Last 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.
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.
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.
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
The 288 features that make up the mega-sized and mega-watt Toronto International Film Festival have been announced. It is awesome to see South America in the house and a substantial number of films from Mexico and Spain. Sadly on the US Latino representation front we got next to nada. Is it possible that it’s not since 2006 the festival has screened a US Latino film? Bella by Alejandro Monteverde, about two people in NYC who fall in love, ended up winning the People’s Choice Award. Randomly, in looking up the title to refresh my memory I came across this review by the late, great Roger Ebert who makes an amusing dig on Variety critic Robert Koehler about ‘being late’ in the course of reviewing the film.
Out of the 70 *countries the program represents, 26 of them are from Spain, Mexico (both which lead the pack with 7 films respectively), followed by Portugal, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Note this figure includes co-productions.
0 , “Ahem” that is, Zero U.S. Latino filmmakers. I have made an inquiry to the festival to confirm, if I hear different I will update.
Before the copied and pasted list of film descriptions and pics courtesy of TIFF – let me also note:
I’m so excited to see films play on this important world cinema stage that hail from Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Peru and Uruguay, countries who have fledgling film industries but such unique narratives and exciting filmmaker voices to tell them.
Latin/Spanish language genre is hot. Alex de La Iglesia is back with another pulse throbbing spine-tingling, action flick, Witching and BeWitching which he describes as a It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. I can’t wait to see this at Fantastic Fest. Also making a return to Midnight Madness this year is Eli Roth and Chilean filmmaker Nicolas Lopez with The Green Inferno. They previously teamed up on horrifying ‘real life’ scenario thriller, Aftershock.
A few Latino actors are sprinkled across English language films like Mexican Demian Bichir in Dom Hemingway by Richard Shepard, Colombiana Sofia Vergara in John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo and Dominicana Zoe Saldana in french hottie actor/director (Marion Cotillard’s man) Guillaume Canet’s Blood Ties.
My M.O. in this series is to dig through festival films’ log lines and cast to find and highlight actors, stories and filmmakers that might bear some Latino sensibility ahead of the festival’s opening. My overriding goal is to expand on what a Latino story might be, and by monitoring some of the big fests’ track records try to illuminate the context and obstacles that emerging Latino film artists smash up against. Reading through the film descriptions of this year’s TIFF, I find some really rad sounding and innovative twists of classic storytelling, as well as interesting revisiting of American history. Which is why I’m so troubled by the near total exclusion of Latinos in both the cast and filmmaker roles, especially given our hard to ignore populace. There are two stories set in Texas and neither feature one Mexican American role. (Parkland about the 48 hours after the JFK assassination, and Dallas Buyers Club in which Matthew McConaughy travels across the Mexican border for HIV drugs). Then there are a handful of contemporary films that take place in an imagined New York/LA/Midwest and likewise I don’t see any US Latinos in the otherwise homogenized billed cast so its like we don’t register on any plane of representation. Black films, filmmakers and cast are slowly but steadily gaining profile in these big festivals and in the mainstream media but US Latinos are sorely behind. I know its not news-breaking but it is heart breaking and it does not cease to shock me to find such a lack of interest in discovering US Latino talent. As far as I can tell there are not any narratives from the US Latino perspective in TIFF’s international 288 feature film program. In confronting this absence and disregard, I want to A. Call out festival programmers/distributors to consider that part of their curating responsibility is to accurately reflect the spectrum of people who make up our society and movie going public by giving those few films made by people of color and without precedent a shot in front of an audience. B. Create a consciousness of the absentee-frame-of-reference in which Latinos are working from. Finally to encourage all people of color/gender variant and other underrepresented groups to take things into their own hands, creating, producing, casting, exhibiting and distributing our stories because traditional gates have not and will not open their doors until we’ve already made a name of and for ourselves.
I will concede that last names and loglines do not always identify relevant sub-stories or acting roles that might be discovered as having a Latino element, so perhaps there is more Latino in the program than I have been able to pinpoint here. Again the disparity is on the US Latino component. As you can see below there is a rich element of Mexican, Central American, South American, Spanish, and Carribbean at the most important film festival in North America.
Gravity Alfonso Cuarón, USA/United Kingdom North American Premiere
Gravity is a heart-pounding thriller that pulls its audience into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer accompanied on her first shuttle mission by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). On a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone — tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth… and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But their only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space. Ahead of its stateside Oct. 4 release from Uno de los Amigos, Del Toro.
The Green Inferno Eli Roth, USA World Premiere
How far would you go for a cause you believe in? In horror master Eli Roth’s terrifying new film, a group of college students take their humanitarian protest from New York to the Amazon jungle, only to get kidnapped by the native tribe they came to save: a tribe that still practices the ancient rite of cannibalism, and has a healthy appetite for intruders. Produced by Chilean Nicolas Lopez (Que Pena Tu Vida, Aftershock)
Jodorowsky’s Dune Frank Pavich, USA North American Premiere The story of legendary cult film director CHILEANAlejandro Jodorowsky’s staggeringly ambitious but ultimately doomed film adaptation of the seminal science-fiction novel Dune.
Little Feet Alexandre Rockwell, USA, World Premiere
Determined to see “the river,” two young children living in Los Angeles leave home to embark on a magical urban odyssey, in the marvelous new film by American indie icon Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup). Starring Lana Rockwell, Nico Rockwell and Rene Cuante-Bautista. I venture to guess that the third kid, the big pudgy one seen in the trailer is Rene Cuante-Bautista and that he might be Latino. And I hope that since getting to LA’s concrete river usually includes a criss crossing of East and South LA, there will be some Latino community in the foreground. Regardless, the kids, who include Rockwell’s children (with Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s Karyn Parsons) look adorable enough to carry a 60 min movie. The look and feel of the trailer remind me of Corey Mcabee’s Crazy & Thief.
Dom HemingwayRichard Shepard, United Kingdom World Premiere
Dom Hemingway is a larger-than-life safecracker with a loose fuse who is funny, profane, and dangerous. After 12 years in prison, looking to collect what he’s owed for keeping his mouth shut for protecting his rich mobster boss, he finds himself drawn back to the perils and pleasures of his criminal lifestyle — while trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Starring Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon, Jumayn Hunter, Madalina Ghenea and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.
Blood Ties Guillaume Canet, France/USA North American Premiere, New York, 1974. 50-year-old Chris has just been released on good behavior after spending several years in prison. Waiting for him reluctantly outside the prison gates is his younger brother, Frank, a cop with a bright future. Chris and Frank have always been different, yet blood ties are the ones that bind. Starring Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Matthias Schoenaerts and James Caan.
Chris Nunez who was had a small role in A Guide To Recognizing your Saints and handful of small roles as busboys, waiters, tweekers and gangbangers and is a credited as a waiter in David Wain’s upcoming film plays the role of ‘barfly’ in NY set Can A Song Save Your Life by John Carney (Once). NYU Tisch School of the Arts graduate.
Fading Gigolo John Turturro, USA World Premiere
Fioravante, at his friend Murray’s suggestion, enters into the world’s oldest profession, and ends up finding something he didn’t know he was looking for. Starring John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara.
The Mayor Emiliano Altuna Fistolera, Mexico Canadian Premiere
Mauricio Fernandez is the polemical mayor of San Pedro Garza García, the wealthiest and safest municipality in Latin America. He presents himself as an active ruler who is capable of cleaning his municipality of drug cartels without questioning the methods he uses to achieve this. The Mayor describes the wild times of a country that is marked by violence and the complete discredit of the ruling class.
La ultíma película Raya Martin and Mark Peranson, Canada/Denmark/Mexico/Philippines World Premiere
A famous American filmmaker travels to the Yucatán to scout locations for his last movie. The Mayan Apocalypse intercedes. Also described as a “feverish, aesthetically startling re-imagining of Dennis Hopper’s notorious cult classic The Last Movie starring Gabino Rodriguez and Alex Ross Perry.
Paradise (Paraiso) Mariana Chenillo, Mexico World Premiere
Overweight childhood sweethearts Carmen and Alfredo have re-located from the suburbs to the city. Feeling out of her element and subconscious about her body, Carmen joins a weight loss program and asks her husband to join. Ironically, he sheds the pounds and the distance between them grows, putting their relationship to the test. Very excited for Mariana’s sophmore feature after her award winning 5 Days Without Nora in 2008. Will also screen at the Morelia Film Festival.
The Amazing Catfish (Los insólitos peces gato) Claudia Sainte-Luce, Mexico North American Premiere
22-year-old Claudia lives alone in Guadalajara. One night, she ends up in the emergency room with signs of appendicitis. There she meets Martha, lying on the bed next to her. 46-year-old Martha has four children and endless lust for life, in spite of her illness. Moved by the lonely young woman, Martha invites Claudia to come and live with her when she leaves the hospital. At first, Claudia is bewildered by the somewhat chaotic organization of the household, but soon she finds her place in the tribe. And while Martha is getting weaker, Claudia’s bond with each member of the family gets stronger day by day. First feature that will also screen in competition at Morelia
Club Sandwich (Club Sándwich) Fernando Eimbcke, Mexico World Premiere
Paloma and her 15-year-old son Hector have a very strong and special relationship. When on holiday on the seaside, Hector meets Jazmin, a teenage girl with whom he discovers love and sexuality. Trying to keep Hector close to her, Paloma has a hard time accepting that he will eventually grow up.
El Mudo Diego Vega and Daniel Vega, Peru/France/Mexico North American Premiere
After a short investigation, police conclude that the gunshot that nearly killed Judge Constantino Zegarra was nothing more than a stray bullet. But Constantino, who unlike his peers fervently adheres to the letter of the law, is convinced someone tried to take him out. He re-opens the investigation, and soon finds himself breaking some of his own rules to prove himself right. The Vega bros previously made their debut in Cannes with the beautifully formal and curiously repressed character driven film, Octubre which Global Film Initiative supported.
All About the Feathers (Por las Plumas) Neto Villalobos, Costa Rica World Premiere
Chalo is a lone security guard who struggles to get his first gamecock. His job in an abandoned factory is boring and monotonous but it doesn’t seem to bother him that his life is like that as well. Once he finds his prize rooster, which he names Rocky, his life changes. Not having a proper place to raise and train Rocky triggers a series of comical events that will put Chalo’s passion and love for his new (and only) friend to the test. First Feature filmmaker Villalobos raised over his 14,000 post production fund goal to finish his film on Indiegogo.
Old Moon (Luna Vieja) Raisa Bonnet, Puerto Rico World Premiere
Elsa lives in the mountains of the Caribbean Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. A visit from her teenage granddaughter, Mina, and her son-in-law, Alei, brings a sweet and bitter taste into her life. In order to protect her granddaughter, Elsa makes a decision that will change Mina’s life forever. Starring María Velázquez, Laura Cristina Cardona and Julio Ramos. This is Bonnet’s grad short film from NYU Tisch School of the Arts
Gloria Sebastián Lelio, Chile/Spain North American Premiere
Gloria is 58 years old and still feels young. Making a party out of her loneliness, she fills her nights seeking love in ballrooms for singles. This fragile happiness changes the day she meets Rodolfo. Their intense passion — to which Gloria gives everything, as she feels it may well be her last — leaves her dancing between hope and despair. Gloria will have to pull herself together and find a new strength to realize that in the last act of her life, she could burn brighter than ever. Since its discovery at the Berlin film festival, Gloria, played by the effervescent 58 year old Paulina Garcia, has duly charmed festivalgoers and critics. Roadside Attractions picked it up for stateside distribution, the film will next play at the venerable New York Film Festival, and in its Chilean release was the first non-comedy Chilean film in two years that has made top 5 most-seen films for an entire month.
A Wolf at the Door (O Lobo atrás da Porta) Fernando Coimbra, Brazil World Premiere
A child is kidnapped. At the police station, Sylvia and Bernardo, the victim’s parents, and Rosa, the main suspect and Bernardo’s lover, give contradictory evidence which will take audiences to the gloomiest corners of desires, lies, needs and wickedness in the relationship of these three characters. Starring Leandra Leal and Milhem Cortaz.
Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) Mariana Rondón, Venezuela World Premiere
A nine-year-old boy’s preening obsession with straightening his hair elicits a tidal wave of homophobic panic in his hard-working mother, in this tender but clear-eyed coming-of-age tale. Starring Samantha Castillo and Samuel Lange. Third feature from the filmmaker of Postcards from Leningrad. Rondon studied cinema in Paris and Cuba’s renowned EICTV film & TV school in San Antonio Los Baños.
Brazilian Western (Faroeste Caboclo) René Sampaio, Brazil Canadian Premiere
João de Santo Cristo is a young boy, who abandons his poor life in the Brazilian outback to try his luck in the capital, Brasília. A story of love, hate, revenge and violence freely inspired by the Brazilian song Faroeste Caboclo by Renato Russo. Starring Fabrício Boliveira and Isis Valverde.
The Summer of Flying Fish (El verano de los peces voladores) Marcela Said, Chile/France North American Premiere
Manena is a very determined teenager, and the darling daughter of Pancho, a rich Chilean landowner who devotes his vacations to a single obsession: the extermination of carp fish that invade his artificial lagoon. As he resorts to more and more extreme methods, Manena experiences her first love, deception, and discovers a world that silently co-exists alongside her own: that of the Mapuche Indian workers who claim access to these lands… and who stand up to her father.
The Militant (El Lugar Del Hijo) Manolo Nieto, Uruguay World Premiere
A university student involved in militant leftist activism is faced with some difficult decisions when his father suddenly dies, leaving him in charge of their troubled ranch and forcing him to take on the role of a middle class landowner.
Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi) Alex de la Iglesia, Spain/France World Premiere
Desperate dad José and his friends run from a coven of witches hell-bent on their souls and on the 25,000 wedding rings the guys stole from a Cash-for-Gold shop in a desperate attempt to escape their lives of wife troubles. Witching & Bitching marks the seventh film by cult-favourite Spanish genre specialist Alex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus) to be screened at TIFF
Cannibal Manuel Martin Cuenca, Spain / Romania / Russia / France, World Premiere
Carlos is the most prestigious tailor in Granada, but he’s also a murderer in the shadows. He feels no remorse, no guilt, until Nina appears in his life. She will make him realize the true nature of his actions and, for the first time, love awakens. Carlos is evil incarnate. Nina is pure innocence. And Cannibal is a demon’s love story. Yea this looks awesome. Check out trailer here.
Story of My Death Albert Serra, Spain/France North American Premiere
Loosely based on the autobiography of Casanova, the film depicts the journeys of the famous libertine from the joyful, sensual and rationalistic 18th century Europe to his last days where violence, sex and dark romanticism reigned.
The Liberator (Libertador) Alberto Arvelo, Venezuela/Spain World Premiere The film is an epic adventure based on the incredible life of Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century revolutionary who fueled Latin America’s struggle for independence. Bolívar’s quests and military campaigns covered twice the territory of Alexander the Great. Golden Globe nominee Édgar Ramírez brings to life one of the most influential freedom fighters in history. Also starring María Valverde, Danny Huston, Erich Wildpret, Juana Acosta and Imanol Arias.
People In Places (Gente En Sitios) Juan Cavestany, Spain World Premiere
This kaleidoscopic film weaves together approximately 20 fragmented scenarios that offer a view of contemporary Spain, drawing conclusions about the persistence of the human condition, strangeness, and the chaos within relationships. Starring Raul Arevalo, Eduard Fernandez and Santiago Segura.
The Kids from the Port (Los Chicos del Puerto) Alberto Morais, Spain North American Premiere
In this charming neorealist gem set on the sleepy outskirts of Valencia, young Miguel and his friends undertake a seemingly simple mission on behalf of Miguel’s grandfather that teaches them all a lesson in real independence.
The 11th edition of the Morelia Film Festival (FICM) which will take place in Morelia, Michoacan October 18-27, announced its raison d’être Mexican competition of 88 films consisting of 11 narrative features, 23 documentaries, 43 short films and finally 11 films in their Michoacan section, in which for the first time in its 11 years a feature narrative will compete.
Further proof the festival is at the fore of social media muscle and hipness, (FICM boasts the 2nd most followers on Twitter out of all international film festivals, second only to Sundance), FICM organized a Google Hangout to discuss the lineup announcement, forgoing the boring, stuffy press conferences that typically accompany festivals’ film announcements. You can watch it here. Festival Director Daniela Michel, Producer & Programmer (and film producer) Daniela Alatorre and Festival Advisor/Soulful spirit (and also a filmmaker) Alejandro Lubezki were onhand looking and sounding their ever poised, smart, warm, enthusiastic, professional selves. The team underscored their deep appreciation and privilege of getting to know their beautifully rich and profound country via the images and stories of the filmmakers over the course of the festival’s history. Coining this year’s edition as the “First year of the Second Decade”, Daniela Michel exudes a reinvigorated energy as she and her esteemed partners forge ahead in producing the most renowned, anticipated and beloved film festival in Mexico.
Since the program’s inception in 2007 (the festival did not include a narrative feature competition until four years after the festival launched in 2003), the Official Narrative Competition was exclusive to 1st or 2nd time filmmakers. This year FICM opened it up, making room for such international superstars as Fernando Eimbcke and Michel Franco. There are brand spanking new titles yet to premiere anywhere else like Paraiso by Mariana Chenillo, A Los Ojos by Michel Franco, and Manto Acuifero by Michael Rowe. However, it’s hard to say if they will still be world premieres upon their Mexico bow in October since San Sebastian and Toronto are still unrolling their program selections.
Here’s a closer look at each of the 11 narrative features in competition
From this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard, La Jaula de Oro by Diego Quemada-Diez, a startlingly authentic portrait of Guatemalan migrant youths traveling by “La Bestia, or Beast, what they call the dangerous train on which thousands hitch a ride on at their own peril. A first feature by the Barcelona born filmmaker who has accumulated a host of experience with varying camera operator credits on Hollywood films and has notably worked with Ken Loach. The film was called the unglamorous non-Hollywood version of Sin Nombre.
The Empty Hours/Las Horas Muertas is Aaron Fernandez’s second film after 2007’s Partes Usadas. It was in San Sebastian’s treasure trove Works in Progress last year and is world premiering in this year’s New Directors competition. Shot in Veracruz, its about a 17 year old who has to caretake his uncle’s motel on a remote stretch of tropical coast.
Last year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard winner and Mexican entry to the Oscars was Despues Lucia by Michel Franco. Apparently he had been working on A Los Ojos before then and it was actually tipped for this year’s Cannes per IonCinema. Oaxacan actress Monica Del Carmen who gave a fiercely intense and breakthrough performance in Michael Rowe’s Leap Year stars. Michel’s sister Vicky Franco co-directs.
The idiosyncratic titled, Amazing Catfish, Los Insolitos Peces Gatos by Claudia Saint Luce is a first feature and only one of two female directed films (not counting Vicky Franco) out of eleven. A n unexpectedly heart tugging film about a solitary twentysomething who becomes inadavertently folded into a dysfunctional family household run amok by the single mother’s worsening health, she becomes an indispensable honorary family member which ensues with the typical sibling rivalry. The film is world premiering at this year’s Locarno film festival and according to sales agent Pyramide’s website, it will also screen at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival even though it is not announced on TIFF’s website yet. Claudia is for sure a talent to watch!
Somos Mari Pepa which just had its world premiere at the Guanajuato Film Festival is drawn from the short film, Mari Pepa which endeared audiences all over the world and won Morelia in 2010. An unassuming, empathetic, immediate yet nostalgic portrait of youth as they finish their last year of high school, having to grapple with the gravity of what to do for the rest of their lives. Another discovery to look out for as this first feature is certain to launch the talented filmmaker’s career.
La Vida Despues/Life After is from David Pablos, an alumni from the thriving film school CCC, Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica and he is currently finishing up at Colombia NYC film school. He co-wrote SKIN a mesmerizing short film which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, directed by Jordana Spiro. The Life After which will have its world premiere at the prestigious Venice Film Festival before its FICM premiere, is about two teenage boys who embark on a road trip in search for thier mother who disappears leaving nothing but a mysterious note. Pablos’ previous film was the 2010 documentary Una Frontera, Todas Las Fronteras which premiered at world’s greatest doc festival IDFA in Amsterdam. His short film, La Cancion de los Ninos Muertos played the Morelia Film Festival in 2008 and went on to win the Ariel Award in 2010. You can watch it here
Workers played the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section and was notably in competition at the LA Film Festival by Jose Luis Valle. The film has a tinge of black humor in portraying a maid and a janitor who expect a retirement pension after decades of devoted service, only to take things in their own hands when they get shafted. Like David Pablos, this is Jose Luis Valle’s first dramatic feature having first made a a documentary feature. The Salvador born filmmaker who attended the most famous and oldest film school in Mexico city, UNAM’s Centro de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC), caught the attention of several Mexican festivals with El Milagro de Papa, a documentary he made when he read in the newspaper about a Zacatecas boy whose Leukemia was ‘cured’ by a visit from Pope John Paul II.
The addition of feature length film Enero by Adrián González Camargo gives FICM lots of personal pride since for years they’ve made grand efforts to strengthen Michoacan produced films by having a competitive Michoacan film category, resulting in today’s thriving filmmaking scene. Adrian is not only an alumni and collaborator of the festival but he also run a series of indigenous film screenings in the Michocan area. He will be attending CSU Northridge on a Fulbright scholarship this year. The film sounds like a dark, on the run thriller about a man who kills his wife and hits the road with his lover, only to find that their own happiness together might not be their destination after all.
From Camera d’Or winner for 2011’s Leap Year, Michael Rowe, the Australian born Mexico based filmmaker is back with his second feature, Manto Acuifero/The Well. Shot in Puebla. The film is about an 8 year old girl who longs for her father to return even though her mom has moved in with another man. A well in the backyard of their house becomes a secret place that inspires her imagination. The Well is one of two films produced by Canana in this competition. Rowe has already secured funding for his third film, Rest Home which will be his first film in English
Penumbra – Shot on 16 mm this film premiered at the Rotterdam film festival and is currently making the international festival circuit tour including Edinburgh Film Festival. Eduardo Villanueva’s previous film was the trippy, wildly intriguing and strikingly shot German/Mexican film Trip To Tulum.
Fernando Eimbcke is back with his third feature. He made a big splash back in 2004 with his first feature, Duck Season, a jewel discovered in the 2004 Guadalajara Film Festival went on to play Cannes’ Critics Week, won AFI’s grand jury prize and won the Ariel for Best film. His followup was in 2008 Lake Tahoe, a script developed at the Sundance Institute Screenwriters lab and which film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the Fipresci Prize. Club Sandwich is only described as the growing pains relationship between a mother and her teenaged son. It is set to world premiere in competiton at the San Sebastian Film Festival.
And last but certainly not least, I’m super excited for Mariana Chenillo’s sophmore feature, PARAISO. Chenillo won the Audience Award at FICM 2008 with her beautifully dramatic and humorously pitched film, 5 Days Without Nora. It went on to be a hit at many international festivals and won Best film at the 2010 Ariel Awards (Mexico’s top film honors). The film is about an overweight couple who move to Mexico City where they immediately feel the social pressure of being overweight surrounded by beautiful people. When they decide to jointly go on a diet, their relationship is put to the test when one of them successfully makes progress while the other continues to struggle. Produced by Canana’s Pablo Cruz.
Below is the list recapped with International Sales Agent info.
*Denotes first feature (Opera Prima)
Sección de Largometraje Mexicano
1. A los ojos. Michel y Victoria Franco 2. Club Sándwich. Fernando Eimbcke (Funny Balloons) 3. Las horas muertas. Aarón Fernández (Urban Distribution International) *4. Los insólitos peces gato. Claudia Sainte-Luce (Pyramide) *5. La jaula de oro. Diego Quemada-Diez (Films Boutique) 6. Manto Acuífero. Michael Rowe (Mundial) 7. Paraíso. Mariana Chenillo (Mundial) 8. Penumbra. Eduardo Villanueva *9. Somos Mari Pepa. Samuel Kishi Leopo (Figa Films) 10. La vida después David Pablos 11. Workers José Luis Valle (MPM Film)
Not to ignore the bread and butter of the festival, the docs and shorts – I’ll get to them in a later post. In the meantime, to see the rest of the competition titles click here.
If you are wondering where to meet and connect with the hip, new Latino generation of film and television right now, the answer is LA’s very own Outfest Film Festival. So get your booty over here. It runs until this Sunday, July 21. If you are not in LA, don’t sweat it, I’m on the beat, finding out about all the crazy Latino talent coming up. On the screen, and in the DGA Atrium where most after-screening receptions are being held, I got the chance this weekend to discover and meet some really fierce brown talent. I was pleased as punch to look around me and see faces and bodies epitomizing the spectrum of LA diversity on so many levels, not just “Hollywood”. Old, young, singles, couples. Sure you got your beefcake WeHo boys with jaw dropping sculpted bodies, fine ass butch and girly lesbians who look like they walked off the set of The L Word (and who I secretly wish would hit on me), and fabulous transgender artists, but what’s more exciting to behold is the plenty of ‘regular’ folks whose unquestionable magnetic air of confidence, smile and style compete for my undivided attention among this colorful crowd.
I’ll be down there all week to meet more folks and hopefully get some video and more intimate conversation regarding the stories being told. For now, lets put these three on the spotlight:
Outfest’s Opening Night film last Thursday was C.O.G which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is directed by Cuban-American Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Easier With Practice). Its the coming out and of age story about a college boy, David (based on David Sedaris’ short story) who goes on a sabbatical like journey to spend a summer picking apples. Naturally the people he encounters on the fields are Latino. Instead of being relegated to background characters, however, Eloy Mendez plays Pedro who embodies him vividly, affecting David’s inner work in progress. I met Eloy and learned that this role has opened new doors from him, after years of working in television and film. BIG SCOOP: He will next be seen in Mike Ott’s upcoming film, Lake Los Angeles, which apparently is mostly told in Espanol! Mike is the visceral director of such festival faves as Little Rock and Pearblossom Highway. I applaud Ott’s efforts in making this film in another language, and for really exploring and mining these stories of unanchored souls caught in the greater desert mountain landscape of Los Angeles. Make sure to check out Lake Los Angeles Facebook page to find out where it will be premiering in early 2014.
Augie Robles graduated from AFI Film school, made a few short films then landed a gig on CSI which ended up being 14 years during which he sharpened his cutting skills as an editor, and became restless and eager to tell his own stories again. He recently did his editing magic on Aurora Guerero’s film, Mosquita y Mari which y’all know how I feel about. (love). He edited the film, BIG GAY LOVE which just premiered at Outfest, directed by Ringo Le and starring Jonathan Lisecki in a super sweet and tender love story about a hopeless romantic in LA who struggles to fit into LA’s lofty pressure and idealized gay man archetype. Back writing and directing his own work, Robles recently screened his short film, The Rookie and the Runner, set in Elysian Park at a number of film festivals. He also has plenty of other projects in the works, including something a la Twilight Zone ! He has a lot of technical and narrative genre skills to unleash in his own voice, and I find it really sweet that he is sharing his wealth of experience as a mentor for Outfest’s program, Outset, created to empower and educate LGBT youth(16-24) to tell their stories through film.
In a show stealing/stopping cameo in Big Gay Love, Harvey plays a kid who represents the essence of gay youth who try with all their might and ferocity every damn day to battle and defy mainstream society’s twisted dictation of what normal, perfection and beauty should look like. Encapsulating perfectly how important it is to see people like you in order to not feel alone is a bigger theme of the importance of Outfest and for that matter, a diverse representation. Harvey can next be seen in Pantelion’s luchador comedy, Aztec Warrior directed by Scott Sanders (Black Dynamite) starring Luis Guzman and gorgeous Nadine Velasquez. You might know have seen him in The Internship and on 2010 ABC Family television show, Huge. He is absolutely charming, playful and a bon vivant with a deliciously fierce streak.
REFLECTIONS OF: Outfest is truly LA’s most inclusive and community driven festival. Not just for the LGBT community but the organization picks up the slack of other festivals by embracing many underrepresented multi-ethnic voices. The AFI Festival is a wonderful showcase of international film but as an extension of the film school, it has positioned itself as a program driven for cinephile-centric and auteur platform. Meanwhile LA Film Festival certainly offers big broad fare for everyone, but also tries to inch in on AFI’s international showcase turf. Don’t get it twisted, I was really happy to see LA Film Fest screen three U.S. Latino films this year. But just think how much more impactful it would be to tap into the U.S Latino film representing the rich and underplayed walks of life AQUI in Los Angeles. Films like Water & Power, Vincent & Luzy and Pardon are really original and telling narratives with a distinct aesthetic, and all three have yet to have their official premiere even though they’ve been submitted to the festival circuit. While I don’t think its reasonable to rely on the big distributors to be the platforms of discovery for these films, I do believe that festivals on this scale have that cultural responsibility, or at least it should behoove them to do so. An often heard comment that I take issue with is that a film has to be ‘good enough’ to show at these festivals. Every film is imperfect so this does not hold agua with me when we are talking about the discovery and expanding of marginalized voices. I previously reported that The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival has announced it is currently taking submissions after its sudden shutter last year. There is no doubt there is a sizable hungry audience and community for these films, and filmmakers who want their films to be seen by them, so even though its bewildering to me that LALIFF does’t have their festival dates set yet, I’ve a feeling they will still be looked to as the last beacon and chance for the array of Latino filmmakers and stories in LA trying to emerge through the bottleneck.
The brief and tumultuous life of prizefighter Johnny Tapia, who passed away last year at the age of 45, elicits overwhelming empathy and incredible awe. The documentary directed by Eddie Alcazar, intimately reveals the immense emotional agony and pain he suffered in his life but also shows that for the series of extreme, rock bottom lows of misfortune, Johnny always jumped back up to reach equally extreme heights of success and triumph, like winning five boxing championships, meeting the love of his life, Teresa Tapia, with whom he has a young son, and becoming a beloved hero to his hometown Albuquerque, as well as around the world. Johnny grew up without a father, and his mother was the world to him. At the tender age of 8, his mother was viciously murdered – a traumatic catalyst for what became the pang of his tortured existence. The documentary, which is world premiering in competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is powerfully narrated through Johnny’s own words. Alcazar adds a touch of style and a gorgeous cinematic framework. The film opens with Johnny’s slightly raspy Burqueño slanged voice over young Johnny Jr. punching the air in the New Mexico desert plains and celestial horizon captured in wide panoramic vista at the magic hour, painting a metaphysical element to the legacy he leaves.
Eddie was working on a dramatic feature about Johnny but after he passed, Eddie took the research footage and made it into this documentary film. The dramatic feature, which he is co-writing with Bettina Gilois, (Glory Days, The Hurricane) who co-wrote Johnny’s biography, Mi Vida Loca is readying for a fall shoot in Albuquerque. 50 Cent is an executive producer on the documentary and is also onboard for the dramatic version.
The documentary is gripping and utterly poignant. Hearing his inner, unwavering fury takes on a dark possession. His voice and soul feel weary but he is unrelenting against the demons he waged battle with every single day of his life. Seeing him from his early days rising up through the boxing world first as the “Baby-faced Assassin” to his later years as the lines of anguish take over his face and his body becomes heavily drawn with symbolic tattoos, his killer instinct clashing with his vulnerability. At the world premiere screening, his wife Teresa and son, Johnny Jr. came out to introduce the film but did not return after the screening, as much as everyone wanted to see them. I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was too overwhelming for them and Eddie declined to do a Q&A out of respect, feeling that what’s important in the doc is Johnny, and Teresa is the only person who could talk about and for him. He told me that a couple days later when I got the opportunity to interview him. I learned the ABQ native has some Bolivian lineage and found out more about both Tapia films. Here’s a redacted transcription of our talk:
How did you know Johnny, how far did you too go back?
I never actually met him until I knew I wanted to do a movie two years ago. Back then it was about creating the narrative version of his life so I sold him on my idea of doing one year of his life in his youth and he was totally up for it. Then I got the rights and we basically just started following him around at that point. As I was following him around I was writing the script. It was all about research and compiling all this archival footage.
Relating to him.
A lot of it is because he embodies the Albuquerque culture, which is a little bit different. Having somebody that stands out from ABQ is always kind of special and he definitely kept it real from his upbringing so I think that’s why everybody in ABQ has that strong connection with him and each other. It’s distinct. The community always looked up to Johnny. There is no professional football or baseball team and he was one of the first professional athletes who came out of that area. More than seven thousand people came out to his funeral.
How did you manage to contrast the darkness of his life with all the other light and positivity he also experienced?
It was tough, which was I never intended to do the documentary. I wanted to concentrate on one year of his life because there is so much to his whole life, and it was a really really hard process confining everything that he’s been through so I was experimenting and discovering it as I went. Bu there are as many highs as there is lows and his life in particular is filled with many from each side of the spectrum. As far as my experience with him I never saw too much of the dark side other than when I interviewed him. I mean personally it was just fun, just me and him playing around. He was always active, jumping on the trampoline, playing ping pong, when we’d go out to eat he’d shake everybody’s hand. He really couldn’t stay in one place for too long.
Doc vs narrative, what do you intend to do with the dramatic feature you weren’t able to do with the documentary
The documentary was about trying to hone in on what he said and having him say it directly to the audience. I didn’t want to interrupt anything too much. We did a little bit of stylistic stuff intertwined to show a little bit of the spiritual side, you know like his connection to his son, and his connection to nature. But I wanted to keep it pretty loose on that, only scratching the surface of what I’m going to do in the feature. The feature is going to definitely be a little dreamy and spiritual. When I say spiritual, there’s this thing that I recognized when I would talk to Johnny, I was always trying to pin point how his mind works – and he feels like his mother is right next to him. So that plays a large role in the actual film; the presence of his mother, always around and also that connection with his youth. In the feature as its written now we pop back and forth in his life from Johnny at 27 years old, and when he was 8 years old when he lost his mother. Its always trying to establish the connection of where he finds all this anger but also power, passion and energy that was super important to have. That drives every action in his life, I think, from that point forward, and I’ve had conversations with people who agree he became stunted at that age. He still felt like an 8 year old when I’d talk to him, he had a child like spirit, insight. He was not that formally educated, he was street smart, he improvised with whatever was around him. He had that excitement, wonder and would be happy to see someone looking to give him love, and made people happy. He was always surprised at any good news.
In a way its hard to imagine him as anything but a boxer, literally pounding and fighting his demons…
He was really hyper, boxing was a natural thing for him, it was a natural release of energy, it was actually perfect, getting into the ring, always training is what kept him alive. It’s hard to think of him as anything else, maybe some other kind of athlete.
How did 50 Cent come on board?
It all came through Lou DiBella, (executive producer) the boxing promoter and tv/film producer. When we finished the film we started showing a handful of people to get people’s thoughts on it. Lou was actually head of the HBO sports division who helped put together the infamous Johnny Tapia/Danny Romero fight back in the day so he had that connection. He showed the movie to 50 cent with who he has a partnership… 50 felt all these similar things and really connected with what Johnny went through (they both suffered the loss of their mother around the same age). Also he grew up in similar crazy circumstances. Its weird how you connect the dots….
Tell me about your producer Andrea Monier
Yes, Andrea Monier has been pivotal. We are friends, she’s also an actress but an amazing producer. We worked on an Everlast spot first and she did an amazing job. To do a documentary you have to have a super strong producer because there is a lot of work like archiving footage, etc. I couldn’t have done it without her.
Describe the driving creative process in writing the narrative
(Losing his mother) that’s the biggest thing. All his issues stem from that; drugs, psychological conditions, we explore a lot of him meeting and falling in love with Teresa. It’s a big part of the film; the love story, but then that also connects to the mother. There’s a lot of similarities between Teresa and his mother as far as the expectations Johnny had, he almost felt like Teresa was his mother, she replaced her in a way.Feeling like a baby with your mother, a lot of the treatment you get from your mother at that age. I come from a single parent as well and it helped me a lot to realize how much Johnny valued his mother. Like, I don’t’ know where I would be without my mother, those thoughts always trickled through my head. Johnny was super proud to have Teresa next to him as his woman. I don’t think he ever constricted her in any way. She was more the person who kept him in place, she was the one who handled the business and dealt with the promoters and he looked up to her in terms of what direction to take. He trusted her opinion above all.
What do you think she saw in him?
She likes to joke that she was young and stupid but I know there’s a lot more to it. She has all the traits that he may have needed help on, and likewise, he showed her the excitement, spontaneity that she was looking for in life, and that quality of never expecting or knowing where the day is going to go was interesting and that’s what she gravitated to.
It must have been hard to watch him fight all the time
Well, the professional aspect is almost better than the day to day reality in ABQ. There are worse street fights, guns involved. Every time I’d go to a party there were gunshots. I wanted to show this world that is not familiar, Breaking Bad does it a little bit but its not as dark or raw as it really is. (ABQ) is a beautiful place but it’s a weird thing; there’s this subculture, an underbelly. It has a big native American population, Spaniards, Mexicans, I don’t know what leads to so much conflict but maybe the biggest thing I can relate to is there’s not too much to do. So people just …they are bored and act crazy sometimes.
Big thanks to Eddie for the interview. LA folks I urge you to go see Tapia tomorrow night, Saturday at 9:50pm at the Regal at LA Live. Get tickets here. Details on the big ABQ screening forthcoming. Also be sure to queue it up on GoWatchit and like it on Facebook to support it and to get updates on where it lands with its theatrical/television/VOD release.
My header above; “People Like Us” comes to mind and becomes a play on words at the same time. At a couple LA Film Festival panels I heard both actor Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown) and filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale), hit on the personal impact of seeing stories embodied by and created by ‘people like us’ as being their driving creative force. Ryan did not personally know Oscar Grant, the Black 22 year old who was ‘accidentally’ killed by an incompetent Oakland police officer on the Eve of 2009, but says that he was ‘like him’. The frightening thought that this incident could have happened to him is what compelled him to make his first film about this tragic and unnecessary death.
The other way I might mean “People like us” is using ‘like’ as the verb. As humans we have the remarkable ability of feeling compassion and human connection to someone’s narrative regardless of whether we share a common culture. There should not be any fear that if you are too specific i.e. too Chicana, too Puerto Rican, other people (audience) won’t like us or our stories. As Ryan points out in the clip, just because a film is about all about a Puerto Rican family in the South Bronx, referring to The House that Jack Built, it doesn’t mean that a non-Latino would not enjoy it, or identify with the pains of a dysfunctional family and a nostalgia for one’s childhood. The clip is from The Blackhouse Foundation series of ” Diversity Speaks panel that took place last Saturday. Joining Ryan Coogler on this “New American” Independent panel were filmmakers Grace Lee, director of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (who was quick to point out that the Black community has it so good compared to Asian-Americans in media representation), Henry Barrial (The House that Jack Built), Ava Duvernay (Middle of Nowhere) and the gracious moderator and producer Effie Brown. I’m always trying to take note and learn from the LGBT and Black community with regards to how they address their representation in the media. I find that both communities share a stronger solidarity. Perhaps that’s because for some time now, they’ve moved past dwelling over lack of their lot and instead, collaborating with each other, which in turn, better improves their lot.
The signature LA Film Fest panels, Coffee Talks are general conversations about the craft and opportunity to hear from successful artists in their respective fields. I stepped into the Actors one which consisted of Garcelle Beauvais (White House Down, Flight), Joe Manganiello (True Blood,Magic Mike), Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown, Snap) and Andre Royo (The Spectacular Now, The Wire). Even without the “diversity’ header, hearing their different trials of pursuing their art, highlighted the disparity for people of color. As members of a ‘minority’, artists must chip away every damn day at the resistance of a media in which white men continue to dominate opportunity. When asked how they choose their roles, Joe Manganiello, the insanely rugged handsome man’s man, said that for him the most important decision factor is the director. Now of course, that sounds like a valid answer for many reasons. It’s in some way a privilege to be afforded that choice. But for the other brown and black folk on the panel they commented it was far less a choice for them because for one, they do not get offered roles as much. And two, when they do, they must grapple with the trying decision of whether to keep accepting the few roles that come their way which perpetuate the same degrading stereotypes. All actors probably struggle with finding work that does not sacrifice their individual integrity, but this is such an added pressure and obstacle. As Andre Royo said, most roles he’s been in are either where he’s in jail, coming out of jail, or going into jail. If his character is not high, he’s happy. Listen to what Gina says:
In honor of their very first feature Forty Years From Yesterday debuting at the LA Film Festival this week I want to share this particular mini-doc portrait made by the filmmakers Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck. In distinct auteur meets D2F fashion, American Nobodies is an original web series in which they film and introduce us to “Average Americans Doing Extraordinary Things” then upload them online for free for everyone to see. In little over a minute they manage to capture and highlight the startling souls of individuals as the camera unyieldingly gazes directly into their eyes, and follows them in their element. We get to meet Don Antonio in this one, a weary, aging man who recounts his grueling 9 day trek across the US – Mexico border. Even though it must be decades since the terrifying ordeal, we can tell the experience will forever and firmly remain embedded in his memory. Meet Antonio and check out more extraordinary Americans here.
The boys from NoCal have a considerable body of work in multi-media short forms that defies and blurs through genres, demonstrating a love and anthropological eye in its dreamy realist cinema. It’s always awesome to see short filmmakers take their craft into the feature form, especially ones with such original voices and aesthetic. The world premiere of Forty Years from Yesterday is this Sunday at 7:30pm. Get tickets here.