Tijuana filmmaker found the secret ingredient to get to Cannes


Marco Aurelio Celis has fulfilled the dream of every young filmmaker.

The 24-year-old Tijuana native won second place in the short film competition at the Cannes Film Festival, which ended Saturday.

The film “Ruffo” — which portrays the life of chef Ruffo Ibarra, also from Tijuana — was selected among 380 films by directors from 46 countries.

For Celis, it was a dream come true — one he didn’t know he had.

“Not even in my most remote dream did I think I was going to be selected, and not because it wasn’t good, it’s simply such a distant idea that I didn’t see it possible,” he says.

“Cannes is a festival that I respect very much, and since I was a kid, since I started with this, I have admired it, and I have seen it as the festival ... ,” he adds.

Celis ventured into filmmaking at very young age. At the age of 17, he worked as a production assistant in short films, and later with videos and freelance work.

For financial reasons, he had to leave school during the fifth semester of communication studies at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Tijuana.

He feared that his decision would affect his future, but he discovered that in filmmaking, it is the work that fuels advancement.

That’s how he arrived two and a half years ago at the Tijuana-based Specola production house, where he has had the opportunity to collaborate with directors he admires.

From there, he learned of the call for Nespresso Talents 2019 that invited participants from all over the world to tell stories, through a short film of three minutes, about the relationship between food and culture. The result:
“Ruffo,” a collaboration between Specola and Tijuana-based LABC Entertainment.

When Celis first met Ibarra, he remembers that it didn’t take long for them to find their common interests — and know what would be the story they both wanted to share with the world.

In three minutes, Celis wanted to reflect the love that Ibarra expresses through the kitchen.

First, you see the Tijuana chef and his mother, who shares her recipe for making potatoes with chorizo.

“(The dish) means a lot because it represents my family, my roots as a Mexican chef, but it also talks about the ingredient,” Ibarra says in a voice-over.

Although he has cooked it shoulder-to-shoulder with his mother, Ibarra, 35, says that “it has never been the same.” But it is she who makes him see that “the secret ingredient is love.”

“Just as Ruffo has his dish, each person has that memory that forms it,” Celis says.

Celis knew that there would be a pre-selection of the best 15 international short films and that the best three would be screened at Cannes. Mexico’s top 10 would do the same at the Morelia Film Festival in October.

A month ago, he was given the news that he would be on the podium in France.

“It’s one of those moments we’ll never forget,” says Ibarra, who was able to accompany Celis at the ceremony. “I’m 11 years older than he is, and I saw enthusiasm and happiness in his eyes.”

At Nespresso Talents, first place went to New Zealand’s “Subak,” followed by Mexico’s “Ruffo” and third place went to India’s “Seed Mother.”

Newly unpacked from Cannes, Celis says the experience left him motivated.

“I can’t just sit on a cloud and say I’ve already done it by going to Cannes, but we have to keep working hard,” he says. “Something I’d like to say is that if I got there, it’s for a reason, and it’s because I worked.”

Besides the award, there is something else Celis brought back home: At Cannes, they know about the talent that exists in Mexico.

“They weren’t surprised by the fact that we were Mexicans. They told us that they knew there was a lot of talent in Mexico,” Celis says, who added that director Alejandro González Iñárritu is president of the festival’s own jury.

A few hours after the award ceremony, the news was already viral in his country.

“Mexican director is awarded in Cannes,” many headlines proclaimed.

The recognition took him by surprise.

In a matter of minutes, he received congratulations from his mother, brother and even from his high school teachers.

Celis is proud of his accomplishments, but not content. He wants to keep telling stories and surrounding himself with people who will push him to do the best work possible. If possible, direct a film. He knows it’ll take time.

“What I want is to do genuine work that matches my aspirations and that somehow has an impact, that people can feel something and if that happens, my work will be considered well done,” he said.

The San Diego Union-Tribune en Espanñol: Read the story in Spanish.

Mendoza writes for Union-Tribune en Español.