The last time Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu released three new movies in the space of the same year was 2006. By then, their reputations at home had been established by early successes like Y tu mamá también (Cuarón), The Devil’s Backbone (del Toro) and Amores Perros (Iñárritu) and they had each worked in the U.S., with del Toro and Cuarón stepping into blockbuster cinema with Hellboy and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban respectively, and Iñárritu directing Sean Penn and Naomi Watts to Oscar nominations with 21 Grams.

When they donned tuxedos to celebrate the 79th Academy Awards together on February 25, 2007, the ‘Three Amigos’, as they’d been dubbed, might have considered the evening a high watermark in their respective careers. Iñárritu had been Best Director and Best Picture nominated for Babel; Del Toro had a nod for his Original Screenplay for Pan’s Labyrinth; and Cuarón was nominated for his Adapted Screenplay and Editing on Children of Men.

Few could have predicted then that just a few years later, between 2013 and 2018, Cuarón, del Toro and Iñárritu would split no fewer than five of the six Best Director Oscars and take home two Best Picture trophies for a run of work that firmly established them in the pantheon of cinema history. With Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant, The Shape of Water and Roma, the three filmmakers ascended the Oscar stage to share their unique visions of cinema with the world. And against a political backdrop of anti-immigrant sentiment, they made inarguable statements about the power of the international community of film.

Behind all the pomp, praise and prizes is a friendship and collaboration that has endured for decades. They have supported one another and helped champion new voices, in Mexico and around the world. They have forged successes both together and independently, and they have carried failures for themselves and for each other.

They gather now, for their first major joint interview since 2006, as each of them continues to tread new ground. Alfonso Cuarón is still cooking his next feature, but he has this year produced Alice Rohrwacher’s Oscar-shortlisted short film Le pupille and Rodrigo García’s Raymond & Ray, which premiered at the Toronto film festival. Guillermo del Toro has literally attached his name to two projects this year: anthology series Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and his first animated feature Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, both for Netflix. And Alejandro G. Iñárritu delivers his most personal work to date with Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, in which he takes an unabashed look at his own triumphs and tragedies.

The conversation between the three old friends flows easily and requires little moderation. So obsessive is their interest in their chosen field that ideas become bold, and arguments become (comfortably) heated. But we begin where we should, with a trip down memory lane, and their first encounters with one another…

Directors Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro attend the 79th Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 25, 2007 in Hollywood, California.

Directors Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro attend the 79th Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 25, 2007 in Hollywood, California.

Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Guillermo del Toro: To start chronologically, Alfonso and I met in the ’80s having heard about each other through mutual friends. I remember thinking, ‘Who is this guy who everyone likes?’ When you’re 20 or younger, you’re envious of everybody [laughs]. ‘Why do people like this guy?’

We finally met in the waiting room of Hora marcada, a TV program that I was going to do the makeup effects on; Alfonso was writing and directing. I went in to say, “Look, I’ll do the makeup effects for you if you’ll let me direct and write a few episodes.”

So, we became friends very quickly, and then Alejandro and I met because Alfonso called me and said, “There’s this guy who made a movie called Amores Perros, and he’s a goddamned genius, but he’s also really, really stubborn and he should cut the movie a little bit.” He gave me Alejandro’s phone number and a VHS—which I still have—of an early cut of Amores Perros.

He told me, “We’ve all decided that the only guy as stubborn as him is you, so you should go and make him cut the movie.” 

Alejandro G. Iñárritu: It was also Antonio Urrutia, no, Gordo?

Del Toro: Yeah, Antonio and Alfonso both. They did say, “This guy is a genius, but he’s the most stubborn motherfucker.” And it’s still true today [laughs].

Iñárritu: Look who’s talking [laughs].

Before I met Guillermo, I went to LA to visit Alfonso. He was already preparing Great Expectations, and he was living in the fancy hotel, the Chateau Marmont. He was already kind of a rockstar for me, and I hadn’t met him yet. 

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu on the set of Amores Perros.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu on the set of Amores Perros.

Lions Gate Films

I was about to start directing a pilot that I wrote for TV. It was my first attempt to do something that was one hour in length. Alfonso knew my work in advertising a little bit, and he always sent nice comments through Chivo [cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki]. I worked with Chivo before anything, and he had obviously worked with Alfonso by then. So, I went to visit Chivo, and I met Alfonso in the garden of the Chateau Marmont, and we spent two or three hours talking.

I literally went to get his advice, and he was very generous and read what I wrote. He was, in a way, mentoring me, giving advice about casting, about blocking, things like that. I remember how generous he was, and in that moment, I really appreciated it.

So, I met him in ’95 and then I met Guillermo in ’99, when I was editing Amores Perros. And yes, it’s true that the film was finished. I edited it in my house for eight months and I considered it done, but it’s also true that it did need to be edited down. Guillermo and I spent three or four days in the studio discussing the movie, with him trying to get a little bit of consciousness out of this stubborn guy talking now. And he succeeded, I guess, because that’s the film as you know it now. 

Well, how many minutes did you say, Gordo? You said 20, I think, and we lost seven.

Del Toro: Listen, I still say it and you should take my word for it. I have the VHS. We did lose about 20 minutes. You may have put some back. And we flipped the bank robbery from one reel to another.

Iñárritu: Honestly, maybe it was a masterpiece and you destroyed it. What about that?

Del Toro: [Laughs] No, but what is great about the three of us is the friendship was formed very fast. Alfonso and I, it was like we’d known each other all our lives, and the same thing was true when I met Alejandro. I felt he wasn’t just a great filmmaker, but a good guy. I liked him.

Theirs was a friendship forged in brutal honesty. As the three filmmakers explain it, nothing is off-limits when it comes to the feedback they offer one another, provided it follows one golden rule…

Del Toro: The curious thing is we are very different, but we do also have a certain leaning towards philosophies about life that are similar somehow. We don’t see failure or success as things that are defining. We can see the good in the bad and the bad in the good. We have a dialogue that is very real, and I think that’s what helps us not to get lost. It’s helpful to have these two guys to keep me in check, so that I don’t get high on my own supply. We remember, at the end of the day, that we grew up together.

Alfonso Cuarón: You can talk about the differences between us, but I see them more as complements, in the sense that I think we’re each very aware of our own limitations and of each other’s strengths. In that sense, even if we have a specific way of how to do cinema, each one of us always understands where the other is coming from. 

That’s great, because when there are disagreements—when I want to do something specific, and one of them puts a red flag on it—I immediately know that it’s something I have to be cautious about. That maybe his solution is not the solution I’m looking for, but that perhaps I have to find some solution.

And I mean, the communication between us is brutally honest. It is brutal. I have tried to have that kind of conversation with other peers, and they don’t like it [laughs].

Del Toro: It’s true.

Cuarón: Maybe I can be that brutal with Paweł [Pawlikowski] too, but most people don’t like it, and with Paweł the complementary nature of the relationship doesn’t exist in the same way it exists with Guillermo and Alejandro.

Some of the stuff Alejandro says, or Guillermo with his language, it really stings so bad. It hurts so much. But the funny thing is that before the anger rises, laughter does, because you feel kind of silly to be exposed in such a brutal way. The complement of the three of us is very strange, because it’s like these guys are funhouse mirror versions of myself.

Del Toro: That’s a great way of putting it. The way we talk to each other, when Alfonso says brutal, he means brutal. You might show them a cut and they’ll tear it apart and go, “Look, no matter what you think this might be, this is what the audience will tell you about it, and this is what the critics will say. Change it or don’t change it, but this is what you must accept.”

Iñárritu: The nonverbal rule between us is that, more than just being brutal for the sake of it, whenever we have something to say about each other’s work, it has to be something that is both truthful and useful, not destructive. That rule is really important, because I’ll never lie to them, and I know they won’t lie to me.

When I talk to other directors, I don’t have the same depth of relationship that I have with these two. We talk about technical things, stuff that is on the surface. But with these two, the benefit is they know very deeply who I am, and what my motivations are, and what triggers me. That deep knowledge of what needs to be said, and of how to say it in a way that is truthful and useful, is a complex mechanic. 

Maribel Verdu and Sergi Lopez (rear) take direction from Guillermo del Toro on the set of Pan's Labyrinth.

Maribel Verdu and Sergi Lopez (rear) take direction from Guillermo del Toro on the set of Pan’s Labyrinth.


Del Toro: Alfonso and I co-produced The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. We co-produced with Alejandro on Biutiful. The three of us co-produced a movie together called Rudo y Cursi. But it’s more than just producing; I’m inspired by them.

I remember one time I discussed with them writing a one-setting thriller. Alfonso said, “Oh, I’m going to write one myself,” and he wrote Gravity. And I think Alfonso’s experiments with the splice take on Children of Men were incredible additions to the vocabulary of world film. He refined that language in a beautiful way on Children of Men, and I think that somewhat inspired Alejandro to do Birdman

When I saw Birdman, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do The Shape of Water,’ because I was very afraid of how I could do that project for $19.5 million, which is a very tight number. I asked Alejandro how much he spent on Birdman and he told me, and it was something not that high. He said, “A budget is a state of mind,” and I knew then, I could do it. 

So, if you ask me, we’re constantly inspiring one another, but we’re also tough. Alejandro and Alfonso have both been really tough with me when I make a mistake. I won’t go into the details because there are NDAs all over the place [laughs], but they’ve told me before: “Don’t do this.” And I go and I do it, and it’s a mistake. We warn each other. Very lovingly, but very sternly.

Iñárritu: For me it’s the same. The work of Guillermo and Alfonso has always been a trigger for inspiration, and they’ve encouraged me to go further and learn about my own approach. As a filmmaker, you’re growing as a person, and as a person you’re changing perspectives, the way you live, the way you experience life, the way things impact you psychologically, spiritually, and physically. So, it’s great that we have been able to share those shifts in our perspectives on life and adapting ourselves to what we want to say and the way we want to say it. 

Circumstances have a huge impact; you’re always going through periods in your life where you’re getting lost, or you’re on a bumpy road, or you can be super inspired. We’ve been able to manage that by being there for one another so that where one of us is down, the others are super high and can say, “Don’t fuck around, don’t get depressed. Get up. You can do it.” They open the door to see things you can’t see in a particular moment. That’s the gift. That’s the blessing. 

We do make very different films, and we do come from different approaches, but I’m always in awe of what Guillermo and Alfonso can do that I never could. Like Pinocchio, for Guillermo: I wouldn’t even know where to start making a film like that. To see these incredible puppets and the technology he uses, and how he works with stop motion; there’s something about it I can’t even understand. And yet I admire it and I learn from that.

Del Toro: I also think we have three dialogues between ourselves, and at the same time a separate dialogue with the world. I don’t think the world knows Alejandro, I don’t think the world knows Alfonso, and I don’t think the world knows me. No matter how much work we put out, there’s an essence of each of us that is reserved on a human level for those that know us as artists and human beings. We can talk to each other about our craft and our successes in the most personal and philosophical way, and that helps us. I do believe there has been a great moment or two where we have saved one another’s sanity at one point or another in our friendship.

Cuarón, del Toro and Iñárritu came of age together during a particular moment in time for Mexican film, and they resolved to lead their industry’s evolution. The creative inspiration they draw from one another is what makes them stronger and bolder as filmmakers, even to this day…

Iñárritu: The only example I can think of for three directors who know each other as well as this is Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese. They belong to the same generation, the same country, the same thing. The three of us share the same circumstances, coming from the same world, and we understand deeply who we are, not as filmmakers but as people.

Alfonso Cuaron, on the set of Gravity.

Alfonso Cuaron on the set of Gravity.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Del Toro: We came up in a very different panorama of what Mexican cinema meant to the country and to international audiences. We started changing some of the technical aspects, and some of the presentational aspects of it, and the approach to genre and things like that. It was almost like the ABCs of what we wanted to do, and now that is taken for granted.

Cuarón: In many ways, the goal of our conversations is not even about the films, but about what the films are going to mean in our lives, and how they’re going to keep on building the lives we want. That, for me, is the most important aspect, to share the success and failure with one another and to understand how that impacts our lives, and what we learn from it. 

Del Toro: It’s so true. Our movies together are not a filmography. They’re a biography of each of us. I see Alfonso’s high school movies, and then his senior movies, and I see how all our preoccupations get deeper. That doesn’t mean they’re more meaningful or not, but they get deeper in the context of who we are as the movies progress.

The first part of our career was how to handle the language of cinema. The latter part of our career is when the language of cinema and who we are start making contact. The films become a lot more personal, not necessarily in visible ways, but sometimes. I think Roma, Pinocchio and Bardo all have that in common, even if one of them is pure biography, one is a classic children’s fairy tale, and the other is obliquely a biography but also isn’t. They are joined in similar ways. Different approaches, but ultimately the way we have deepened in our own biography within film is very similar.

Cuarón: Symbolic biographies, we can put it that way.

Del Toro: I remember seeing Amores Perros and thinking, ‘Look at this guy, and his rhythm.’ It was percussive, and it was an incredibly prodigious handling of the tools of cinema. The virtuosity for me on Bardo is a lot more exquisite, a lot more refined. It’s not percussive, but it’s lyrical and really hard to execute. And the way it affects who he is, and the way he views the world, is a lot more delicate. It was the same with Roma.

Cuarón: Everything we say to one another comes from a place of love and generosity. It doesn’t come from competition or jealousy. What happens is that, yes, I see something Guillermo or Alejandro did, and I think, ‘I know nothing.’ I’m in awe. There’s a feeling of admiration, and I’m left to realize that I have a lot of growing up to do in cinema. But then, almost immediately, you have feedback from the others that makes you feel that pretty much, you’re at the same level, just on a different path. I think that’s very reassuring, and it’s what allows for that brutal honesty.

I remember having that same thought when I saw Amores Perros. Besides the filmic aspect and being exposed to that kind of cinema, it also exposed this whole thing of, ‘What the heck have I been doing all these years?’ I found I needed to recover something that was a bit lost.

Del Toro: When I was finishing Pacific Rim, and Alfonso was finishing Gravity, we showed each other the movies and we were both really happy with what we’d achieved. Then we went together to see Birdman, and we came out and said, “Oh my God. The house wins.” 

It’s one of the rare times we went straight to a bar in Santa Monica, the three of us, and we got drunk together, because I remember after Alejandro had done Biutiful, he said, “I want to do something quick and small next.” And his quick, small movie was Birdman [laughs]. It was so demolishing to see what he was doing formally.

Iñárritu: You guys are being very generous, but that’s the beauty of what we’re saying, because the exact same thing happens to me when I see the work of these guys. I will never forget how blown away I was seeing Children of Men for the first time. I couldn’t understand how Alfonso had done some of those shots. Every single sequence was better than the last. 

And I would say, as a Mexican filmmaker, that Cronos is a film that I think triggered in every Mexican filmmaker the idea that it was possible to make something that not only broke the rules of Mexican cinema—that you had to be political or talk about a specific thing—but that also injected genre cinema with a quality and a soul that nobody at the time had done. In a way, it was Guillermo who opened those doors.

We’re sending a lot of flowers to one another, but it is true that the good thing of being inspired by your friends is that it triggers in you not jealousy but awe. It guides and triggers your own sense of self, and pushes you forward to the next thing you should explore.

I think it’s also true that we’re at a moment in our careers where we’re epitomizing what we’ve learned through the years. You can only really explore new languages when you’ve done so many things in the past, so that you can put together everything you’ve learned and at the same time open the door for a new light in the room. I think that’s what we are always trying to do for one another when we talk.

Guillermo del Toro directs Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer on the set of The Shape of Water.

Guillermo del Toro directs Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer on the set of The Shape of Water.

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Cuarón: I’m still amazed and in awe of the possibilities of cinema, including the unexplored ones. To be able to have that conversation and admire other masters—old masters and new ones—to give us cinema that challenges us… I think that spirit is in our conversations.

I don’t think you invent new languages, because in many ways we’ve always tried to honor the language of cinema. I think there are few in the history of cinema who have given us the gift of reinventing and transforming cinema in terms of language, but I think what Guillermo, Alejandro and I try to do is to find out how to serve that language best.

Del Toro: Yeah, but I think like the Beatles “With a Little Help from My Friends”, we have all sung out of key. Many times, in all the years of knowing each other. And I know that, regardless of what happens, I’ll have these guys. That’s always the real consolation. 

I think we’re also mindful to shepherd new voices, and we need to produce and mentor new directors. We’re very conscious and conscientious about that. Just this year, Alfonso produced a short [Le pupille] and I love that he’s doing that. Every time we produce other directors, we know we’re being part of the flow. Cinema doesn’t start and stop with our generation.

The trio never saw success in the United States as the pinnacle of achievement and have returned to Mexico not only to shoot their projects (even portions of Pinocchio were animated in Guadalajara) but also to support the work of the local industry and to give a leg up for Mexican artists…

Del Toro: We came from a generation that was completely lost in Mexican cinema—a generation of directors that had to battle a lot of adversity. The people that came after us are doing great, inventive and beautiful things. We feel that even though we’re making movies in America, we carry with us a lot of our roots by producing in Mexico, or by looking at work that’s being done here and helping to boost it.

We belong to a limbo—a bardo—that came out of seeking to weigh into an industry that was not natural to us. That we have in common. That’s important to say, because when we talk to an American filmmaker that feels they belong completely, we realize we are still doing things that are oddities. We are not completely commercial filmmakers in America, nor are we making movies exclusively about Mexico. We have the bardo commonality that we can articulate between ourselves in a very unguarded way.

The curious thing is that we come from Mexico, we work in America, but I think that we all live in film. We have had residency of cinema, you could say, since we were kids. That’s another country we inhabit.

Cuarón: In Mexico now, on the one hand there’s a healthy industry for workers in the sense of the amount of work; there’s a lot of production, and that is healthy. I think work conditions are something very important: to create standards for those conditions. Here I’m talking about within the industry in general, not necessarily about filmmakers. With the explosion of series and content for platforms, there’s an immense amount of production but there isn’t a clear regulation for how it should be done, and sometimes the regulations have been inherited from how the old industry used to do it. I think it’s very important to address that, for workers.

The other thing, in the sense of craftsmanship, is that because of the amount of production—and this is something that is being experienced worldwide—young people getting into the industry have a very short time to go through their learning curve. People start work as a third assistant on a production, and then they find themselves as the head of department on the next production because of the amount of production going on. On the one hand that’s great, but on the other, there’s a certain understanding of craftsmanship that comes from experience, and through the elder craftsmen teaching the younger generation the tricks of the trade. That’s a concern I have worldwide because it’s not just happening in Mexico. There’s always going to be a handful of very motivated people who try to learn this stuff in their own way, but as an industry that can be diluted. 

Alfonso Cuaron with Julianne Moore on the set of Children of Men.

And I do think it’s very important to look at how that comes together in a place like Mexico, because Mexico has flourished in the relationship between government sponsorship in partnership with private investment. In the last few years, the government subsidies have been lost, and with great detriment because it creates a dichotomy. Part of the reason there’s such a healthy industry of workers in Mexico, and there are plenty of jobs, is precisely because of the generations that came through because of that government sponsorship.

Del Toro: All I wish is that we can establish continuity to what has already been gained. Mexico and Mexican cinema, in its relationship to the world, is very prominent now. New filmmakers are being looked at with great hope, and a lot of new female directors especially are standing strong on the international stage from Mexico. The continuity of that generation is important. 

As Alfonso said, it’s a dichotomy, because it’s a very good moment in some ways and a very difficult moment in others. It’s not an industry that was subsidized out of capricious decisions; it was subsidized because it was not protected in NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement]. It was left completely unprotected by many of the big government moves. Other industries in Mexico were protected, but the cinema industry was left completely open. That’s why it requires a subsidy. It’s not capricious, it’s not about quality, it’s about it being left alone to fend for itself.

Cuarón: That had proven to be an amazing investment from the government for the last few decades, and what you’re talking about—that continuity you’re talking about—is very important because Alejandro, Guillermo and I witnessed firsthand the hardship of the generation that came before us. A generation of amazing masters that the three of us owe such a debt to. They had to survive incredibly tough circumstances, and ever since that system was created, a new continuity was able to emerge. It is as much an industry continuity as a cultural continuity. And probably that, perhaps, would be the biggest argument in support of those incentives.

By the time Cuarón, del Toro and Iñárritu attended the Oscars in 2007, they had been dubbed the ‘Three Amigos’ and were years into their friendship. But their complicated relationship with success makes reminiscing about the decade and a half that followed tricky for them…

Iñárritu: First of all, I want to mention that George Clooney stole our name, and he did a tequila [Casamigos], and frankly he should give us a little bit of a percentage [laughs]. We should have done that tequila, by the way. “The Three Amigos Tequila.” He was a wise guy, I think, Mr. George Clooney.

Cuarón: [Laughs] Is this the section where we play “Reflections of My Life” by Marmalade as we look back?

Del Toro: I look back on that time and I see three young guys. I see a lot of youth and I see three guys that believe in movies in the same way we believe in movies now. The adventure we’ve been on has not been lost on all of us, and I think we have only been able to survive success in the sense that we’ve embraced each other’s success with love, which is a very hard test for any friendship. We’ve been incredibly wise and loving with one another about failures and successes.

Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Alejandro G. Inarritu directs Daniel Gimenez Cacho on the set of Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.


I’ve witnessed the deepening of Alejandro and Alfonso as people and as filmmakers. Filmmaking is a mysterious craft; a lot of people talk about film, and they don’t understand the actual mechanisms and syntax of how many hours and how much precision goes into the craft. There’s a mythology about film being something that just happens, but it’s something you will. It’s an accident that you must calculate with the help of hundreds of people to make happen. It’s a tribal birth. Every shot in a movie is a tribal birth that a director has had to orchestrate.

I have seen these guys’ craft deepen as much as their minds and souls have deepened, so when I look back, I see youth, I see lessons learned, I see the beauty of the scars. There’s a beauty to aging that I value a lot.

Cuarón: And it’s a so-called success, because when we talk about any kind of success, it must coincide with different and specific moments in our lives. I think it’s been so beneficial to have this friendship with Guillermo and Alejandro endure because success is a double-edged sword. Depending on the time and moment you’re at in your life, you can be happy for the success of a friend because you know that in that specific moment, he went through so much hardship. The added validation [of Oscar and critical success] is just the cherry on the cake.

As friends, you need each other to warn you to be careful of success. “This is great, and you’re enjoying these days and this moment, but remember it will end soon, and life will keep going on, so don’t invest too much in this perception of success.” If anything, the thing I remember most about those periods is more where we were in life and what kind of impact that success had on us.

The perception of failure is the most beautiful gift we can receive, because it’s almost like a metaphor for all of the courses we still need to correct. Sometimes you realize that maybe the perception of a film you’ve done is of a failure, but in terms of what you wanted to achieve in life and in cinema, it was a tremendous success.

While some of their peers have decried the idea of cinema having a place on a streaming service, Cuarón, del Toro and Iñárritu have made comfortable homes for themselves at Netflix. They are adamant that cinema can exist outside of movie theaters, though they confess their own concerns about the ‘content’ era, and how it is influencing audiences…

Cuarón: That word, ‘content’, has become so difficult not to use, but also the unfortunate part is that a lot of the stuff being made is content. It’s ordered as content. That’s some of it. The mistake is to pile on the amazing stuff that is being made in the context of the [streaming] platforms and call all of it ‘content’. 

Del Toro: We’re in a moment right now that is very dangerous and isn’t talked about much, but I think there’s a countermovement where ambition is getting punished. Where it’s almost like you’re expected to line up with content in a way. I think there are very big swings that you need to take as a filmmaker and a storyteller that are being viewed in a strange way from the perspective of content.

Guillermo Del Toro on the set of Pinocchio.

Guillermo Del Toro on the set of Pinocchio.


Cuarón: It has to do with what you said before, Guillermo, about how the perception of cinema is so limited and that many people don’t understand what goes into making a film. It’s this limitation of considering cinema to be story and technique, when in fact there’s way more going on in that process of which story and technique are only two parts. Two very important parts, but they’re not exclusively what cinema is.

So, right now, if you don’t conform, as Guillermo says, to the perceptions of what is pleasing in terms of technique and story, you’re punished.

Del Toro: A lot of people talk about film in terms of the business of it. Whether it’s the box office, or the budget, or what goes on behind the scenes, it’s being discussed in the language of a kind of half-expertise. But that discussion doesn’t take into account the other possibilities of the artform as a form of expression.

I think the cinema we’re getting now is post-Covid, post-Trump, post-truth cinema, and it’s very apocalyptic in a way. There are big movements happening that are very interesting. And we won’t be able to fully see them until 10 years from now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss them. It’s a very interesting moment in cinema. A lot of it feels like end-of-days cinema, as people are not discussing it in that context. 

Cuarón: I’m surprised by the way people discuss this thing of the end of cinema, when you have so much amazing new cinema that is coming out, and so many great first-time directors are emerging. I find it to be the most amazing period. 

And I want to clarify, because in this conversation when we talk about the way cinema is punished, and ambition is punished, that is not coming from the platforms, because the proof of it is right here. Pinocchio and Bardo are films from a platform.

Del Toro: And Roma.

Cuarón: But in the digital conversation, on social media—and let’s remember they’re not the majority, they’re just the loudest—it becomes very dangerous, particularly when you see these amazing voices and first-time filmmakers that are able to emerge. Because it’s important when people talk about, “Oh, cinema is this…” that they stop focusing on the same old people. Why don’t they turn and look at what young filmmakers are doing, and the amazing cinema they’re creating?

We’re navigating a new world that is in a completely different universe from the one that Alejandro, Guillermo, and I grew up with that was the more traditional route from theatrical, to video, to TV.

Iñárritu: Yesterday I was talking to a friend about coffee. A friend of mine wants to start a coffee company. He’s obsessed with coffee: the grinding, the brewing…

Cuarón: He should call it ‘Tres Amigos’. It’s a good name [laughs].

Iñárritu: Exactly. But I want to say that I was thinking about that conversation as you were talking, because we were having a big discussion about what coffee means to people who are obsessed with it. There’s this incredible tradition of simple, black coffee where it comes from the way it’s grown, the way it’s prepared, the whole thing. The way you have a conversation with a friend, and take a moment to enjoy life. And then, suddenly, Starbucks came along, and it transformed the coffee habit into a faster pace. You didn’t have a coffee with a friend; you ordered it on the app, and you added gallons of cream and pounds of sugar to everything. Black coffee represents three percent of what they sell, and everything else is coffee with other things.

In a way, I just want to make a metaphor between that and film, because I think, as Alfonso was saying, we’re talking about technique and story in a way that is not about the language, or the real, traditional essence of cinema, which is much more about the simple, black coffee. We’ve added so many stimulants to it, and a stimulant has to taste good and sugary from the first sip. Anything that’s a little mysterious, anything that takes a little bit of time to brew, becomes completely challenged by that conversation. 

I will say that in music, even with all the streaming platforms there now, what’s happening is that kids are talking and making it their own, and there’s an orgy of musicians combining electronic with vintage, with classical, with jazz. They’re blending it and discovering new forms, and yes, a lot of it is bad shit, but there’s also so many incredible things emerging from that music. I think we’re in a renaissance for music because of it, and it’s not happening at the same pace in cinema.

Del Toro: But it will.

Iñárritu: It will, it will. But I think the kids really need the space to blend so many of the possibilities of cinema, and the danger is that if we keep feeding the audience with the sugary coffee, they won’t accept a simple black coffee anymore.

A scene from Alice Rohrwacher's Le pupille, which Alfonso Cuaron produced.

A scene from Alice Rohrwacher’s Le pupille, which Alfonso Cuaron produced.


Cuarón: Yeah, but I think it’s happening with younger filmmakers, and this year has proven it with some of these amazing movies they’re serving up that are the perfectly blended coffees [laughs].

Like Guillermo said, we must stop being so obsessed with the numbers. What is the obsession with those numbers? It’s an easy way to look at a film, but a film cannot be understood with numbers just because you’re too lazy to try to really understand cinema. All the numbers offer is a point of comparison, but we’re in a world that’s lost in statistics.

This whole conversation about the death of cinema, yes, probably it’s the death of cinema in the way that you know it, but there’s a new cinema coming up, and why would it be dying now? What would be the reason? They make the case that, “Oh, fewer people are going to the cinema,” but I don’t know: more people are hooked to their computers. We just need to acknowledge that the new generation engages with cinema differently.

Of course, I love the experience of going to the cinema, and I go and see films in the theater as often as I can. But I’m by no means going to say it’s the only way to experience a film. There’s a lot of cinema I’m quite happy to watch on a platform. The platforms are getting the biggest hit in all of this because they don’t share their numbers, without opening the conversation up to what kind of theatrical support certain types of cinema are getting.

At the end of the 1920s there was also this conversation about the death of cinema, because sound was coming in. They said it wouldn’t survive and people would stop going to the cinema. I think we need to remember that and be humbler in the knowledge that new generations are going to come and take the best out of those tools to create an amazing means of expression. So, I think cinema will prevail.

Iñárritu: It used to be that you could only hear music in the concert halls, and then records came along, and then the radio. If you hear Beethoven or Mozart on your headphones, does it stop being great music? Obviously, it’s better to go to the concert hall and hear 120 musicians play it live, but no matter how you hear it, it doesn’t diminish the idea behind the music.

What I’m concerned about is less the technology, and the ways that people are watching cinema, but that there’s a dictatorship of ideas behind that. It’s about the movies that are being made to please that media. If you watch a Fellini or a Godard movie on your computer, it’s still a great movie. It doesn’t change the power of the idea. But I think the ideas are being reduced to computer size in terms of ideology, and I think everybody is participating in that. The reduction of the idea is what we should discuss, not the possibilities of the medium.

Del Toro: I think the size of the idea is more important than the size of the screen, definitely. Cinema—the marketing and financial side—has always tried to be constrained by rules. Right now, for example, you hear something like, “The algorithm says people need to be hooked in the first five minutes of the film,” but that was true in the ’70s and ’80s. That’s always been true. You need to have a strong opening sequence. 

I think the beauty is the new voices will rise against this silliness in the same way we rose against the silliness in our own time.

Cuarón: I agree. I don’t think it’s a conversation that’ll change because it’s a lazy one. It’s easy to have, and it’s one that sells. That’s not going to change. But what will change is how new filmmakers gravitate through it, and how they make the best out of it. Older generations criticize how thin-skinned the younger generation is, but I think it’s the opposite. This generation growing up in the world of criticism and shame-giving on social networks, they’re used to it.

Iñárritu: I was thinking about that the other day, how when we were coming up and making our first films, we didn’t have the social media conversation that can be so loud and overwhelming for a young filmmaker. It can be cruel, and it can be paralyzing. To have the courage to be disliked and to fail at this time is much more difficult than it was before. 

Del Toro: Yeah, and when I see a film like Everything Everywhere All at Once, and I realize how much it is impacting the generation of my kids, and how they embrace it in the same way I embraced The Graduate when I was their age, I love that. I love that people can be so passionate about a movie that reflects something to them even if the older generation don’t get it. That movie has become a landmark for one generation to be able to say forever, “That was my voice at that time.”

Cuarón: I think it happened the same way in the the ’90s with the films of Tarantino, or with Trainspotting, where it felt like there was a huge new injection of energy into cinema, and it’s exactly the same thing for this generation with Everything Everywhere.

Iñárritu: I’ve always said that making a film is a miracle. It’s so difficult to make a film that anyone with a film under their arm deserves my respect and admiration whether I liked the work or not. It’s an act of courage and it’s very, very respectable. A lot of the conversation now is about the negative, but I was the president of the jury in Cannes and the first rule I gave to the jury was: “Guys, we’ll discuss the films that we see every two days. I don’t want anybody to say anything bad about any of the films. If you didn’t like the film, don’t bring it to the table. Let’s just bring what we love, and let’s fight for that.”

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron in Cannes, 2008.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron in Cannes, 2008.

Nick Wall/Wireimage

It was such a positive thing. Parasite won the Palme d’Or, and we loved so many of the films that year, but I think about what that would be like if it was a rule that everybody only ever talked about what they loved. What if the discussion of film was about the love of cinema, and that encouraged people into the theaters because we were discussing with passion the shots and the movies that changed our lives?

Del Toro: I think that’s a good idea for a countermovement, but I like the dialectic of the negative. I actually think it’s artificial to say that the [negativity of] the discussion today is unique. What the world asks from a new storyteller is to have a life examined, meaning that it’s a time to examine or position in the social structure, 100%. That’s a valid position.

And don’t forget the fears we all had when we were first coming out. We were full of fears. I was told over and over again, “Don’t try to do genre, because genre doesn’t have artistic validity.” You’re always surrendering yourself to existing structures. That was our conversation, and [this generation’s] conversation is complex in the same way, about privilege, about origins, about social responsibilities. I think that’s good and healthy.

It’s an interesting time for those voices to rise against those fears, because art definitely cannot be born out of fear. But it’s our responsibility for each of us to talk about the love of this and that. 

I like that people don’t like the movies I make. I actually like it [laughs]. 

Read the digital edition of Deadline’s The Best of 2022 magazine here.

Iñárritu: I want to clarify that I’m talking about the obsession with negativity, and I’m not saying it doesn’t work or isn’t needed when it’s something like what we were talking about between us, where it comes from something that can be constructive to receive. 

The more I enter and belong to the best clubs I want to belong to, I’m less afraid of that negativity, but I say that as a 60-year-old man with a career. For younger people, I think it can be more traumatic, and I think the language of it becomes important: that it should be useful, pointing to what doesn’t work, and not destructive. And I think the conversations can often become destructive.

Cuarón: That kind of conversation will always exist, but it’s OK to expose it. It’s a lazy way of looking at things.

Del Toro: It’s always interesting generationally that when you think an artform is dying, what is really dying is the way you understand that artform. The artform will continue after we are all dead, and I think part of it is to know when your time has come, and when it’s time to listen more and talk less. What has happened with the medium has happened because the market changed, and the market changed because audiences dictated what they wanted. The dialogue continues and it transforms.

We’re going through a mysterious transition, and I don’t think anyone knows exactly where we’ll land as a society in five years, much less as an artform, but part of it is acknowledging that it’s not your cinema anymore. It belongs to the next generation. They’re in charge, not us.

I’ll tell you, younger filmmakers like Ari Aster, or the Daniels, or Chloé Zhao, these filmmakers are brave and they’re sturdy. They’re really very solid. I think the beauty of cinema, and the beauty of our generation and our voice, is that we didn’t invent it and we’re not going to save it. It’s going to go on without us, and that’s the beauty of it. 

And I think part of the wisdom of understanding that is knowing when to shut up, so we should end the conversation there [laughs].


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