8 Movies Made by Latinos to Watch Out for in 2018

Here’s the inside scoop on some cool upcoming indie films written and directed by Latinos. Thanks to the long holiday weekend and Black Panther for inspiration, I finally put together this hot list.  For more context read my rant about why American Latinos haven’t gotten their Black Panther moment.

All of these films are brand spanking new feature-length fiction films. Some may still be in post and some have yet to premiere at a film festival.  Check it out.

iGILBERT written and directed by Adrian Martinez

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Adrian with his actors Dascha Polanco and Raul Castillo

Comedy character actor Adrian Martinez wrote, directed and stars in this touching drama about an overweight and extremely shy man pushing 40 who still lives with his mom in the Harlem brownstone building she owns.  Gilbert struggles with low self esteem which prevents him from having any real friends let alone a romantic relationship.  He is more comfortable and slightly obsessed with sneaking pictures and videos of women on his iPhone.  When Gilbert notices one of his tenants and secret crush, an aspiring dancer played by Orange is the New Black’s Dasha Polanco, having to deal with an abusive boyfriend, Gilbert starts to come out of his shell and show his mom and those around him the man he really is. Echoing the unlikely heroes of Charlie Kaufman or PT Anderson films, iGilbert is a better late than never coming of age, and nuanced portrayal of a man who struggles to be seen.

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Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 12.38.29 AMAMALIA written and directed by Omar Rodriguez Lopez

Who knows how many films Omar and his producer Adam Thomson have churned out in the last ten years.  The Sentimental Engine Slayer bowed at Tribeca in 2010 which was followed by Los Chidos which premiered at SXSW in 2012.  But even before and certainly after these films the ORL gang regularly gets together to make guerilla style films. The prolific music artist always has a lot to say in them, and now he has refined his skills as director with this latest spell binding film called Amalia. First of all, the film is led by the absolutely mesmerizing Denise Dorado whose face dominates and hypnotizes onscreen. Amalia is the story of a woman who has recently lost her mother and is trying to manage her  grief when she learns that her partner has been having an affair. His mysterious death only days later sends her into a spiraling obsession with his mistress.  All the while on this quest for answers, sounds and voices start to bleed into her scrappy existence, luring her to an alternate reality that may or not hold the answers, if not steady calm.Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 12.40.42 AM

PERFECT written and directed by Eddie Alcazar

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About to make its world premiere at SXSW, and executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, Eddie Alcazar’s first feature length fiction film is visually bold and enigmatic.  Eddie recently produced the acid trip that was Kuso directed by Flying Lotus.  Per the SXSW description: Perfect is about a young man with a violent past who enters a mysterious clinic where the patients wildly transform their bodies and minds using genetic engineering. A boy in a cold and stark modern house, in a vaguely science fictional world, is seduced by advertisements of perfection to install implantable characteristics directly into his body. The implants heal his dark, twisted visions, but come with a corporeal cost. He persists on applying them, hoping to reach perfection, but ultimately he discovers that purity of mind is not exactly as he’s imagined.

Eddie’s documentary feature Tapia continues to haunt me for how it cinematically portrayed the story of ABQ boxer Johnny Tapia and that was like 2012.  For a taste of his auteur cinematic vibes, you can watch his short film below.

EVERYTHING IS FREE written and directed by Brian Jordan Alvarez

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Following up his hilarious web series The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo, actor and creator Brian Jordan Alvarez wrote and directed his first feature length film this year.  The film is being called ‘a psychosexual beach comedy. ‘

Included in Variety’s Comics to Watch in 2017, Brian does not hold back on the super sex-charged lunacy and heightened emotions of obsession, jealousy and utter confusion that swell when you mix young and naive gay and not-so-gay girls and boys together.  This theme running through his work is what makes it so fun and addicting to watch. That and the super improv like feel of his and his actors’ performances.

MONSTERS AND MEN written and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green

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This is Reinaldo’s first feature film for which he won a Special Jury Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  Neon picked up the film for distribution and will be releasing the film sometime this year.   Anthony Ramos stars as Manny one of three young men affected by a police shooting in this Brooklyn set drama.  The film wisely eschews what could have easily been melodrama.  Grounded in realism through and through, the film’s most unforgettable moment comes near the end when time seems to slow down, as if drawing a deep exhale, which captures how suddenly life can become surreal.   This feature could have easily been a superb limited television series it’s so rich and complex with storylines.  Very excited to see what he directs next as he is somebody who can cohesively tell an epic kind of drama robust in multiperspectives.

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DUCK BUTTER written and directed by Miguel Arteta

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 9.45.54 PMMiguel hasn’t directed a feature he’s written since his first film, Star Maps.  He co-writes Duck Butter with Alia Shawkat.  Shot in 9 days and called an experimental comedy, Alia has described it about two girls who meet and decide to spend 24 hours together, and they have to have an orgasm every hour.

 

 

 

**** The next couple filmmakers were not born in the U.S. but their voices and experiences have been significantly shaped within the U.S. which is why I think we can include these Latin Americans as Latino.

ALL ABOUT NINA written and directed by Eva Vives.

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Barcelena born Eva Vives co-wrote Raising Victor Vargas in 2002 with Peter Sollett as their thesis film.  After writing and directing a couple shorts herself including Join the Club in 2012, Eva applied and got into the 2016 Sundance Screenwriting lab with the project then called Nina. She later joined forces with rising producer Natalie Qasabian, a producer who got to hone her producing chops with the Duplass Bros Rainbow Time and is now killing it on her own having recently produced Search and Miguel Arteta’s upcoming Duck Butter.  The amazing Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Nina, a comic standup who impulsively decides to move out to LA only to confront the deep seated trauma she can’t run away from, and ultimately reckon with her creative self expression.

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I think of a Nora Ephron when I think of Eva’s knack of being funny, relatable and heart-breakingly real.  This is a film that should pop up later this year.  Watch her short film below.

BLINDSPOTTING directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada

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The director busting out a cameo in Blindspotting

You may have already heard about the film that was co-written and stars Hamilton Star Daveed Diggs.  It opened the U.S. Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is one of a handful of films like Monsters and Men which went into the festival without distribution and came out with a major distribution release.  Lionsgate has picked up the film and announced a June release!

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 1.10.55 AMCarlos was born in Mexico and moved to the states as a teen before enrolling at Chapman University for film school.  Influenced primarily by the music videos he grew up watching here, he ended up directing many award winning videos including a majority for Daveed’s band Clipping.  2016 was the year he made the leap into more narrative long form.  First, directing the digital series High and Mighty for Warner Bros Digital Network Stage 13, and then directing this indie feature Blindspotting.

Carlos has an eye for a gritty hyper realism, an inventive flair and dynamic visual aesthetic that elevated the humor and resonant drama of both Blindspotting and High and Mighty.  Like Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Eddie Alcazar on this list, I would die to see him direct a big genre film to unlock his creativity at the highest level of the game.

When will Latinos get our Black Panther?

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There’s nothing like a fit of jealousy and frustration to get me motivated in a positive way.  The recent uproar of the Latino community calling out Hollywood about the lack of Latino representation, juxtaposed with the Black community’s successful mobilization towards increasing their representation  – which is undoubtedly fueling Black Panther’s record-shattering box office this weekend – has jolted me into posting a new edition of Films to Watch Out For Made by Latinos. But first, I want to dig into this question of what can we in the Latino community do if we ever want to SEE A SUPERHERO LIKE US.

nhmcI started this blog over ten years ago to raise awareness for American Latino storytellers,   I was angry and confused as to why there was a staggering lack of authentic Latino representation in mainstream films yet I was discovering a number of Latino writers and directors in the independent film festival space.  Not as many as I thought I would find, truth be told, but definitely a steady number of filmmakers whose storytelling sensibilities reflected a culture I related to. I wanted to use this blog to yell “Yo, there are hella talented Latino writers and directors out here”. As if identifying them would be all it would take to make that change.

27021617_1688915677842179_4209939431460812473_o(1)It was around that time I kept hearing that ridiculous claim from studio execs and agents that while they would love to champion more Latino talent, they just don’t know of of any.  This statement persists today and is qualified with…’who are good enough’, or my favorite; ‘high profile enough’ (Insert fit of frustrated fury and bittersweet irony for that last part).

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 8.14.00 PMNewsflash: it takes years and lots of money to develop a creator and build the credits necessary before major studio executives come calling and that Oscar stage beckon.  Which is why, at the risk of sounding like I’m disparaging the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s valuable advocacy, I don’t think that their picketing the Oscars to attack studio heads over Latino exclusion is a fair argument or the most productive use of resources.

Beatriz-at-Dinner-2017-movie-posterIt’s not like there is a consistently eligible pool of Latino writers/directors who the Academy has been overlooking all these years.  Don’t get me wrong, its a damn shame that Miguel Arteta who directed Beatriz at Dinner was technically eligible for a Best Director nomination this year but did not get the campaign needed to make it happen.  Or what about Lemon, written and directed by Afro-Latina Janicza Bravo?  It’s true “For Your Consideration” campaigns are wildly expensive for indie distributors to take on. But we have to ask, what other American Latino writers and directors were even eligible for an Oscar nomination?

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Lalo Alcaraz, before he was hired on Coco

Representing the Latino diaspora in the Oscars this year is Pixar’s animated feature Coco.  But seriously, don’t play yourself people. Disney’s long-time-coming co-opt of Dia de los Muertos strategically and conveniently leveraged the co-directed and co-written credit of American Latino Adrian Molina ONLY when talking to Latino outlets and to legitimize its Mexican authenticity. Because oh wait a minute, Molina’s name is visibly missing from the official nominee announcement.  All I have to say is they better bring his ass up on stage and let him get some words in if they end up winning.  And honestly I hope they do. I genuinely love this movie and like many Latinos, IDENTIFIED.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 10.54.49 PMLets take a page from the Black community and create our own machine, and do less of that old guard-led raging against The Machine.  While there are a number of film organizations aimed at supporting Latino writers and directors to help develop their voices, its critical to support mid-career storytellers so they may continue to master their craft and realize their #brownexcellence.  We also need to shift a lot more support towards raising savvy producers.  After all the producer is the most critical role for a writer/director to be able to execute their vision.

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 1.39.42 PMThe biggest challenge is how to infiltrate the overwhelmingly white agency and studio system. Real change will come when there are Latinos in decision-making executive roles because then we’ll have someone on the inside naturally considering, relating, and understanding the value of bringing in more Latino creators to pitch original ideas.

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Rictor, a Marvel character created in 1987 (X-Factor) Mexican-American from S.F.  Character made a cameo in Logan. More here.

As we know there is a systemic tendency inside Hollywood to reboot proven franchises and IP. So we need to make sure Latinos get the shot to put their spin on them.  Just see the African-American community with Tendo Nagenda at Disney backing Ryan Coogler with Black Panther.  By the way, I’m not saying that opportunities should be contingent on creators asked to tell some version of the ethnicity they represent. They should be included and have the opportunity to tell and pitch whatever story they can tell the shit out of.  Besides Paul Perez who came to Warner Bros from Pantelion, I don’t know of any Latino executive at a major film studio.  If I’m wrong please point it out to me.

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Super Villain El Diablo played by Jay Hernandez in Suicide Squad

Regarding Latino talent on screen, I concede that hiring practices in major motion pictures are more affected by who is on screen rather than the talent of the storyteller. Still, it doesn’t diminish the overall long play in-success strategy of focusing behind the camera to position Latino writers/directors/producers. Because as the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study discovered, the outcome of hiring more underrepresented directors will organically translate into more opportunities for underrepresented casting choices.

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Powerhouse Producer Stephanie Allain with Mel Jones producer/director

Lastly, supporting Latino culture writers and film critics is vital like Vanessa Erazo of Remezcla has pointed out with her twitter thread, because again, those who have a connection or reference to a specific culture can more likely respond and champion the business value of supporting that voice.  This kind of holistic approach from within is more productive than pounding at the gates to demand from a system that does not include our community and one we have already called out as broken be that agent of change. Only then will we see our Barry Jenkins, Ava Duvernays and Ryan Cooglers flex their creative muscles at that next level to gain high profile recognition, and ultimately move the dial on reflecting what our representation actually looks like in this country.

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The truth is I’m getting chills watching the African American community’s cathartic joy in celebrating Black Panther’s unprecedented success.  They have shepherded their own industry leaders from multiple angles and in turn have made the impact necessary to create this unstoppable ripple effect which is only going to gain more speed with Ava Duvernay’s upcoming Wrinkle in Time. Will and Jada Smith have donated one million dollars to Sundance Institute which will yield more black creators in the indie to studio pipeline.  Charles King’s WME background and connection to high profile talent got him to convince investors to get Macro, responsible for producing Dee Rees’ Oscar nominated Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 1.29.25 PMfilm Mudbound, off the ground.  Then there is Oprah who has the influence and hiring autonomy to bring up a whole network of women and people of color creators. The undeniable and thrilling result of this ecosystem is that more young black kids are beginning to identify with mainstream media heroes!

 

When will Latinos, who per Forbes will be 30% of the country in 2060 experience that feeling and similar “Defining Moment” within my own community.  For hot second in the 80s, wide release films La Bamba and Stand & Deliver gave our community that sense of validation through representation. Its going to take a lot more work though to pump up the volume so that more than one American Latino writer/director gets the chance to be considered to make a blockbuster and or make a film eligible and backed with the money to cinch a nomination for an Academy Award.  As terrible in reflecting the diverse American reality as those traditional institutions are, they are still key influences in defining mass culture and inspiring the next generation of artists who might suddenly see the viability in pursuing their storytelling art if they see people like them.

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Aurora Guerrero, filmmaker who has recently directed Queen Sugar, Ava DuVernay’s  television series on Oprah’s cable channel.

In case you are like ‘but wait there’s been many Latinos who have been nominated or have won Academy Awards’.  Don’t get it twisted. Keep in mind when I use the word Latino, I make that unpopular distinction between those folks born or raised here who have Latin American and or Caribbean roots and those born and raised outside of the U.S..  That’s not to diminish the amazing work of Mexicans like Alejandro Gonzalez Iñnaritu and Guillermo del Toro, or Chilean filmmakers like Pablo Larrain with their recent English language films, but 1. They ain’t Latino because 2. there’s a disparity of class and resources between aspiring filmmakers born here and those born outside of the states, and unlike their international counterparts Latinos have been profiled and marginalized as ‘people of color’, a U.S. context that comes with very distinct barriers that keep them from global recognition.

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Eddie Olmos

Here is a reality check: The only Latinos nominated in the headliner writing/directing/producing categories has been Gregory Nava in the Best Original Screenplay category for El Norte in 1983 and Lourdes Portillo in the Best Documentary category for The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in 1985.  In the Best Animated Feature, Jonas Rivera won in 2015 for Pixar’s Inside Out which he shared with Pete Doctor.

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Jonas Rivera

We damn right will claim the Weitz brothers’ nomination for Best Adapted screenplay for About a Boy in 2002. Their grandma Lupita Tovar was a Mexican actor who starred in the first ever Mexican ‘talkie’ Santa.

In the Best Actor/Actress categories the first ever Latino was Jose Ferrer nominated in 1949 who won in 1952.  Since then its only EVER been OG Chicano Eduard James Olmos in 1982 who was nominated for Stand and Deliver. That was twenty six years ago!

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Benicio Del Toro

In supporting roles, nominees include Benicio del Toro –  two time nominee who won for Traffic, Rita Moreno who won for West Side Story, Anthony Quinn, four time nominated, two time winner, Mercedes Ruehl who won for Fisher King, Rosie Perez and Susan Kohner.  That’s it folks. More than a minute ago and over the course of 90 years of Oscars. WTF.

machete-kills-castOutside of the Oscar world but definitely more of a pop culture mainstream influence our highest profile Latino writer/director/producers is Robert Rodriguez whose success in capturing a wide audience is due in large part because he likes playing in the genres big studio films generally traffic in.  Machete (2010) is a film that cost under $20 million dollars to make.  And its box office made double that (unfortunately the sequel did not do nearly as well).  Whether its the characters in Frank Darabont’s Sin City, the beloved Mariachi character, Machete or Spy Kids, Rodriguez has always tapped into his own type of super heroes and world building.  Yet this guy hasn’t made a film over $40 million – which is considered low-mid studio movie).  If he hasn’t proved it time and time again, he can do a lot with a little, so just imagine what mind-blowing next level cinema he can do with a $100+ million dollar film.  And at the very top is Roberto Orci.  A writer and producer of the most expensive television and tentpole projects in Hollywood.  That’s it right?   1.  that’s two people 2. dudes 3. who can create (write/direct/produce) at the highest scale of this  business.

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ALL THE WAY UP!

Needless to say all of this galvanizes me. We need more Latino CREATORS. I feel the pressure to reach out to my community and do more.  I’ll post more frequently about American Latino storytellers. I’m also doing what I can to bring in and develop more Latino voices in my current role as Creative Executive at Warner Bros Digital Network’s Stage 13.

And don’t forget to check out my latest post 7 feature-length fiction films currently in post that I’m excited for the world to see because they are wildly defiant, visionary, and unique perspectives created by Latinos.

Caribbean filmmakers on the rise

Still rocking a rich brown tan from the recent Curacao International Film Festival Rotterdam, which took place April 5-9, I’ve got a special festival recap and snapshot of the exciting new wave of stories coming from the Caribbean islands you NEED IN YOUR LIFE!

IMG_1354For the past 4 years I’ve been the programmer of the Yellow Robin Award competition at CIFFR, now in its 6th edition, selecting five feature length films from the Caribbean.  I like to think I’ve made it a discovery section and tapped into the beat of what’s happening in the region, premiering first features from Haiti, Aruba, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Colombia, Costa Rica and more.  This year’s competition was comprised of El Hombre que cuida by Alejandro Andujar (DR), Melocotones by Hector M. Valdez (DR), Keyla by Viviana Gomez Echeverry (Colombia), Bad Lucky Goat by Samir Oliveros (Colombia), and Angelica by Marisol Gomez Moukad (Puerto Rico).  The winner receives a cash prize and earns a screening the following year in Rotterdam’s Bright Future section, as well as a coveted slot in the Morelia International Film Festival in the fall.

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De Rooy and Beyer flanking winning director Andujar

This year, Director of International Film Festival Rotterdam Bero Beyer brought in Industry maven, Marit van den Elshout of IFFR/Cinemart to step up their industry activities at the festival.  There were masterclasses and one-on-ones with mentors like Pierre Menham of MPM Film and Wendy Mitchell, member of the British Film Council and contributing editor to Screen International.  The jury, composed of Beyer, Mitchell, and Curaçao local artist and filmmaker Felix De Rooy, bestowed the Yellow Robin Award to El Hombre que cuida from the Dominican Republic. Which brings me to:

WINNING!   La Dominicana

Directed and written by Alejandro Andujar, El Hombre que cuida is a character driven story centering on Juan –  a searing performance by Hector Anibal –  and his paradoxical  situation of living on a piece of paradise he serves.  Its hard not to feel for the still strapping but aging introverted man, and when the friendly spoiled brat son of the house owner crashes with friends, a steady and uneasy tension crescendos centering on a local village girl whose trespassed her class, ultimately speaking modern day volumes without even saying it.

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Andujar flanked by his producers, Amelia del Mar Hernandez and Annabelle Mullen-Pacheco

We had the privilidge of world premiering this film that has stellar chemistry and performances among its cast. It is being handled by sales agent veteran Alfredo Calvino’s Habanero Films. Hopefully it makes all the stops in between its future screenings of IFFR and Morelia.

Andujar is a screenwriter, making his directorial debut.  He has collaborated as writer on many films – some he likes to mention and others not really.  Among his favorites however is collaborating with Israel Cardenas and Laura Amelia Guzman, the mexican filmmaker duos of such internationally recognized films like Cochochi, Jean Gentil and Sand Dollars.

IMG_1356HECTOR VALDEZ – I just had to invite super young filmmaker Hector Valdez again with his wild and ambitious sci-fi romantic comedy, Melocotones.  Its practically unheard of to find sci-fi genrein the Caribbean, and the film marks such a progression from his last feature,  road trip movie, Al sur de la inocencia which was in the YRA in 2013. Like Andujar, Hector and his spanish producers partner straddle making commercial cinema in between personal passion projects.  He is currently editing one of his personal buckets, Nobody Dies in Ambrosia, a story about pirates who discover the fountain of youth.  With a sharp eye for a distinct retro-futuristic aesthetic and influenced by the fun of Back to the Future Melocotones is an unbridled, arousing and pulpy time travel trip that proves a do-over is not always the best way to fix your self and relationship.

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Participating in CIFFR, outside the YRA competition was the immediate feels of  documentary Jeffrey by Yanillys Perez which bowed last year at the Toronto international Film Festival.  Perez, an actor who splits her time between Paris and Santo Domingo participated in Film Independent’s Project Involve’s program in 2016, and her upcoming project Candy Town is in participating in the prestigious talent-making co-production market, Atelier Cannes Festival Atelier. Jeffrey is an impossibly mature 12 year old windshield wiper gifted with some sick reggaeton moves and rhymes, and is basically irresistible. Like the Facebook page here.

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 9.56.33 AMAn alumni of YRA, another talented Dominican docudrama filmmaker (btw – the only time I’ve played documentary in the YRA) is Natalia Cabral who studied film  at the International Film School of San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba along with Alejandro Andujar. She directed Tú y Yo, winner at the Trinidad + Tobago Film Festival which also competed in the 2015 YRA.  Her second feature, Sitio de los Sitios premiered at IDFA last fall. See trailer below and like the Facebook

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 5.34.03 PMLast year’s Dominican alumni, A Orillas del Mar by Bladimir Abud, born in Samana (not Santo Domingo like most of these filmmakers) competed in the YRA. I’m happy to hear he was awarded with the Best film prize by the Dominican Republic’s National Art Awards just this past March for the film about a boy who journeys to the city to find out what happened to his father.

And lets FullSizeRender 6not forget about super simpatico JM Cabral who debuted CARPINTEROS at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has been racking up awards all over the festival circuit.  The young filmmaker who is now repped by APA and Circle of Confusion, recently made the Hollywood rounds and there is talk of serializing the prison-set romance between a Haitian and a Dominican.

@carpinterosfilm

Also on the map, Nelson Carlo dos Santos who did his MFA in Film at CalArts won Panama Film Festival’s work in progress section with his upcoming film Cocote.  The film stars Judith Rodriguez Perez of Carpinteros and per the description is about a young ma who goes back to his town for his father’s funeral and is forced to participate in a litany of rites and traditions he doesn’t believe in.  Nelson’s previous film, Santa y otras historias is a captivating avant garde film inspired by Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. Watch that trailer here

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EL CARIBE COLOMBIANO

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Twinsies!    Samir y Viviana

This is the year that I learned about an island called Providencia thanks to two filmakers, Viviana Gomez Echeverry and Samir Oliveros.  Once the English colonizers discovered Providence, Rhode Island was an easier shot across the pond they abandoned it leaving it as Old Providence.  This long overlooked island, together with San Andrés and Santa Catalina, lies midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica and forms part of Colombia.  Quite serendipitously, these two young Bogota-based filmmakers decided to film their first features here.  I just had to play both films in competition as they are two totally distinct stories that treat this creole speaking island as a character in their films.  A sign of their impressive directing chops is that both directed non-professional cast to well balanced results.  Also of note – both included the sweet music of Providencia’s very own Elkin Robinson

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A dazzling first feature by cinematographer Viviana Gómez Echeverry, Keyla captures the pirate’s treasure lore and magic of the island in this coming of age starring a stubborn 18 year old whose father gets lost at sea.  Recipient of Tribeca Film Insitute’s Latin American Fund, Viviana spent nearly eight years in the making of the film, including running a workshop teaching the islanders and cast how to film and act.

@Keylaprovidence

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 3.38.50 PMBad Lucky Goat by Samir Oliveros world premiered at SXSW and garnered legit buzz, earning a couple buzz screenings and topping Indiewire film chief’s Eric Kohn’s best first feature list. The film is that rare family friendly film that’s also a delightful, quirky adventure around the island about a brother and sister having to work together to get out of a jam.  Bad Lucky Goat subsequently landed a spot at the Panama Film Festival before its YRA competition slot at CIFFR.  The film is in the good hands of sales agency Luxbox with Fiorella Moretti, previously of film company Mantaraya, the house that Carlos Reygadas built.

@badluckygoat

LETS TALK ABOUT PUERTO RICO

This year’s Puerto Rican entry was Angelica by Marisol Gomez Moukad who participated in Panama’s work in progress in 2015.  The deeply feminist pov of a mixed race aspiring designer packed the house at all its screenings.  It was truly special to watch how it connected with Curacao’s audiences.

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Alex at his Morelia International Film Festival screening with Programmer Chloe Roddick

Boricuas have represented in the YRA competition, winning back to back in 2015 and 2016.  Alex Santiago’s Las vacas con gafas (2015) a dark comedy ‘romp’ about an artist/professor who is at once loquacious and a misanthrope, as he deals with his aging, failing eyesight. A delectable performance by Daniel Lugo who eats up the scene.  Good news – it is now available on iTunes.

In 2016 we had the unbelievably good luck to host the world premiere of Antes que cante el gallo (2016) by Ari Manuel Cruz.  Trailer below. Cruz who collaborates with actor/screenwriter Kisha Turkino Burgos showed a cut of his latest film, Quien eres tu? in Panama International Film Festival’s recent Primera Mirada (work in progress).

TRINI VIBES

2015 Yellow Robin Award winner Damian Marcano crushed it with his first feature God Loves the Fighter.  Must watch this hyper injection of real life through Marcano’s painterly palette.  Available on iTunes here. His latest short film, Heart of a Monster  – see below – is yet another shining example of this rasta’s vivid and kinetic filmmaking style.  When not making music or branded content solo and with his producing partner Alexa Bailey, he is busy developing a few projects for a couple major hollywood studios. So if you don’t know yet you will know soon.

Play the Devil, by bahamas born Maria Govan beguiled audiences at the LA Film Festival last summer.  This her second feature, which she shot in Paramin, Trinidad.  The ‘devil’ mythology surrounds a traditional carnival dance which means paying the devil his/her due so that the devil leaves the village alone for the year.  Govan interweaves this theme of allowing room for our devils to breathe with the story of a young gay man dealing with repression. Govan’s first feature, Rain premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008.

COMING SOON

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Vashti Anderson’s Moko Jumbie is a total gem to watch out for.  She is busy on the edit.  Here’s a diary she did while in production for MovieMaker magazine and about the film which had a work in progress screening at the Third Horizons Festival.

Also upcoming is Moving Parts by Emilie Upchak, formerly part of the Trinidad +Tobago Film Festival who ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund part of the film.

Y CUBA, OBVIO

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 3.49.47 PMI couldn’t do a post about Caribbean cinema without including Cuba.  I’ve been hearing about La Escuela de Cine en San Antonio de Los Baños the internationally renowned film school since forever and Cuba has a well documented film legacy.  That said, there is an old guard who have gripped onto the spotlight for decades.  Alejandro Burgues code switched it up when he burst onto the genre scene a few years ago with Juan of the Dead – avail on iTunes and these days is LA based and busy on a number of feature and tv projects.  Currently, young filmmaker Carlos Lechuga possesses an incredibly assured hand in his first two films.  His current film, the 1983 set Santa & Andres was pulled from Habana’s Film Fesstival and then when Havana NY FF tried slide it into an out of competition slot, Lechuga decided to bow out completely.  Whats with the censuring?  The LGBT and anti-fidel nature?  Like I said old guard gripping.  The film which is about a closely monitored gay novelist by a government watcher who finds more in common with him than she thought is thankfully making the festival rounds everywhere since its Toronto International Film Festival bow.  Lechuga’s film is that rare period set film where characters feel so immediate and the subject so profound and fresh, and unfortunately more topical than ever.

CARIBBEAN FESTIVALS

Born at the same time as CIFFR and taking place just days before, the Panama International Film Festival has become another key platform in the region that has the clout to launch and expose talent within the region as well as abroad. Unlike CIFFR’s cozy, intimate and 30 something film lineup setting, IFFP is bigger in scope with 140 screenings in 5 different venues and a formalized industry program. The festival is led by filmmaker Pituka Ortega-Heilbron and Artistic Director and Toronto International Film Festival programmer Diana Sanchez.

Since 2006 the trinidad+tobago film festival has done a lot to cultivate interest in island films, specially non-Spanish language which is a big deal in the spanish dominant region, both at the festival and year round. The call for submission is now open for the twelfth edition which takes place from 19 – 26 September 2017.

Stateside, the Caribbean Film Academy headed by Romula Lucas offers a resourceful   website with filmmaker interviews and U.S. screenings. They organize a Caribbean Film Series with BAMcinématek and collaborated on a new festival in Miami this past fall called Third Horizon led by Jason Fitzroy Jeffers.

Its rare to see these films get distribution in the states.  I haven’t seen this much quality and freshness of Caribbean cinema since I started watching international film professionally 13 years ago. These filmmakers are young, driven and offer rarely seen windows and insight into a region that we’ve only now begun to see, and be represented. Show your interest by following and messaging their social media handles above and in hyperlinks!

And if you are a Caribbean filmmaker working on your film, let me know!  Would love to support and watch.

Borscht Diez – the festival at sea level that’s Next Level

diezlogo_ez_transparentOn Wednesday February 22, a vortex took shape in Miami known as Borscht Diez, the 10th edition of Borscht Film Festival, which created ripples around the world. It started with the end.  A  funeral pyre where Borscht’s 13 years of past work (via hard drives) was eulogized and then promptly lit and burnt to ashes. The festival closed on Sunday, February 26 with a major phoenix rising boom for Borscht  – whose mission is to put authentic Miami narratives on the map -when locals at the African Cultural Heritage Center watched in exhilaration as hometown set and filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ film Moonlight took home three Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, Best Adapted Screenplay, and major key win: Best Picture.

For those who don’t know  – Borscht Corp is a non profit and artist collective I talk about frequently on my blog because since 2011 their films have been selected at the top festivals around the world. The organism spawned around 2004 and has multiplied into a rising number of unique and unapologetic artists who collaborate across platforms in film, digital and art projects. Borscht’s Day One funder and to this day is The Knight foundation. Borscht represents a wild, pop and savvy storytelling community who sneak relevant cultural perspectives and social/geo/political/tech-driven commentary.  When it comes to American Latino representation at festivals – something I talk about a lot on this blog, Borscht nearly always appears in my WTF is Latino at xyz festival and they found that last year at a major film festival, 50% of US fiction shorts by Latinos were Borscht commissions.

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Borscht

Two of the chief architects of this nuclear reactor, Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, recently gained the support of Time Warner’s One Fifty which invests in creators, with the goal of creating a pipeline into the entertainment divisions who recognize the need for fresh content in order to stay relevant and reach younger socially connected audiences. Mayer and Leyva have collaborated on many projects as writers/directors/producers and with One Fifty are working on a few exciting things TBA.  Their most recent short Kaiju Bunkaru premiered at Sundance, and they are actively developing their first feature set in Cuba as writers/directors.  The partners in crime have also used Time Warner’s support to continue to spearhead their work of promoting and supporting other up and coming Miami artists.  A few of these include the Meza brothers, Bernardo Britto, Alexa Haas, Monica Peña, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Amy Seimetz, Ahol Sniffs Glue, Jonathan David Kane, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, and Giancarlo Loffredo.

A typical film festival is usually evaluated by the strength of its film selection, but this ain’t no typical film festival – its a whole experience, and one that is curated off the cuff yet quite tight.  The 70 something odd number of features, shorts and videos comprising the program is driven by Borscht made films, Miami related stories, and  natives.  Its audacious vision is pretty organically glued with near future narratives and primal and cosmic evocations –  always with a daring, and often underrepresented point of view.

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Waterworld. photo by Marilyn Loddi

Screenings were held at three main theater venues; The Miami Beach Cinematheque, New World Center, Olympia Theater – which when taken over by Borscht surely broadened those institutions’ reach and seemed to take on a new feel. Outside these established venues, screens were also popped up, intervening public spaces; on the water, in the streets, off a beaten path of an island, on walls inside and outside.  Just like screens were

unleashed, so were stories unconfined to said screens by weaving thematic narratives around each screening event. Like being handed a cacti to accompany you to a film about a conquistador and being told that the questions will be taken strictly from the cacti.  Or the animation bookends at the main film event where sea anemones from the future (fake/future news reel tells us that sea level rise has buried Miami underwater) presented the program while making fun of the blip that was humans and the rubble we left behind that we called “art”.  And then there are the personal experiences in participating that creates yet another story – like the time I kayaked by myself at night a mile out to an undisclosed island location for a screening, thinking that if I flipped over into the lukewarm sea the temperature would be nice but rubbing up on something would give probably stop my heart.

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Cosmic and coral sex inside New World Center

Other big events included Coral Orgy, an immersive psychedelic  projection by local marine biologists/artists Coral Morphologic with a live score performed by Animal Collective,  a vogue ball by Catwalk Miami that was EVERYTHING, an amusing opera piece by Joseph Keckler, performances by Hyperbody, Poor Girrrl and Miami’s very own bad bitch no-nanna-hoe Trina  – and that’s just what I witnessed firsthand.  Of the VR stuff I flexed my empathy muscles being that I embodied Dubya’s body –  naked in a tub, happily painting- thanks to an installation by Tenderclaws.

I moderated a panel called Warn a Brother with Terence Nance about how independent artist like him can preserve their voice while transitioning from independent to working with studios. Like MayerLeyva, Terence is working with One Fifty who made it possible for him to shoot his pilot Random Acts of Flyness for HBO. ‘Mobilize don’t Satiriz’e was one of a few gems that I heard Terence say about his self-expression.  Tamir Muhammad, the artist development engineer responsible for bringing them in is also working with creators like Young Guru, Lemon Anderson and  Melonie Diaz. Tamir moderated another panel called Code Switching your way to the top which included my homegirl, Dilcia Barrera, LACMA Film Curator and Sundance shorts programmer, and Walter Newman from Adult Swim. The convo was about how these cats succeed in an industry dominated by wealthy straight white men.

FILMS:  A few highlights.  For the full list of cool crazy films that played go here

OPUNTAI

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Miami native David Fenster’s Opuntia is an experimental film inspired by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación. And is narrated by a cactus. The film explores spiritual transformation by way of the fascinating and little known Spanish conquistador turned

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Cabeza de Vaca is inside this cactus

shaman during his 8 year expedition on which he lost hundreds of men, was stripped of everything he had, wandered around naked and miraculously survived –  in part by eating the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Fenster visits the spots Cabeza de Vaca supposedly journeyed from St. Petersburg, Florida to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and weaves in a psychic medium’s point of view as well as his own personal narrative by including his father and his battle with his health.  A profound and existential adventure this was a work in progress screening.  Watch out for it.

Manila Death Squad by Dean C. Marcial

A young tenacious reporter insists on a sit-down and plays Kings with the temperamental leader of a brutal assassin group in this kitschy Filipino action film. Dean is currently working on a digital series called Midnight Service with his Calavera co-horts regular Borscht producer Brett Potter. They previously made a short film called Sea Devil  – a total masterpiece. Watch here.

[Cries in Spanish] By Giancarlo Loffredo

A young girl sings a song in a Latin cafe.  The vibes and jaw dropping twist on this one. From the dude that brought us Stripper Wars.

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Body Heals by Annelise Ogaard

A dispatch from a plastic surgery vacation, reflecting on beauty in the moment of metamorphosis after the knife goes in, but before the bandages come off. Remarkably transparent and unusual in that usually people hide themselves during their cocoon cosmetic post surgery phase. Brooklyn based creator and Vice contributor Annelise’s pov is about flaunting one’s regeneration.

Great Choice by Robin Comisar

A Borscht commissioned short film about a woman who gets stuck in a red lobster commerial.  The wacky premise anchored by an insanely real problem comes from Ghost Robot director Comisar who has fun doing stuff with Waverly Films.

One Doggone Summer by Julian Yuri Rodriguez

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Niño bueno and MTV no seasons star Julian, channels his dog lover and sentimental side with this sweet, imaginative story about a boy wants to make sure his doggy goes to heaven.

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-10-02-17-pmAgua Viva by Alexa Haas

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-07-44-pmAlexa co-directed the short film, The Glove with Bernardo Britto that debuted last year and is still making the rounds.  Her solo effort is about a manicurist in Miami expressing her inner desires, feelings, and daydreams through a language she cannot speak.

My experience with #BorschtDiez was seriously a portal of senses and provocation. It sparked dialogue around sex and gender, and somehow made time, space and matter truly feel relative.  If you missed it, well you missed out –  this time around. It always comes back around. Til then tune in and follow Borscht’s unique transmission from the 305; Follow @borschtcorp on the socials and head to their website.  Shout out to Marilyn Loddi for the on-the-scene photos.

VIVA BORSCHT

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WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival is officially underway, and its a special one for me because it marks my 10th year with the not for profit.  I started working for the institute in 2007 and ever since, every year from from August to November, I screen submissions as a Programming Associate, primarily Latin American and Latino films.  More than ever, I feel priviledged to watch such a volume and diverse array of perspectives.
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As for my personal mission on this blog,  I choose to talk about Latino representation in a laser focused way:  highlighting the writers and directors who are out there telling the stories they want to tell the way they want to tell it, and emphasizing the U.S. context.  As much as I love to talk about international films, the real void in the U.S. media and therefore urgent need to support, are stories created by first, second, third, multicultural generation Americans.

Overview:  Boricuas dominating. Puerto Rico most definitely repping.  Also, we got a healthy presence in Digital and Virtual Reality which makes sense beause it (WE) are the future.   Without further ado, a rundown of WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
In the U.S. Documentary Competition

DOLORES AKA Woman in Motion directed by Peter Bratt

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Executive produced by none other than Carlos Santana and supported by the San Francisco Film Society’s Documentary Fund, this long overdue celebration of Dolores Huerta’s achievements over the course of her 60something years in civil rights is reverent, timely and galvanizing. Peter Bratt is an alumni of the festival.  He wrote and directed the San Francisco set, gay coming of age La Mission which played in the 2009 festival. Armed with a rich archive of footage, banging soundtrack and one-on-ones with Dolores herself, the film chronicles one woman’s boldness in tackling the obstacles she faced on the sociopolitical battlefield along with the personal challenges of being an absentee mother.  It encourages all women to seize claim to their often overlooked contributions to society.

Also in the U.S. Documentary Competition

DINA directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles

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screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-1-08-25-pmNew to the festival, Puerto Rican Antonio Santini’s first documentary feature co-directed with Dan Sickles, MALA MALA about the trans sex worker community in Puerto Rico, premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.  Like the intimate access of that film, Dina also has a striking sense of intimacy, unpresumptiousness and ultimately delivers an unexpected and very honest connection to someone as authentically unique as Dina.
In the high profile out of competition Premieres section

BEATRIZ AT DINNER directed by Miguel Arteta

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31343311256_1f1f040a94_zThe Sundance Film Festival showed Arteta’s very first film, Star Maps back in 1997. Ever since he’s made a career of crafting indelible characters across film and television.  He reteams with Mike White (Chuck and Buck, GoodGirl) on this deliciously wicked tale of a fateful dinner encounter between a humble holistic healer and a mega brazen successful business developer.  The two opposing forces are embodied by the superb Salma Hayek and immense John Lithgow.  Thought provoking, unpredictable and utterly engrossing, the dark comedy is produced by Killer Films. Watch an exclusive clip here.

In the bold Next section

LEMON written and directed by Janicza Bravo

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Co-written with her star and partner in crime, Brett Gelman, Janicza’s striking  feature length debut boasts an insanely big and comedically gifted cast including Michael Cera, Judy Greer, Gillian Jacobs, Martin Starr.  Along with a background in design, Bravo has a knack for capturing characters lost in flight with a tragic humor and heart. An alumni of the festival, Gregory Go Boom with Michael Cera and last year’s Woman in Deep with Alison Pill, Bravo is a busy woman.  Last May she debuted a Virtual Reality experience at Tribeca Film Festival, called A Hard World for Small Things about a day in the life of South Central, and also directed an episode of the Golden Globe winning show, Atlanta.

In the Shorts Competition

KAIJU BUNRAKU directed by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva

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Marking their 12th project (features and shorts) at the festival in 7 years, multimedia mischievous artists, Jillian and Lucas bring a japanese inspired marionette short this year which like all of their work is eye-grabbing, provocative and is about more than meets the eye.  The Miami full time Borsht Corp is a nonprofit which supports Miami filmmakers, they recently supported 28 filmmakers with cold hard cash all of which are poised to premiere at their festival which has been listed on Moviemakers 25 Coolest Festivals in the world.  For more info on this February’s event click here.

GOOD CRAZY written and directed by Rosa Salazar

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Making her directorial debut, actor Rosa Salazar stars in this short shot around the hipster rising area in LA named Frogtown. The logline: A complex chick deals with a vanilla beau, a shitty brunch, and a dead coyote all in a Los Angeles day. Heart.  Excited to see more of her writing and directing.

In the newly minted, Short Form Episodic

GENTIFIED written and directed by Marvin Lemus

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Marvin Lemus who made a short film with Project Involve called Vamonos which I loved (you can watch it on PBS online) will be premiering 3 episodes of this series that takes place in Boyle Heights.  Each episode features a resident trying to pursue their living/art. Lemus hits a chord/funny bone here as most of the tension and strife is intergenerational; old school mexican generation clashing with millenials.  The series is backed by Mr. Charles King and his company Macro.  Lemus is in good company.  Macro also produced Denzel Washington’s Fences, and at the festival Dee Ree’s WW2 period Mudbound.
In the animation spotlight

VICTOR Y ISOLINA by William Caballero

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screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-11-43-57-amIts only three years ago that William popped up on the radar with his animated series Gran’pa Knows Best, a really funny and sweet series in which he used 3-D printed miniatures of his Puerto Rican grandfather over real voicemails that his grandfather from would leave for him. Initially an independent short, it was quickly snapped up with HBO.  Victor y Isolina introduces his grandma to the mix, who is the perfect foil to his unapologetic grandpa.  Produced by Elaine Del Valle who produced her own webseries, Reasons y I’m Single.  Check out his website for more info.

In the New Frontier (the future) section

NEUROSPECULATIVE AFROFEMINISM

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screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-9-47-55-amI don’t know much about this one but the description sounds super fascinating; a beauty salon of the future’. Fingers crossed I get an opportunity to experience it while I’m here.   Also I’m dying to meet one of the artist/engineers, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge who founded Hypen-Lab, an international team of women of color working at the intersection of tech, art, science and narrative.

IF NOT LOVE by Rose Troche

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I been crushing hard on Rose Troche for as far back as I can remember.  Go Fish changed my life.  No joke.  She was a producer on Concussion, and has since come back to the festival in the New Frontier program with a series called Perspectives, which puts you in the shoes of a person caught in a situation a result which shatters any idea of black and white and makes you swim in the gray.  Per the description:  IF NOT LOVE challenges the viewer to contemplate another difficult subject—a mass shooting at a nightclub, but this time with the question posited: is another outcome possible?

OUT OF EXILE: DANIEL’S STORY by Nonny de la Peña

I mean, she’s been called the Godmother of Virtual Reality.  Nonny de la Peña also returns to New Frontier with this piece that recreates Daniel Ashley Pierce’s coming out video that went viral.  If you don’t know the heartbreaking and inspirational story read here This experience puts your body into the middle of the action around audio that Daniel recording during that encounter.

For deeper coverage on Latino and Latin American talent at the festival check out REMEZCLA.  For a closer look at all documentaries at the festival head over to What (not) to Doc.   Livestream the festival’s panels and watch select shorts from home. And follow my BTS on Twitter @IndieFindsLA and insta ChicanafromChicago.

WTF is Latino at the 74th Golden Globes?

Quick answer: Not much.  But it’s too easy, not to mention unproductive, to bemoan and criticize awards shows for their lack of recognition when it comes to Latino writers/directors.  Unfortunately there isn’t much of an eligible pool for these big awards shows to consider (why that is -for another post).  Also, for those new to my blog; I define Latino strictly in the American generation/context, not international, and I focus on creators (writers and directors).  Now lets celebrate who we do got because it’s pretty cool that of these few American Latino writers/directors in the Golden Globes mix, they happen to be all WOMEN!

Although it is the showrunner/producers who accept the Best TV categories, the writers and directors of the nominated shows obviously are part of what makes the show stand out. To that end, lets give props to the ladies that contributed to the critical success of these nominated series:

jnl2In the Best TV Drama series category, there is Jessie Nickson Lopez, staff writer on Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS.  The young Columbia University grad was raised between Canada and the U.S. and has Venezuelan roots.    After a brief stint at ICM followed by being staffed on A&E’s short lived The Returned, she worked as assistant to Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad EP/writer) on STARZ ballet drama, Flesh and Bone which was nominated for a Golden Globe last year in the Best Television Limited Series category.  Stranger Things debuted this summer to much acclaim and hype with eight episodes.  She wrote episode 6: The Monster.   The show will be back for season 2.

In the Best TV Comedy series category, Mexican-American Linda Mendoza has directed 4 episodes over the course of the 3 year old series BLACKISH from ABC.  Mendoza has been directing hit television show episodes on the regular ever since The Chris Rock show on which she directed 13 episodes during 97-98 season.  Except for her 2003 feature Chasing Papi for Pantelion, she has stayed entrenched in the television business.

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bravoWINNER ********Also in the Best TV Comedy series, Panamanian Janizca Bravo directed an episode of another new show that came in hot this year, ATLANTA. Her episode was Junteenth.  Bravo has a great eye and very soulfully brings a dark comedy to her work. She has directed a number of short films as well as a virtual reality project about police brutality that was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival.  She is about to premiere her feature debut, Lemon at this month’s Sundance Film Festival, so you’ll be hearing a lot more of her in the next few weeks.

As mentioned, award shows can only be as representative as the eligible pool so to be fair, what features and television shows were eligible and were snubbed THIS YEAR? I regret to say I lack hard data and to be honest I’m not as well versed in the television landscape as I am in the indie film world  (new years resolution!).  A few I do know who we’re technically elegible bear mentioning; Danielle Sanchez-Witzel who is the showrunner on The Carmichael Show on NBC didnt get any GG love. Empire which was nominated last year has a writing room that includes Carlito Rodriguez who is also co-producer. He previously wrote on the first season of HBO’s The Leftovers. Orange is the New Black which boasts a killer Latina cast who didn’t get recognized- includes Marco Ramirez as writer.  The Get Down includes Jacqueline Rivera as staff writer who also directed an episode. While Gina Rodriguez gets her third nomination (and sole Latina acting nominee) for her acting on Jane the Virgin the show didn’t get any love this year (It was last nominated in 2015 the year of its debut).  The show consistently engages Latina scribes, Emmylou Diaz and Valentina Garza, and director Zetna Fuentes.  In previous years Hulu’s hit show East Los High received a number of daytime Emmy Awards but the Globes never recognized the show which was created by Carlos Portugal and included a robust number of Latino writers.  NBC’s Shades of Blue wasn’t nominated which includes writer Benjamin Lobato who also wrote on USA’s Queen of the South another show that premiered this year.  Peter Murrieta wrote on TV Land’s Lopez show.  Just recently premiered, so not part of this year’s submissions, Netflix’s One Day at a Time counts Murrieta as a writer and notably  Gloria Calderon as showrunner (next year?)

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-6-21-12-pmLast year we had Ricky Gervais prophetically introduce Eva Longoria and America Ferrara as folks our future president wants to deport.  Conceptually (painfully) funny to prove a point/Brit rub it in move, except both are American citizens. The ladies proceeded to do a bit on people mistaking them for other famous Latinas. Among this year’s presenters, Zoe Saldana who plays Ben Afflecks love interest in his period gang drama Live by Night is the only American Latina on deck. The Dominican American is known to speak flawless Español.  Her body of work is fascinating in that she’s managed to play Black, Latina and now simply blockbuster actor (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar). Saldana has a production company Cinestar which she runs with her sisters and has a first-look deal with South Shore Television and Pantelion Films, the U.S. joint ventures of Grupo Televisa and Lionsgate. Hopefully they manage to bring up and work with some talented Latino creators.

In the Best Original Song category, musical star Lin Manuel-Miranda was nominated for his work on How Far I’ll Go with Mark Mancini and Opetaia Foa’i.

 

 

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.

@LupeUnderTheSun

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.

 

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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).

@72HrsBK

#72HrsBK

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