WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

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

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

DOLORES AKA Woman in Motion directed by Peter Bratt

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

Also in the U.S. Documentary Competition

DINA directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles

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

BEATRIZ AT DINNER directed by Miguel Arteta

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

In the bold Next section

LEMON written and directed by Janicza Bravo

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

In the Shorts Competition

KAIJU BUNRAKU directed by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva

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

GOOD CRAZY written and directed by Rosa Salazar

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

In the newly minted, Short Form Episodic

GENTIFIED written and directed by Marvin Lemus

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

VICTOR Y ISOLINA by William Caballero

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

In the New Frontier (the future) section

NEUROSPECULATIVE AFROFEMINISM

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

IF NOT LOVE by Rose Troche

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

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

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

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

WTF is Latino @LAFilmFest?

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By LA artist Carolyn Castaño

If you are like me, you make local film festival plans last minute, which makes my annual WTF is Latino at LA Film Festival post not so much late as just (still) in time for you to make a few movie selections this weekend and next week.  The festival started last Wednesday, June 1 and runs through Thursday June 9th.  PDF of schedule here.

 

In full disclosure I am a Programming Consultant for the festival. These aren’t reviews as much as hopefully an insightful guide. My purpose in this series is not only to spotlight Latino writers/directors and monitor representation, but also to challenge notions of WTF is Latino.  It is a U.S. context classification that is vast; a generational and geographic diaspora.  The term Latino is often mistakenly appropriated to international filmmakers/talent from Spanish and Portugese-speaking countries.  Alejandro Gonzales Inñaritu is not Latino or a Person of Color guys.  I’m talking about ‘Merican – Latinos.

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Cars at the Hollywood Lowriders film premiere courtesy of the De Albas

The biggest change at the LA Film Festival is that it has moved from DTLA’s L.A. Live Regal Cinemas to the West side in Culver City’s Arclight Cinemas. The festival has scaled down considerably from 2014’s nearly 200 features to this year’s 56 feature-length film lineup. It underwent a programming department shakeup last year, the result of which it achieved an unprecedented shift towards more inclusive representation. The festival also established a strict world premiere requirement outside of a few special screenings and the Buzz section in order to give new films a shot.  For the second year in a row the festival remains leader of the mainstream festival pack with keeping true to its diversity mission.  43% of the films in competition categories are directed by women; and 38% of the films are directed by people of color. 86% of the films in competition are directed by 1st or 2nd time directors.

About the U.S. Latino rep –  there’s 5 US. Latino feature-length writers/directors I can identify which comes out to roughly under 10%. In front of the camera the program includes co-starring/cameo roles from established actors like John Leguizamo, Eva Longoria, Lauren Luna Velez, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Judy Reyes, Emily Rios as well as hot rising talent like Gabriel Chavarria, Yvette Monreal and Victor Almanzar.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.57.15 AMLOWRIDERS directed by Ricardo de Montreuil, written by Elgin James and Cheo Hodari Coker.

Everyone agrees that the film’s theme made this the perfect LA Film Festival world premiere and while I’ll take full credit in pitching the film to the festival, I certainly cannot take credit for giving it the prestigious Opening Night slot which speaks to Festival Director, Stephanie Allain’s mission of centering underrepresented films as festival headliners. About the film’s pedigree: The film was conceived by Hollywood producer Brian Grazer who grew up fascinated with the lowrider culture. Grazer enlisted Peruvian filmmaker Ricardo de Montreuil to direct, who with his super talented Colombian DP Andres Sanchez, captures the landmark bridges, hills, hotspots and avenues of El Sereno, Echo Park, Elysian Park and Boyle Heights.  But its LA born and bred legendary tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon and photographer Estevan Oriol, listed as executive producers, along with co-writer Elgin James, who lend the film some cred and streak Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.59.21 AMof authenticity into this male-dominated club culture.  In front of the camera is East Los Angeles native Gabriel Chavarria (East Los) who plays Danny Alvarez, the graffiti artist son of a an OG lowrider club member. Cast is rounded out by Italian stallion sweetheart Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy) who plays his brother, Guatemalan-American Tony Revolri as a friend, Academy Award nominated Mexican actor Demian Bichir (A Better Life), Eva Longoria and Yvette Monreal. The Grazer/Blumhouse production, which is said to have cost around 5 million, has yet to announce a release date let alone a trailer or social media campaign.

LUPE UNDER THE SUN written and directed by Rodrigo Reyes

A bittersweet tale about a fascinating and flawed man who comes to an unsettling realization about his impermanence.  Set in Merced, California where Mexican-American filmmaker Reyes is from, Lupe Under the Sun is slotted in the World Cinema competition.  I listed this film as one of my top 10 films to watch out for in 2016 so I’m so excited to see it get its first festival premiere. While it makes sense to tag the docu-fiction film under immigrant struggles, don’t get it twisted. Reyes’ sophomore film smartly eschews politics  and portrays a personal and deeply moving character’s existential crisis.

@LupeUnderTheSun

11:55 directed by Ben Snyder and Ari Issler, written by Victor Almanzar

The title is a sly evocation to a 3:10 to Yuma type western duel in that it sets an increasingly tense timer from Marine Nelson Sanchez’s early morning return back home to that night’s arrival of a bus carrying a dangerous antagonist who blames him for the death of his brother and is out for revenge. Dominican-American Victor Almanzar who is a real life Marine, stars and co-wrote the film.  The story is tight and oozes tension from the get as his homecoming is quickly overshadowed by the looming danger which conflicts with his genuine desire to move forward with his girlfriend and protect his sister and niece. Bomb performances by Victor and Elizabeth Rodriguez as well as John Leguizamo who plays a veteran in a wheelchair (damn he is good at drama). About the directors, both cinematographers in their own right, Ben Snyder notably was a Story Consultant for documentary The Wolfpack and did additional cinematography for Nas: Time is Illmatic, while Ari has shot music documentaries like Brothers Hypnotic and the Hip Hop Project.

 

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72 HOURS in Brooklyn: A Love Story directed by Raafi Rivero, co-written with Bilal N’Dongo

The film had its first world premiere screening Thursday night so if you missed it I urge you to join the campaign to demand an encore screening slot.  I hope it happens. This is a must watch as its an incredible feat of collaborative and guerilla filmmaking.  It is a ridiculously authentic and compelling feature of interweaving slices of Black youth in Brooklyn led by one college-bound 18 year old Caesar Winslow’s pursuit of romance across Brooklyn.

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When I asked Rivero how he defines his cultural background, he said Hip Hop. Which is a good reminder how each person identifies with their own distinct cultural upbringing (Okay he’s got a grandfather from Cuba).

@72HrsBK

#72HrsBK

ACTORS OF SOUND directed by Lalo Molina

The craft and history of Foley for all you Foley junkies. A documentary playing in the LA Muse section.

Making the rounds on the festival circuit since Sundance and SXSW is short film, The Send-Off directed by Ivette Lucas playing in Documentary Shorts program 1.

 

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Dir Amber Tambyln with Emily Rio

 

Emily Rios (From Dusk til Dawn tv, The Bridge, Quinceañera) plays Alia Shawkat’s  punk no nonsense best friend in the film adaptation of Paint it Black written by Janet Finch.  It’s notably quite an impressive and dynamic directorial debut by actor Amber Tamblyn. The film is premiering in the U.S. Competition.

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Lauren Luna Velez has a deliciously wicked role as police chief in the ultra-fun action violent cult comic adaptation Officer Downe about an L.A. supercop who is killed in the line of duty but is  resurrected to clean up the streets. The joy ride is directed by M. Shawn Crahan (Slipknot) screening in the NightFall Section.

Judy Reyes (Scrubs) is called on to soothe the anxiety of a young girl’s first period and welcome her into womanhood in comedy Girl Flu written and directed by Dorie Barton, screening in the LA Muse section.

and now MISC: A couple of my recent festival faves and must-see’s if you can catch them at the fest.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 12.59.04 PM.pngKICKS, the pulsing and striking directorial debut of Justin Tipping is co-written with Joshua Beirne-Golden. Both of whom incidentally wrote an original script for Lowriders at one point and ultimately received co-producer credit. The Oakland set film stars stunner talent Jahking Guillory who decides to go after whats his (the Air Jordans he bought himself which he was jacked for) ultimately sending him on an irrevocable path torwards confronting what it means to be a man in his social construct. The film  premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. #KicksFilm

JEANS OF THE JONESES – saw this really witty matriarchal comedy at SXSW by first time filmmaker Black Canadian Stella Meghie starring Taylor Paige as a hopeless in love, adorably searching writer.

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Follow the latest scoop @LAFilmFest, check out their YouTube videos for daily coverage and interviews, and for more info go to website or call box office: 1 866 Film Fest.

Heading to the Westside so stay tuned for more via my twitter handle: @IndieFindsLA

WTF is Latino at SXSW FILM?

3026402-inline-i-17-an-oral-history-of-sxsw-interactiveI’m getting all psyched up just thinking about this weekend when I’ll finally be seated at the Alamo Ritz on 6th street, ordering my refreshing Paloma cocktail, and sitting back to watch some wildness that SXSW Film selected. Yep, its the 2016 SXSW rodeo.

Of course I’m talking about the mega mega South by Southwest Interactive/Film/Music Festival and Conference kicking off this Thursday from March 11-20 in Austin, Texas.

So what’s the Latino presence?  Lets go wide for this one. For the past two years SXSW has tagged its Ibero and Latin American programming across film, interactive and music, under the umbrella SXAméricas. This year, Brazil and Spain have the biggest presence in the film program (3 features for Brazil, 5 films/filmakers from Spain).  For the first time in the festival’s history there is a film from Ecuador, UIO: Take Me for a Ride (although back in 2014 Austin based Ecuadorian-American filmmaker Alex R. Johnson had his film Two Step in the fest) which is notable for its rarity.  Major KEY alert, Uruguayan filmmaker  Fede Alvarez will be dropping his mysteriously under wraps untitled Ghosthouse Thriller.

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bad cop, bad cop

Personally I cannot wait to see WAR ON EVERYONE by the wicked Irish hooligan John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Cavalry, also his brother wrote/directed the savagely entertaining IN BRUGES).  War on Everyone which premiered in the fancy Berlinale last month is a black, pulpy buddy cop flick filmed in ‘Burque’ New Mexico. The film stars Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgard, Tessa Thompson and Miss Bala/Bond girl Stephanie Sigman.

 

 

I usually try to focus on only U.S. Latino writers/directors, but I’ll expand and be global for this edition as there is just too much cool filmmaking and stories coming from South America and Spain.  Also, this is by no means a definitive list of WTF is Latino but a pre-curtain look. More once I’m on the ground!

PET directed by Carles Torrens

One of five directors Vice says is going to save Spanish Cinema, Carles Torrens’ second feature film, Pet is premiering in the Midnight section. From Barcelona, Torrens graduated from Chapman University. A psychological thriller in which Dominic Monaghan plays a man who runs into an old high school classmate he use to have the hots for. His creepy attempts to romance is met with rejection. Naturally, he takes her prisoner at the dogpound he works at to teach her a lesson, only to find that she is not who she seems. Torrens’ first directing feature was Apartment 143 written by Rodrigo Cortes (Buried with Ryan Reynolds). Previously Torrens directed shorts like the twisted thriller Sequence, which has played over a hundred festivals. Pet teaser below.

12828500_1070131749697280_3048930164827168970_oOVARIAN PSYCOS directed by Joanna Sokolows and Kate Trumbull-LaValle

The OVA’S ARE COMING!  It’s so rad to see this documentary about the badass cycling brigade, Ovarian Psycos get its world premiere at South By. I have been talking about this one on here since its first Kickstarter, and last year’s Top Docs to Watch Out for list.  The filmmakers managed to successfully crowd-fund a second time on Kickstarter in order to fly and put up members of the collective from the Eastside  EL-Lay in Austin and represent at the world premiere.  Don’t be surprised to see the sisterhood ride through the street raising awareness for social issues that affect all women. In fact I’d follow them on Twitter so you can join in. Austin has a great rental bike program.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 7.54.00 PMUNTITLED GHOST HOUSE THRILLER written and directed by Fede Alvarez

With no confirmed title yet nor film stills out there, this second original film from Alvarez is about “a group of teens break into a blind man’s home thinking they’ll get away with the perfect crime. They’re wrong.”  This is the guy who six years ago caught fire when his 5 minute short film Panic Attack made the rounds and ultimately got him the gig to helm the 2013 Evil Dead reboot which is bananas.  Only info that is clear on this one is that Jane Levy stars, its from Sony Pictures and Sam Raimi produces. It’s been referred to and on IMDB its listed as A Man in the Dark.  Fede has also been rumored to be director of Warner Bros’  Dark Universe. Fede has also directed episodes of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn TV series.

TRANSPECOS co-written and directed by Greg Kwedar

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“The border is a shifting line.”

A thriller set in the dry outposts of Texas in which border patrol men, two of who are played by Latinos, Clifton Gonzalez and Gabriel Luna, stumble onto evidence that may lead to a plot between the cartel and one of their own. I read the script a while ago and remember vividly visualizing the filmmakers’ cinematic western noir intent. Given the score is co-written by The Revenant composer, Bryce Dessner, and it the film shot by Jeffrey Waldron, a versatile commercial, documentary and indie film D.P, it will surely deliver on that front.  Kwedar, who previously produced the documentary Rising From Ashes, about Rwanda’s first ever cyling team, teamed up with Texan filmmaker, Clint Bentley to write his feature directorial debut. I’m eager to report back on this one.  Last border fiction tale I saw that flexed its thriller genre (unfortunately over story) was El Desierto from Mexican Jonas Cuaron which ultimately suffered from oversimplistic storytelling.

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Twitter

From-Nowhere-Photo-1FROM NOWHERE co-written and directed by Matthew Newton

In Narrative Spotlight, From Nowhere is the film adaptation of the play, No One Asked Me written by Kate Ballen, whose 10 year experience as a counselor at a Bronx high school where she helped undocumented students navigate the college admission process became the basis and inspiration to tell this story.  Australian director/actor Newton directed No One Asked Me as part of Fringe NYC festival last fall.  Newton previously directed Three Blind Mice which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Julianne Nicholson ostensibly plays Kate as the teacher and the students are played by J. Mallory McCree (Quantico, We Need to Talk about Kevin), and newcomer Octavia Chavez-Richmond.

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INSATIABLE directed by Brett A. Schwartz

Homaro Cantu was a goddamned trail blazer.  Legend has it that he came to Chicago with $300 in his pocket and camped out at famed master chef Charlie Trotter’s until he gave him a job.  He shortly thereafter became his sous chef. In 2003 he opened up his avant garde restaurant Moto which became a prized Michelin star rated restaurant and blew up Chicago on the culinary map. He was a beloved figure in the chef community so the news of his death last spring at age 38 rocked everyone’s world.  My sister, Diana Davila who is a chef in Chicago idolized Cantu so much that she had her engagement dinner there.  Apparently filmmaker Brett A. Schwartz was granted a fair amount of access for the three years he followed him. The aptly titled film focuses on Cantu’s game-changing culinary practices, mad passion for the intersection of science, art and health, and deep imprint he left as a molecular gastronomy pioneer.

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Twitter

SHORTS

THE SEND-OFF by Ivette Lucas and Patrick Bresnan

I previously wrote about Ivette’s film Mexican Fried Chicken. Her new documentary short with filmmaking partner Patrick Bresnan premiered at Sundance earlier this year.  The film is a fly on the wall look at a group of seniors from a Central Florida high school as they they prep and dress for the big prom affair which includes their local block party show where the royally dressed young couples pose for snaps.

PHIL’S CAMINO directed by Jessica Lewis and Annie Oneil

A first film, and a really moving half hour doc short about Phil who has stage four cancer and decides that to ‘heal’ himself he is going to trek the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain.

International films

EAT MY SHIT written and directed by Eduardo Casanova

You know you want to watch.  Here is the full 3 minute shit.

The 23 year old filmmaker’s bio: Cinema is what I truly believe. Cinema is the cause and solution for every trouble I have. Cinema to me is like morphine to Bela Lugosi, like Richard Burton to Liz Taylor, like red lights to Dario Argento, like big boobs to Russ Meyer, like Lynch and the dwarfs.

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VICTOR XX written and directed by Ian Garrido Lopez.

Trailer above for the 20 something min short from Spain which was incubated and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.   The film’s synopsis: “Victor likes to experiment with his gender. He doesn’t know if he feels like a boy or a girl.”  The actor who plays Victor, Alba Martinez is magnetic. Bravo to Ian, a 27 year old transgender filmmaker from the south east Mediteranean coast of Spain for directing the performance and bringing this story to the fore.

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Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.18.32 PMSEMANA SANTA written and directed by Alejandra Marquez

I previously wrote about this first feature in my last Mexican film roundup post. Making its U.S. premiere after playing Toronto up north and Los Cabos down South, the film is a keenly felt and compelling story set in a run down Acapulco during Easter holiday.  You might recognize Tenoch Huerta from Dias de Gracia, Gueros, Mozart & The Jungle.

56babbf32109cUIO: TAKE ME FOR A RIDE co-written and directed by Micaela Rueda

LGBT film from Ecuador, a co-production with Mexico and Colombia. Michaela has spent the last five years working on her first fiction feature debut, working from a script by Juan José Valle.  You can see the trailer on the film sales agent site M-Appeal

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.30.55 PMKILL ME PLEASE written and directed by Anita Rocha da Silveira

First premiering at the Venice Film Festival this impressive next level teen angst tale is a first feature from Brazil/Argentina. Set in a newly developed city in Rio de Janeiro the story’s backdrop is a wave of murders which calls 15  year old Bia’s attention. The filmmaker says, “Bia is someone who wants to kill herself yet wants to carry on living, experiencing everything to the edge – she wants to be killed but also wants to kill, wake up the next day, and do it all over again.”  Sounds dope.

DEAD SLOW AHEAD co-written and directed by Mauro Herce

The hums, deep waves and barge ship motor noises makes for a really hypnotizing minimal film from Spain. Check out the trailer here. Born in Barcelona in 1976, Mauro Herce graduated in engineering and fine arts before enrolling in top film school Cuba’s San Antonio de los Baños.

JULES AND DOLORES cowritten and directed by Caito Ortiz

Selected in the Visions section, the more ‘audacious’ filmmaking section, this 1983 set Brazilian caper about stealing the world cup trophy looks like pure boogie down fun.  You can see trailer here.  Caito Ortiz is on the director roster of slick advertising and entertainment company Prodigo Films.

THE SPACE IN BETWEEN – Marina Abramovic and Brazil

Directed by the Sao Paulo cinematography artist, Marco Del Fiol.  All you need to know is that this is Marina’s trip and we are along for the ‘hardcore and spiritual’ ride.

 

Here we go! Kickstarting the Ambulante USA movement

I nodded off at 3am with Orange is The New Black finale in the background while compiling my old yahoo contacts and email lists from the various film festivals I’ve worked in the past 12 years.  Why?  To prepare a Master email blast to ask people to back Ambulante California on Kickstarter.  If I didn’t love this social cinema platform and believe it to be a noble and radical vehicle that stimulates the ecosystem of audiences and filmmakers I would probably think twice about emailing folks I haven’t talked to in a while.  But that’s not the case.  Here’s me a few hours ago all showered after two strong instant black coffees making a video to commemorate the launch.

And here is the campaign video and page.  Please click HERE to go to page and get involved and support this project!

Don’t be shy, tell me what you think.  I will try to update my blog with this crazy rollercoaster journey of the Chicana from Chicago heading up a traveling documentary film festival.

#AllOrNothing

#DoubleDown

 

 

 

#WTF is #Latino at SXSW Film Festival?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEADLINERS

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

NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT

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

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

Two Step


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

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

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

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

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

Impossible Light
Director: Jeremy Ambers

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

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

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

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

Print the Legendprintlegend

Directors: Luis Lopez, Clay Tweel

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

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

DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT

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

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

VISIONS

Cumbres (Heights) (Mexico)

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

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

The Dance of Reality (Chile / France)


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

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

EPISODIC – new section

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

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

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

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

24 BEATS PER SECOND

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

Rubber Soul

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

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

 

SXGLOBAL

desertThe Desert (Argentina)

Director: Christoph Behl


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

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

MIDNIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANIMATED SHORTS

Yearbook

Director/Writer:  Bernardo Britto

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

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

MIDNIGHT SHORTS

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 6.38.37 PMWawd Ahp

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

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

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

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

TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SHORTS – The future is here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Tin Dirdamal – Director of Death in Arizona

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 9.50.46 AM

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

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

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

LALIFF – Back in Community Effect

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

2013-10-10 18.31.13
This is Pablo Ferro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mas Later

#MasAmerican