"It's a privilege to know that he's here. And that he obviously represents the Hispanic community through his work, through his movies," said film fan Graciela Torres Torres.
The Mexican-born artist is best known for directing "Like Water for Chocolate," but before that, American moviegoers saw him playing "Juan" in "Romancing the Stone." He also played "El Guapo" in the "Three Amigos". The 1992 "Like Water for Chocolate" brought the director and Mexican movies into the mainstream. "Right now, when a filmmaker comes from Mexico and says, 'I'm a filmmaker from Mexico,' they answer the phone. I was working here, working as an actor for many, many years and they did not answer the phone for me yet," said Arau.
Arau's visit to Fresno came as part of the Vina de Oro Film Festival, sponsored by Club Latino Americano and the Fresno Latino Rotary Club. On opening night, a crowd gathered at Fresno City Hall to watch the U.S. premiere of 'Zapata,' a tale about Mexican hero Emiliano Zapata. "This was the first time it was screened in a foreign country. In Mexico, it was a big success, but it was also controversial," said Arau.
Arau's time in Fresno will continue Wednesday and the film festival runs through Saturday. Organizers say this year's event is just the beginning. "You hear about Toronto, about Sundance, and you hear about others... Over time, we want to create a buzz out there. And we do this for free," said Jose Antonio Ramirez with the Latino Rotary Club.
Arau will also attend a screening of "Like Water for Chocolate" at Fresno State Wednesday. The rest of the week's activities include more screenings, workshops, and a visit by United Farmworkers co-founder Delores Huerta.