It was a good weekend for Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, who was awarded a rare special Oscar at the Ninth Annual Governors Awards.
Granted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Saturday, the award recognized González’s multimedia art and cinema experience called Carne y Arena (Flesh and Sand), a virtual reality film now being presented at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, a long time collaborator of González’s, shared the special Oscar, granted “in recognition of a visionary and powerful experience in storytelling.”
The nearly seven-minute-long film “opened new doors of cinematic perception,” said Academy president John Bailey.
The Academy described Carne y Arena as “a deeply emotional and physically immersive venture into the world of migrants crossing the desert of the American southwest in the early dawn” that “viscerally connects us to the hot-button political and social realities of the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Writing in Variety this morning, Kristopher Tapley described the film as “unforgettable, placing participants in the middle of an attempted migrant crossing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Donning a backpack and a VR headset, shoes and socks left behind in a metal locker, you walk on (real) sand and rocks in a large room dedicated to the virtual experience that’s being beamed into your goggles.”
The story, he said, is brisk. “Border patrol officers arrive by land and air; guns are drawn; migrants are apprehended. But your experience is your own.”
In a red-carpet interview by the newspaper El Universal, González, 54, remarked that the Oscar was “without a doubt one of the awards I enjoyed the most because it’s not based on a competition.”
He described immigration as a serious issue that he wanted to address with virtual reality.
“We never thought about winning awards during production, we made [Carne y Arena] to raise awareness, but I am very happy with the appreciation,” said the filmmaker, who has now won five Oscars. He won three for Birdman in 2016 and another for The Revenant this year.
In attendance at Saturday’s ceremony were Mexican actors Salma Hayek and Gael García Bernal and directors Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, among others.
“We had to be with him, to cheer for him,” Cuarón told El Universal.
Achievements by Mexican filmmakers in recent years have brought the country’s film industry to “a historic moment,” said another award-winning director this week.
Michel Franco made the comment during AFI Fest 2017, the American Film Institute festival now on in Hollywood, California. Franco was there for the screening of his own film, Las hijas de Abril (April’s Daughter).
He believes that Mexican cinema has now surpassed the achievements reached by the industry during its golden age, between the 1930s and 1960s.
“This is the best moment, thanks to filmmakers like Alejandro González Iñárritu . . . Alfonso and Carlos Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, among many others,” Franco told the news agency Notimex.
“But it’s not only them, there are also actors and people behind cameras, and that’s why I say it is a historic moment.”
He said Mexican film is being acknowledged around the world. “. . . there’s no other country with the amount of talent that Mexico has at this moment.”
González’s Carne y Arena can currently be seen in Mexico at the Tlatelolco Cultural Center in Mexico City.