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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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.”

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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.

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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
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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

OJOS! Sneak peek at Gina Rodriguez’s new comedy and interview with director Nicole Gomez Fisher

nikniksmileUnveiling at the Brooklyn Film Festival  this weekend is the world premiere of SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES, the directorial debut of former stand up comic and actor, Nicole Gomez Fisher.  Gina Rodriguez plays the hilariously real and spirited star of the movie, Alexis Fish, a role she booked right as Filly Brown started making waves at film festivals last year.  A great cast of women join her including Tony Award winning stage and film actor, Priscilla Lopez who plays her mother, and Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty)  who is enjoyably pert, as Gina’s sister.  Sleeping with the Fishes is also the first feature produced independently by Courtney Andrialis, a rising producer with many more exciting projects in development (she started her career as assistant to Bingham Ray in 2003).  I gotta say, I just love the female power of this film!   Check out the just- released trailer of the film, and read the interview I did where I check in with Nicole, a week before she releases her first baby (film) into the world.

How did your Latino/Jewish background and childhood inform your creative expression as you started conceiving of your first feature?  

I was born and raised in Brooklyn…a true Brooklynite at heart. My mother is Puerto Rican and my father is of Jewish descent, an interesting mix that has clearly influenced my life and my writing. I don’t necessarily identify with one over the other…both sides make up who I am. I knew when starting SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES that my background and my point of view wasn’t a filmmaker’s voice heard too often. I wanted to express myself and tell a story about a young woman trying to find herself in a world that she felt excluded from…not only from the outside world, but from her immediate as well.

 Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 9.51.42 AMWhat’s your connection with Gina?  How was it to work with her in comedy?  She’s got great timing and tons of energy.  

I did not know Gina Rodriguez before making SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. We met through our casting directors Sig DeMiguel and Steve Vincent. Her agent read the script and loved it, passed it on to her and BOOM!  A meeting was set. We actually met in the bathroom of Rosa Mexicana and it was love at first sight! Gina was incredibly energetic, bright, enthusiastic and funny! I was excited to work with someone “fresh”. I knew before we even ordered that we would work well together. She was just coming off the Sundance premiere for “Filly Brown”. It was an exciting time for her and it showed. She’s a natural when it comes to comedy, so she made directing incredibly easy. Gina’s choices were spot on and she just understood the timing of comedy. It takes a real pro to know when to “go there” and when to pull back and she did. I would say try this and within seconds she would make a slight adjustment and go. If she thought something didn’t work or wanted to try another shot, we went with it. Collaborating with her was such fun.  She made directing my first feature a pleasure.

The tale of a 30something whose life has not gone as expected and must deal with the pressure of returning to a childhood like dynamic at home with the parents, is so relatable and universal, but it can also be quite personal and individual, how personal is this screen variation to you?  What did you want to convey that you had not typically seen in this popular canon?  

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 10.55.19 AMIt’s personal. The story itself is loosely based on my family, but there are many aspects to it that are a mix of truth and fiction. For my lead, Alexis Fish (played by Gina Rodriguez), her coming back home after years of living a lie all in the name of “saving face” is paralyzing for her. As you mentioned, her resilience to stay true to herself has been an exhausting journey.  Having to deal with the loss of a loved one while trying to pick up the pieces of your life only makes it that much harder to overcome. I wanted to take a classic story and make it new. Yes, she is returning home to the pressures of family, but in Alexis’ case, returning home to her mother is what is so daunting. You have two strong women who don’t see eye-to-eye: one whose pride identifies her, the other whose pride is crushed as she struggles to find her identity.

 I love that you chose to do your first film a comedy.   There doesn’t seem to be as many first films as comedies tackled in the indie world, and even less from a female written and directed perspective.  What are your influences in this vein?   Also, what is it about our passionate Latino culture in particular you think that makes family dysfunction so melodramatic and ripe for comedy?

I was a stand up comic for years and I love writing comedy. I’m a huge fan of films that blend comedy and drama. It’s what life is made of—the ying and the yang.  Some of the funniest moments in life are also the saddest.  When you can stop and laugh at a time when hope seems dim, that is life changing. Laughter has pulled me through some really hard times. …Where there is passion, there is drama. From my experience, Latinos are very strong-minded, very passionate and very vocal about what we believe.  The combination makes for some terrific melodrama.  It’s who we are—they go hand in hand.

 Who were some key collaborators and mentors for you during the launching of your first feature?  Tells us about Courtney as producer – she’s from HD net films, how did you two bond about the making of this film?

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 11.14.33 AMSome of the key collaborators were my husband Joe, my friend and fellow screenwriter A.J. Meyers, my casting directors, my father and of course, my producer Courtney Andrialis. Courtney and I have built a solid relationship around SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. I met her via our casting directors. She’s young, eager and has a ton of knowledge. She was an integral part of the making the film. She brought on an amazing team that held me up throughout the entire process, which for a first time director is so integral. There were a lot of learning curves for me. Courtney did a great job of keeping me together and supporting me throughout the entire process.

 As you navigate the wild west of distribution, how are you feeling and where are your expectations with getting the film out there?  Are you going to be exploring the newly paved roads of direct distribution models or pursuing the traditional theatrical and window route?  

It’s great that now filmmakers have so many ways to reach their audience.  We are excited for our world premiere at the Brooklyn Film Festival on June 1st.  After that, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and see!

Best of luck with the film and have a blast at your premiere, Nik!

For tickets & screening info (June 1 is sold out, but June 8 still available for all y’all NYers)

Film Contact: swtf13@gmail.com.

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YOU’RE DEAD TO ME short film by Wu Tsang starring Harmony Santana

http://vimeo.com/65901970#

If you are as big a fan as I am of these two young ferocious talents you will be as thrilled as I was to learn of this awesome short film collaboration revolving around Dia de los Muertos based on Chicana queer artist Adelina Anthony (thanks to Juliana’s comment for letting me know about the original story by).

First, the amazing multi-media artist, Wu Tsang, who directed the magic realist documentary about the Silver Platter on Alvarado called The Wildness, is behind the camera again with her co-hort cinematographer, Michelle Lawlor.  Then there is the lovely, magnetic Hamony Santana who wowed and impressed as the young lead opposite Esai Morales as the father who won’t accept her gender variant identity in the film Gun Hill Road by Rashaad Ernesto Green.

The story is after mi own corazon, about an abuela who is visited by a muerto on the sacred Dia de los Muertos. This sacred holiday in Mexico is the hallmark of its hallowed dead culture. Growing up, I  never felt sad or at a loss when I heard people died it was so ingrained in me that they simply had become liberated of their physical vessels and were now free to roam about the world like ghosts. When mi querida spitfire abuelita Cruz died, I kept her content (and therefore assured myself the peace that she wouldn’t come lurking at night to pull my feet from bed) by building her an altar and keeping it full of her favorite stuff like pulp fiction novellas, cigarillos, domino and her favorite pair of knitting needles.

YOUR DEAD TO ME All only needs $1,500 to finish up and get ready for its closeup at the LA Film Festival screening on June 14. The project was made in partnership with Film Independent’s Project Involve diversity fellowship.  Go make donations here.

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Kickstart this! Meet the Ovarian Psycos – An East Los, Brown and Proud Bicycle Brigade

ovarians

In East LA a movement is happening.  A core group of chicanas ride their bikes for awareness,  protest, and for solidarity and health.  These badasses are known as The Ovarian Psycos.

Kate Trumbull and Joanna Sokolowski, who met at UC, Santa Cruz’s Social Doc Film Master’s program first heard about them from producer Virginia Espino (Mas Bebes).  They were immediately compelled and approached them.  After tagging along on one of their night rides, Kate was impressed by their tight knit solidarity; they rode as a group, circling back when someone got stuck.  Kate and Joanna approached them with the documentary proposal and over the next six months got to know them. It wasn’t until the Ovarian Psycos deliberated as a group and said yes, they moved forward with the project; applying and receiving a small ITVS development grant.  Now about to enter production they need our help to raise what they can to sustain production.  I couldn’t recommend this Kickstarter campaign more.  It ends soon on February 23!

I recently sat down and talked to Kate who told me a bit more about this fascinating all women of color brigade.  She used words like unapologetic, ferocious along with sweet, to describe the ladies.  The sisterhood started in the summer of 2011 and through online efforts they have organized many day and night bike rides including last August’s Clitoral Mass, a take on the monthly testosterone driven night ride, and the full moon night rides known as Luna rides.  Each event  has a theme like sexual health, violence against women, women safety and after the ride there is an open dialogue to discuss and exchange ideas with the purpose of promoting awareness.    Their vision statement:   “We envision a world where women of color are change agents who create and maintain holistic health within themselves and in their respective communities for present and future generations.”

“Ovaries so big we don’t need balls”

All womyn (and female identified) individuals are invited to join but there are 13 core Ova members who share and pass authority roles among them.  The Left Ovary and the Right Ovary are the designated co-leaders, the Clit Rubber denotes the one tasked to keep the peace.  It use to be much more informal but now as their impact rises and bigger interest takes hold, the group are finding ways to develop an infrastructure inside and out the neighborhood near Corazon Del Pueblo, the arts, education and arts collective in Boyle Heights. Women interested in joining go through a process known as SLIT, Sister Leader in Transition. The girls ride through the hood like a sea of change rolling in.  They exchange literature and are very concious of their social and historical context in the birthplace of the Chicano movement.

Why bikes?  It represents freedom and its grassroots.  It’s also a symbol of the most viable source of transportation that low income communities tend to have.

It is an exciting time to follow the Ovarian Psycos and the documentary aims to track their ongoing (r)evolution as well as zoom in on the compelling women’s individual stories.   Kate and Joanna plan on giving the women cameras to allow them to tell their own stories.  Each of them, Kate says has an amazing story and are highly involved within the vibrant East LA community.  One of the founders, Xela de la X, AKA Cihuatl Ce, is an MC who performs regularly singing tracks like Fuck Your Pretty, I’m Ferocious

So get to know the Ovarian Psycos and check out the Kickstarter campaign for more info and donate!  The rewards are pretty cool – custom designed Tees and stickers from the girls themselves- I know my ass wants in on that mix tape, as I’m sure it will be dope.