10 Outstanding Movies Made by Latinos COMING SOON

Time for another round up of exciting new films MADE BY LATINOS.

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This list is exclusively Latino writers and directors and the spotlight is on their brand new fiction films. The goal is to  1. Support these indie films 2. Continue to build this site as a trusted source of exciting Latino talent to watch and promote 3. Make the case as to why these Latino storytellers should be considered and hired by the film industry which theatrically releases some 100+ features annually, plus Netflix who is now churning out 80 original features this year.

I turn to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to see how dismal the number of Latino directors hired to direct the 1100 popular films they surveyed from 2007-2017. Their research reveals the low percentages of Black/African American and Asian/Asian American directors (see below) but no information on Latino directors. They did however track the percentage of Hispanic characters at 6.2%.  That is half of Black characters’ at 12.1% and just under Asian characters’ 6.3% representation. Looking at the percentage of each minority’s U.S. population and their media representation underlines the startling level of marginalization.  For instance, if ‘Hispanics’ are 18% of the U.S. population and are only 6.3% represented, that’s like a two thirds exclusion rate. Annenberg research suggests POC behind the camera increases POC in front of the camera. So it’s safe to say including more Latino filmmakers would organically raise the number of Latino cast and characters. Considering that in the state of California, home to Hollywood, Latinos outnumber whites in population, its hard not to make a case for straight up exclusion if not discrimination.

Latino filmmakers should be allowed to tell any story they are good at telling. That’s why I make an effort to identify each filmmaker’s genre and strength. It’s incredibly narrow-minded and it unnecessarily limits slots to only think of hiring Latinos for a “Latino” story, whatever the fuck that means.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 3.23.19 PMIt’s also problematic for any studios to assume that making a “Latino” story will successfully target the Latino market.  It’s an outdated and faulty metric to use, and combined with the history of “Latino” driven movies not getting much marketing spend, its a guarantee the film will be D.O.A.  Here is an idea, just treat the Latino movie like a white movie and spend that healthy general market budget to reach audiences based on the film’s genre, content and characters.  Finally, there is a lack of belief.  Yep, that old subjective thing. It’s the most obvious but never talked about factor in hiring. The studio executive has to BELIEVE a writer or director is right for the job. Since belief is personal and familiar, its natural that only someone from your tribe will SEE YOU and believe in you the most.  And since there is a relative lack of Latino film executives, its yet another obstacle keeping Latino writers/directors from getting hired.

One more caveat about my list. I don’t include international filmmakers. While I deeply respect Alfonso Cuaron and am excited to see Roma, not on this list. Alfonso is not Latino. He does not live his life as a person of color. He has not had to contend with the systemic racial wealth gap and discriminatory creative hiring practices POC in the U.S.A do.  If you are taking notes that means Latino/a= POC.

Looking at the directors who have directed the approximately 400 films that cost $100 million dollars, not a single one of those hires include a Latino director in the 28 years since True Lies, the first film to have crossed the $100 million dollar budget. Never has a Latino been hired to create at the highest level this feature game has to offer…..until now.

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 2.41.03 PMOf course I’m speaking of Robert Rodriguez. He’s got a new movie coming out this December and its worth noting that for the FIRST TIME EVER, a Latino director will be at the helm of a $100M+ movie (*Roberto Orci has WRITTEN and PRODUCED films in this range.  Chris Weitz I’ll claim, but Operation Finale is under $100M).

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

20th Century Fox is releasing this heavy special effects driven blockbuster that has a price tag more in the $200M range. Directed by Rodriguez, it’s produced by James Cameron because of course a major studio would not have signed off on a POC without a “White Witness”.

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originally created by Yukito Kishiro

Robert made his $7k Mariachi twenty-six years ago and has managed to sustain a career making action and family films 1300 miles from Hollywood since. I wonder if that would have been possible without the Weinstein’s financial support? (ok, tangent, sorry)  Alita is based on the 1990 Manga series Gunnma by Yukito Kishiro, Rosa Salazar stars as Alita, the punk cyborg lead who loses its memory.  By the way, Cuban American Rosa Salazar recently wrote and directed a short film called GOOD CRAZY. Check it out here. Hopefully she got the bug and is setting her eyes on making her feature debut!

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And now onto the wild, and the wildly original independent film space where auteurs are born and grinding every day.

I’LL SEE YOU AROUND written and directed by Daniel Pfeffer

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DP to watch: Ryan Emanuel

This is Daniel’s feature debut following the festival success of his short film WHILE I WAS GONE, the entrancing short (watch below) which this feature expands on. References to Moonlight might be unavoidable given the rare sensitive portrayal of a man wrestling with his unresolved and highly internalized issues of inhabiting his Black skin and perception it comes with.

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Daniel Pfeffer

Inspired and created alongside Daniel’s friend Lucas Monroe, who turns out to be a revelation as a first time actor, the story is set in Ithaca and follows Lucas’s increasing anxiety and resentment towards his older addict brother who recently stole his laptop jeopardizing Lucas’s academic studies.  Mexican-American Danny and his Director of Photography Ryan Emmanuel, who I think is the next Bradford Young,  imbue the film with a quiet magnetism and deep compassion.  Check out the short below and follow the film’s IG here and Facebook page.

 

EL CHICANO written and directed by Benjamin Hernandez Bray

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oh hey Raul Castillo
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Ben Bray

About to make its world premiere at the LA Film Festival next month, this gripping and action fueled crime thriller stars the smoldering Raul Castillo as a cop who discovers his brother’s death was murder, leading him down a dangerous rabbit hole mystery behind the street legend known as El Chicano. Ben has over 120+ stunt coordinator credits on some of the biggest tentpoles ever made so its no wonder this film has the most thrilling motor vehicle chases and crashes ever. Ben has recently been racking up directing credits on Warner Bros Television shows including Lucifer, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. This is his feature debut backed by producer Joe Carnahan. Surrounding the sexy, sensitive alpha Raul Castillo are George Lopez, Aimee Garcia, Marlene Forte, Sal Lopez and Emilio Rivera. A little Ghost Rider but more “The Crow” type of neo urban vigilante vibes, check out the trailer below and come through Saturday, September 22nd at 9:15pm Arclight Cinemas CC.  Ben is managed by Circle of Confusion’s Jairo Alvarado.

Follow @chicano_the

THE INFILTRATORS written and directed by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the long-gestating, recently wrapped new feature by #BrownExcellence filmmakers  Cristina Ibarra, (Las Marthas) and Alex Rivera (Sleepdealer).  Their previous work is nothing short of brilliant and masterfully executed so their first time collaboration is obviously anticipated especially by the social justice community.  They’ve received some critical funding from Tribeca and Rauschenberg for their doc/fiction hybrid which is a full-on thriller of two young immigrant-activists who get themselves deliberately apprehend and detained by Border Patrol to expose the abuse and help free others.  You wont want to miss this one.

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Two consummate filmmakers joining forces = Watch Out!

TEJANO written and directed by David Blue Garcia

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 2.05.15 PMTexas native David Garcia’s feature debut won both the coveted Audience Award and Best Film in competition at the Dallas International Film Festival earlier this year. David graduated from UT Austin film school and worked as a cinematographer on four features before tackling directing on his own.  This no doubt gave him the experience to produce such stunning landscapes and of course a huge pro-tip advantage of having a Red dragon 6k and 5k with a drone shot or two on otherwise a a micro budget raised in part through IndieGoGo.  The story follows Patrick who takes the biggest leap of his life when he decides to smuggle cocaine (in quite an ingenious way) in order to save his grandfather’s ranch.  What makes the perspective so fresh is that Patrick can be mistaken for a white boy which makes him the perfect foil to pass through on one side, and be underestimated by another because he’s got his grandfather’s cowboy salt of the earth Mexican blood running through him.  It’s a gorgeously shot journey and drama/action thriller with a nuanced representation of Texans with deep roots in Mexico.

Follow the film on its Facebook page here

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INITIALS S.G. written and directed by Daniel Garcia and Rania Attieh

IMG_0087 2Speaking of Texans, Daniel Garcia is back with his fourth feature co-written and co-directed with his partner in crime and life Rania Attieh.  Their films are straight up masterpieces that have flown under the radar for far too long. Since being featured on Filmmaker Magazine’s 2011 New Faces after Okay Goodbye Enough set in Lebanon, they’ve become festival darlings for each of their films including Recommended by Enrique set in Texas and H. set in New York and which you can watch on iTunes here.  Each of their films couldn’t be more different in story and world.  The unifying factor is their uncanny ability of making the audience relate to weird, flawed characters in the midst IMG_0017of an unexpected crisis.  That and their thoughtful use of the medium for each distinct story.  ISG  is set in Argentina and marks their first Spanish language film.  It follows an aging Serge Gainsbourg wannabe played by Diego Peretti who struggles with an acting career he can’t seem to get on track, an affair he doesn’t want and a dead man he didn’t mean to kill.  The couple were among the chosen ones by Sundance to go up to Skywalker labs to complete their sound and score.  Watch for this gem sooner than later.

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They are as wildly talented as they are cool. Daniel Garcia R and Rania Attieh L

VANDAL written and directed by Jose Daniel ‘Jaydee’ Freixas

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Jose Daniel Freixas

Cuban-American Jaydee produced the indie feature Magic City Memoirs back in 2011 which later Andy Garcia boarded as producer and won the Miami Film Festival’s Pursuit of Perfection award.  Vandal marks his directorial debut and is set in Miami’s Little Havana and Wynwood neighborhoods. Born in the 305 and a graffiti artist himself Jaydee’s story is about a bourgeoning artist who finds his voice just as he breaches the crossroads between the street art world and illegal bomb graffiti world.  It drips with the kind of vividness, self-discovery and desperation that only someone who has lived it could bring to it.  The grounded urban drama is shot by talented cinematographer Caleb Heyman (He is also the cinematographer of the beautiful and tragic As You Are by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte). It also features two incredibly talented Latino film and TV actors that need to be on your radar if they aren’t already; Daniel Zovatto who can be seen in Alan Ball’s Here and Now series, and Otmara Marrero from Crackle’s Start Up series. The film also features a handful of Miami’s finest, including cameos by Ahol Sniffs Glue, mi favo. Many other badass street artists contributed like Pedro AmosKelly Graval aka RISK,and  Nicole Salgar.

Follow the film’s IG @vandal and check out its website.

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Otmara Marrero
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Daniel Zovatto

WHEN SHE RUNS written and directed by Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck and Robert Machoian. 

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Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 4.32.25 PMWhen She Runs world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year.  This is Peruvian American Rodrigo’s 3rd feature with film school day one homey Robert.  Their work is so remarkable for their compelling verite and the artisan, collaborative degree they approach all their work and like artisans.  When She Runs for instance is credited as a”A Film By” the two and Kristin Anderson who stars and co-writes and producer Laura Heberton. The story is described, ‘Unable to shake her dreams of competing in the Olympic Games, 20-something runner Kristin sacrifices everything—including precious time with her husband and their young son—to pursue her passion.’  In 2016, their feature, God Bless the Child, won the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival and was nominated for the Cinema Eye Honors and Film Independent Spirit Awards’ Kiehl’s Someone to Watch prize. These guys are master minimalists who combined with their meticulous level of craft result in the most remarkably unfettered gaze.

Follow the film on its Facebook page

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THE BREEDING directed by Daniel Armando

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If I don’t write for people who look like myself, who will? – Daniel Armando

The Breeding just world premiered at the HBO NY Latino Film Festival.  This is Daniel’s fourth feature in as many years. Since 2014 he has been churning provocative realness into dramas centering gay and lesbians of color and screened widely in the LGBTQ festival circuit.  While this feature starts off fairly unassuming, its his most provocative to date.  Thomas, an artist who likes to draw erotica is going through some kind of malaise and not really into his partner or excited for an upcoming show. But when he comes across a white financier, the film veers into unexpected territory when Thomas explores the fetish and sexual taboo side of erotica by submitting himself to it.  There is an unexpected profundity showing what THAT looks like when you are a gay man of color playing within the fine line of consent…… game changing. Follow Daniel’s film work here.

SHINE written and directed by Anthony Nardolillo

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Anthony Nardolillo 

No this isn’t Step Up like the trailer says below, however if you are a fan of impressive dance choreography driven heartfelt movies that lead up to a a jaw dropping and emotional finale then this is for you.  This sentimental drama took home the Audience Award at the Urbanworld Film Festival last year.  Produced by Sandra Varona, it is the first feature for real life dance choreographer and salsero, Nardolillo, Puerto Rican/Italian. The tale is about two brothers who grow apart after their father passes and must learn to reconcile when they are pitted against each other when a development project threatens their East Harlem neighborhood.  With the salsa, bachata, hip and booty shaking soundtrack you’d expect, the film also stars Gilbert Saldivar from East Los and Stomp the Yard (who happens to have been JLo’s dance captain). Coming to theaters October 5. Check out the trailer below.

Follow @shinefilm2018

 

Related and for a later deep dive post, I want to give a shout out to Alejandro Montoya Marin and Scarlet Moreno, the two Latino filmmakers of Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network’s competition where five young filmmakers were given $7k to make a feature length film.  Its called Rebel without a Crew because you ain’t paying ANY crew for work on that dime.  Props for what they were able to accomplish!

Lastly, it hurts that of this list of 10 films, only one is made by a Latina (Cristina Ibarra).  WTF I know.  If you are reading this and know of a Latina directed or written fiction feature coming soon get @ me.  I’ve recently gotten familiar with many more Latina writers working in television, and know of some rad Latina directors currently developing and shooting webseries and documentaries so I’ll plan future posts highlighting their work.

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 U.S. 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 storyteller and 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, whispers and bizarre sightings start to bleed into her scrappy existence, luring her to an alternate reality that may or may not hold the answers.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.

Trailer:

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 last 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. Not sure what the deal with the release is.

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 back in 1997.  He co-writes Duck Butter with Search Party TV star and indie darling 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.  Really excited about this one!

**update**

Duck Butter will premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.  Trailer below

 

**** The next couple filmmakers were not born in the U.S. but their voices have been significantly shaped within the U.S.

ALL ABOUT NINA written and directed by Eva Vives.

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Nina with the Sundance Kid at the labs

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 which played at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Eva applied and got into the 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 the online thriller Search directed by Aneesh Chaganty which won the Audience Award in the Next Category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, 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 how to find success and truth in her creative self expression.  Also starring Common, Kate del Castillo, Clea DuVall.

**update**

All about Nina will premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

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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 elevates 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 creative prowess 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 8 Indie Movies Made by Latinos to Watch out for. But first, I want to dig into this question of what we in the Latino community CAN 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 film writer/directors.   I was confused and angry as to why there was a staggering lack of authentic Latino representation in mainstream films when 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 creators, 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 for the sake of that argument, 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!  Disney’s long-time-coming co-opt of Dia de los Muertos strategically and conveniently leveraged the co-directed and co-written credit of  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.

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Tengo Nagendo EVP at Disney

Lets 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.

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Nate Moore, producer at Marvel

The 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. 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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Rictor, a Marvel character created in 1987 about a Mexican-American from San Francisco who has seismic powers.  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.

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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 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.  Forest Whitaker has lifted up many new and fresh black voices by producing alongside Nina Yang Bongiovi through their Significant Productions including Fruitvale Station, Ryan’s first feature, Dope directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Roxanne Roxanne directed by Michael Larnell coming soon to Netflix and this year’s wild Sorry To Bother You by Boots Riley which was just picked up by Annapurna Pictures.

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.  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”. For a 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 to pump up the volume so that more than one American Latino writer/director gets the chance to be considered to helm a blockbuster, 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.

A WRINKLE IN TIME
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 8 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.

COMING SOON: 10 EXCITING INDIE FILMS BY AMERICAN LATINOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

BETWEEN US written and directed by Rafael Palacio Illingworth

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

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antibirthANTIBIRTH written and directed by Danny Perez

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

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HEARTS OF PALM written and directed by  Monica Peña

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

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Vimeo

Lupe21LUPE UNDER THE SUN written and directed by Rodrigo Reyes

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

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MARIGOLD THE MATADOR, written and directed by Kenneth Castillo

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

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FUGUE written and directed by Jorge Torres-Torres

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

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

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greenghostposter_twitchTHE GREEN GHOST directed by Michael Olmos 

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

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DADDY’S BOY written and directed by Daniel Armando

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

Website

DON’T KILL IT directed by Mike Mendez

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Dolph, demon hunter

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

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 FROZEN PEAS written and directed by Alonso Mayo

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

Website
Vimeo

First Features Alert

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

5 Latina-Directed Feature Films Breaking out in 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 3.54.21 PMI am happy to see more people vocalize demand for Latina representation onscreen and the resurging interest in solving this messed up disparity issue  (Thank you Gina Rodriguez Golden Globes acceptance speech).   However, the representation issue I find ten times more urgent to address is the anguishing miniscule percentage of Latina CONTENT CREATORS in film and television.

I give you 5 bomb Latina DIRECTORS who are are at the helm of brand new feature films coming out this year, women who are striking through the hostile mass media industry to escape the rule of homogeneity (white male perspective).  Now that is something to celebrate.  It’s not surprising that three of these are documentaries.  The percentage of women directed films in documentaries is higher than in fiction.  Now I can’t say with total certainty these  2 Latina directed U.S. fiction feature length films are the only ones out there this year…actually yes I can…..until someone reaches out to correct me ….and I really do hope to be corrected because only two???????

LOS 33

Director: Patricia Riggen
Writers: Mikko Alanne, Michael John Bell, Craig Borten, Jose Rivera
Producers: Robert Katz, Edward McGurn, Mike Medavoy
Cinematographer: Checco Varese
Music: James Horner
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rodrigo Santoro, Antonio Banderas, Cote de Pablo, James Brolin, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips, Kate del Castillo, Tenoch Huerta
Social Media: @The33Pelicula

Logline: Based on the incredible real-life story of the 33 survivors of a copper-gold mine in Chile that collapsed and trapping them 700 meters underground for 69 days until their rescue.

Add Riggen to the exclusive ranks of women who fought for and have proved they got the chops to direct big action, Hollywood type genre movies like Katheryn Bigelow, Mimi Leder. The trailer for Los 33 that dropped last week reveals an epic dramatization of the intensely emotional struggle to survive the Chilean mine disaster. The English language film carries a sweeping score by none other than James Horner (and naturally you can hear Violetta Parra’s classic song, Gracias Por La Vida).  Add to that a big hero performance by Antonio Banderas who leads an ensemble cast of well known international actors (including hottie Mexican star of Güeros, Tenoch Huerta!!). Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara but moved to the states after graduating Columbia’s film school in NY,  made a splash with her 2007 film, Under the Same Moon starring a back-then-virtually-unknown-in-the-U.S. Eugenio Derbez, and Kate del Castillo. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival then was picked up by Pantelion, the studio she later worked with on the Eva Mendes starrer Girl in Progress.

Domestic distribution and release stateside is yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile Twentieth Century Fox will be releasing the film in Chile in August, marking the fifth anniversary of the incident, before rolling out the film throughout Latin America including Mexico. For an in-depth account of Los 33, check out current best-seller, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free” by Hector Tobar.

ENDGAME

Director: Carmen Marron
Writers: Hector Salinas, Carmen Marron
Producers: Sandra Avila, Carmen Marron
Executive Producers: Hector Salinas, Betty Sullivan
Associate Producer: Bonnie Emerson
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
Music: Brian Standefer
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rico Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Justina Machado, Jon Gries
Social Media: @GoForIt_Carmen
Facebook

ENDGAME SAN ANTONIO PaperLogline: Shot in Brownsville and inspired by true events, ENDGAME is a coming-of-age story about a young boy who joins the school chess team, and with the help of his coach, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, team spirit and the importance of family.

IMG_9959 copyAnother talented genre director (and fellow Chicana from Chicago, HEYYY) whose tenacity and talent make her primed to be our Latina Ava Duvernay success story (of course that depends on whether the public (and gatekeepers) support her to make the change to the system to demand her spot in the national mainstream).  I wrote about Carmen’s tireless spirit before, mentioning her first film which she shot, wrote, directed and produced in Chicago called Go For It (which incidentally was Gina Rodriguez’s first feature role). Her latest film is Endgame starring the precocious Manny from Modern Family, Rico Rodriguez, and Efren Ramirez from cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, Endgame is one of those irresistible competition, underdog, against-all-odds stories. Ramirez portrays the galvanizing Brownsville public elementary school teacher and chess afficionado, J.J. Guajardo, who in 1989, upon seeing his 6th grade class take an interest in his chess board, began to teach them on the regular. The class excelled and entered regional competitions, going on to enter and win state championships against schools with far more resources. Echoing the positives of disrupting a broke educational status quo with simply offering access to advanced mental cognition building tools, the film echoes another real life story and seminal Chicano film, Stand & Deliver.  Big difference; that movie was not directed by a Latino/a.

The film is world premiering at the Dallas International Film Festival April 12 &13. Distribution is yet to be confirmed for theatrical/VOD but stay tuned via the Facebook page.

NO MÁS BEBÉS

Directors/Producers: Renee Tajima-Peña, Virginia Espino
Associate Producer: Kate Trumbull-Valle
Executive Producers: Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettinger, Judith Helfland, Sally Jo Fiefer and Sandra Pedlow
U.S. Distributor: ITVS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cinematographer: Claudio Rocha
Music: Bronwen Jones, additional music by Quetzal
Cast: Antonia Hernandez, Gloria Molina, Dolores Madrigal, Jovita Rivera, Consuelo Hermosillo
Social Media: Facebook

 Logline: An investigation of the sterilization of Mexican-American women at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s

6. Maria Figueroa at courthouse

Sadly, there is an appalling history in the United States of laws and policies authorizing sterilizations of poor women without their knowledge or consent for the “benefit of society”; Buck v. Bell (low-income white women in Virginia), Relf v. Weinberger (young African-American women in Alabama), and female inmates in California. This film focuses on the case of Latinas of Mexican origin in California in Madrigal v. Quilligan.  Shedding light on this horrific human rights violation, the film includes interviews with women who suffered this terrible ordeal and locked the memory away, along with former medical staff and the incredible lawyer who filed this suit forty years ago, Antonia Hernandez. A  long-time coming, supremely valuable and eye opening contextualization of the Chicano rights movement from the late 60s/70s as well as the current reproductive justice movement.

Renee, a proud Asian American, is a sister in the struggle to document the Latino community, and Virginia Espino, is a Latina LA born-and-raised historian. This is one of those Latina stories that really needs to be known and remembered this year which marks the 40th anniversary of the lawsuit (June 19).  It is ready to be unveiled and seen by as wide an audience as possible. Stay tuned to hear when the film will have its world premiere before its broadcast on Independent Lens in the fall.

NOW EN ESPAÑOL

Director: Andrea Meller
Producers: Aaron Woolf, Andrea Meller
Music: Camara Kambon
Cinematographer: Charlie Gruet
U.S. Distributor: PBS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cast: Marabina Jaimes, Marcela Bordes, Gabriela Lopetegui, Ivette Gonzalez, Natasha Perez
Social Media: @NowenEspanol, website

Logline: Follows the trials and triumphs of the small group of Latina actresses who dub “Desperate Housewives” into Spanish.

Currently hitting the festival circuit in such reputable festivals as Santa Barbara, Chicago Latino Film Festival, CineFestival, ahead of its showing on PBS Voces, Now en Espanol is such an effective and distinct balance of humor, serious-ness and insider look by Chilean-American Andrea Meller.NowEnEspanol_Still1

Profiling Marcela Bordes, Ivette Gonzalez, Marabina Jaimes, Gabriela Lopetegui and Natasha Perez, the film is quite plainspoken and sympathetic about the struggle of the actor in Hollywood. Like the comedy fiction film (also directed by a woman!) In a World, by Lake Bell,  the film offers a rare behind the scenes and insight into the voice acting industry. Few actors make make careers out of this, others pick it up for income, but in the end it is a highly distinct skill to dub millions of shows.   It’s really fascinating perspective on the representation of Latinas onscreen and off. What I love most about this film on top of it being an important tool for dialogue and change, is that the filmmaker injects a whimsy tone (apropos Wisteria Lane) which makes sparking this conversation and call to action so much more effective.  You have no reason to miss this as it premieres on Friday, April 24, 2015, 10:00-11:00 p.m.  (check local listings) as part of VOCES, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series on PBS. To get a taste of the ladies’ charm and humor check out the trailer:

OVARIAN PSYCOS

Director: Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
Producers:Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
U.S. Distributor: ITVS (broadcast)
Cinematographer: Michael Raines
Music: Jimmy LaValle
Cast: Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade
Social Media: Facebook

04_Prod Still_Xela Mariachi PlazaLogline: Follows the story of an all woman of color bicycle brigade, the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade. Based in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in Eastside Los Angeles, the Ova’s are a collective of unapologetic, politicized, young Latina women who host monthly bike rides every full moon for women and women-identified riders.

jkmontage3Ever since I interviewed Kate during her film’s Kickstarter, I’ve been madly anticipating this, so I’m pleased to scoop that it will be ready late Fall thanks to ITVS coming in with finishing funds. Protegees of esteemed film ladies like Renee Tajima Peña and B. Ruby Rich, the ladies have spent more than two years riding with the Ovas for this documentary.  Says Joanna, “There are lots of bike groups in LA, but what’s unique about the Ova’s is each ride has a socio-political theme and ends with a group discussion. They dialogue about everything from violence against women to the gentrification of Boyle Heights”.

The Ova’s s leadership is run by the collective who work “To Serve, not to Self Serve.  Credited as founder is activist and music artist, Xela de la X who formed this rad collective in 2011 with the mission to cycle for the purpose of healing, reclaim neighborhoods, and create safer streets for women on the Eastside.  Currently being edited the film should be ready for the Fall if not early next year.

In case you are wondering Trumbull-LaValle is two generations apart from family in Northern Mexico.  Which I only add as proof that last names and color of skin are not indicators for knowing whether someone identifies as Latino/a or not.

Which leads me to reiterate, I really hope these 5 are not the only Latina directors with films coming out this year.   Calling out an A.P.B. to Latina directors with a feature length film (fiction especially) in production or post, holler at your girl chicanafromchicago@gmail.com!

GOING HARD FOR IT – Carmen Marron and her upcoming new film(s)

Dreams (still) come true in Hollywood.  Although so few and way far in between, the against-all-odds fairytale dream of an unknown and bold voice getting a shot at the big time and the big screen remarkably still happens. Just ask Chi-town girl, Carmen Marron who didn’t let the fact she didn’t go to film school stop her from diving in and directing Go For It!  She got her movie into film festivals and sold it to Lions Gate who released it on 200 screens including all Home Entertainment ancillary.  But don’t get it twisted, this ain’t no lottery.  It’s a hell of a lot of work to get here. The story you tell has to come from deep within your core and show.  Only then will studios, agents, financiers come knocking on your door.  Take it from Carmen, you just got to do you.  You got to be in it for the art/humanities and it’s got to be something you would do for free.  If you had to, that is.

?????????????????????????????????????????????Go For It!  tells the story of a high school teen, whose passion and talent is hip hop dance, but pursuing this dream clashes with her humble immigrant working class family and stark reality of limited opportunities raised in the inner city streets of Chicago.   Carmen wrote it as a way to get through to the high school teens she met while a guidance counselor because she realized it was the only way to get their attention (through entertainment).  She never intended to direct the script until after five years of sending it around to directors including Ken Loach who told her she was the only person to direct it.  In 2009, Carmen rolled up her sleeves, crewed up and shot the film right where she grew up around Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Pilsen. She received a standing ovation at her sold out world premiere at the Dances With Films Festival in June of 2010.  Carmen has been mad busy since but surprisingly she gives off a calm, just checking things off her crazy full To Do list vibe.  I met up with her a few days before she was flying to Panama on behalf of the Fulbright Institute of International Education to talk to young kids about filmmaking.  Here is the scoop on her full slate of upcoming films. As you can tell, she is not only riding the momentum but is driving and steering it with a clear vision of the stories she wants to tell.  Check it.

Sounds like you had an amazing world premiere screening of Go For It!  How did you manage to sell out your first festival screening like that?  What kind of promotion did you do?

I’m a marketing freak and so I did a lot on Facebook.  I raffled off tickets.  I have a business degree so I took a lot of marketing classes.   I just think that to make it in this business you have to be marketing savvy.  If you are going to be an independent filmmaker, you have to have some knack for it.

They say it’s sometimes harder to make the second feature than the first.  How did it go for you?  At what point were you completely convinced that no matter what you were going to keep making films?

Before Dances with Films, I did a pre-screening at the Boston International Film Festival, not in competition. It was a rough cut and I just want to see how it played in a non-Latino city to get some honest, hardcore feedback.  The audience was 90% Caucasian and they were so moved by it.  Many approached me after the screening, crying!  That this Caucasian woman from Northern California can relate to a Latina from Chicago trying to follow her dreams – it was really surprising for me.  I knew I had a special story, and it was so much who I am. That’s when I thought, ‘I’m going to continue telling stories no matter what happens with this movie. I know now I have the ability to connect with the public.’

Once a film is finished there is so much more work to do to get it out there, at what point do you manage to find time to even think about the next project?

 It’s different with everybody but with me I was so focused on getting Go For It! in theaters.  I really wanted to affect as many kids and women as possible.  We got lucky winning audience awards at different film festivals.  I didn’t have a sales agent or representation.  Someone from Lionsgate came to the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival screening at the Mann theater. Lionsgate called me literally during the second added screening. I don’t even know how they got my number. From there it took the next six months to officially sell it.  The deal closed by January and we released it in May 2011.  After the movie came out, I was really exhausted.  I started getting offers.  I had an agent interested in me.  I was getting indie scripts to direct but I didn’t really feel any of them.  They were dark, Sundance-y stories, good scripts but not inspirational, not my type. Then out of the blue, I get contacted by an attorney on behalf of a writer client, who said they saw my movie.  They asked me to read and consider a script to direct. It was called Border Town back then and I didn’t like the title.  I didn’t get to reading it until a couple weeks later, in the middle of when I was writing my own script, a Latina comedy which I just finished. Anyway so I read this at night and I literally broke into tears, it was such a good script.  The writer and the producer flew out to LA to meet me and I got attached. It’s called Saving Esperanza. It’s an incredible true story about a woman who went to the border to do mission work with her child and then fell in love with a baby at an orphanage.  She tries to bring the baby to the US to provide critical medical care because the baby is dying but it is in the middle of Sept. 11.

ENDGAME SAN ANTONIOEndgame came about in the middle of working on that film.  The same producer I was working with told me about another script, also based on true events; an inspirational and empowering Latino story.  This was August of last year.  I read it, (Endgame) and it had so many good elements to it, but the script needed work so I said to her I would be willing to rewrite the script. The writer was also the producer and a wealthy immigration lawyer in Texas. I told him what I would want to do with it and he was totally receptive and he said we got a deal.  That was September.  I started rewriting it in October, I started flying out to Texas to do scouting and get local casting after the new year, we did prep in March and shot this past April.

Wow, so both projects came to you fully financed?

Endgame was, the other one we’re still trying to get the rest of the financing.  We hope to shoot that in the next six months.  I was really lucky because of my reputation with Go For It! These scripts came to me and they were good fits.  Its funny, it’s a lesson in this industry where you’re always looking for work, that if do what you love you will attract the right people at the right time. We are tying to get Endgame ready to submit for the Sundance deadline.

ENDGAME Med Poster 300ppiSo tell me more about Endgame

Endgame is inspired by this incredible success story that is happening right now in Brownsville Texas.  It’s the third poorest town in the U.S. It’s right on the border of Matamoros.  It’s 99% Latinos, straight from Mexico, and the drop out rate and poverty levels are really high.  About twenty years ago the school districts and the parents rallied together and started teaching competitive scholastic Chess in schools to try to improve kids’ cognitive skills, focus, agility, basically to keep them out of trouble.  It started with one teacher JJ Guajardo, who we got to be our chess consultant in the movie.  He literally took a group of delinquent kids who were always in detention and started teaching them Chess.  Sure enough the kids responded and he assembled a little team.  They went to regionals, then went on to state. Under his guidance they won State Championships seven years in a row, beating the rich prep kids in Dallas. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it, this is like true life!  The vice principal tells me some of these kids didn’t even have running water, and here is the community pitching in to get them bus tickets to go to Dallas to compete with kids who have had grand master coaches since they were five.  And these kids are beating the pants off them.  So now Brownsville is known around the country for their scholastic chess because they are realizing that is their way to make it.  Kids are growing up to go to Yale, Princeton, Harvard.  They are traveling all around the world to compete.  The film is based on education and Latinos, which is kind of what drives me, like in Go For It.   I was a guidance counselor so that resonates with me.  It was an honor to be there in Brownsville around all those giving, loving families with so much integrity.

RicoTell me about the cast

We have a real strong cast.  We got lucky.  Rico Rodriguez, Manny, the kid from Modern Family is the lead and he is amazing. He carries the movie.  He’s very charismatic, very humble, normal down to earth kid.  His parents have done an amazing job.  He’s Mexican from Texas, that’s why we were lucky to get him for this role.  We could have never afforded him.  This is low budget, I mean much higher than Go For It! but the actors that we got are incredible and we couldn’t really afford their rates.  Rico’s parents however, felt that this story represented their lives so they wanted their son to represent their family in such a positive way.  Justina Machado plays Rico’s mother, she is also from Chicago.  She is a phenomenal actress. Efren Ramirez from Napoleon Dynamite also stars.  The film is a mixture of both drama and humor, like Searching for Bobby Fisher, Stand & Deliver.  It’s a family film, PG 13.

Was there a conversation about whether it should be bi-lingual? English or Spanish?

In the original we had it that la abuela would speak Spanish and we would do English subtitles, but then Ivonne Cole who plays la abuela said, ‘I really think we should have her speak English with her accent so we can keep her more relatable and people can connect with her’.  And it worked better that way without the language barrier.  She has her own type of Spanglish.

Carmen Marron ENDGAME BehindTS stillI remember crossing through Brownsville in my childhood when my family and I used to drive from Chicago to San Luis Potosi.  It was like being in a different world, transients, predators and shadiness.  Do you touch on the seedy border town side as well as the politics that come with it?

We are telling a tremendous success story here, so yeah we touch on the social obstacles that the kids face.  We touch on Rico’s family and the immigration and border issues.  It was definitely important to the investor who is an immigration lawyer, to ask questions like, ‘If your child wasn’t born here, should your child be deported as well?’ The Dreamer angle plays into the story.  In general what I wanted to convey was that these students, even though they come from a poor, marginalized community, they are the most confident, down to earth, giving, honest, normal kids that you will ever meet.  It shocked the hell out of even me because I also had my own preconceived notions. I was also nervous about the safety since it was a border town.  But I was so blown away.  I remember seeing Rico Rodriguez, who is a millionaire kid, home schooled forever and around the most intelligent sophisticated adults all day long.  Here he is transplanted in Brownsville, hanging out with ten other real local kids and I couldn’t tell the difference between any of them.   I really couldn’t and I’m very perceptive of emotional behaviors.  After this experience I would live in Brownsville and raise my kids there and I know they’d be respectful and normal.  I wonder if a lot of that has to do with the chess program’s influence.  It’s been around now for twenty years.  It’s made a huge social impact.

So you got one film in the almost can, another about to shoot, you are also writing your own…tell me

I have written a musical I want to shoot in Chicago.  Even though I’m working on these really great projects, that’s my baby baby next.  My gift to society, to really show Latinos, you know.  It makes me feel really good to provide opportunities to new actors to let them shine, to open more doors so that the audience can demand more roles.

That’s right, you got “Introducing Gina Rodriguez” in Go For It!

Yes, Go For It! was her first feature.  I got her right out of NYU.  She had only done a short film and some commercials.  She moved out to LA right after Go For It.  Then there is Aimee Garcia who plays the lead in the film who has been in the industry for 20 years; She said to me it was her first leading role. I couldn’t believe it.  That resonated with me.  I think it’s our responsibility as Latinos to keep trying to push these types of films.  The films that we are making or choosing, like the scripts that I’m writing or the scripts that come to me.   I always think when I’m reading something, how can I make this lead a Latina? I figure it out how so I can pitch it.  You can’t just be like, ‘Oh I’m just going to do whatever they want me to do’.  I could’ve easily done that and probably would have made it faster.  It’s not what I got into this business for.  It’s so much a part of me to tell these stories.  I would do this for free.

For all my chi-town peeps, you can see Carmen speak at the Women in Film, Chicago event next Wednesday, July 10, 6:00pm – 8:00pm at Moe’s Cantina.  Event cost for non-members is $20.  More info here.

El Rey, Robert Rodriguez, makes Latino look so COOL.

First the Machete Kills trailer (teaser) drops. It doesn’t come out for another few months -three days before Mexican Independence day to be exact, September 13. Which reminds me, I must re-watch Machete. As I recall, way underneath the action and sex titilliation, there was some subversive commentary on US/Mexico relations. This trailer right here is the one I found en Espanol.

Then, Indiewire reports that Robert Rodriguez and los Charrolastras (Diego & Gael) are teaming up with Fantastic Fest and Tim League for a fantastico mercado. A co-production market for “Latin films”.  I’m really digging this menage a tres collaboration. They each bring cred, scope and connects to provide a viable channel and avenue for the growing number of American Latino filmmakers working in genre today. I see the raw talent out there through festival submissions all the time. Hopefully the Americans don’t get dissed next to the international (Ibero-American fare). There’s no doubt genre films, whether horror, supernatural, crime, action, comedy (read: anything but coming of ager dramas) are accessible, audience driven and more importantly COMMERCIAL which is what Canana wants as it expands its distribution tentacles.

It really does feel like RR is eager to give back and nurture the ‘underserved’ Latino community. Makes me almost forgive him for saying he wouldn’t want to limit himself by identifying as Mexican American at last year’s NALIP. That comment aside, I gotta hand it to him, he’s been a big influence in shaping our modern American cultural zeitgeist towards mainstream acceptance of Latinos.  Whereas once having the last name, Rodriguez in pop culture, it was discriminated and dismissed (see Sixto Rodriguez’s story in Searching for Sugarman) now its seen as BADASS and SO COOL to be Latino.  Even Charlie Sheen, who has seen his cool mojo factor slip in middle age, recognizes, as evident by his decision to use his birth name, Carlos Estevez in Machete Kills.

#MasCool