Alfonso Cuaron

Cinco de Mayo: 7 Amazing Filmmakers from Mexico


Mexico City is the fourth largest production center in North America (after LA, New York, and Vancouver), and Mexican filmmakers have had great success with their Hollywood films — think “Gravity” and “Birdman” — at recent Academy Awards. For Cinco de Mayo, we celebrate Mexican films and filmmakers of the past and present.

Alfonso Cuarón

Cuarón was the first Latin American to win the Academy Award for Best Director for “Gravity” (2013), which he co-wrote with his son Jonás Cuarón, a filmmaker in his own right. In fact, there are three Cuaróns to watch out for in the film industry, as Carlos Cuarón, Alfonso’s brother, is also a director and screenwriter. The brothers wrote the international hit “Y Tu Mamá Tambien” (2001), a sexy road movie set against a landscape of Mexican society and politics. Cuarón also directed “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004).

Alejandro González Iñárritu

As one of the “Three Amigos of Cinema” along with Alfonso Cuarón and  Guillermo del Toro, Iñárritu enjoys a great reputation at home and abroad. He followed in Cuarón’s footsteps by scooping up the Academy Award for Best Director for “Birdman” (2014), which also won for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.

Guillermo del Toro

Del Toro is famous for his dark and fantastic aesthetic involving imagery from fairytales, Catholicism, and mythology. A Guardian article about the 2008 “Hellboy” sequel quotes del Toro as saying, “I find monstrous things incredibly beautiful, in the way that the most beautiful carvings in Gothic cathedrals are the grotesque carvings. If I were a mason I would be carving gargoyles. I’m absolutely head over heels in love with all these things.” The beautiful “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) won three Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Emilio Fernández

Fernández was a dominant figure in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema (1936-1959). His dark and melodramatic film “María Calendaria” (1944) won the top prize at Cannes and, along with “Flor Silvestre” (1942), starred the prestigious Hollywood actor Dolores del Río and featured cinematography by internationally-acclaimed Gabriel Figueroa. Other celebrated Fernández films were “La Perla” (1945), “Enamorada” (1946), and the American-Mexican production “The Fugitive” (1947), directed with John Ford.

Luis Buñuel


Although this famous surrealist director is Spanish, he spent many years in Mexico, winning for it the Palm d’Or at the 1961 Cannes Festival for “Viridiana.” His Mexican period includes “Los Olvidados” (The Young and the Damned) (1950), a story about impoverished children in Mexico City that launched him back on the international film scene with a Best Director Award at Cannes after several years of disappointment, and “Él,” which did poorly at the time of its release but has since found acclaim.

Michel Franco

Franko’s bullying-themed “After Lucia” won a top prize at Cannes in 2012, where Tim Roth was one of the judges, and persuaded Franco to make “Chronic” with Roth as a male end-of-life caregiver (2015). In a Guardian review, Franco is quoted as saying, “How can we understand life without thinking about dying?”

Gerardo Naranjo

In an article at Reuters celebrating the rebelliousness of today’s young Mexican filmmakers, Naranjo is quoted as saying: “It is important to recognize the mastery of the older generation … Cuarón, Iñárritu, they found a way to protect their projects and that is the hardest thing to do in the United States. The industry finds ways to limit creativity over and over.” After gaining attention from Hollywood studios for his 2011 film “Miss Bala,” he has struck out on an independent path with his forthcoming “Viena and the Fantomes” (2017), starring Dakota Fanning.

Do you have a favorite film or filmmaker from Mexico? Let us know in the comments below, and Happy Cinco de Mayo!

The Moving Master: Deconstructing Children Of Men

Author: William Dickerson, Filmmaking Department, New York Film Academy Los Angeles

While the one-shot master, or oner, is impressive, it’s most impressive when executed in service of the story, not in service of showmanship. Alfonso Cuaron’s famous one-shot master from Children of Men is an example of the former.

In the most extreme sense, a moving camera can delineate the beats of a scene without much, if any, change in the actors’ blocking. A moving camera has the ability to capture a variety of shots within the shot, thereby isolating specific beats solely through the placement of the frame on the subject—in this case, five actors inside a moving vehicle. As the word implies, the beat is the pulse of the film. It’s what drives the story forward. Technically, it’s a division in a scene where the action takes a turn, the momentum shifts, and one or more characters adapt, or change, to the shift. As directors, it’s imperative that we determine what the beats are, before we even think about directing the film; as directors, we shoot the beats. While Cuaron chose to shoot his car scene in one shot, he did not forget about shooting the beats—there are 17 of them, and he conveys each of them with crystal clarity.

Here’s the premise of the film: In 2027, a chaotic world in which women have somehow become infertile, a former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea.

The Beats:

1.The car radio crackles: it conjures nostalgia, introducing a song from 2003, a time when people refused to accept the future was “right around the corner.”

Children of Men Beats 1

Cuaron begins the shot with a close-up single on Theo (Clive Owen), who is sleeping against the window. He pulls out to a wide to reveal the others in the car. This is referred to as slow disclosure, the revealing of the full context of a situation to the audience.

Children of Men Beats 2

2. In this wide frame, dialog exposition reveals a previous relationship between Theo and Julian (Julianne Moore); he questions the girl they’re transporting about what she’s done, why she’s special. There’s a cynicism in his questions: he’s not an activist anymore; he’s part of the system now.

Theo is going out of his way to separate himself from them: he’s not like them anymore.

3. The third beat begins with a medium close-up of Theo and Julian together. Visually, they are not separate, but equal, subtext that is furthermore strengthened with the use of a prop: the ping-pong ball.

Children of Men Beats 3

Not only is he her equal, he is the only one who can “perform” this trick with her. Cuaron isolates them in this frame; it’s as though they’re the only ones in the car, oblivious to those around them or the passing trees outside.

4. As Theo and Julian mime a kiss, the girl comments on it, disapprovingly, and the camera moves toward her—a move motivated by Theo’s look, and subsequently, the spitting of the ball at her.

5. The camera turns 180 degrees, looking through the windshield as a burning car rolls from the woods into the street, obstructing the vehicle’s path.

Children of Men Beats 4

6. The camera begins a 360 move, first framing the driver—who hasn’t been featured much in the scene—and then framing everyone else in car, and in noticeably tighter shots than before. Initially, the frame was looser, the feeling in the car more casual; however, as the urgency of the circumstances increases, so does the tightness of the shots.

The camera begins to go in reverse—in fact, the entire vehicle and camera rig goes in reverse—thus visually conveying a literal turn of events.

They were moving forward with their mission, until an obstacle occurred, which has now set them moving backwards. It is a major turning point in the scene, and a major turning point for the camera. Whereas before, the characters were focused on themselves, looking at each other inside the car, now they become completely focused on what’s happening outside.

The viewer is as well. We are literally put in the middle of it all; we feel just as vulnerable as they do. Just as the characters’ world is spinning out of control, the camera is, and that’s how we’re forced to see it.

7. The camera once again stops, framing up the windshield.

Children of Men Beats 5

Moments before, Cuaron depicted a burning car in the distance, but now it is his characters’ windshield that is on fire. The characters go from observing a burning car to being the burning car.

As the beats progress, the drama builds and the stakes continue to increase.

8. The camera then begins to follow the movement of the attacking motorcyclist, i.e. the threat to the safety of the people inside the car. The camera is right next to Julian as she gets shot, the blood splattering onto the glass of the lens.

9. Immediately after the gunshot, the camera whips back to film the reactions of the people in the backseat, settling on Theo as he attempts to treat Julian’s wound and then, moments later, defend himself against the motorcyclist.

Children of Men Beats 6

10. The camera then moves its perspective onto the driver and the cracking windshield, throwing the focus onto the seaworthiness of the car, and in doing so, ramping up the suspense once again: Will they make it out of this? Will the car hold up and will the driver get them out of this?

Children of Men Beats 7

11. The camera twists back to Theo and Julian, once again isolated, together in the frame (see Beat 3); however it’s the opposite of before. She is facing away from him, dying in his arms. The nurse eventually enters frame, attempting to help in the situation, and transforming the 2 shot into a 3 shot.

12. The camera turns back to the driver, resting its point of view ostensibly with him as we see a police car drive toward, and then eventually past, them.

13. The camera turns, framing the rear window over-the-shoulders of Theo and the Nurse.

Children of Men Beats 8

Once again utilizing slow disclosure, the camera pulls back to frame the characters in a wide shot, weighing the frame toward the driver as it racks focus onto his face: clearly, it implies, the driver has the most at stake here if the cops catch them.

Children of Men Beats 9

14. As with the motorcyclist, the camera movement becomes motivated by the police—another threat to them and their mission—moving with the police officers as they exit their car and approach.

15. As the officer speaks with the driver, the camera falls back into Theo’s point of view.

Children of Men Beats 10

The two policemen are framed through the closed window—everyone else in the car obverses them, while the driver has his door open and physically interacts with them without a barrier.

16. As the driver shoots the police officers, the camera gets out of the car just as Theo does, moving right along with him.

At the beginning of the scene, everyone in the car was facing the same way, joined together on the same mission. Theo now finds himself on the opposite side of the driver—his gun, the car and line of the road separating them physically. The mission has veered into a direction Theo neither expected, nor approves of.

Children of Men Beats 11

17. While Theo is forced back into the car at gunpoint, the camera is left on the side of the road—presumably where Theo would have liked to remain himself—as the car speeds away from the lens.

Alfonso Cuaron is a master of shooting the beats, whether he sets about capturing them in one shot or several. The above shot from Children of Men is a superlative example of the importance of delineating the beats of a scene. Cuaron meticulously crafted each of these 17 beats and the transitions between them—they are 17 reasons why this is one of my favorite one-shot masters of all time.