GUADALAJARA — The excitement surrounding Guillermo del Toro’s presence at Mexico’s Guadalajara Film Festival reached fever pitch by the end of last week, and manifested itself as a rousing standing ovation when the director made his first appearance at this year’s 33rd edition of the Guadalajara Film Festival.
It had long been planned that the director would come back to his home town to open a theater in his name and give a masterclass. That was before the genial Mexican won best director and best picture at last Sunday’s Academy Awards.
Spots for Saturday’s scheduled masterclass filled immediately when an astounding 30,000 requests for entry were made in the first half hour. In typical selfless fashion, del Toro offered to host another, and when that one filled, he volunteered for a third. All free of charge, and open to the public, including at least one class to be held at the city’s gargantuan Telmex Auditorium, with seating for 9,000.
In the end, Saturday’s talk was live-streamed on Facebook, broadcast locally on Canal 22, and played on every screen at every booth at the festival, as well as the massive, stadium-style screen attached to the building’s facade.
Aside from the throngs of locals eager to attend, many of Mexico’s most legendary industry personalities were present when the director took the stage at Plácido Domingo hall. To name a few: Alfonso Arau, director of 1992’s Golden Globe nominated “Like Water for Chocolate”; Alejandro Springall, whose film “Little Saints” won the Latin American Cinema award at Sundance; Michel Franco, whose films have enjoyed constant success at Cannes and other major festivals around the world; Mónica Lozano, producer on numerous Mexican hits since her start on Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Amores Perros”; and of course, del Toro’s long time production compatriot Bertha Navarro, who produced or co-produced most of del Toro’s early work from “Chronos” through “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
As he took the stage, Del Toro was greeted by the packed auditorium like a conquering hero, returning home from some Homeric achievement. The crowd was electric, and gave him a standing ovation that was only cut short on his direction because, as the man himself joked: “At the end of the day, I am always right. You have to remember that, we will have a nice collaboration, as long as I am always right.”
Titled “The Geometry of ‘The Shape of Water,’” Saturday’s masterclass was a chance for del Toro to dive into his greatest influences and the journey of a filmmaker who has always found comfort in the monsters that have traditionally been used to evoke fear or revulsion. He took full advantage of the occasion.
The talk began with questions pertaining specifically to “The Shape of Water” from long-time film critic and author, Leonardo García-Tsao, who MC’d the day’s festivities.
“Faith, style and big ovaries or testicals, that’s what you need.” responded del Toro when García-Tsao tried to narrow down how a film that would likely come off as absurd in the hands of any other filmmaker could be so well received, commercially and critically.
Early on though, the talk got personal. “The last five years were very tough for me,” del Toro said. “I think it was important for me to create ‘The Shape of Water.’ I needed hope. I wanted light and color and that there would be beauty above all else. I needed a product to help my soul.”
One of the biggest laughs from the crowd on an afternoon full of them, came when he explained a “Shape of Water” metaphor that might have snuck past some viewers.
“In any relationship there is a moment where someone will eat the cat,” he said, referring to one of the film’s most memorable scenes, “I wanted that to happen. The sooner you eat the cat, the more real a relationship is.”
The event finished with an audience Q&A that festival organizers tried to end, but the man who jokes he is always right refused to cut short. Impassioned fans, Guadalajara natives and friends from Twitter were among the lucky few who had a chance to address the master. Some shouted with excitement, some teared up with emotion, and one grateful fan brought a gift. The event ended the way it finished, with a grateful crowd, all made equal, if only for the afternoon, by their admiration of the man with an Oscar in each hand.
Following the Q&A, the festival inaugurated a new theater in the director’s name, and organizers announced the Jenkins-Del Toro International Grant, a scholarship of up to $60,000, awarded annually at the Guadalajara Festival to an up-and-coming Mexican filmmaker, to be used for a study abroad program at a well renowned film school.
The scholarship is only the latest in a career filled with similar gestures aimed at growing the Mexican film industry and awarding ambition in young filmmakers.