I recently contributed to a Top 5 Latino Films of 2012 on Indiewire’s Latinobuzz blog. Among the Programmers’ picks were films from Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and Peru, alongside U.S. films like Filly Brown. In fact, when asked for my list, I thought I needed to make a statement by pointing out I picked all “American” Latino films. The exercise indicated once again a lot of us are not on the same page when it comes to the definition of the term “Latino”. As filmmaker, Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer) commented on the post, “It’s important to have a term that describes the diaspora community here in the U.S. Latinos in the U.S. face very different challenges and opportunities than Latin Americans…..in terms of tracking what’s happening in film, we need this distinction, the way there’s a very clear distinction between African Cinema and African-American Cinema.
I couldn’t agree more. Even if it still makes for a fairly broad category to band together the vastly different and culturally rich spectrum of “Latin roots,” at least the unifying reference that can serve as glue or a constant, and help level and monitor the landscape within the context of film, is the social/political experience of life in The United States. It’s these vibrant and unique bi-cultural stories and voices that must be shepherded through the bottleneck gates towards distribution. More so because these groups are largely under-represented or marginalized in the main arteries of film distribution channels. With a growing number of new alternative models of distribution available and the power of the audience/consumer, now more than ever, we can demand our content.
So with that, let’s take a closer look at my Top 5 American Latino Films of 2012 – all of which compellingly portray singular, rarely-represented walks of life and perspectives – and in each case the filmmaker’s personal and distinct multi-cultural makeup adds to the film’s alchemy. Every film on this list has bowed at film festivals and only two of them have had a very limited theatrical run. In a sense, these films have been born but now its time to help these babies walk and talk. There’s no better way than today’s word of mouth: the social media. Please click on the films’ links to follow and interact with the film’s life and if you dig it, be proactive and support these films to help them reach their audience.
A ver ~
Festivals: NY Latino International Film Festival (world premiere) and stay tuned for future festivals this Spring 2013.
Why it stands out: Of all the films on this list this might have the biggest commercial potential because of the broad appeal of the classic, wholesome high school coming of ager comedy genre. Filmmaker Guardado, Jr., who is a video teacher at Heritage High School by day, injects a modern, refreshing representation and empathetic, teen authenticity to the formula. For far too long this type of movie has been domineered by slender-shaped Anglo protagonists with your token black/brown/gay supporting characters. And while it is awesome to see brown leads; curvy, nerdy cute girl played by Angelina Leon and class clown/jock played by Jorge Diaz, at the epicenter of this story, it’s more importantly a perfectly pitched sweet, funny and ‘real’ high school romantic comedy that resonates. Just check out the trailer here. I reviewed it earlier this year here.
Where to see it now: Like I say, this is especially ripe for mainstream release opportunities (cable/DVD/VOD). So far the film had a one night screening in its hometown sponsored by Brenden theaters. The filmmaker is currently approaching other local theaters to arrange more screenings. Interested parties (festivals/distributors/PR) can email the filmmaker directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Aqui y Alla (Here & There) – written and directed by Antonio Mendez Esparza (Raised in Madrid and has lived in Mexico and NYC – film shot in Mexico)
Festivals: 45 – among them, Critics Week at Cannes (world premiere), San Sebastian, AFI, Morelia, Mar de Plata, Dubai, Lone Star Festival.
Why it stands out: The magnetic non-professional acting ensemble and the film’s doc-like aesthetic subtly immerses the audience into the psychological aftermath of a story rarely told onscreen. Quite simply it’s about a Mexican father who has recently returned to his family after being away in the states for a long time. The film fills a void within the canons of the Mexican immigrant story. There’s so much more than the grueling border-crossing journey, which is one small part of the ‘immigrant experience’. The more opportunities and support Latino filmmakers can reach to tell their stories, the more their storytelling can evolve to truly capture the whole context. It’s only recently that I’ve started seeing some reflection on those families of immigrants who stay behind and the generation-spanning social effects – and I’m not only talking within US and Mexico panorama. In 2009 Antonio’s short film, Una Y Otra Vez garnered him much attention as it traveled to many festivals worldwide. It probably helped give him a profile when it came time to submit his first feature. Antonio is currently busy with the limited release of his film and is also already at work on his next project; a mother and son story titled, Saudade.
Where to see it now: You are in luck if you are in NY! The film premieres in three different venues for limited release NOW. Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, the reRun Theater in Dumbo, and the Jackson Heights Cinema. (Click on links for tickets and showtimes).
3. Elliot Loves – written and directed by Terracino (Dominican New Yorker, film shot in Harlem)
Festivals: Over 50 film festivals, among them, Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in May (World Premiere); New York International Latino Film Festival, Outfest, San Francisco Frameline, Global Film Festival in Dominican Republic.
Why it stands out: Elliot. He is as lovable and charming as he is emotionally conflicted and flawed. We meet him as a sweet, precocious boy growing up in Harlem with his young, single mother, an ill-equipped parent who suffers from a co-dependency on a string of deadbeat-boyfriends. As we jump forward to Elliot’s adult years, his strained relationship with his mother and deeply rooted childhood fears and dreams continue to play a role in how he pursues love. How else do I put it, I’ve never seen as real of a depiction of a ‘gay cholo’. I enjoyed the romantic dalliances – especially the steamy love scenes, the old school mano-a-mano fights on the street, and the drama that while zany, eschews any of the flamboyant queen diva archetypes or melodrama we’ve seen associated with gays before. Like Mosquita y Mari (next on the list) the gay Latino niche has huge potential. For years, gay representation has been relegated to background or one dimensional characters, or lead roles in a serious coming out/AIDs dramas. But what about mainstream genres like romantic comedies? When a film like Elliot Loves comes around, no wonder it is fiercely celebrated by the gay community and film festival circuit. At the end of the day though, the storyline’s universal resonance (looking for love) is what hits a chord with gay AND straight audiences alike.
2. Mosquita y Mari – written and directed by Aurora Guerrero (Chicana from the Bay, film shot in LA)
Festivals: A whopping 110 festivals, both mainstream and queer including Sundance (world premiere), San Francisco International, Seattle, Sarasota, Melbourne, Sao Paolo….
Why it stands out: I’ve long wanted to articulate that extra magical ingredient and feeling you get when you watch something and find it so incredibly in tune with a part of you. As a first generation Mexican-American I find many of these moments related in Mosquita y Mari. The log line seems simple enough; Two high school Chicanas, one square, one street, make friends and come of age in LA. The palpable emotion and sensitivity in portraying adolescent romance, sexual impulses and tensions with parents who shoulder you with the heavy pressure of achieving a better life on behalf of all your ancestors, drives the heart and veracity of the story. The way they talk, look, the music they listen to, is all me. I’m sure I’m not the only chicanita who feels that way either. When film speaks to you on a specific level – it’s a wonderful feeling of connectedness. Again, early awareness helps; Guerrero worked on getting this film made for several years, reaching out and applying to as many non-profit partners for assistance, including Sundance Institute’s Native Screenwriters lab and San Francisco Film Society’s robust year round Filmmaker grants. Combined with her Kickstarter campaign launched while finishing production, the film attracted attention early on, making it easier for film festivals to track. Guerrero is currently at work with her next feature, Los Valientes which recently obtained a grant from San Francisco Film Society.
Where to see it now: DVD/internet/broadcast rights sold to Wolfe Releasing earlier this year. Let the filmmakers know you want to see it! Express your interest on their film site to purchase a DVD (late 2013) and or request a screening of the film near you. This information will help their ongoing self-release theatrical strategy in partnership with Film Collaborative a non-profit film distribution/consultant outfit catering to specialty releases that is helping the film book theaters and educational outlets. HBO broadcast also in the future late 2013.
1. Los Chidos, written and directed by Omar Rodriguez Lopez (Puerto-Rican, grew up in El Paso, shot the film in Mexico, citizen of the world)
Festivals: SXSW (world premiere), NY Latino International Film Festival, Rio, Santa Fe Independent, Hola Mexico (Australia).
Check out the recently released trailer here:
Why it stands out: Provocative genre. Whether it incites a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reception, taboo-defying, wicked satire and social and political commentary under an unsettling visually graphic aesthetic, elicits a fervent reaction and guarantees a degree of attention. ORL is not one to hold anything back and you can feel an exhilarating rush as he discovers and makes the tools of the visual medium his own to challenge and trans-mutate society’s views about identity, religion and sex, among other hot-button issues. Like the poster tag reads (translated), “Those who don’t criticize their culture don’t love their mother”, signaling the film’s unrelenting attack on every stereotype ever pitted to lazy, homophobic, incestuous, thieving, murdering, macho Mexicans. There’s no doubt his prolific music career (The Mars Volta, currently Bosnian Rainbows) has spawned a specific audience for his work as an uncompromising artist. This built-in audience will be the first to give flight to his flourishing career turn as filmmaker. I personally can’t wait to see future films as I bet he’s only getting started in this arena and has so much to say. Omar returns to his hometown of El Paso next month to begin shooting Niño de la Esperanza.
Where to see it now: Indiewire recently included Los Chidos in their Top Ten Undistributed Films of 2012 piece. So unless a savvy and daring outfit (like Oscilloscope) picks it up, expect ORLP and music management/record label, Sargent House to self-distribute as they are doing with Omar’s 2010 film, the psychedelic identity trip, The Sentimental Engine Slayer (You can buy the DVD, and cool poster art and t-shirt for $35 here). These guys are the perfect example of D2F (Direct to Fan) distribution at work.
Links: Facebook, Website
Next up, top 5 American Latino films to watch out for in 2013!