In 1997, a young Mexican filmmaker at the cusp of fame was working on an ambitious science fiction horror film (Mimic) when his phone suddenly rang. It was disturbing news: his father, Federico del Toro, had just been kidnapped in Guadalajara, and the kidnappers were demanding a million dollars for his release.
Having invested his entire savings in the film, the director – Guillermo del Toro – was completely out of cash. And his family couldn’t put together anything near that sum.
In a word, he was in a frightful predicament.
Old friend steps to the plate
About 4 years earlier, the Mexican director and James Cameron had met on the set of Del Toro’s first feature film, Cronos. Over the years, they had collaborated on various projects and kept in frequent contact.
When Cameron learned of the young filmmaker’s situation, he immediately boarded a plane to Mexico City and started helping his friend put together a game plan. Cameron not only provided Del Toro with a million dollars in cash but hired a special negotiator who helped secure the release of the elder Del Toro.
The director still shutters at the memory.
“The worst thing is that guilty people are still at large. From what I know, things don’t look good… the question of security in Mexico is a highly sensitive issue”.
The event was so traumatizing that Del Toro soon thereafter left Mexico to live abroad.
Too risky to film
Since that time, he has rarely filmed in his native land. He claims that during shoots, “all the director’s movements are made public” which, for him, is too much of a risk.
At a recent premier at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in NYC, Del Toro was asked by reporters how things would have turned out had he remained in Mexico.
“Well, I imagine much different than now,” he said. “But who knows? The reality is that when I went into forced exile after my father’s kidnapping, my life changed in every way”.
“Not a week goes by that my wife and I don’t discuss what’s happening in Mexico. We miss this and we regret that but, in reality, the Mexico I dream about no longer exists. That’s just a ghost that follows me around.”
To this day, he can’t hide the sadness he feels for his native country.
Skepticism about budget cuts
Despite his absence (and perhaps in part because of it) Del Toro agreed to finance and produce a documentary about Mexican politics. He is keenly aware of current events, including the government’s recent decision to slash the federal budget for culture by about 35%.
“For the last 25 years, the government has said that other areas have a higher priority. I’m not arguing, just saying that the money rarely ends up where it’s supposed to. If agriculture was thriving, or if education was improving, then yes, all of us would gladly tighten our belts. But in reality, everything gets cut except one thing… corruption”.
Too much money “ends up in fancy Texas condos and private jets owned by politicians,” he says.
“Mexico’s political class is shameless, and the depths of its corruption are unfathomable”.
Monsters and Suits
On a recent stop to promote Trollhunters, a 26-episode DreamWorks series on Netflix, the director spoke to reporters about his lifelong interest in monsters. During the talk, he couldn’t help but compare some of the shady figures that populate his latest work to Mexican politicians.
“In real life they are deeply prosaic, monsters in suits and ties, abominable, but very well dressed and photogenic. Boring, really. I deal with them often as a father, citizen and human being.”
Although Del Toro’s own life now resembles a sort of fairy tale… “a beautiful and touching fable” (as he described his most recent film), things in Mexico remain in turmoil.
The monsters in suits and ties, he said, are still in control.