WTF is Latino @LAFilmFest?

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By LA artist Carolyn Castaño

If you are like me, you make local film festival plans last minute, which makes my annual WTF is Latino at LA Film Festival post not so much late as just (still) in time for you to make a few movie selections this weekend and next week.  The festival started last Wednesday, June 1 and runs through Thursday June 9th.  PDF of schedule here.


In full disclosure I am a Programming Consultant for the festival. These aren’t reviews as much as hopefully an insightful guide. My purpose in this series is not only to spotlight Latino writers/directors and monitor representation, but also to challenge notions of WTF is Latino.  It is a U.S. context classification that is vast; a generational and geographic diaspora.  The term Latino is often mistakenly appropriated to international filmmakers/talent from Spanish and Portugese-speaking countries.  Alejandro Gonzales Inñaritu is not Latino or a Person of Color guys.  I’m talking about ‘Merican – Latinos.

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Cars at the Hollywood Lowriders film premiere courtesy of the De Albas

The biggest change at the LA Film Festival is that it has moved from DTLA’s L.A. Live Regal Cinemas to the West side in Culver City’s Arclight Cinemas. The festival has scaled down considerably from 2014’s nearly 200 features to this year’s 56 feature-length film lineup. It underwent a programming department shakeup last year, the result of which it achieved an unprecedented shift towards more inclusive representation. The festival also established a strict world premiere requirement outside of a few special screenings and the Buzz section in order to give new films a shot.  For the second year in a row the festival remains leader of the mainstream festival pack with keeping true to its diversity mission.  43% of the films in competition categories are directed by women; and 38% of the films are directed by people of color. 86% of the films in competition are directed by 1st or 2nd time directors.

About the U.S. Latino rep –  there’s 5 US. Latino feature-length writers/directors I can identify which comes out to roughly under 10%. In front of the camera the program includes co-starring/cameo roles from established actors like John Leguizamo, Eva Longoria, Lauren Luna Velez, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Judy Reyes, Emily Rios as well as hot rising talent like Gabriel Chavarria, Yvette Monreal and Victor Almanzar.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.57.15 AMLOWRIDERS directed by Ricardo de Montreuil, written by Elgin James and Cheo Hodari Coker.

Everyone agrees that the film’s theme made this the perfect LA Film Festival world premiere and while I’ll take full credit in pitching the film to the festival, I certainly cannot take credit for giving it the prestigious Opening Night slot which speaks to Festival Director, Stephanie Allain’s mission of centering underrepresented films as festival headliners. About the film’s pedigree: The film was conceived by Hollywood producer Brian Grazer who grew up fascinated with the lowrider culture. Grazer enlisted Peruvian filmmaker Ricardo de Montreuil to direct, who with his super talented Colombian DP Andres Sanchez, captures the landmark bridges, hills, hotspots and avenues of El Sereno, Echo Park, Elysian Park and Boyle Heights.  But its LA born and bred legendary tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon and photographer Estevan Oriol, listed as executive producers, along with co-writer Elgin James, who lend the film some cred and streak Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.59.21 AMof authenticity into this male-dominated club culture.  In front of the camera is East Los Angeles native Gabriel Chavarria (East Los) who plays Danny Alvarez, the graffiti artist son of a an OG lowrider club member. Cast is rounded out by Italian stallion sweetheart Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy) who plays his brother, Guatemalan-American Tony Revolri as a friend, Academy Award nominated Mexican actor Demian Bichir (A Better Life), Eva Longoria and Yvette Monreal. The Grazer/Blumhouse production, which is said to have cost around 5 million, has yet to announce a release date let alone a trailer or social media campaign.

LUPE UNDER THE SUN written and directed by Rodrigo Reyes

A bittersweet tale about a fascinating and flawed man who comes to an unsettling realization about his impermanence.  Set in Merced, California where Mexican-American filmmaker Reyes is from, Lupe Under the Sun is slotted in the World Cinema competition.  I listed this film as one of my top 10 films to watch out for in 2016 so I’m so excited to see it get its first festival premiere. While it makes sense to tag the docu-fiction film under immigrant struggles, don’t get it twisted. Reyes’ sophomore film smartly eschews politics  and portrays a personal and deeply moving character’s existential crisis.


11:55 directed by Ben Snyder and Ari Issler, written by Victor Almanzar

The title is a sly evocation to a 3:10 to Yuma type western duel in that it sets an increasingly tense timer from Marine Nelson Sanchez’s early morning return back home to that night’s arrival of a bus carrying a dangerous antagonist who blames him for the death of his brother and is out for revenge. Dominican-American Victor Almanzar who is a real life Marine, stars and co-wrote the film.  The story is tight and oozes tension from the get as his homecoming is quickly overshadowed by the looming danger which conflicts with his genuine desire to move forward with his girlfriend and protect his sister and niece. Bomb performances by Victor and Elizabeth Rodriguez as well as John Leguizamo who plays a veteran in a wheelchair (damn he is good at drama). About the directors, both cinematographers in their own right, Ben Snyder notably was a Story Consultant for documentary The Wolfpack and did additional cinematography for Nas: Time is Illmatic, while Ari has shot music documentaries like Brothers Hypnotic and the Hip Hop Project.



72 HOURS in Brooklyn: A Love Story directed by Raafi Rivero, co-written with Bilal N’Dongo

The film had its first world premiere screening Thursday night so if you missed it I urge you to join the campaign to demand an encore screening slot.  I hope it happens. This is a must watch as its an incredible feat of collaborative and guerilla filmmaking.  It is a ridiculously authentic and compelling feature of interweaving slices of Black youth in Brooklyn led by one college-bound 18 year old Caesar Winslow’s pursuit of romance across Brooklyn.

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When I asked Rivero how he defines his cultural background, he said Hip Hop. Which is a good reminder how each person identifies with their own distinct cultural upbringing (Okay he’s got a grandfather from Cuba).



ACTORS OF SOUND directed by Lalo Molina

The craft and history of Foley for all you Foley junkies. A documentary playing in the LA Muse section.

Making the rounds on the festival circuit since Sundance and SXSW is short film, The Send-Off directed by Ivette Lucas playing in Documentary Shorts program 1.


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Dir Amber Tambyln with Emily Rio


Emily Rios (From Dusk til Dawn tv, The Bridge, Quinceañera) plays Alia Shawkat’s  punk no nonsense best friend in the film adaptation of Paint it Black written by Janet Finch.  It’s notably quite an impressive and dynamic directorial debut by actor Amber Tamblyn. The film is premiering in the U.S. Competition.

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Lauren Luna Velez has a deliciously wicked role as police chief in the ultra-fun action violent cult comic adaptation Officer Downe about an L.A. supercop who is killed in the line of duty but is  resurrected to clean up the streets. The joy ride is directed by M. Shawn Crahan (Slipknot) screening in the NightFall Section.

Judy Reyes (Scrubs) is called on to soothe the anxiety of a young girl’s first period and welcome her into womanhood in comedy Girl Flu written and directed by Dorie Barton, screening in the LA Muse section.

and now MISC: A couple of my recent festival faves and must-see’s if you can catch them at the fest.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 12.59.04 PM.pngKICKS, the pulsing and striking directorial debut of Justin Tipping is co-written with Joshua Beirne-Golden. Both of whom incidentally wrote an original script for Lowriders at one point and ultimately received co-producer credit. The Oakland set film stars stunner talent Jahking Guillory who decides to go after whats his (the Air Jordans he bought himself which he was jacked for) ultimately sending him on an irrevocable path torwards confronting what it means to be a man in his social construct. The film  premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. #KicksFilm

JEANS OF THE JONESES – saw this really witty matriarchal comedy at SXSW by first time filmmaker Black Canadian Stella Meghie starring Taylor Paige as a hopeless in love, adorably searching writer.

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Follow the latest scoop @LAFilmFest, check out their YouTube videos for daily coverage and interviews, and for more info go to website or call box office: 1 866 Film Fest.

Heading to the Westside so stay tuned for more via my twitter handle: @IndieFindsLA

WTF is Latino at SXSW FILM?

3026402-inline-i-17-an-oral-history-of-sxsw-interactiveI’m getting all psyched up just thinking about this weekend when I’ll finally be seated at the Alamo Ritz on 6th street, ordering my refreshing Paloma cocktail, and sitting back to watch some wildness that SXSW Film selected. Yep, its the 2016 SXSW rodeo.

Of course I’m talking about the mega mega South by Southwest Interactive/Film/Music Festival and Conference kicking off this Thursday from March 11-20 in Austin, Texas.

So what’s the Latino presence?  Lets go wide for this one. For the past two years SXSW has tagged its Ibero and Latin American programming across film, interactive and music, under the umbrella SXAméricas. This year, Brazil and Spain have the biggest presence in the film program (3 features for Brazil, 5 films/filmakers from Spain).  For the first time in the festival’s history there is a film from Ecuador, UIO: Take Me for a Ride (although back in 2014 Austin based Ecuadorian-American filmmaker Alex R. Johnson had his film Two Step in the fest) which is notable for its rarity.  Major KEY alert, Uruguayan filmmaker  Fede Alvarez will be dropping his mysteriously under wraps untitled Ghosthouse Thriller.

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bad cop, bad cop

Personally I cannot wait to see WAR ON EVERYONE by the wicked Irish hooligan John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Cavalry, also his brother wrote/directed the savagely entertaining IN BRUGES).  War on Everyone which premiered in the fancy Berlinale last month is a black, pulpy buddy cop flick filmed in ‘Burque’ New Mexico. The film stars Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgard, Tessa Thompson and Miss Bala/Bond girl Stephanie Sigman.



I usually try to focus on only U.S. Latino writers/directors, but I’ll expand and be global for this edition as there is just too much cool filmmaking and stories coming from South America and Spain.  Also, this is by no means a definitive list of WTF is Latino but a pre-curtain look. More once I’m on the ground!

PET directed by Carles Torrens

One of five directors Vice says is going to save Spanish Cinema, Carles Torrens’ second feature film, Pet is premiering in the Midnight section. From Barcelona, Torrens graduated from Chapman University. A psychological thriller in which Dominic Monaghan plays a man who runs into an old high school classmate he use to have the hots for. His creepy attempts to romance is met with rejection. Naturally, he takes her prisoner at the dogpound he works at to teach her a lesson, only to find that she is not who she seems. Torrens’ first directing feature was Apartment 143 written by Rodrigo Cortes (Buried with Ryan Reynolds). Previously Torrens directed shorts like the twisted thriller Sequence, which has played over a hundred festivals. Pet teaser below.

12828500_1070131749697280_3048930164827168970_oOVARIAN PSYCOS directed by Joanna Sokolows and Kate Trumbull-LaValle

The OVA’S ARE COMING!  It’s so rad to see this documentary about the badass cycling brigade, Ovarian Psycos get its world premiere at South By. I have been talking about this one on here since its first Kickstarter, and last year’s Top Docs to Watch Out for list.  The filmmakers managed to successfully crowd-fund a second time on Kickstarter in order to fly and put up members of the collective from the Eastside  EL-Lay in Austin and represent at the world premiere.  Don’t be surprised to see the sisterhood ride through the street raising awareness for social issues that affect all women. In fact I’d follow them on Twitter so you can join in. Austin has a great rental bike program.


Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 7.54.00 PMUNTITLED GHOST HOUSE THRILLER written and directed by Fede Alvarez

With no confirmed title yet nor film stills out there, this second original film from Alvarez is about “a group of teens break into a blind man’s home thinking they’ll get away with the perfect crime. They’re wrong.”  This is the guy who six years ago caught fire when his 5 minute short film Panic Attack made the rounds and ultimately got him the gig to helm the 2013 Evil Dead reboot which is bananas.  Only info that is clear on this one is that Jane Levy stars, its from Sony Pictures and Sam Raimi produces. It’s been referred to and on IMDB its listed as A Man in the Dark.  Fede has also been rumored to be director of Warner Bros’  Dark Universe. Fede has also directed episodes of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn TV series.

TRANSPECOS co-written and directed by Greg Kwedar

“The border is a shifting line.”

A thriller set in the dry outposts of Texas in which border patrol men, two of who are played by Latinos, Clifton Gonzalez and Gabriel Luna, stumble onto evidence that may lead to a plot between the cartel and one of their own. I read the script a while ago and remember vividly visualizing the filmmakers’ cinematic western noir intent. Given the score is co-written by The Revenant composer, Bryce Dessner, and it the film shot by Jeffrey Waldron, a versatile commercial, documentary and indie film D.P, it will surely deliver on that front.  Kwedar, who previously produced the documentary Rising From Ashes, about Rwanda’s first ever cyling team, teamed up with Texan filmmaker, Clint Bentley to write his feature directorial debut. I’m eager to report back on this one.  Last border fiction tale I saw that flexed its thriller genre (unfortunately over story) was El Desierto from Mexican Jonas Cuaron which ultimately suffered from oversimplistic storytelling.


From-Nowhere-Photo-1FROM NOWHERE co-written and directed by Matthew Newton

In Narrative Spotlight, From Nowhere is the film adaptation of the play, No One Asked Me written by Kate Ballen, whose 10 year experience as a counselor at a Bronx high school where she helped undocumented students navigate the college admission process became the basis and inspiration to tell this story.  Australian director/actor Newton directed No One Asked Me as part of Fringe NYC festival last fall.  Newton previously directed Three Blind Mice which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Julianne Nicholson ostensibly plays Kate as the teacher and the students are played by J. Mallory McCree (Quantico, We Need to Talk about Kevin), and newcomer Octavia Chavez-Richmond.


INSATIABLE directed by Brett A. Schwartz

Homaro Cantu was a goddamned trail blazer.  Legend has it that he came to Chicago with $300 in his pocket and camped out at famed master chef Charlie Trotter’s until he gave him a job.  He shortly thereafter became his sous chef. In 2003 he opened up his avant garde restaurant Moto which became a prized Michelin star rated restaurant and blew up Chicago on the culinary map. He was a beloved figure in the chef community so the news of his death last spring at age 38 rocked everyone’s world.  My sister, Diana Davila who is a chef in Chicago idolized Cantu so much that she had her engagement dinner there.  Apparently filmmaker Brett A. Schwartz was granted a fair amount of access for the three years he followed him. The aptly titled film focuses on Cantu’s game-changing culinary practices, mad passion for the intersection of science, art and health, and deep imprint he left as a molecular gastronomy pioneer.



THE SEND-OFF by Ivette Lucas and Patrick Bresnan

I previously wrote about Ivette’s film Mexican Fried Chicken. Her new documentary short with filmmaking partner Patrick Bresnan premiered at Sundance earlier this year.  The film is a fly on the wall look at a group of seniors from a Central Florida high school as they they prep and dress for the big prom affair which includes their local block party show where the royally dressed young couples pose for snaps.

PHIL’S CAMINO directed by Jessica Lewis and Annie Oneil

A first film, and a really moving half hour doc short about Phil who has stage four cancer and decides that to ‘heal’ himself he is going to trek the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain.

International films

EAT MY SHIT written and directed by Eduardo Casanova

You know you want to watch.  Here is the full 3 minute shit.

The 23 year old filmmaker’s bio: Cinema is what I truly believe. Cinema is the cause and solution for every trouble I have. Cinema to me is like morphine to Bela Lugosi, like Richard Burton to Liz Taylor, like red lights to Dario Argento, like big boobs to Russ Meyer, like Lynch and the dwarfs.


VICTOR XX written and directed by Ian Garrido Lopez.

Trailer above for the 20 something min short from Spain which was incubated and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.   The film’s synopsis: “Victor likes to experiment with his gender. He doesn’t know if he feels like a boy or a girl.”  The actor who plays Victor, Alba Martinez is magnetic. Bravo to Ian, a 27 year old transgender filmmaker from the south east Mediteranean coast of Spain for directing the performance and bringing this story to the fore.


Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.18.32 PMSEMANA SANTA written and directed by Alejandra Marquez

I previously wrote about this first feature in my last Mexican film roundup post. Making its U.S. premiere after playing Toronto up north and Los Cabos down South, the film is a keenly felt and compelling story set in a run down Acapulco during Easter holiday.  You might recognize Tenoch Huerta from Dias de Gracia, Gueros, Mozart & The Jungle.

56babbf32109cUIO: TAKE ME FOR A RIDE co-written and directed by Micaela Rueda

LGBT film from Ecuador, a co-production with Mexico and Colombia. Michaela has spent the last five years working on her first fiction feature debut, working from a script by Juan José Valle.  You can see the trailer on the film sales agent site M-Appeal

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.30.55 PMKILL ME PLEASE written and directed by Anita Rocha da Silveira

First premiering at the Venice Film Festival this impressive next level teen angst tale is a first feature from Brazil/Argentina. Set in a newly developed city in Rio de Janeiro the story’s backdrop is a wave of murders which calls 15  year old Bia’s attention. The filmmaker says, “Bia is someone who wants to kill herself yet wants to carry on living, experiencing everything to the edge – she wants to be killed but also wants to kill, wake up the next day, and do it all over again.”  Sounds dope.

DEAD SLOW AHEAD co-written and directed by Mauro Herce

The hums, deep waves and barge ship motor noises makes for a really hypnotizing minimal film from Spain. Check out the trailer here. Born in Barcelona in 1976, Mauro Herce graduated in engineering and fine arts before enrolling in top film school Cuba’s San Antonio de los Baños.

JULES AND DOLORES cowritten and directed by Caito Ortiz

Selected in the Visions section, the more ‘audacious’ filmmaking section, this 1983 set Brazilian caper about stealing the world cup trophy looks like pure boogie down fun.  You can see trailer here.  Caito Ortiz is on the director roster of slick advertising and entertainment company Prodigo Films.

THE SPACE IN BETWEEN – Marina Abramovic and Brazil

Directed by the Sao Paulo cinematography artist, Marco Del Fiol.  All you need to know is that this is Marina’s trip and we are along for the ‘hardcore and spiritual’ ride.


Rafael Palacio Illingworth’s Between Us finds world premiere berth at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival

In my last post I highlighted Rafael Palacio Illingworth and his intense relationship drama, The Force now called Between Us. Very cool to share the announcement that it will premiere at the Tribeca film festival this April. Lucky new yorkers!  Browsing through the list I’m also pleased for Cecilia Aldarondo’s documentary Memories of a Penitent Heart, a very personal film in which she rattles some family secrets comcerning her estranged gay uncle. And I am so stoked for the opener, KICKS, a script I fell in love with years back. Justin Tipping and Josh Beirne-Golden have two back to back features unspooling this year, this bay area sneaker caper and LOWRIDERS which they wrote and peruvian Ricardo de Montreuil is directing, starring Tony Revolori. Check out rest of the fest list here:
The 15th annual New York festival has unveiled about half the films on its 101-feature lineup, with 55… Read more »


No better time than Oscar week to post my annual list of new films made by Latinos. I hope reading about these cool flicks inspires you to seek and consume the stories you value outside the super exclusive corporate media. Before we get to the list, my 3.63 pesos on the #HollywoodSoWhite convo.

I appreciated Dennis Romero’s recent LA Weekly article called “Hollywood’s Diversity Emergency is not Black” in which he gives big ups to the Black community for doing the ‘heavy lifting’ in making the diversity conversation trend. Romero essentially calls on the Asian and Latino community to take part in the dialogue because we stand the most to gain in moving the dial considering the wider gap that exists between Asian and Latinos’ population and their respective media representation compared to African Americans’ numbers.

Using the framework of proportion, USC’s Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity reveals that across the 309 episodes and 109 films they covered, 15% were directed by women (50% population), and 13% were directed by underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (38% non-white).

It makes sense that the percentage of on screen underrepresented characters increases (17.5%) when an underrepresented director is at the helm of a scripted episode or film.
I’m not sure what to make then of a recent phenomenon I have seen within the Latino community; an overwhelming desire/shift to tell stories UNRELATED to their Latino identity. Don’t get it twisted,  I respect the artist’s prerogative and agree that just because you are from a certain ethnicity, you shouldn’t feel obligated to tell that ‘ethnic film’. But if the rationale is that in order to tell a universal story you can’t be ethnic specific, I totally take issue with that, and would argue on the contrary, we just haven’t done it enough to prove it’s not true.  Along these puzzling but no less real lines, I was startled to read in the report, “As (female) power increases, female presence decreases. In film, television, and streaming executive ranks, 46.7% of Senior Vice President-level executives are female.”  What’s up ladies?


Part of me gets it though, both artist and gatekeeper is faced with the obligation, pressure and responsibility to succeed in a business of mediated platforms.  Unfortunately that usually means don’t stick your neck out, less risk.  But what if we made it our goal to seize and create as many chances to allow ourselves to FAIL, at least as much as the rest get to, because that is how we get to the next level.

Okay enough rant!  Here is my curated list of brand spanking new feature length fiction films written and directed by filmmakers in the US of A who have Mexican/Caribbean/Central/South American roots. Many of these films are in post-production but might be making their world premiere at a film festival or VOD later this year.  As you can tell, some filmmakers clearly chose to tell a story from a specific Latino character/experience, while others drew from their culture in a more abstract, no less personal route.  One thing is for sure though, each of these artists have been hustling their craft for years outside the studio system which is why you can see a distinct genre and aesthetic in their work.  Make sure to check out the links to their previous work.  It is one thing to say there we be underrepresented and quite another thing to be overlooked.

BETWEEN US written and directed by Rafael Palacio Illingworth

From Caviar Content, a multi media company that financed last year’s Diary of a Teenage Girl by Marielle Heller, comes this intense romance drama made by Mexico/Colombia raised AFI grad Rafael Palacio Illingworth.  The film features two incredibly talented actors Olivia Thirlby (Juno) and Ben Feldman (Ginsberg in Mad Men!) as a couple navigating a tempestuous “post-honeymoon phase” while trying to hang on to the chemistry that first made them gravitate towards each other. Rafael starred in his own first film MACHO ( see here,) which like The Force, also tracked a relationship through the initial meet-cute high.  Macho landed with IFC after premiering at the Raindance Film Festival in London in 2010. The film just announced its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.


antibirthANTIBIRTH written and directed by Danny Perez

Danny is two for two, his first and second films have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Raised in Virginia in a Cuban Catholic family, Danny cut his visual teeth while collaborating with avant garde music group, Animal Collective for years.  His first film, Oddsac is in many ways a sensory album for the band. It screened in Sundance’s experimental New Frontier section in 2010. Taking his skills for phantasmagoric imagery and folding hyperreal narrative and social commentary Perez shot the wasteland USA set Antibirth which stars none other than the coolest indie queens, Natasha Lyonne and Chle Sevigny.  The film got rave reviews, having premiered in the much talked about Midnight section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  A film that’s been called “a debauched progeny of Cronenberg’s classic, The Brood, it has without a doubt the wildest, most bat-shit crazy ending I have ever seen. Must-watch. Stay tuned to hear where it lands more fests and distribution.


HEARTS OF PALM written and directed by  Monica Peña

Following her first feature, the experimental street docu-fiction film, Ectotherms, which drew comparisons to Harmony Korine’s work, Monica Peña is back with her second feature, Hearts of Palm. The fable like film follows a romance en route to decay between two sentient beings. Peña brings to life her distinct vision with her previous collaborators Brad Lovett aka Dim Past who stars and is behind the sonic pulse of the film, and Jorge Rubiera, cinematographer who beams an otherworldly yet unmistakable Miami vibe. The Cuban American filmmaker is a Sundance Institute/Knight Fellow.   Watch Ectotherms here.  Hearts of Palm is world premiering at the upcoming Miami International Film Festival.


Lupe21LUPE UNDER THE SUN written and directed by Rodrigo Reyes

Since the debut of his 2012 highly acclaimed and visual border documentary, Purgatorio, Rodrigo Reyes has been developing a number of projects, including this evocative tale called Lupe Under the Sun. Originally planned to be a documentary set in Merced, his hometown, Northern California, Reyes let the story evolve into a hybrid  film about an old Mexican man who has spent his entire life working in the California fields.  When he attempts to get back in touch with the family and life he left behind, he finds out that his absence did not stop them from moving on.  Shot by Justin Chin, his D.P. on Purgatorio, the film casts a neorealist, tinge of black humor aided by the real world surroundings of the agricultural desert suburb.  Lupe Under the Sun was selected to participate in IFP Narrative Lab last year and is expected to finish the film in 2016.


MARIGOLD THE MATADOR, written and directed by Kenneth Castillo

The prolific independent LA born and raised Chicano filmmaker, Kenny Castillo is currently finishing his 7th feature.  Known for his popular short form series, The Misadventures of Cholo Chaplin which he is currently developing into animation, Castillo has since successfully specialized in urban films led by multi dimensional characters. Marigold the Matador focuses on a single mother from the perspective of an 11 year old girl who deals with her feelings of loneliness and isolation by imagining herself as a Matador in the world of the Day of the Dead. Most of the story  was shot unscripted and the result is a very authentic and emotionally engaging film.  He is currently raising funds to finish the film. The true blue indie filmmaker entrepreneur he is, you can head over to his website and buy a cool Cholo Chaplin shirt, check out his complete body of work, and donate to his film.


FUGUE written and directed by Jorge Torres-Torres

I know, not FUGUE, but no film still avail yet
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Artist known as Torres

I only recently discovered the work of this enigmatic filmmaker who’s been lurking along the coolest fringes of art genre.  Among his previous films, 2014’s moody verite, Shadow Zombie won a prize for best “documentary-sh” film at the renowned Chicago Underground Film Festival. Sisters of the Plague starring Josephine Deckker screened at last year’s  New Orleans Film Festival and Outfest.  Back in 2011 Jorge was the cinematographer on Jonathan Caouette’s Cannes documentary, Walk Away Renee.   Yes , he also directs music videos, including this neat Modest Mouse Strangers to Ourselves track.  The Puerto Rican born filmmaker has also produced and shot a number of random videos you can find on his Tumblr.  Upcoming films include a documentary about the Slacker esque Athens, Georgia music scene called A Peculiar Noise, premiering at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival, and Fugue, which follows a woman (Sophie Traub) who wanders around an island lost and out of place.  Having binged on his work recently I can safely say that he casts spells of mad intrigue and strange  dream-state feels.  Definitely an indie auteur you should know.


greenghostposter_twitchTHE GREEN GHOST directed by Michael Olmos 

Michael Olmos goes family superhero action film in The Green Ghost, his 4th feature film.  It is not surprising that Olmos is collaborating with Marco Zaror; back in 2006 Marko made noise in the Chilean street action thriller, Kiltro which premiered at LALIFF, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival headed by Michael’s father, Eddie Olmos.  Michael’s underrated first film, Splinter in 2006 was shot on the streets of LA and displayed his stylish and gritty directing chops. Olmos went on to co-direct and produce the 2012 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition film  Filly Brown which catapulted Gina Rodriguez pre-Jane the Virgin.  Zaror has many fans around the world having carved out for himself a string of martial arts action flicks, many of which have played Fantastic Fest where incidentally he and Michael sneaked some footage of the Green Ghost last year.  The film is about a man having to overcome his insecurities to transform into a superhero and defeat the dangerous bruja Lechusa who plans to bring back the wrath of Moctezuma.   Currently in post.


DADDY’S BOY written and directed by Daniel Armando

Daniel’s first feature What it Was made the Latino/LGBT film festival run.  The story about an actor coming to terms with a recent family loss and her marriage breakup returns to her home in Brooklyn where she runs into an old college girlfriend. The film has raw verite scenes interlaced with poetic close up cinematic imagery.  He has not one but two films premiering at this year’s Cinequest Film Festival next month.  He directed a film called When I’m With You, and wrote and directed an erotic swoon and slow dance film, Daddy’s Boy which indulges in its queer cinema throwback and music interludes as it follows four young men behind the closed doors of a burlesque studio, shedding more than just their clothes and inhibitions.  Daniel has said that he likes films that wander throughout space.   He’s been quoted as saying, “A lot of my favorite films don’t feature characters like this, and I feel I have a responsibility as an artist of color to tell everyday stories from a perspective rarely seen.”


DON’T KILL IT directed by Mike Mendez

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Dolph, demon hunter

From the director of Big Ass Spider which played at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, comes this supernatural action thriller, starring none other than 80s movies action icon, Dolph Lundgren.  Mike Mendez, born to Salvadorean and Mexican family parents, born and raised in LA has been busy.  After Big Ass Spider he did Lavalantula about giant lava spewing tarantulas. Last year he put together an anthology of scary shorts, Tales of Halloween directed by various filmmakers including Lucky McKee (2002’s May is one of my long time cult faves).  Mendez doesn’t show any signs of slowing his roll which is a good thing for his loyal fans.  His love for genre is evident in his filmmaking, and his action/horror genre is mixed with a  pure sense of humor.


 FROZEN PEAS written and directed by Alonso Mayo

A real bi-cultural American who spent his formative years in between Lima, Peru and Lawrence, Kansas, Alonso Mayo first moved to LA to attend AFI where he made his thesis short film, Wednesday Afternoon.  In 2013, Gravitas Ventures picked up his first feature, The Story of Luke starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Seth Green, Cary Elwes and Kristin Bauer.  His sophomore effort, Frozen Peas is a funny and honest film about a husband and father to three kids finds himself in the throes of a masculinity panic attack when pressured by his wife to consider vasectomy.


First Features Alert

To round up the list here are three special mentions of directorial debuts to watch coming soon; Bruising for Besos written and directed by Adelina Anthony, the queer chicana poet who wrote the story for one of my favorite short films, You’re Dead To Me.  A critically acclaimed and beloved solo artist performer, she stars herself in Brusing as Yoli, a smooth talker whose game is put to the test in pursuit of romance. Varsity Punks written and directed by Anthony Solorzano is a high school comedy following a tight knit rambunctious cross country team shot in El Monte starring Efren Ramirez as the coach.   H.O.M.E by Daniel Maldonado which is premiering a the Queens World Film Festival stars Jeremy Ray Valdez as a young man with Aspergers. See trailer for H.O.M.E. below.

Cine Mexicano, Morelia Film Fest, Rain and Shine

Pueblo Magico, Valle de Bravo
Pulque was had here

Two transcendent nights in two pueblos magicos, (Valle de Bravo and Tepotzlan), hallucinating pulque, and an overdose of Mexican cinema at the Morelia Film Festival later, I’ve got a roundup of what and who you need to know in new Mexican Cinema (fiction), the 13th edition of the Festival (and my 8th consecutive year!), and whats to come in 2016.

no-show Toro


While one of the biggest Mexican movie rockstars (no pun intended), Guillermo del Toro did not show up to Morelia’s Opening Night screening of his latest, La cumbre escarlata aka Crimson Peak, there were plenty of internationally acclaimed Mexican cinéastes present.

First, outside the festival’s competition, making their home turf Mexican premieres was young auteur David Pablos’ remarkable, bittersweet and bleak Tijuana set portrait, The Chosen Ones which premiered earlier this year in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard. A Canana production. Mundial handling sales.  Yet to premiere in the U.S.A.

(L-R) Alejandro Ramirez, Festival President, Daniela Michel, Festival Director, presenting Jonas, Alfonso and Carlos Cuaron

It was a family affair for the querido Cuarón clan at the festival.  Oscar winning director Alfonso accompanied his son Jonas, along with his brother, Carlos. Jonás’ second feature, Desierto which premiered in Toronto and won the FIPRESCI award stars Gael García Bernal.  The Mexico/U.S. border crossing story intends to imbue a “Hunger Games” type/hyper sensory action thriller approach but falls a bit short of that cool aim.  STX, a new distributor led by producer Bob Simonds picked up North American rights. It is yet to screen in the U.S.

Raised in Mexico, Rodrigo García, who I had no idea until recently is the son of famed Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez which gives me another perspective and appreciation of the symbolic father/son relationship in his astral film, Last Days in the Desert, made his first long-awaited visit to the festival. The Ewan McGregor starrer, Emmanuel Lubezki shot film was picked up by Broad Green recently.

Tim Roth and his directors, Michel Franco and Gabriel Ripstein
The new three amigos? Tim Roth, Michel Franco and Gabriel Ripstein

I missed two Mexican co-productions but thanks to AFI Film Festival will catch this coming week in LA.  From Afar, a Venezuelan/Mexican co-production and first feature from Lorenzo Vigas which won Best Film at Venice Film Festival, and Chronic by Michel Franco which won Best Screenplay at Cannes is also making its U.S. premiere at AFI.  Franco has been busy directing and producing through his shingle Lucia Films which also includes 600 Miles by Gabriel Ripstein, Mexico’s entry in the best foreign language film category at the 88th Academy Awards.  Tim Roth stars in both Chronic and 600 Miles, and was in Morelia presenting them where he was given a tribute for his body of work which includes directing. Rumor has it he will be directing his next film in Mexico.


The competition was a bit more uneven than in previous years, comprised of a few fantastic films among many more average. But that has always been the tightrope walk; using the platform as a discovery of Mexican world premieres, and the necessity of including films in competition that come with built in word of mouth from having played abroad at prestigious festivals. In fact, 7 out of 10 films in the official feature fiction competition were world premieres.  More so than in previous years and I applaud that direction as it’s a risky but one that should further consolidate its reputation of supporting Mexican filmmakers, as well as encourage more Mexican filmmakers to world premiere their features at home.  3 were first time feature filmmakers,  3 co-productions including 2 with Spain, 2 out of 10 directed by women, of which are the only films who have a female lead/role with the exception of Rodrigo Pla’s film, A Monster with a Thousand Heads.

Having seen all the films in competition –  and for that matter many of this year’s Mexican films,  I Promise you Anarchy by Julio Hernandez Cordon (Marimbas from Hell, Gasolina) stands out above the rest.  A skater boy lovestory that is genre and gender bending, it’s played in all the big fests including Locarno, Toronto, San Sebastian.  It’s his first film shot outside his country of Guatemala, in various exterior locations in Mexico City, and the first with a real budget.  It took home an Honorable Mention at Morelia.  I found each shot transfixing and saw depth and true emotion within the surreality of his narrative. Interior XII  is behind the film, a film production company known for its risk-taking bent. Latido Films is handling rights, and the film is yet to premiere in the U.S.  Hernandez Cordon is already at work developing his next film.


Festival Vice President, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel presenting Elisa Miller
Festival Vice President, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel presenting Elisa Miller

Among the world premieres, the magnetic The Pleasure is Mine by Elisa Miller, is for sure the discovery of the Morelia Film Festival in my mind. It was awarded with Best First or Second feature film (It’s her second). Co-starring Flor Edwarda Gurrola who I first saw in Plan Sexennal and newcomer Fausto Alzati who makes a “big” full frontal impression.  Fernando Eimbcke (Duck Season, Lake Tahoe, Club Sandwich) and  Christian Valdelievre produces.  Playing with the male/female gaze through a female perspective, the arrested in sex lovestory is bound to have a bright future in the hippest festivals around the world

The Heirs is another world premiere worth mentioning. A second feature by Venezuelan Jorge Hernández Aldana, (Buffalo of the Night) featuring the kid actor in Güeros, Sebastián Aguirre. The performances and dynamic between characters are impressive, however the story itself, idle privileged youth who live reckless lives of impunity, feels like over-tread terrain. From Lucia Films and prolific film producer Alex Garcia.

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The Greatest House in the World

I’d give honorable mention to Lucia Carreras’ The Greatest House in the World which premiered in Berlin earlier this year.  Her first directorial debut screened a couple years ago at the festival, called Nos Vemos Papa, starring Cecilia Suarez. Her latest co-production is shot in Guatemala, A visually captivating film about a young girl who loses a sheep (read her innocence) it is a jewel of an art house film, and alongside Guatemalan feature Ixcancul by Jayro Bustamante and Hernandez Cordon’s previous films, propelling Guatemala on the film map as of late. Indeed, this year marks the first time Guatemala submits a film for the Academy’s foreign language entry.

Rodrigo Pla’s fourth feature, A Monster with a Thousand Heads, blasts on the bureaucracy and apathetically broken medical care system in Mexico. Taut, it gets right to the point, but it is not as compelling for me as his previous films.

The Best Film Award at Morelia Film Festival went to Matias Meyer’s world premiere (The Last Cristeros) for YO, about a mentally stunted overgrown teenager who lives with his mother, based on a short story by Jean-Marie Le Clezio.  Film is handled by Figa Films.  The film, like the lead, is touching but overly earnest and ambling.


new digital platform a la 'mubi'
new digital platform a la ‘mubi’

People outside of Mexico see far more independent and art house Mexican cinema than people in Mexico because of limited exhibition platforms. One shining beacon in Mexico City is La Cineteca Nacional, a cinema palace with 10 theaters that programs year round classic and contemporary Mexican films. The country’s two major film output entities are Cinepolis the largest theater chain in Mexico with over 2500 screens (nearly half the market), and IMCINE, The National Film Institute.  Per IMCINE’s film report, 130 Mexican films were produced in 2014 and 68 were released.  Cinepolis has established their Sala de Arte, their designated documentary and arthouse theater inside their multiplexes, as well as begun to distribute films. Meanwhile IMCINE, which has long funded development and production, recently created a fund for distribution, so that Mexican independent fiction and documentary films can be seen. Still, because they are the corporate/government film monopolies in Mexico, some feel it is their responsibility to do much more.  Yours truly moderated a panel with their new digital platforms CinepolisKlic, and FilminLatino. CinepolisKlic offers VOD of a variety of commercial national and international titles while FilminLatino (IMCINE) is a subscriber based platform with a very curated selection and cool editorial tone. Both are open for filmmakers to submit their films, regardless of whether its had a theatrical or festival premiere.

For far too long Mexican filmmakers have been overly influenced by european cinema- no doubt to appeal to international fests where sometimes its the only place their independent work has a chance to be seen. So I love it when I see filmmakers like Julio Hernandez Cordon, Nicolas Pereda, and Gerardo Naranjo creating original aesthetics and risk-taking narrative approaches. Thematically this year, there seems to be a thruline of simmering desperation, desire, and fighting for something aspirational, even if only for a brief respite…. before landing to reality and surrendering to the same old.

Programmer and filmmaker Daniela Alatorre


Film Festival heads; President and Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez, Vice President, cultural ambassador and Architect, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel, and  the always eloquent and die-hard cinephile Festival Director Daniela Michel are super  involved and present every day/night hosting their guests and introducing films. They elevated the quality of intros and q&a’s at the festival along with Festival Programmer and filmmaker (and for many years the head of production for the festival) Daniela Alatorre, who framed context and created rich dialogue around the documentary screenings.  Although it was rumored that Hurricane Patricia scared away some attendees, the festival seemed to have more special guests and industry presence than ever. Sundance Institute’s Artist Services engineered a popular workshop which included a 101 with Dan Schoenbrun from Kickstarter, a conversation with doc master Ondi Timoner and a conversation with SXSW head, Janet Pierson. This year also marked an alliance between Locarno’s Industry Academy and Morelia Film Festival, focused on developing professionals working in international sales, marketing, distribution, exhibition, and programming.  The Festival broke its attendance record reaching 40,000 filmgoers per Alejandro Ramirez at the Closing Night Ceremony.


Mexican cinematographer Diego Garcia in the middle and to his right Apichatpong who hopes to direct his next film in Mexico

I  had not seen any of Thai auteur darling Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films before until now (sigh).  Truth be told I only went to see Cemetery of Splendour because it was shot by a Mexican. Cinematographer Diego Garcia (Without, Fogo), who alongside the high profile company of Emmanuel Lubezki aka El Chivo, represent exceptional Latin American cinematographers doing incredible work in and outside of Mexico.  I also would include Maria Secco, Sebastian Hiriart and Lorenzo Hagerman among them. Garcia’s latest film is Neon Bull by brazilian filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro, also showing at this week’s AFI Film Festival.

Easter by Alejandra Marquez
Easter by Alejandra Marquez

Garcia is shooting Carlos Reygadas next film which starts filming next week and  throughout all of next year. We can also expect very soon the new film by Amat Escalante. The Untamed just finished shooting in his home state of Guanajuato. It is produced by Nicolas Celis, a young intrepid producer with impeccable taste in projects he takes on.  He is also the producer of first feature, female directed Easter by Alejandra Márquez which world premiered at Toronto.  It will be making its Mexican premiere in competition at the Los Cabos Film Festival which starts in a couple weeks, November 11-15.  There is some overlap of Mexican films between Morelia and the 4th edition of Los Cabos Film Festival.  Among Los Cabos’ world premieres, I’m excited to see Marcelino Islas Hernández new film, Charity.  He made a very small and touching film called Martha back in 2010. I’m also curious about You’ll Know What to do with Me by Katina Medina Mora.  It will be her directorial feature debut. She has worked as 1st AD on several awesome films like Gerardo Naranjo’s Voy a Explotar, the Gael Garcia Bernal directed Deficit and festival darling Cochochi.


image5Aside from Escalante and Reygadas, there are a few hotly anticipated First features which will be ready to premiere in 2016. I’m so glad to have gotten the chance to see a cut of Zeus by multi media artist Miguel Calderon in Morelia’s Work in Progress, Impulso section.  The film has an unnerving, escalating tension between a young man and his mother, and unique visual allegory. The film is produced by Christian Valdelievre, and was developed and supported by Sundance Institute’s international Feature Film Program. Also currently in post, first fiction feature Pan American Machinery by Joaquin del Paso, produced by Mantarraya. And one of my favorite filmmakers of the world (for reals), somebody who draws outside any prescribed doc and fiction lines, Nicolas Pereda, has a new project called The Heart of the Sky.

The best dance party was Ambulante! DJ Gil Cerezo from Kinky
The best dance party was Ambulante! DJ Gil Cerezo from Kinky

To see the full list of winners at the Morelia Film Festival click here. If you missed it, do not fret! You can see great interviews by film critic and friend, Anne Wakefield with Stephen Frears, Rodrigo Garcia, Tim Roth, Peter Greenaway and more on the festival’s YouTube channel. Also, right now until November 15 you can check out some of the short films in competition here! Many short film filmmakers who go on to screen their feature debuts at the festival as well as already well established, compete in the short film competition.  Speaking of which one of my favorites (not online yet) was Boy at the Bar Masturbates with Fury and Self Assurance by new wave queer film cineaste, Julian Hernandez. Check out the trailer:

FullSizeRender(2)Don’t think I forgot the Mexican documentary treasures! The award for Best Documentary at Morelia went to 25 year old Mazatlan female director, Betzabe Garcia for Kings of Nowhere.  The film was developed and supported with a post production grant from Ambulante and had its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year where it won the Audience Award.

Stay tuned for a Mexican documentary round up post, my experience at the first ever Mexican Film Residency, and my visit to the extraordinary Splendor Omnia studios, Carlos Reygadas’ hidden jewel of a post production studio compound in the magical village of Tepotzlan.

Fresh from the web! Drea Clark’s indie snacks @LAFilmFest

LA Film Fest is breaking ground on many fronts (greater diversity behind the camera, more world premieres than before), and now, get ready for the Launch.  The freshest and tightest stories out there (literally, most webisodes are around the 3 min mark) are part of the Indie Series from the Web screening this Thursday 7pm, June 11 which features a round up of 13 webisodes representing a multitude of innovative, hilarious, genre and character-driven serials.

From the down-home slices of besties and roomies, I Love Lucy and Bekka, co-starring Gina Rodriguez by Rachael Holder, to The Impossibilities by Anna Kerrigan, an impressively produced and sympathetic series about a Lesbian Yogi, to deadpan and quirky The Incredible Life of Darrell by Darrell Lake, and the bust-a-gut laughs of The Oversharer by Ali Le Roi, this program is a high octane zone of bold talent and content.  Who’s behind this #HotNow program?  None other than Programmer/Curator Drea Clark who went internet surfing like a Pro to bring us a wild snackable program.  In addition to being a Programmer on the features and shorts committees, Drea curates the music videos, this new Launch program that includes the Interactive Storytelling: Indiecade Gaming Favorites  – which pass holders can experience at the Festival Lounge.  Oh, she also programs for Slamdance.  Oh, she is also a Producer (Lake Los Angeles, The Last Time you had Fun).  After my own heart that one.  From an undisclosed remote location during the annual LA Film Fest Filmmaker retreat, Drea answered a few of my q’s  about programming this exciting new program.

  Sifting through the world wide web for quality series sounds daunting.  What’s your approach?  Where did you find them?

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Mad props to Ms. Clark for her curatorial drive, insanely good eye for talent and story, and incomparable wit @TheDreaClark.

Totally daunting, but there’s actually a lot more really well-crafted work out there than I thought there was going to be when I started. We got a number of the webseries through our general submissions when we added it as a new category this year, and for almost all of the submissions that I liked I would also find them online and watch all of their episodes in case there was one that would play better at the Festival, or improved upon something I dug in the submitted piece. And as anyone who has ever spent quality time on the internet knows, it’s VERY easy to start to wormhole and lose hours watching more and more content. I was following a ton of random links that YouTube was auto-generating based on what I was already watching, that sort of thing. I also went through and read pretty much every “Best of the Web” wrap up I could find, and had some discoveries that way as well.

Is it your curation, or do you find that there are more female, comedy, multi-culti voices exploring and having fun on the new digital platform?
It was definitely a goal of mine to have a webseries line-up with a lot of different authorial voices. I basically approached it like programming my own TV network, and since a lot of my own complaints (and the industry’s in general) are how underrepresented certain voices are, I wanted to prove how many great stories were actually out there and being told from a wide variety of perspectives. The good news is, there is a LOT to choose from, and I do think it makes sense that people who have traditionally felt ignored or pigeon-holed by mainstream television would just make their own damn show on the web. That’s the beauty of the internet, and what balances out all the ugly comment threads and nightmare garbage people – it’s a place where anyone can be heard. If you’re an artist with an idea and a work ethic, you can put something out there… I was lucky that so much of what was being created was also really smart and enjoyable.

What’s exciting to you about this new medium?  More risks?  More voices?
What I love, in addition to the access to so many different perspectives and their subsequent various takes on these mini-shows, is how each creator is also defining what it MEANS to be a webseries. Some of the pieces I selected for the program reminded me of old Saturday Night Live or Kids in the Hall character bits, where there was an entire sketch built around one super eccentric character. And then some of them had entire ensembles of characters, or really unique tones, or really hilarious moments, or combinations of all those things. It does come down to risk, that they are already leaping without a net but there are also not terrible consequences if they fail – so people can push boundaries, or try something ridiculous, in a way that they couldn’t with “regular” television. As someone whose background is programming film festivals, the other element that makes webseries so special is that they really are episodic, they’re built to be watched one after another, and the stories and characters grow as you go. These aren’t short films, they’re moments of a larger whole that can still be enjoyed piecemeal. I think they’re really impressive.
To buy tickets to the showcase (and a chance to meet these talented creators) click here.  Or watch right now.  Click on the titles of the whole lineup below.

Dir. Ndosi Anyabwile
In the wake of a viral epidemic, a novice fighter struggles to survive illegal experimentation in order to escape from the company that imprisoned him.

Croissant Man
Dir. Tulica Singh
A depressed croissant trying to find meaning in the superficial world of Bourgeois pastries.

Downtown Girls
Dir. Emebeit Beyene, Chandra Russell
Four recent college grads decide to call their own shots, raising money to launch their own business by turning their NYC apartment into a lucrative nightclub.

The Genderton Project (World Premiere)
Dir. Anna Martemucci, Victor Quinaz
A modern group of young gay men head to Palm Springs for a gay wedding weekend, when their story is interrupted by the tale of a 1960’s Pasadena housewife whose life is anything but a piece of cake in this gender-swapped comedy.

Happy And You Know It
Created, written and directed by Kira Hesser, Jeremy Howe and Ramsey Robinson
Having just moved to Los Angeles to take care of her grandmother, an aimless girl meets a small-time drug dealer who is similarly searching for purpose.

I Love Lucy & Bekka
Dir. Rachael Holder
Lucy & Bekka have been roommates and best friends since the beginning of their twenties. They are so close that they finish each other’s sandwiches.

The Impossibilities
Dir. Anna Kerrigan
The unexpected connections of Harry, a jaded children’s party magician and Willa, a daffy, lesbian yogi.

The Incredible Life of Darrell
Dir. Darrell Lake
The spectacularly mundane adventures of an incredible average Joe in small town
Wakooki, Arizona.

Jon and Jen Are Married
Dir. Gregory Fitzsimmons
Jon and Jen are married, they’re expecting a child, and they take absurd measures to influence their fetus.

The Oversharer
Dir. Ali Le Roi
A friendly woman embodies the phrase “too much information”.

Toybox Theater: Sad Little People
Dir. Marty Schousboe / Creator Barry Hite
Stan is a Minotaur managing a midlife crisis while working at the hottest ad agency in town.

Trip Advisor
Dir. Melinda Cohen, Adam Roa
A man whose sole skill in life is his mastery of drugs begins offering his services to the public, providing guided ‘trips’ to a variety of eccentric characters.

Unusual Targets
Dir. Tom Huang
A hit man specializing in supernatural beings tries to learn on the job while taking down monsters that live and hide among the people of Los Angeles.

What Women (Film Festival Programmers) Want

I went to support my esteemed Programmer friends participating in the Master Class that Women in Film put on last night called “What Film Festivals Want.” Representing the top festivals in Los Angeles was Kim Yutani, Senior Programmer at Sundance Film Festival, Roya Rastegar, Director of Programming at LA Film Fest, Jacqueline Lyanga, Director of AFI Fest, and Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Director of Programming at Outfest.  Executive Director of WIF Kirsten Schaffer, formerly director of Outfest, was perfect to moderate the panel, keeping it new filmmaker friendly and full of insight.  Since I have the pleasure of knowing and/or working alongside all the ladies on the panel, I knew it wasn’t going to be another diluted, unproductive, bland conversation on Film Festival Tips. There were about 50 people there ($20 admission for non-WIF members), and it was by and large women filmmakers, across all colors and ages, from my friend, young dancer/actress Carmen Corral who just wrote and directed her first short film, to an audience member who shared she has just finished her first film at 67 years young.  The difference in practices and opinions heard is proof that each festival and each film festival Programmer has their own brand of curatorial focus, taste and sensibility.  As Kirsten summed it up, its worthwhile to listen to each of their takes, but do not forget that ultimately you have to follow your own instinct. Real Film Programmers Briefly each festival’s mandate: AFI Fest takes place in November so they screen LA premieres of the most acclaimed as well as under the radar international gems of the year. A big chunk is curated from other festivals, however they do have a Breakthrough section which they cull mostly from submissions. Also it offers its program for FREE!  Outfest seeks to obviously show films from the LGBTQ community.  However, Lucy noted more and more the programming has matured to one where LGBTQ is not the drive of the storyline but rather a perspective through which to explore different genres.  LA Film Fest has gone through a programming shift this year and it is more closely aligning itself with parent nonprofit Film Independent’s mission to “support artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision”. This year the festival has an unprecedented 39 world premieres and nearly half of the program is made by women and people of color. Sundance Film Festival – what can we say about the original rebel.  U.S. Competition, Next, New Frontier and Midnight is the discovery zone heard around the world for breaking innovative stories and talented storytellers.  Sundance’s submissions increases each year.  It received more than 12,000 submissions for the 2015 festival. Around 8,000 of them are shorts – of which they show 60-70.  Yep, that’s less than 1%

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Jacqueline Lyanga, Director of AFI Fest since 2009 before that as Programmer. Worked in independent film distribution and producing. Art History and Cinema Major.

On the topic of WHY IS MY FILM (S) NOT ACCEPTED. I can see why deciphering the festival code; “It is not a right fit” can be frustrating for filmmakers to hear.  It is a catch-all of saying a possibility of things.  First thing to remember however is that just because you don’t get into a festival it does not mean your film does not have artistic merit or deserve a platform.  You are talking about 3-4 people at one festival who watched it but did not respond ENOUGH to champion or select it in the festival (My own personal note as Programmer; you have to kill your darlings and pick your battles in the room).  A lot of times the reason your film may not get in is simply mathematical.  There are not enough slots at a festival to select all the films the Programmers like.  Sundance can theoretically program another entire (just as solid) festival program after locking their lineup.  Maybe your film does not get in because that particular festival does not offer the section, or cater to that particular focus/niche your film covers.  And yet another reason might be your film may be one of several films that tackles very similar issues or has a very similar storyline to other films Programmers see that year.

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Roya Rastegar,  Associate Director of  Programming at LA Film Fest. Published writer, produced and wrote film, Wildness. Previously at Tribeca and Sundance. PhD in the History of Consciousness from UC Santa Cruz. Studied mathematics and economics at Wellesley College

WHAT CAN I DO TO RAISE MY CHANCES? Sounds like common sense but follow submission instructions is number one tip (seriously not following instructions is a number one Programmer pet peeve).  Not all festivals are the same.  Some want press kits with film submissions.  Some of the panelists encouraged the audience to write cover letters while others admitted they never read them. (Personal note: If you have something relevant about your background that you think informs your vision then by all means write up a paragraph).  Roya made the point that if you had a crowdfunding campaign, or have a cast member who has over 2 million subscribers on Youtube that usually indicates you already are building an audience that is invested in your film, it doesn’t hurt for the festival to know given their concern is selling tickets to sustain the usually nonprofit’s activity. It is definitely vital to communicate these things once you have been selected so that the festival can disseminate the distinct and soundbyte aspects of your film to ‘pitch it’ (first film shot in Cuba since 1959, first indie film shot in Little Armenia).

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Kim Yutani, Programmer at Sundance Film Festival since 2006, first on shorts and then features. Former Artistic Director and previous Programmer for Outfest. Worked on Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation. Cat person.

CRITERIA:  Screeners are asked to submit a detailed synopsis of the films they watch and  rate technical proficiency, character and story development.  But inspired (and ripped off) by Sundance’s evaluation forms, most festivals want to frame it around ORIGINALITY OF VOICE/EMOTIONAL IMPACT. Roya mentioned that she tends to be  more forgiving of production value if she recognizes there is a strong, rarely heard voice driving the story.  Lucy mentioned she enjoyed abiding by this guiding principle during LA Film Festival’s programming process.  Knowing that films made by women/people of color tend to be the least funded and least commercial having this awareness is key, and underlines the bottom line criteria of a Programmer or anyone for that matter, wanting to find that film that can MOVE people above all.

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Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Outfest Director of Programming. Producer credits include Jack of the Red Hearts and Cake. Worked as Development Executive and producer for Warner Bros, Lionsgate, Lifetime, Sony Pictures Television. Previously Assistant editor for Harlequin Mills books. English Lit and Film Major.

HOW DO I KNOW WHICH FESTIVAL IS RIGHT FOR MY FILM?  You can do your homework and check out the archives of the films that a festival has played to see if there is some alignment, said Jacqueline.  But take it with a grain of salt.  As mentioned by Roya there is a tendency of folks to carbon copy what they think is a festival film, and making a film driven by the desire to get into a festival tends to backfire.  Look into international festivals, smaller niche festivals.  Lucy, who is also a filmmaker, recalled being rejected by all the major festivals until they submitted randomly to new Arkansas festival, Bentonville where they ended up taking best prize.  (Note: Sign up to Withoutabox. You’ll have to do some digging but you can do a search by region, niche, specialty to find the most suitable festival.) GETTING THE MOST OF YOUR FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE. Squeeze your Programmers for advice. If you are wondering whether you should contract a publicist or a sales agent ask us for recommendations, encouraged Kim.  They have the relationships and know the sensibilities of all the established and emerging industry.  In many ways this is Programmers’ second job after locking.  Adopting film teams leading up to the festival who they can shepherd up the mountain.

DO YOU REALLY WATCH EACH FILM?  Why do people LOVE to ask if a Programmer ‘really’ watches a film from beginning to end??  That is our job!  First of all we get paid to do it.  Second, as Kim mentioned, the worst thing for a Programmer is to have ‘missed’ a film.  Make no mistake, if a film does really well at a festival or comes out somewhere else, and you don’t recall seeing it, you go back to your database to make sure it was fully considered by someone on your team (and see who the hell may have passed on it).  Senior Programmers do their due diligence and review screeners’ coverage, ratings, and exports lists whether it be by region or filmmaker background. Especially nearing the end of progamming lock, they sweat over making sure they saw everything they should, and some actually dig deep into the lower ratings like films that got a 1 out of 5, just in case the screener was turned off by the premise. That strong negative reaction could very well mean a film is polemic and possibly brilliant because of it.

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New Executive Director for Women in Film. Spent 14 years as Deputy Director and head of Programming at Outfest. Previously Co-Executive Director of the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Managed a law office that specialized in American Indian and Family law. BA Liberal Arts, cultural studies and communications

WHAT IF I DON’T GET IN?  If you know your film has an audience, who cares if your film doesn’t get into festivals.   Get a network of filmmaker and programmer friends.  Get feedback. Festivals can’t supply feedback as a rule because of the volume but if you have a Programmer friend or trusted industry acquaintance ask them for input.  The dangers of asking friends and families for feedback on your film is that it usually won’t be critical.  As Lucy pointed out and I think everyone was in agreement;  We (read: good Programmers) understand that filmmakers set out to make a good movie. The ultimate criteria is asking ourselves “What was the filmmaker trying to achieve and how close did she/he get to it in the execution?”

Last words from the panelists: Lucy:  Keep making films Jacqueline:  Be bolder and louder. Kim:  Support other female filmmakers Sundance opens submissions in July.  In August, Sundance’s Next Fest will unspool a few film and music experiences at the Ace Hotel. Outfest will be announcing their program soon and will take place July 9-19.  Coming up soon is LA Film Festival, June 10-18.    AFI is currently accepting submissions until July 24 for its November festival.  Women in Film is accepting submissions until June 16 for their Finishing Films Fund.  Shorts and feature length films that are 90% complete are eligible.  Grants range from $1,000 – $25,000.