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'Gravity's' Alfonso Cuaron Announced as New Film Mentor for Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative

Courtesy of Rolex
2015 Mentor and Protege, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Tom Shoval

At this year's celebration in Mexico City, it was announced that Cuaron will succeed 'Birdman' director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who was the 2015 film mentor for the program.

Oscar-winning Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) was announced as the next film mentor for the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative, which pairs leaders in six artistic fields with emerging talents for a year for support, guidance and collaboration.

Last night's announcements and tributes took place at the Centro Cultural del Bosque in Mexico City, where Rolex hosted its biannual Arts Weekend with performances and presentations of work by this past year’s mentors and proteges for an audience comprising several hundred people: former mentors and proteges, nominators and advisors from all over the world; international journalists; local artists and ticketed members of the general public.

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Prior to Gravity, Cuaron directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men.

The outgoing mentor in film is Cuaron’s compatriot, friend and fellow Oscar-winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman). Over the course of the weekend in Inarritu’s hometown, he celebrated his protege of the last year — Israeli filmmaker Tom Shoval — in a co-presentation Saturday of clips from both men’s films (including Inarritu’s much anticipated film, The Revenant) and a moving tribute before a packed audience Sunday.

Inarritu said he chose Shoval precisely because he saw a lot of quiet humanity in Shoval’s first filmmaking efforts. Inarritu echoed his protege’s desire not to make anything predictable, warning that “Hollywood has created something so tasty, it is easy for audiences to forget other diets.” In an extensive parable that compared mainstream films to the culinary equivalent of McDonalds and Starbucks, and which also referenced the 17 tries it took to get his son to try oysters, Inarritu said that what united him and Shoval was a joint commitment to filmmaking that poses “a threat to the comfort of people’s diet in every aspect, culturally speaking."

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“Israel is not Hollywood. It is a small film industry where it’s still hard to raise money. You need a certain amount of trying to convince the producers that the film can be commercial, but sometimes it conflicts with your motivation to try and discover something new and to show other angles of humanity,” Shoval explained. “One of the thing that the mentorship has offered is for me to see Alejandro dealing with all those aspects and challenges. It gave me inspiration to try not to lose my motivations and my ideas.”

Inarritu invited Shoval to observe the post-production of Birdman and to be by his side for six weeks in the snow-bound Canadian Rockies on the set of The Revenant. The pair seemed the closest of all seven mentor-protege pairs present; Inarritu was seen tossing his arm jovially around Shoval’s shoulders several times and the two were often in tete-a-tete over the course of the weekend.

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In revealing the new set of mentors, the film, theater and opera director Julie Taymor — a former mentor herself — spoke to a packed audience that oohed and aahed with each announcement.

Cuaron, who was not present, will be a mentor along with six other masters in their fields, including American composer Philip Glass; the much honored Canadian actor, playwright and director Robert Lepage, who heads the multidisciplinary production company, Ex Machina, and is best known in the U.S. for his work with Cirque du Soleil and with musician Peter Gabriel; and architect David Chipperfield, who is responsible for Mexico’s Museo Jumex (which the weekend’s participants toured Friday night) and is at work on a new wing for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The others mentors for 2016-2017 are: Mia Couto (literature), Joan Jonas (visual arts) and Ohad Naharin (dance).

Mentors are asked to spend up to six weeks in person with their proteges, but the pairs may meet and interact when and where they wish. Each protege receives the equivalent of $25,000 to support his or her participation and can request an additional $25,000 to create a new work at the conclusion of the mentoring year.

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The committee that helped choose the new cycle of mentors for 2016-2017 comprised 14 creative luminaries from around the globe and included Taymor; LACMA’s lead curator and director Michael Govan (who beamed during a private tour of the Diego Rivera murals of Mexico’s Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso and who brought his wife along for the jam-packed weekend); performing arts director Pierre Audi; screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere; choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker; and film composer Gabriel Yared.

Influential experts in each of the six fields will meet over the next few months to begin choosing creative talents who will be invited to apply as proteges for the 2016-2017 cycle. Each mentor is presented with, and meets, three or four finalists before choosing a protege next spring. The names of the new proteges will be announced in June 2016.

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Past mentors in the film category include Martin Scorsese (2008), Stephen Frears (2006), Walter Murch (2012) and Zhang Yimou (2010) and Mira Nair (2004), who was present this weekend and was observed championing her friend and unofficial protegee, the Ugandan filmmaker Aida Mbowa. Mbowa, who said she originally met Nair on location in Uganda during the filming of Nair’s 1991 feature, Mississippi Masala, serves as director of the multidisciplinary art center and film lab Maisha Garden, which Nair founded in Kampala.   

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