Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro G. Inarritu Demand Justice for Mexican Students

Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
Alfonso Cuaro, Guillermo del Toro and Jonas Cuaron at MoMA's 2014 Film Benefit

MoMA's annual film benefit became a political platform: "We believe that these crimes are systemic and indicate a much greater evil: the blurred lines between organized crime and the high-ranking officials in the Mexican government"

"My favorite film of his is probably the first movie I saw that he did, which was A Little Princess," Emile Hirsch, standing by the Museum of Modern Art's entrance,told The Hollywood Reporter with a smile of the annual film benefit's honoree, Alfonso Cuaron. "I just remember watching it all the time as a kid, and it was just so magical. Even Gravity, his Harry Potter film, Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men — it's still grounded in reality, but there's always a magical and surreal quality that allows the audience to completely believe whatever world he puts you in."

Of the writer-director's diverse filmography, Katie Holmes favors Gravity — "The scope of it and what he did, it's incredible, technically, and very moving at the same," the actress said between sips alongside event co-chair Lizzie Tisch — while fellow event co-chair Diane von Furstenberg noted while walking with Barry Diller from the underground theater to the geometrically-decorated atrium, "I love Y Tu Mama Tambien, it's so poetic."

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Despite the widespread praises throughout the New York City museum on Monday night, the filmmaker himself wasn't in a completely celebratory mood. "This amazing night is overshadowed by the events in Mexico," he admitted to THR, referring to the government's lack of transparency regarding the status of 43 missing students. "It's difficult to even talk about film when that is hanging over not only every Mexican, but any other person who is aware of what's going on: a lot of indignation."

"We feel it's a very tragic moment for our country," Guillermo Del Toro added. "When you have 43 people disappearing, you not only not trust the authorities to solve it but you realize many of the authorities were behind the act."

Before the start of the evening — which also drew Michael Bloomberg, Cary Fukunaga, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Kim Raver, Bee Shaffer, Andre Leon Talley, Rachel Roy, Leelee Sobieski, Poppy Delevingne and Joan Smalls, and closed with a performance by Jessie Ware — Del Toro took the stage with Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron to read an official statement, which was cosigned by an absent Alejandro G. Inarritu.

"This past September, 43 students were kidnapped by the local police in the state of Guerrero, Mexico," he read. "After a period of apathy, the authorities only then were forced to search for them, due to the protestations of citizens across the entire country and the world, and they found the first of many, many mass graves. None of these graves contained the remains of the missing students. The bodies within them were those of other anonymous victims. Last week, the general attorney announced that the 43 students were handed over by the police to members of a drug cartel to be executed and burned in a public dumpster. But even of the identity of those charred remains awaits proper DNA."

"The federal government argues that these events are all just local violence — not so," Del Toro continued, calling for a united front. "As Human Rights Watch observes, these killings and forced disappearances reflect a much broader pattern of abuse and are largely a consequence of the longstanding failure of the Mexican authorities. ... We believe that these crimes are systemic and indicate a much greater evil: the blurred lines between organized crime and the high-ranking officials in the Mexican government. We must demand the answers about this and we must do it now."

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Still, after praising remarks at the podium from MoMA chief curator Rajendra Roy, Picturehouse CEO Bob Berney, Del Toro and artist Francesco Clemente, as well as a video greeting from Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki from The Revenant shoot ("Can you please come and take my job so I can be drinking wine with the MoMA people?" laughed the director), son and Gravity co-writer Jonas Cuaron highlighted the integration of the Y Tu Mama Tambien phrase "Charolastra" into the Spanish language, and admitted that telling girls that his father directed Great Expectations was the best pick-up line. And before screening a clip of the Sandra Bullock-starrer in 3D, he stated, "The same passion he has for film, ten times more he has for his family. As long as I can be as good a dad as he has been to my sister and me, I'll be content."

Though Cuaron is noted for his visual innovation, "it's about just being honest with your voice," he told THR of pushing boundaries onscreen. "Every month comes out a new technology, and you don't do a film to use technologies. You're just picking your tools, and sometimes the tools already exist and sometimes you have to develop your own tools."

Yet despite the slew of technical Oscars Gravity has accrued, Del Toro explained that he admires his fellow filmmaker's "integrity" most. "He can do a giant sci-fi movie or a minor road trip rite-of-passage movie, and they both have the same interest in the ultimate goodness of human nature and our fallibility, and how we are at the same time fragile and strong. It is perhaps easier for me to see it than him, but I see it every time."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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