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

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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.

Big Ass Spider! by Mike Mendez

Mike just dropped his trailer for his giant creature feature, BIG ASS SPIDER! It’s premiering in the coolest and rowdiest section of SXSW, Midnighters. He’s one of the few American Latino filmmakers I highlighted in my WTF is Latino at SXSW. Looks pretty freaking rad and fun. Can’t wait!

Exclusivo! Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s Los Chidos trailer

This savage satire written, directed and produced by Omar Rodriguez Lopez topped my list of most excellent American Latino films that popped up in 2012. Los Chidos cracked people’s faces when it premiered in competition at SXSW last year, as you can tell by the savvy mainstream and hard core cult film critic quotes in the trailer.  Having seen the film thrice, I can appreciate this sneaky and clever approach in contextualizing the film’s mad provocation. Thanks to Adam Thomson (editor/producer) for giving me a first look.  Enjoy.  More screening play dates to be announced soon and a unique distro plan is likely.  Follow @ORLProductions if you are not already trying to keep up with Omar’s progressive and nonstop music and film creating endeavors.

Help tell this SF Mission Noir story, THE OTHER BARRIO

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Don Alejandro Murguía

The Other Barrio is an upcoming film based on a short story by Alejandro Murguía, a poet, novelist, professor and founder of San Francisco’s Mission Cultural Center.  Shot on location in the Mission District last year, the project has only six more days to go on the crowd-funding site, Indiegogo to scrounge up much needed post production funds.  After learning a bit about the 62 year old Murguía and reading a few of his poems, I am an eager new admirer and will be seeking out his books immediately – like this one in particular, This War Called Love.  Born in Cali, raised in Mexico, he’s been in San Francisco since the 70s where his persona and dedication to his Raza has made him into a sort of old school keeper and guardian of the Chicano Arts and History community up in the bay.  Indeed Mayor Ed Lee honored Murguía by naming him Poet Laureate of San Francisco, a two year term. Read more about him on this SF Gate article and read a few of his poems online here.

In the film, Richard J. Montoya stars as Roberto Morales, a building inspector who investigates a suspicious arson on 16th & Valencia (this really happened btw) which leaves 7 innocent dead.  Realizing he’s perfectly set up as the fall guy, he solo treads the ice with a local big business (nee crime) boss, a matron real estate tycoon and naturally crosses paths with a beautiful lady and unrequited love from his past, as darker and bigger picture begins to emerge – one in which only a few feast off the sad and vexing neighborhood destruction and displacement for new rapacious hip SF business, all at the cost of its vibrant and humble people who have given their richness to the city.

A veiled look at the gentrification, under the table modern and accepted corruption and most of all the demolishing and stripping of the city’s diverse cultural history, this noir screen adaptation has much more cultural weight and power than most noir films.  The film is directed and produced by Dante Betteo a Chilean born San Francisco bay area filmmaker and Louis F. Dematteis, also a SF native filmmaker.

With less than a week to go, the film has only managed to raise two thousand dollars of its 60,000 goal.  Unlike Kickstarter, on Indieagogo the filmmakers are able to keep whatever amount they can raise so anything you can chip in would greatly help. This is a story really worth telling.  Consider giving a few bucks to Indieagogo, or sharing the link on your Facebook, liking the film’s Facebook page and check out the website

Film contact <theotherbarrio@gmail.com>

Docs due to break through: Top 5 American Latino Docs to watch out for in 2013

Last week I offered up my top 5 fiction films to look out for in 2013, and as promised, here is my non-fiction list of films coming down the pipeline, bound to make an impression and impact this year.  Two are profiles of influential iconic American activists whose work and spirit have left indelible marks on their generation. Hopefully  their reintroduction through the docs will serve to celebrate and carry on their positive influence as Latinos for many next generations.  The other films deal with redefining our perception of American identity, gender and human rights while wielding cinematic ingenuity and power.  As these films prove, docs can be just as striking in their characterization and cinematic form as their fiction counterparts, in addition to their intrinsic educational value.  Take note, all of these are seeking opportunities to engage with their audiences so again click on the links to follow and show your interest in their work so we can bring awareness and demand their exhibition.

MARTHAS_Daniella_2009     1.LAS MARTHAS by Cristina Ibarra, produced by Erin Ploss-Campoamor

In Laredo Texas, there exists a debutante ball held by the exclusive Society of Martha Washington that takes place every year celebrating George Washington’s birthday.  A 114 year-old tradition, the lavish affair presents members’ daughters- all of aristocratic pedigree and lineage dating back to the foundation of Texas, who dress up in grand, colonial gowns representing characters from the American Revolution.  Las Marthas follows a couple of high achieving, bi-literate and conscious young Mexican Americans going through the lengthy preparations as they enter this rite of passage that ends with a parade that draws huge crowds.  What’s especially remarkable about the whole patriotic event is that we are talking about a city that is 94% Latino.  Laredo became part of Texas in 1848, when everything north of the Rio Grande became the United States.  Many families who stayed, benefited off the oil boom and settled into an upper class aristocracy.  Many generations later these are still the most prominent Laredo citizens and proud bearers of this historic tradition.

I’m so proud of this Chicana sister for revealing this world.  She has intuitively seized on and explored this unique legacy, which clearly demonstrates the vibrant bi-culture of Texas and shows how aptly the founding father narrative belongs to Mexican Americans.   She is also working on a fiction feature titled Love and Monster Trucks about an 18-year-old Chicana artist named Impala Mata who can’t wait to escape her 4×4 truck-obsessed, Texas bordertown family.  Sounds so cool.  Need to track that one too.

Filmmakers website here

cesareats2.  CESAR’S LAST FAST by Richard Ray Perez, produced by Molly O’Brien

Back in the Spring on Chavez’s anniversary I wrote about this documentary in progress here on the site.  Cut to today and I’m happy to share it is just about ripe and ready for its premiere.  Wisely and effectively entering the vast legacy by angling on Chavez’s 1988 Fast for Life, the film focuses on conveying the private sacrifice and spiritual conviction behind Chavez’s struggle for the humane treatment of American farm workers.  With each and every day adding up that he refused to eat in protest of the rampant use and ill effects of growers spraying pesticides on farm workers, Chavez seriously risked his health and life and in turn inspired a nation.  It boasts never-before-seen footage in which artists and activists came to see him, endeared in solidarity by his fortitude, including the likes of Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Kennedy family, interviews with his son Paul Chavez, Chicano filmmaker Luis Valdez, activist veteran, Dolores Huerta and Martin Sheen, along with showing the press hoopla this man was able to attract back then. It’s taken years for the family to trust someone with his story so it’s telling that Rick has managed to gain their support.

Film contact  <CesarsLastFast@earthlink.net>

Website, Facebook

RUBEN-SALAZAR-PREVIEW
created by Ernesto Yerena. Click on the image to see his work.

3.  RUBEN SALAZAR:  MAN IN THE MIDDLE by Phillip Rodriguez, produced by City Projects

On August 29 1970, just as the Chicano Moratorium March, a protest denouncing the extremely high number of Chicano soldier casualties in Vietnam (front of the line browns), was winding down, a tear gas canister was suddenly thrown by LA County police into the old Silver Platter Cafe on Whittier Blvd, killing the pioneering civil rights journalist Ruben Salazar.  Set to broadcast on PBS in the Fall, this documentary is the first thorough investigation into the life and mysterious death of Salazar who was raised in El Paso and went on to become a brilliant reporter covering Vietnam, the Olympics and the Chicano movement for the LA Times and KMEX TV 34 television, making him the first Mexican American to cover news for mainstream outlets.  In that critical and turbulent moment in the Chicano rights movement, Salazar gave voice, rationale and dignity to Chicanos’ fight to demand equality.  An inquest was later regarding his untimely death made but murder charges were never brought.  Instead Los Angeles County paid $700,000 to the Salazar family to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Just last month, after two years of requests, Philip Rodriguez finally won the battle to uncover case details when MALDEF sued Sheriff Lee Baca for withholding unredacted records regarding the 42 year old case.  This new unearthed footage, photos and documents will appear in the film along with interviews with Salazar’s family, friends, colleagues as well as the deputy who threw the fatal tear gas missile, Tom Wilson.  So the story goes, there had been allegedly a tip that an armed man entered the bar (hence blindly throwing tear gas while folks were in there?).   For the first time we might get answers and insight surrounding the mysterious and suspicious circumstances of this leading Latino voice.  As quoted on KPCC, Phillip Rodriguez says, “I think this is one of the most important stories that has remained on the margins and that has been characterized as a regional or an ethnic story and it’s a fantastic American story”.

wildness14.  THE WILDNESS by Wu Tsang produced by Kathy Rivkin

Although this premiered at a few noteworthy film festivals in 2012, including Austin’s SXSW, Outfest in Los Angeles and MOMA in NYC last December, I’m thrilled to know there is still a long life ahead towards sharing this beautiful experience with the public so it definitely deserves to be on the Watch Out For list.  A dazzling requiem to the 7th & Alvarado corner bar joint, Silver Platter, specifically the transformation and haven as a Latin/LGBT/immigrant community spurred on by the introduction of performance parties known as Wildness, produced by a fiercely talented collective including Wu Tsang, the director of the film.  The intersection of stories and people borne out of that multi cultural, trans and cross-generational magic potion is fascinating and poignant to behold in this cinematic and audiovisual piece.  The cinematography captures the wonderful and tragic beauty, and by personifying the bar as a majestic hostess welcoming all wayward transients, the film pulses with heart.  Currently looking for distribution opportunities (repped by Cinetic).  Check out the trailer below and go to the Facebook for more info.

5.  WHO IS DAYANI CRYSTAL? by Marc Silver, produced by Canana and Pulse

I previously highlighted this unique docu-drama about the discovery of a migrant found dead in the border desert and the unfolding mystery of his identity with the parallel of a retracing of his journey, as part of my WTF is Latino at Sundance post.  The film will open the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival this Thursday and I will be onsite to cover the audience’s reaction (Don’t forget to follow me on twitter for my sporadic SFF coverage).  Not only is it a feat of ingenuity in the way the narrative is structured, it’s an extremely urgent topic deserving a larger audience to provoke more humanity and thought into the pressing immigration reform debate.  I guarantee this one will travel to many festivals in 2012 and get theatrical distribution, aided in no small part by its compassionate and driven producer and narrator, Gael Garcia Bernal.  Last year, Searching for Sugarman screened in the same Day One screening slot, was subsequently snapped up by Sony Pictures and as of last week officially nominated for an Academy Award.  Hmmmm.   Get updates by following their twitter @DayaniCristal

Film Contact:  < lucas@pulsefilms.co.uk>