexico Film Festival with his colourful film Mariachi Gringo, about an American man (played by X-Men's Shawn Ashmore) who moves to Mexico and becomes a mariachi singer.

The film is written by Gustafson's partner, Cory James Krueckeberg, and they went to great pains to keep it authentic. ''We wanted to make sure that we weren't creating a kind of cartoon Mexico,'' Gustafson says. ''A lot of the focus did end up on the music and the food, because that's a big story, but overall we just wanted to make sure we weren't doing anything that didn't feel honest and legit.''

Gustafson says that while a lot of negative press surrounds Mexico, such as immigration issues and drug-gang warfare, that wasn't the story in their film. ''It's about following your dream and not obeying any kind of border, whether it's a personal border or a country one - and I think that's a universal story.''

The festival director, Samuel Douek, says Mariachi Gringo is an ideal opening-night film because of the fresh perspective of a US immigrant entering Mexico. ''It's one film that actually shows Mexico through the eyes of a foreigner; I really like how someone comes with eyes from the outside and starts living this life from the inside,'' Douek says.

Other highlights of the 18-film program include A Better Life - whose lead, Demian Bichir, received an Oscar nomination this year for best actor - and a documentary about the nation's music, Made in Mexico.

There are films that touch on grittier matters, Douek says, but it's not a necessity that tougher subjects are included.

''I look at the quality of the film, the quality of the stories and find the best stories out there … It's all about telling the stories that are being told in Mexico.''


Thursday-November 4, Event Cinemas, George Street,, bookings, standard ticket $18.50, opening-night screening and fiesta $49.

This story Beyond borders first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.