MEXICO CITY -- In 1988, filmmaker Luís Mandoki left his native Mexico to work in Hollywood because at that time, he says, "it was very difficult to make quality movies in Mexico." Mandoki went on to direct such Hollywood fare as "Angel Eyes" with Jennifer Lopez.Now Mandoki says one of Hollywood's major players, Warner Bros., is partly responsible for blocking the release of his new documentary about last year's disputed Mexican presidential election. According to Mandoki, the company's Mexican representative feared that parts of the film might displease the heads of Mexico's giant Televisa entertainment network and the powerful Cinépolis movie theater chain, among other interests.
Mandoki says Warner Bros. Mexico backed out of a verbal commitment it had made this summer to distribute the documentary, tentatively titled "La Democracia Simulada" (The Simulated Democracy), through the Mexican company Videocine, which is owned by Televisa, whose chairman and chief executive, Emilio Azcárraga Jean, and executive vice president, Bernardo Gómez, are depicted briefly and unflatteringly in the film."Basically, we were closing a deal with Warner for distribution," Mandoki said in a phone interview this week. "Warner Bros. Mexico and Televisa blocked it at the last stage. There were intimidations and threats, and they said at the end they couldn't do it."Juan Manuel Borbolla, director of Warner Bros. Mexico, did not respond to repeated phone calls from The Times after previously agreeing to an interview on Wednesday. But in interviews with Mexican newspapers this week, he insisted that Warner Bros. had passed on distributing the documentary purely for business reasons. A spokeswoman for Warner Bros. corporate offices in Burbank also said that the company's choice not to distribute the film was a business decision. She declined to discuss the matter further on the record.Fernando Pérez Gavilán, director of Videocine, was quoted in Mexican newspapers as saying that the decision not to distribute the film was made because documentaries generally don't do well at the box office in Mexico. "Luís is doing all this with the eagerness of selling his product to another distributor," Pérez Gavilán said. Asked whether his statements were a strategy for gaining publicity for his film, Mandoki said, "My response would be it's not me who's doing this, it's them who are doing this. We had a distribution deal, we closed it verbally, they backed off."The documentary deals with the complex and controversial events surrounding last year's presidential contest between the victorious Felipe Calderón of the conservative, pro-business National Action Party and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-leaning populist and former Mexico City mayor known by his initials as "AMLO." After backtracking through Mexico's history of revolutionary upheavals and political repression, the film recounts last year's campaign and its bitter aftermath, in which López Obrador and his supporters raised accusations of widespread voting fraud, leading to a civil disobedience campaign that continues to this day.Mandoki already has released a separate documentary, "¿Quien Es el Señor López?" (Who Is Mr. López?), after being given virtually unrestricted access to the then-candidate. Mandoki says that movie has sold 2 million DVD copies in Mexico.Mandoki and the new film's producer, Federico Arreola, publicized their grievances at a packed Monday morning press conference at a downtown hotel here. From its inception, Arreola said, the documentary had encountered financial challenges due to its political content. "It was very hard to finance this project," he said. "All the world was afraid."The two men said that Borbolla had responded positively to the film after they showed it to him last July, and that he had agreed to negotiate a distribution contract with their company, Contra el Viento Films. They said that Warner Bros. had offered to make 150 copies of the movie and had planned to open it in Mexico in November.But Warners began getting cold feet, according to Mandoki and Arreola, after Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, chief executive of the Cinépolis movie chain, the largest cinema chain in Latin America, told Borbolla that he would not exhibit the film because he is a personal friend of President Calderón.Ramírez could not be reached for an interview. But in a statement issued by Cinépolis, the company disputed the filmmakers' claims. "Cinépolis has not been contacted by any distributor in order to establish an agreement of exhibition about the said material," it read in part.Mandoki and Arreola said that at an Aug. 23 meeting at a Mexico City restaurant, Borbolla also informed them that Pérez Gavilán had warned him "not to make an enemy of anyone as powerful as Bernardo Gómez" of Televisa. The men said that Borbolla then suggested that if they edited out the part of the film dealing with Azcárraga and Gómez, Warners would distribute the documentary.The next day, according to Mandoki and Arreola, Borbolla called to tell them that "my boss" at Warner Bros. in the United States had agreed that Warners would distribute the film. But according to the men, at a subsequent Aug. 29 meeting Borbolla told them that the company had reversed course, and that his superior at Warner Bros. had agreed with Televisa not to distribute the documentary because it lacked commercial potential.Mandoki said that he has been in discussions with another distributor to release the film in the U.S. "I still expect it to premiere in Mexico at the end of November," Mandoki said.At least one theater chain, Cinemex, has said it would be willing to show the movie in Mexico. Miguel Angel Dávila, the company's director and president of the National Chamber of the Cinematographic Industry, said he had been "surprised" by Mandoki's statements that his movie was being blocked from distribution. Dávila said that documentaries are indeed a tough sell in Mexico."I understand perfectly the decision of Warner not to distribute it for the risk that would be involved in the transaction, because very probably it would not be a success in money," Dávila said. Nonetheless, he added, "The screens of Cinemex are open and they will be open to the material of Luis and of anyone else.