#SXSW2014 Storytelling for Change: Diego Luna on the making of Cesar Chavez

Tonight at 6pm at the Paramount is the North America premiere of Cesar Chavez a film directed by Ambulante co-founder Diego Luna.

Hear his candid thoughts about making the movie with the Chavez family at this morning’s Participant Media panel

#WTF is #Latino at SXSW Film Festival?

Perhaps the highest profile U.S. Latino film at SXSW this year is the dramatic feature about labor rights organizer Cesar Chavez.  Another film on Chavez, the documentary Cesar’s Last Fast, premiered at Sundance last month.  I’m thrilled to see two of the biggest U.S. Festivals supporting this story getting out there.   I’m also happy to see that the version directed by Diego Luna, starring Michael Peña as Cesar, is not the only US Latino offering at SXSW, the edgiest mainstream film festival in the U.S. of A.  I count 5 U.S. Latino writer/directors on this roster among many other artists and subjects.

chaveztweetBefore we dive in, my caveats:  First, this is at best, a prelim list.  I’m sure I will discover more US Latino talent once I get there and watch more films and meet the artists behind them.  

2.  My goal is to single out the U.S. Latino content creators, that is writer/directors because they are ridiculously under-represented.

3.  By U.S. Latino I mean people born or living in the U.S. who have roots from Mexico, Central & South America and the Caribbean.  

Back to this piece; I’m including actors, producers and cinematographers because they are critical to the making of the film, and subjects of documentaries as well as themes and perceptions of Latino culture because you don’t have to have Latino blood to “get it”.  That’s a sensibility you pickup because of where you live, or because of a best friend/neighbor, or a connection you feel when you experience a an artistic expression outside what your traditional ethnic culture dictates. 

sashaSorry for shutting out Spain and Brazil on this list.  They will be fine.  That said I’m looking forward to Open Windows by Spanish loco, Nacho Vigalondo where Elijah Wood is suppose to go on a date with Sasha Grey.  And there is the Brazilian film,  Wolf at the Door, feature length debut from Fernando Coimbra.

One Night in Old Mexico by Emilio Aragon bears mention. It is a Spanish (that means Spain people) production shot in Brownsville, Texas. Joaquin Cosio (Cochiloco!) is the only Mexican actor I notice in the credits.   Robert Duvall acts and produces in this old-timey South of the Border road trip. I will view with an open mind and hope that Tijuana brothel strippers and corrupt Narco cowboys are not just background to an Anglo, Father and (grand) Son story.  I do like the Julieta Venegas song for the film, “Aqui Sigo”.

Thanks to my SXSW peeps for their descriptions and help.  If I have anything to add, I do so in Italics.  If YOU have anything to add please feel free to COMMENT!

HEADLINERS

Chef-photo-Jon-FavreauChef
Director/Screenwriter: Jon Favreau
Chef is a rich and vibrant comedy – the story of Carl Casper (Favreau), who loses his chef job and cooks up a food truck business in hopes of reestablishing his artistic promise. At the same time, he tries to reconnect with his estranged family.
Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey, Jr., Emjay Anthony (World Premiere)

NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT

malkovichCESAR CHAVEZ
Director: Diego Luna
Screenwriter: Keir Pearson, Timothy J. Sexton
Chavez chronicles the birth of a modern American movement led by famed civil rights leader and labor organizer, Cesar Chavez. 
Cast: Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich, Michael Pena, America Ferrera, Gabriel Mann (North American Premiere)

Finally, a U.S. Latino story gets the orchestral score, epic, Hollywood blockbuster-gloss treatment it deserves.  And tomorrow evening, Cesar Chavez is having its World Premiere as a fancy Berlinale Special Gala.  Film is being rolled out in the U.S. starting on Cesar Chavez day, March 29.  John Malkovich, one of the producers of the film, also stars as Bogdanovitch, the grape crop owner and son of immigrants who wages battle against Chavez’s efforts to mobilize.  The filmmakers made the role a very smartly drawn character with dimension and Malkovich plays it with unexpected complexity and compassion.  Meanwhile America and Rosario elevate the contributions of Chavez’s partners, Helen, his wife, and Dolores Huerta, his work ally, respectively,  from background to the fore with their mighty performances.  An inspiring account of the sacrifices and failures necessary for triumph and success.  

Two Step


Director/Screenwriter: Alex R. Johnson
Two Step is a fast-paced Texas thriller in which the lives of James, a directionless college dropout, and Webb, a career criminal with his back against the wall, violently collide.
Cast: Beth Broderick, James Landry Hébert, Skyy Moore, Jason Douglas, Ashley Rae Spillers (World Premiere)

Austin-based Johnson, whose mom is from Ecuador,  is part of SXSW for the first time with his anticipated feature directorial debut, after directing several shorts, videos and producing documentaries.  Indiewirepreviously posted background on Two Step’s music (Andrew Kenny of All American Analog set did the score) and offbeat suspense elements along with clips of his work.  Check it. 

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

 The Immortalists
Directors: Jason Sussberg, David Alvarado
Two eccentric scientists struggle to create eternal youth in a world they call “blind to the tragedy of old age.” As they battle their own aging and suffer the losses of loved ones, their scientific journeys ultimately become personal. (World Premiere)

David was born in Dallas to a Mexican father, he went to grad school at Stanford and now lives in Brooklyn where he works on films exploring scientific breakthroughs and other fascinating biological radical-ness

Impossible Light
Director: Jeremy Ambers

impossibleImpossible Light reveals the drama and the daring of artist Leo Villareal and a small team of visionaries who battle seemingly impossible challenges to turn a dream of creating the world’s largest LED light sculpture into a glimmering reality. (World Premiere)

 Villareal grew up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso. Per this Times article, “He was the introverted son of a wealthy Mexican-American family, more interested in programming his Apple II than the provincial pursuits of football, rodeo and tequila”.

Mateo
Director: Aaron I. Naar
Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 4.08.28 PMMateo follows America’s most notorious white mariachi singer on his misadventures in Cuba.
(World Premiere)

Really interesting story, read the 2009 LA Times piece here and the Time Magazine piece here about this ginger haired white man who found his calling singing bolero music after getting out of Maximum Security Prison.

Print the Legendprintlegend

Directors: Luis Lopez, Clay Tweel

The 3D Printing revolution has begun. Who will make it? (World Premiere)

Lopez (from Tijuana) and Tweel were associate producers on 2007’s King of Kong and worked together on 201o’s LA Film Fest Best Documentary, Make Believe.

DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT

chapoThe Legend Of Shorty (UK)
Directors: Angus MacQueen, Guillermo Galdos
The Legend of Shorty is the story of a man and a myth. (World Premiere)

The sick but undeniably wild appeal of this ‘untouchable’ narco kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman puts this at the top of my Must-See list.  Not to mention the folks involved; Guillermo Galdos is a respected documentary reporter from Peru.  Submarine is co-repping the film for North America with Protagonist. Produced by Simon Chinn (Searching For Sugar Man, Man On Wire) and Andrew Mackenzie-Betty (Thriller In Manila).

VISIONS

Cumbres (Heights) (Mexico)

Director/Screenwriter: Gabriel Nuncio
Due a tragedy, two sisters abruptly escape from their hometown in Northern Mexico. Their journey creates a bittersweet relationship marked by pain, guilt and love.
Cast: Aglae Lingow, Ivanna Michel, Abdul Marcos, Sergio Quiñones, Ganzo Cepeda (U.S. Premiere)

Really happy about this film and impressed how Nuncio swooshes forward both the on-the-run stakes never leaving behind the actual sister relationship story behind. I’m looking forward to his next film, Los Herederos which Michel Franco (Despues de Lucia is producing).

The Dance of Reality (Chile / France)


Director/Screenwriter: Alejandro Jodorowsky
The Dance of Reality is a 2013 independent autobiographical film written, produced and directed by Alejandro Jodorowosky. 
Cast: Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Jeremias Herskovits, Cristobal Jodorowsky, Bastián Bodenhöfer, Alejandro Jodorowsky (U.S. Premiere)

Almost a year after its premiere in Cannes, the film finally gets its stateside premiere.  It’s like surfing on the neural synapses of an artist fully in tune with his twilight years intertwining nostalgia and fantasy.

EPISODIC – new section

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

Director/Screenwriter: Robert Rodriguez
The Gecko Brothers are back. Based on the thrill-ride film, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a supernatural crime saga from Creator, Director and EP Robert Rodriguez premiering March 11 on El Rey Network.
Cast: D.J. Cotrona, Zane Holtz, Eiza González, Jesse Garcia, Lane Garrison, and Wilmer Valderrama, and Don Johnson (World Premiere) 

Halt and Catch Fire
Director: Juan Jose Campanella, Screenwriters: Christopher Cantwell
Halt and Catch Firecaptures the rise of the PC era in the early 1980s, during which an unlikely trio – a visionary, an engineer and a prodigy – take personal and professional risks in the race to build a computer that will change the world as they know it. 
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Rio Davis, Kerry Bishe, Toby Huss, David Wilson Barnes (World Premiere)

Argentine Campanella has directed several episodes of House, Law & Order, 30 Rock and my ol fave, Strangers With Candy. Before that he got international acclaim with his first film, 2009’s The Secret in Her Eyes.

24 BEATS PER SECOND

Lupita-1 KopieQue Caramba es la Vida (Germany)
Director: Doris Dorrie
In the macho world of Mariachi music, very few women can hold their own. Just like the songs they play, this film is a snapshot of life, death and the things in between – seen from a bird’s-eye perspective. (World Premiere)

Rubber Soul

Director/Screenwriter: Jon Lefkovitz
Rubber Soul reconstructs portions of two historical interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono based on available transcripts and audio, juxtaposing them in order to explore the dynamic nature of Lennon’s identity over time. Cast: Joseph Bearor, Denice Lee, Dillon Porter, Andrew Perez (World Premiere)

perezAndrew is first generation Colombian American.  His next feature which he wrote and acts in is being edited by Rubber Soul director, Jon Lefkovitz, takes place in Colombia, called Bastards & Diablos.  He spent six years in my Chi-city, performed at the renowned Steppenwolf Theater with a production of Sonia Flew with Sandra Delgado and Sandra Marquez. 

 

SXGLOBAL

desertThe Desert (Argentina)

Director: Christoph Behl


The failed story of a love triangle in a post-apocalyptic world.
Cast: Victoria Almeida, William Prociuk, Lautaro Delgado (North American Premiere)

German filmmaker who works in Spanish language films.  The Desert has been validated at all the top international horror festivals, Sitges, London Fright Fest, Fantasy Festival among others.

MIDNIGHT

Exists
Director: Eduardo Sánchez, Screenwriter: Jamie Nash
Five friends on a camping weekend in the remote woods of East Texas struggle to survive against a legendary beast that is stronger, smarter, and more terrifying than they would have ever believed exists. Cast: Chris Osborn, Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis (World Premiere)

Cuban born Sanchez shot to cult indie horror kingpin over Blair Witch Project.  His short in the V/H/S 2 short is so bomb.  I can’t wait to see this take on Bigfoot.

latephasesLate Phases
Director: Adrián García Bogliano Screenwriter: Eric Stolze
When deadly attacks from the forests beset a secluded retirement community, it is up to a grizzled veteran to figure what the residents are hiding. Cast: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Erin Cummings, Tom Noonan, Lance Guest (World Premiere)

Adrián was born in Madrid, grew up in Argentina and now lives and works in Mexico City.  This is his first film in English.  He has over 20 credits, about half feature length and half shorts, including most recently the ABCs of Death (B is for Bigfoot, incidentally), and Here Comes The Devil.  I first experienced his suspenseful horror com romp with his 2004 Rooms for Tourists.

Home
Director/Screenwriter: Nicholas McCarthy
When a realtor is asked to sell a vacant home, she and her sister cross paths with its previous tenant: a teenage girl who sold her soul to the devil. Cast: Naya Rivera, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ashley Rickards, Wyatt Russell, Ava Acres (World Premiere)

Puerto Rican Naya Rivera (Glee) who recently was quoted in a Cosmo Latina interview it sucks that she has no one to speak Spanish to , and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace and Magic Magic) get top billing in this  midnight movie from The Pact director McCarthy

ANIMATED SHORTS

Yearbook

Director/Writer:  Bernardo Britto

A man is hired to compile the definitive history of human existence before the planet blows up.

BB is Brasilero from Rio, animated film is produced by the Cuban American Borscht Collective based in Miami.  Won Best Animated Film at Sundance.  I’m so moved by this.  It is so damn profound.

MIDNIGHT SHORTS

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 6.38.37 PMWawd Ahp

Directors: Steve Girard, Josh Chertoff
A man raps in the mirror, cuts his head off, and has sex with it. There is also a cartoon.

No seriously, that is the description and even that is not preparation for the deranged awesome-ness that is Wawd Ahp.  The cinematographer Alfredo Alcantara grew up in Mexico City.  Check out his work.

Violent Florence (Australia)
Director: Jaime Snyder
Florence rescues a stray cat from a gang of teenagers. After taking the feline to an isolated building, her true intentions emerge.

Cinematographer Benjamin Hidalgo De La Barrera is from Mexico City, another D.F. DP

TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SHORTS – The future is here!

Cliché
Directors: Joseph Alvarez, Eric Zelaya
Four teenagers on a mission to create the greatest student short film.

Just Skate
Directors: Alicia Tanguma, Brianna Garza
The boy loves to skate.

purplePurple
Directors: Ryker Allen, Isabella Cabello
A Super-8 esque shot, coming of age music video for the song “Purple” performed by San Antonio based band Islands and Tigers.

Check out the San Antonio multi-media artist Ryker’s impressive work on his website

Seawolf
Directors: Caila Pickett, Max Montoya
Seawolf follows a young girl as she travels to different worlds through magical boxes.

Now that I’ve had a chance to scour through the lineup, I can tell that Latino or not, there’s a whole mixed bag of unadulterated, head-blowing, pants-offing, mind-tripping sing and dancing in store to discover.   Get yourself out there for the film, stay for music if you dare.  SXSW

Meet Tin Dirdamal – Director of Death in Arizona

opening2014Last weekend I was in Mexico City for the official launch of the 2014 Ambulante documentary tour.  The roving film festival has an insanely impressive 35 venues through out most of the burroughs in El Districto Federal.   It wanders around in Mexico City one more week until the 13th when the tour hits the road to its next stop in Guerrero.   The tour will conclude May 4 in the magical land of Oaxaca and by then it will have traveled to 12 different states throughout Mexico presenting its diverse, international lineup of the latest documentary cinema.

Ambulante has 12 different programming sections including the popular music section, Sonidero, Dictator’s cut, devoted to human rights & freedom of speech,  and Injerto, the art & cinema experimental section.  Ambulante’s viscus however is Pulsos, where you’ll find the most recent, most original voices of the robust Mexican non fiction narrative.  It is here that the world premiere of Death in Arizona, a futuristic documentary, as described by the director, Tin Dirdamal is being presented.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 9.50.46 AM

Still6 copyI first met Tin at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival with his opera prima, DeNadie which won the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.  He is by far one of the most curious, unpretentious, inspired minds I’ve ever met.  We took a jaunt up to Coyoacan plaza, an ancient mecca of artisan vendors and merchants, for coffee at my favorite El Jarocho, tamales, and found a relatively quiet garden to have a conversation.

DeathArizona1The story is quite personal, about a love lost and a self found, to say it broadly.  Without giving away too much, the love in the film is also the producer and co-director Christina Haglund.  I asked Tin about his creative process, his favorite Jodorowsky film, his experience at Sundance, and his philosophy on filmmaking and well, life.  Check out our conversation and then the trailer to his film.   He is truly a one-of-a-kind, thought-provoking, and perhaps the most brilliantly unassuming human being I’m happy to know.  Now you meet him.

Here is a trailer of the film – that for me resonates as a journey culminating towards a flickering light and illumination at the end of a tunnel of heartbreaking solitude.  The intimate, moody, futuristic and transcendent film, Death in Arizona.

REZETA – Mexican feature film wins Special Jury Award at Slamdance

REZETA written and directed by Mexican born but trans-nationally influenced Fernando Frias, was recognized with a Special Jury Award Prize at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival which celebrated its 20th anniversary last week.  It was the U.S. premiere of the film after its world premiere at the Morelia International Film Festival in 2012.  The story is about an Albanian model named Rezeta (played by the naturally charming Rezeta Veliu) who flies in to Mexico City for a work stint and develops an unlikely relationship with a down to earth, blue collar guy who works construction on set and who doesn’t fall all over her like most men do.  It’s an unexpectedly genuine, credible and revealing take on the opposites attract friendship romance, and one enjoyably surprising in its sympathetic and dimensional portrayal of a jet set beautiful model, who in many ways, her world savvy independent experience and maturity becomes much more of a threat to the men in her life than her looks.  Here’s the trailer.  Read on for my post Park City interview with Fernando – a talented up and coming voice to watch out for.

1. How was your Slamdance experience?  What is something that people might not know about Slamdance?

Slamdance is fucking fantastic. It’s all about filmmaking at its purest form. Slamdance has a very unique stamp. They dare to program great work that defies convention and they help create communities around genuine filmmaking. They have kept loyal to their famous phrase: “For filmmakers by filmmakers” for 20 years now. There’s a lot going on during the festival and still all the staff are extremely friendly and have such great attitudes. People might not know that the festival has been around for that long and that they have discovered people like Christopher Nolan and Lena Dunham, among many other big names.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 1.29.57 AM
Film Still of Rezeta
2. What’s the next script you are working on?
It’s a story about a very particular Mexican kid around Queens. I had one earlier draft that I wrote for a class at school but when I came back to it, I found that it went in a very different direction that what I originally had in mind. The good thing is that after realizing that, I wrote the story in prose as a short story in the voice of my character and I had the great luck to be selected  winner of the  Bengala-UANL award (Nuevo León University). It’s a first edition contest open to all writers, journalist and filmmakers from Mexico and the objective of such a great contest is to find good ideas for scripts and help them throughout their developing stage. After I found out that I won, I got so excited that I completed a new draft in 2 weeks. I am currently revising it in 2 different workshops.
20140120-Slamdance-DSC_01065. What kind of culture do you belong to?
I’d say I belong to the DIY culture but I don’t know how much will that do for an answer. I can tell you that I’m Mexican born and raised in DF with parents who came from opposites sides of town.  I grew up traveling to unknown places because my mother worked for more than 25 years in Airlines, so we had standby tickets and we would go to the airport not really knowing where we were going too. It was cool because we could only fly on low season so I missed school and I wouldn’t know where we were heading until the very last minute… I guess this made an impact on me because all my work ends taking place around cultural differences…
6. What was the most inspiring thing you did or saw in Park City?
I have to say that winning the Jury award  for best narrative film at Slamdance was a huge surprise and really exciting but I also had a blast snowboarding, something that is kind of new to me.
7. What other US Latino filmmaker have you recently discovered or follow?
I discovered Alejandro Fernandez from Chile. I really love his film To Kill A Man which played at Sundance and won a big award. At Slamdance I think I was the only Latino but I might be wrong. As for names, I have to say that this last year I saw two amazing movies from Chile and Brasil: Gloria by Sebastian Leilo and and Neighboring Sounds by Kleber Mendoça. 
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Fernando is pretty modest.  He’s a Fulbright scholar in NY at Columbia, and his experimental documentary, Calentamiento Local (which means “Local Warming) won the Digital Prize at the Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival known as FICCO in 2009, the penultimate year of the once IT festival.  A highly lyrical, romantic capturing of the symbiotic, magnetic relationship of ethereal beaches and the sensual bodies who traipse and fall in love on them in  Mexico. You can see the full film here.  Fernando has also made some really cool artist portrait commercials for Converse.    
Check out more of Fernando’s work on his vimeo channel

Ambulante California – unveiled at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, co-founders of the traveling documentary film festival, talk about the inception of Ambulante, the power of cinema, and the upcoming launch of Ambulante California. Coming soon September 21 – October 4

@AmbulanteCA

Curaçao International Film Festival Rotterdam – Looking for Caribbean Island films

Hola!

curacaocarib
A rich hot mix of African, European and Latin American influences make for a striking unique multi culture and perspective

I know it’s been a while since my last post.  Lots to report on, but I’m jumping on right now because I’m putting out an APB (WANTED) out on Caribbean island feature length films.  I’m so delighted and honored to be Programmer of the Yellow Robin competition at the  Curaçao International Film Festival, taking place April 2 – 6.  I was happy to learn I was recommended by the veteran Latin Film Programmer at the  Toronto International Film Festival, Diana Sanchez (thank you!).  I got the gig after speaking with Rutger Wolfson, director of IFFR and then while at the Morelia Film Festival, I met with Percy Pinedo who leads the program from Curacao.   I was impressed to hear the year round efforts and programming The Cinemas Willemstad has been doing thanks to the support of the Fundashon Bon Intenshon.  The aim of Rotterdam’s Caribbean baby sister is to develop the local audience and spark the filmmaking impulse, and create a meeting point for Caribbean and Latin American film producers.

As a huge fan of Rotterdam’s edgy, discovery programming, I’m so happy to be collaborating with their smart team’s  bold initiative to register the filmmaking voices and people of the Caribbean islands.   This is a region to watch. This year I was excited to watch 4 fiction feature length submissions from the Dominican Republic films for Sundance, each completely distinct from each other.  The Havana Film Festival which 35th edition ended last week, boasted a stronger than ever regional program , including the premieres of Land Without Evil by Juan Carlos Valdivia (from Bolivia), whose last film, Zona Sur played at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, and Giraffes, a Cuban/Colombian/Panamanian film by Cuban Kiki Alvarez.

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The audience at Curacao

There is also for instance, The Panama International Film Festival which has solid ties with the Toronto International Film Festival (Diana Sanchez is the Artistic Director) and is taking place from April 3 – 9.   Like Curaco IFFR, it will put on its 3rd edition in 2014.  I heard great things about Panama from Latin Film Market industry friends.   Since 2006 the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival has been earning a name for itself, and it looks like it also has a robust little engine of year round programming to engage the community.   Surely these kind of co-organized visionary festivals are encouraging the slowly increasing trickle of feature length films I’m seeing in submissions.  That said, there is not much film input  from specifically the island region, which makes the viewing process exotic and exhilarating to see such underrepresented culture.  The shortage and inconsistent quality is a challenge towards assembling a worthy, well rounded competition if restricted to only Caribbean islands therefore the competition will also select films from Central & South America, countries near geographically and influence.  For me, there is something so metaphysical about being so naked and vulnerable out in the middle of the sea that shapes the perspectives of these stories.

I’m looking forward to spending my holidays visiting the islands through film.   If you have any recommendations even if they are just the titles without contacts, let me know.  Please share and pass along the link in case someone you know might have some.

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LALIFF – Back in Community Effect

2013-10-10 18.35.41Last night was the Opening Night Screening and Gala of the 2013 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.  Invoking it’s “Sweet Sixteen”, the tradition of celebrating an American Girl’s coming of age is appropriate even if technically, this would have been its 17th year, had it not taken last year’s hiatus. It’s appropriate all the same because this year’s program represents American (Latino) films AND a substantial amount of Latinas driving and depicting these stories.  Newly instated Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti was on hand to give his blessing.  The grandson of Chihuahua, Mexicans, his poetic remarks referring to Los Pobladores (the original mestizo settlers who founded LA in 1781) confirmed the passionate consciousness and respect he has for LA’s history. Edward James Olmos presented the Gabi Lifetime Achievement award to Pablo Ferro, a bohemian whose signature skinny long letters and influential film titles sequences on such films like Dr. Strangelove, Bullet, Russians Are Coming, BeetleJuice, Men In Black among countless others, established an art within the art of cinema’s first impression and tone.

2013-10-10 18.31.13
This is Pablo Ferro

The documentary, Pablo handled by Shoreline Entertainment and directed by Richard Goldgewicht is an animated, whimsical treatment of the life and times of this consummate artist and original hipster.  Folks like Angelica Huston, Andy Garcia, Leonard Maltin praise his genius, and narrated by The Dude, Jeff Bridges gives it an added air of deadpan wit, whose “This is Pablo” narrative  conceit, strikes the tone of the bohemian Cuban born artist.  Wearing his trademark red scarf,  Pablo accepted his award without so many words but no matter, as the audience generously paid enthusiastic homage to one or our own being rightly commemorated.  Also at long last given the deserving (posthumous) commemoration was La Madrina of the festival,  the late great Lupe Ontiveros.  Olmos made a point that even in her passing she changed the course of our community when her painful absence of the In Memoriam at the Oscars galvanized the Latino Academy members to rally and re-examine their presence within the organization.  Olmos’s handsome rugged face, much like Robert Redford, transmits such grit & soul, add to it that wicked Zapata mustache and his Escalante personality that he never got rid of, when he closed by saying It’s time for the community to take charge” his onda was fully registered.

At the party across the street at the Wax Museum where the uncanny real life sized figures freak you out every time you feel you should turn around to introduce yourself  (guests remarked where are my brown wax at!) I got a chance to see many of the US Latino filmmakers with films in the festival.  From Jesse Salmeron and Jeremy Ray Valdez of Dreamer, Richard Montoya of Water & Power.    I got a chance to catch up briefly with one of my esteemed mentors and friends who is also a LALIFF Advisor Sydney Levine of Sydneys Buzz on Indiewire.  She is a treasure trove of insight and knowledge in the international film circuit and I cannot wait for her upcoming comprehensive book focusing on Latin American Cinema.  Maria Agui Carter, NALIP member and filmmaker whose documentary on civil rights soldier Loreta Velazquez, Rebel screens in its full running time on Saturday at 3:10pm (The 52 minute version has been broadcasted on POV).  Maria and I started to get into a passionate chat on women authored and women depicted stories.  I’m pleased to find out there is a panel, Women and girls in Media Panel at 5:30pm today. We agreed that a candid and collaborative discussion needs to be had regarding these so called  female empowered yet still sexually objectified characters (see Sofia Vergara’s ak47 tits in Machete Kills), and on how as women we need to deconstruct our stories in a different way, not so much replace roles men have traditionally had.  Stories doing just that at the festival along with Rebel, are Maestra about Cuba’s National Literacy Campaign, a profile of the women who taught a nation to read and write, by Catherine Murphy. Colombian non-violent revolutionaries, in We Women Warriors by Nicole Karsin.  On the dramatic front there is Nicole Gomez Fisher’s delightful comedy Sleeping with the Fishes and the DIY Venezuelan inspiring guapa/activist/filmmaker/vlogger/mother, Fanny Veliz who has written directed, produced and has been distributing her film Homebound.

laliff-opening4
Eric Garcetti remarking on the flowers the Pobladores seeded 231 years ago

While LALIFF has had and continues to have many organization struggles and challenges, I’ve become so aware that one thing you can never take away from it,  is the powerful sense and network of community.  So many talent pursuing their craft have made connections, collaborated and grown in their careers as a result of hanging out at LALIFF.  Someone should archive these fruitful connections as much as the films that have been shown.   Further proof is the filmmaker who told me last night how he met someone he wants to cast in the film he is working on.

maria
Mi querida amiga Maria Oliva! Documentary filmmaker/photographer and LALIFF’er

My dance card is full this weekend before I head to Mexico on Monday.  I’m in screening crunch mode for Sundance, but I’ll try to run down to the festival at the TLC Chinese 6 theaters when I can to write up another dispatch of films and filmmakers to watch.  If you are in LA please do buy a ticket to support the Latino Film Institute and the next wave of Mas American talent.  As with any festival your best bet for discovering emerging voices is the short film program.  Go watch shorts The Shooting Star Salesman by Kiko Velarde,  Llegar a Ti by Alejandro Torres, The Price we Pay by Jesse Garcia and El Cocodrilo by Steve Acevedo.  Go to http://latinofilm.org/festival/ for full program and check them out on Twitter & Face

Mas Later

#MasAmerican

Meet Edgar Muñiz: The Most Prolific Filmmaker You Don’t-but-should-definitely Know

Bio_Pic_photo_2“I’m a compulsive filmmaker,” admits Eddie Muñiz the 33 year old California native who has 12 films under his belt.
One of them is The Never Daunted, his 10th film. Not too long ago I saw it as a festival screener dvd and I vividly and immediately felt that rare exhilarating rush of discovery amid the dvd stacks of derivative story lines.   The film is about a  man who, unable to cope with his infertility and the monotony of a dead-end job, becomes withdrawn from his relationship and grows obsessed with a strange Western that comes on television late at night – which only he can see.   The film’s captivating sincerity and epic  male psyche exploration makes Muñiz not only a writer/director to follow, but one to actively support.  He’s one of those creative manic types who are actively pursuing their art of storytelling without frills, on the fly and for the love.  On the weekends and perhaps limited by budget but never held back by its raw, transcendent humanity.  In talking to him you can tell he is completely immersed in and relishes the craft.  So much he hasn’t had the bandwith to fully explore the mine of distribution outlets.  Thanks to our brave new world of Direct to Fan online distribution, we can finally check out some of his films, in particular the singular The Never Daunted.  Now available to stream on Seed & Spark.  Once you get hooked you’ll want to see more of his work, some of which is available on his website.   Read on, get to know this cool cat and get a  taste of his sensibility and work ethic and tell me if he’s not inspiring.
The_Never_Daunted-2Adjusted1. Putting together one film no matter how modest the budget requires a lot of collaboration, an insane amount of tenacity and organization.  What is it about your creative process and style that has allowed you to be so prolific?
 
You’re right.  Making a film does require a lot of collaboration, and I think there are either filmmakers who embrace this aspect of filmmaking or they don’t. I completely rely on it, but that’s also because I work with a lot of like-minded people and really talented, smart people. I think that the only real trick I have is that I won’t start with a script. The only reason I’m able to complete so many projects and get them done so quickly is because I’ll take care of the scheduling first, which I think is the hardest part, and then force myself to write something under pressure before the day I have to shoot. I never really start with an idea or theme in mind; I’ll start with a person I think is interesting or that I love being around. I know that sounds weird, but so many of the films I’ve done started from just hanging out with a friend or with new people. After hanging out and getting a sense of their personalities and of their views, I always think it’s interesting to take a version of that person and place him or her in different scenarios that I later come up with. This approach not only opens up several narrative possibilities for me, but it also makes it so that I can make the film and keep discovering new things as I’m going along. The part that I play in this is almost nonexistent. I just have to make sure to listen very carefully, work within my means, prepare for any setbacks or last-minute changes and finally remain objective enough to shape a film out of all of it. It is a compulsion in that filmmaking is a priority for me, and I’m constantly thinking about it. I never stop and it drives a lot of my friends and family crazy. I would always rather film than go to bars or to parties or to lunch or to dinner…unless I can film when I’m there!
 
2.  The dialogue feels so natural in your films.
There’ve only been a few times that I’ll have specific lines I want my actors to hit.  Sometimes I’ll be married to these lines because I overheard someone say it a certain way, but all of the credit here should really go to my actors. I’ll know the emotion I want from the scene, I’ll know the tone, and specific expository points, but that’s it, and that’s only the structure or the blueprint. They’ll improvise off my sides, and sometimes this will be a page with four or five lines on it – between two or three people – and what would’ve been a 1-minute scene on the page, they’ll turn into a 3 to 4 min. scene full of twists and turns, with sharp, understated, and insightful subtext, sometimes strange, sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious. But always unexpected, and that’s the point. 
_DSC22313.  In The Never Daunted, there is such a genuine vulnerability not often found in male driven films.  You said you were raised by your mom and aunts, do you think this helped you get in touch with this modern masculinity side?  You show such a profound and illuminating notion of the pitfalls of having to live up to a macho masculine, cowboy, protector and provider role, it really expands my perception and elicits my empathy for the male perspective.
That’s really cool of you to say!  Because my mom was always working, I’d spend a lot of my days with my aunts and my grandmother…. I have two uncles that I admire very much, but I don’t think I ever measured up to that Mexican macho male thing, nor did I ever really care to. For what it’s worth, I grew up with more of a feminine perspective – because of my aunts and my mothers – and this kind of allowed me to see how proud men can be, how delusional, overbearing, fearful, and how selfish we can be as well. And I do love to look at this in my films, and I’m often guilty of all of this male posturing too. Although I understand the culture of cool cinema and even appreciate some of those films – the cowboys, the gangsters, the hitmen movies- I can’t help but see that same macho bullshit from my childhood being perpetuated over and over again in our culture. It’s also a constant reminder that I’m none of those things and that maybe I should be feeling like I ought to be. I think men are much more interesting than that though, much more complex and multidimensional. But a variation in movies is great – don’t get me wrong. Nevertheless, if there’s a story about a bank robber being chased by the cops, and he’s forced to pull a man and his little boy out of their car, and speeds off, I’d rather see the story about the man having to explain to his boy what just happened.
 
The Never Daunted STILLS 384. You mentioned you’ve gotten feedback from Guy Maddin and Monte Hellman, have they inspired your approach and aesthetic?  Who else contemporary filmmakers do you draw from and connect?
Guy Maddin and Monte Hellman were the only two that took the time to respond, and they were also the two that I was desperately hoping would respond, so I did make more of an effort with them. I do love movies that are very postmodern and abstract and these two guys are still making very interesting and provocative work. Guy Maddin continues to find new ways to tell stories and I can’t passively watch any of his movies. They require my complete attention and that’s what cinema should be, I think. With Monte Hellman’s Road to Nowhere, I had the experience where I had to keep watching the movie over and over again so I can decide whether or not I liked it.  And Road to Nowhere was a movie about movies, which is something that still interests me, as indulgent as it might sound, and this meta-fictional element comes up in not only The Never Daunted, but in other movies I’ve completed since then. And I love all types of films and filmmakers, but as far as the ones that make me excited about not only watching their movies but going out and making more of my own, I’d say Hong Sang Soo, Carlos Reygadas, Lynne Ramsay, Agnes Varda, Gus Van Sant, Miranda July, Alfonso Cuaron, Bela Tarr, Tsai Ming-Liang, and Mary Harron are maybe my favorites right now. And obviously, this list is always changing .
 
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5.  Does is it get easier with each film you make?
Working with actors and non-actors has gotten easier for me. It’s a different language I use with both, but I’ve learned to appreciate this aspect of filmmaking more than any other. It’s the part where I get to work with them as people, but the discussions aren’t always about choices or behavior or the psychology of a character. A lot of times it’s them telling me personal stories and me sharing personal stories with them as well, which is why I feel that the friendships I’ve made through filmmaking have been so rewarding and amazing to me. There’s no chit-chat or formalities; there’s no time for that. So a person will go from being an acquaintance to a deep personal friend you feel you’ve known for a long time, and this will happen simply because they’re willing to bring their personal experiences and specific views to the table. As cheesy as it sounds, it can feel like the purest expression of the self and art. Learning that a lot of them are willing to do this, or maybe because they trust me, has given me much more confidence when directing a scene, so it feels much easier. All the other technical stuff is a pain in the ass, but I learn it because I have to and because I didn’t go to film school.
 
_DSC16696.  What do you personally get out of making a film from the creation and observation of the human condition? 
I guess it’s the same thing that I get out of teaching, but to be honest, teaching is much more rewarding. Both require a lot of self-reflection and discipline, but in teaching, the results are right there and you can actually see the light bulbs go on in front of you. With filmmaking, it can be very painful and I can think that I’m addressing several questions that are important to me, but once the film is done, I’m sometimes left with even more questions and concerns than before. The greatest pleasure that I derive from making a film is having connected with people in the process. At the end of a film or at the end of a screening, I often feel like a fraud and like I didn’t complete what I set out to do. I start wondering what I even want to gain from all of it, and I’ll just watch other people’s films and wonder, “Who the hell do I think I am, making my own movies, or assuming that people even care?”. But the one constant pleasure is my relationships with my friends. The fact that I built friendships in the process and that they trusted me and that we completed something together. Then, inevitably, I’ll get excited about another project and I’ll bury myself in another opportunity to work with them.
 
Haley_Project_STILL_137.  In your words, what is Haley, your latest film about?
The Haley Project has a couple of stories running parallel throughout, but at the center is the story about a girl named Haley, who we only see in the beginning of the film and in a flashback at the end. It’s loosely based on my friend Laura Benson, who actually plays Haley, but it’s also about other people in my life who I’m always in awe of. I have a few friends who are always telling me stories about these exotic places that they’ve visited and these crazy adventures that they’ve had.  My friend Nick Null, who plays Murray in The Never Daunted, has a lot of stories like this too. But I thought it would be interesting to look at this kind of person, but from the perspective of all the supporting characters in each of their stories. How are these supporting characters, who don’t get to float on from place to place, affected by having met someone with a seemingly more interesting life? So I had two guys, played by Seth Johansson and Brian Randles, become competitive and mean with each other over their love for Haley, without Haley even there anymore. And in the same movie I have a romantic Frenchman who arrives in LA, in hopes of finding love. And I love this idea because it’s usually the other way around: the starry-eyed, American Francophile visits Paris in search of love.
Check out the trailer for The Never Daunted below and click here to watch the film on Seed & Spark.