#HotSec Fridays – Somos Chavalos – a microshort by Julian Yuri Rodriguez

From the cutting and pushing edge Miami wrecking production crew, Borscht Corp. here is SOMOS CHAVALOS, adopted and directed by Julian Yuri Rodriguez.  It is a modern urban Latino youth interpretation of the Gwendolyn Brooks’ brief and majorly significant poem, We Be Cool. What’s raw and real here is that this perspective is unapologetic and from the youth direct, made searing by the disconcerting casually tragic POV of their short term life. This aint no outsider looking in told tale as we often are given these stories. If we want to ‘get kids these days’ we gotta dig under the surface and give weight to their reality. Do that by really listening between the lines and implications. The street family and code of honor, for all its criminality and corruption, offers a place of respect, love and pocket money – a badge of status – for lower class kids. The easiness and eagerness with which they pursue this avenue of survival is a critical discussion to engage.

Julian (24) may be young blood but his provocative in your face style has this between the lines intensity and import. He’s my latest add on my TALENTO filmmaker list of emerging filmmakers to watch. Check him out on Piratas, a short he narrates and co-directs. And coming soon online is C#ckfight, watch the cheeky trailer here.  Borscht has received considerable funding support from the James L. Knight Foundation, one of the more visionary and bold arts foundation out there, based in Miami. Keep up with Borscht’s crazy cool transmedia storytelling stimulation on their Tumblr where they release their own work as they please and for free.

Here’s We Real Cool 1963 poem by Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks:

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

#HotSec Fridays – web series American Nobodies episode Antonio by Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck

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.

#HotSec Fridays


In lieu of a short film this week (busy week covering American Latino films at the Dances with Films Festival and now NALIP this weekend), I’m posting this HOT trailer of the upcoming film, The House That Jack Built. It is one of threeAmerican Latino films in competition at next week’s Los Angeles Film Festival I wrote about earlier. From a script by Joe Vasquez (Hanging with the Homeboys), directed by Henry Barrial and produced by No-Budget Film School guru, Mark Stolaroff. Starring the dually charming and tough guy EJ Bonilla. I previously wrote about it here. Check out the trailer, you can just feel the raw passion pulse. Get your tickets here.

#HotSec Fridays – Canto de Familia, a short film by Lindsey Villareal

In this week’s edition of #HotSec Fridays where I spotlight a short film which reflects the Más American hybrid of bi-cultural life, I’m pleased to share this “Modern Mariachi Family” documentary, Canto de Familia by San Antonio native and current LA based, Lindsey Villarreal.  Watchale!

Much like the feeling I get when watching Mexican Fried Chicken, Fireworks or Mosquita y Mari, I get a pang of nostalgia, deep and significant that has to do with proud kinship and connection to the rare reflection and relation of my unique identity.  The Mata family teenage girls, who live in Boyle Heights, are so punk and cool because they are confident and comfortable in their own skin (I wish I would have been so sure of myself during H.S).  My favorite part is Angie’s straight up way of calling out the “machista” attitude she encountered – typically found when females play mariachi since historically they have not been included.  Through the family’s Mariachi Conservatory program they run after school it is clear the Mata’s are a tight knit unit, which is transmitted so well in the doc and makes it so unexpectedly moving!. Lindsey is currently finishing up her MFA in Producing at USC.  Her creative storytelling skills across platforms and genres, not to mention her make-it happen-enthusiasm definitely makes her a Filmmaker to Watch. Here’s my quickie interview with her:

How did you get close to the family and how long did you shoot them for?   Is there anyone family member you were most close to/bonded with?

 The film was done for credit towards my MFA at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. I developed the idea over a spring semester in 2011 and shot the film in a fall semester that same year. I was looking into Mariachi programs in Los Angeles and they were one of the first that came up. I love the girls. I love them all but I love the girls! They remind me of my sister and I.

What did making this doc short leave you with?  Nostalgia, fondness for tightknit family, the beautiful hybrid american latino culture?  How invested did you become with their story?

Oh I was totally invested in it! It was rise and shine till late at night thinking about making that film. I think it left me with nostalgia for my own culture more than anything. I’m not a fluent spanish speaker but I understand and connecting with my language has always been on my ‘to do” list. I’m getting closer to that I think. I also just felt validation that Los Angeles is the right place for me to live at this point in my life. My dad was in town recently and we found that we spent most one of our days off together on Olvera street. Familiar sights and sounds just kind of permeate your heartstrings when you live so far away from your family.  I spent some time interviewing and filming the Band “Mariachi El Bronx” which I’m sad we never used in the film. I thought their music and the idea of their band as a whole really embodied the spirit of my original concept for the film. I wanted to talk about culture being malleable and intertwined with having a life in a big urban city like Los Angeles. Look them up and you’ll see what I mean. In the end it was a short film and there was just so much to say about the family.

I can’t wait to see all your future work!  What you got going on next?

Right now Im working on a short film called “Vimana” that’s about two Indian Astronauts en route to a new planet who must deal with the death of their captain during the journey. It’s partially in Hindi so Im very interested to watch our actors work on set.   I work full time as a Producer’s Assistant/ PA on a show called Eagleheart (starring the gross(ly) funny Chris Elliott watch clips here) that airs in the Adult Swim time slot on Cartoon Network.  In the fall I’ll go back to being a Producer’s Assistant on Season 7 of Mad Men. …I love being on the Mad Men set. I’m so lucky to be able to start my career on a show that inspired me to go back for my MFA in film in the first place. It’s such a great place to learn.

About working in both documentaries and narratives:

There’s something about directing documentaries that allows you to explore in a different way than making what’s on a script come alive. With documentaries I feel like the idea is always changing even while I’m in the middle of a scene, [but] with scripted I feel like it’s more of a controlled chaos. I come into scripted more prepared for all possible combinations of what could change on set. I’ve thought it through beforehand. With documentaries, I start the day hoping something will come my way I’m not expecting and then get ready to chase that idea. Both are equally fulfilling.

 Find out more about Lindsey’s short film for which she successfully raised 16k on Kickstarter here. 

#HotSec Fridays – UNDERSTUDY a short film by Cristina Malavenda

Now here’s a fun sexy dance film to get the three day weekend party started. Jeanine Mason (winner of Season 5, So you Think You can Dance) stars in this 20 min short as a dance performer and understudy to the lead on an upcoming dance show at the Pantages. A friend videotapes her giddy excitement going through rehearsals leading up to the big show. Although nervous, her talent is unmistakeable as we watch her shimmy and twist through the choreography in a cool dance sequence shot on Melrose. But when a distraction threatens her focus, and then the scenario every understudy dreams and dreads appears, will she be ready to ‘Step Up’?

This was Cristina’s thesis short film at USC. I love how buoyant this feels. A loose, fluid camera follows the sizzling choreography, and Jeanine Mason is totally engaging as Clara.  Cristina was convinced that Jeanine was the only actor for the role so after a few failed attempts of making contact, her mentor sent the script to Mason’s manager.  She agreed to the project just one week before rehearsals.  Cristina says, ‘I think what she liked about the project was her opportunity to both dance and act.”  Since the short, Mason went on to land a recurring guest star turn in the ABC Family ballet comedy-drama series, Bunheads, and has a number of film and TV projects in the works.  Something tells me we will be seeing a lot more of her talent and dance skills.

Cristina writes, directs and edits fiction, non-fiction, animation and motion graphic films.  As an editor, Cristina’s work includes Woman Rebel (Oscar Shortlist 2010, HBO), Thunder Chance (Student Emmy Awards 2010, Comic-Con 2010), and Our Neck of the Woods (Sundance 2009). As a director, Cristina’s influential documentary film, No Kill in 2009 won Best Short Documentary and People’s Choice Awards at various festivals around the country, and aired on the KCET Fine Cut Series in May 2010.  She is currently working on three scripts. One is a feature length science fiction horror film. The second puts a spin on reality content, and the third is a mockumentary for television. She works full time at SpiritClips from Hallmark, an instant streaming company that generates short content.  Website: www.spiritclips.com

Check out her website to see her reels and get her contact info.

#HotSec Fridays – MEXICAN FRIED CHICKEN, a short film by Ivete Lucas

Continuing my Friday short film series on underrepresented American bi-cultural walks of life, I’m so happy to share this documentary short film, Mexican Fried Chicken by Ivete Lucas and Otis Ike.  It’s a glimpse into the laborious life and overloaded pressures of Moises, a 14 year old teenager who in between his job at Popeyes, working at his father’s shop, and as the oldest having to babysit his siblings and other endless house chores, struggles to find time to enjoy being a teen in the United States. Like Moises, genuine and transparent, the film captures what is culturally specific of the sacrifices and work ethic of first generation Mexican Americans.  The unquestioned acceptance that we have to work harder and longer hours than anyone else in order to carve out a spot for our families. In just 13 minutes we get a real sense of Moises and his disarming good-nature, ambition and his radically unique hybrid brand of  American culture is charming. Overhearing the family’s shouting and playing throughout the house sliding back and forth from English to Spanish, all of this makes me cringe with empathy and I get a pang of childhood nostalgia even.  I never see this experience reflected save for in my own memories.  Back in Chicago, when my dad got the pink slip from Boeing after 15 years of work, my parents decided to open up a restaurant with the savings.  Naturally it was a family affair and so I had no choice in the matter but to help. I vividly remember a creeping resentment and alienation knowing that my friends were hanging at the mall, carefree while I had to work right after school, and on weekends full 12 hour days.  Yet I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the world.  Making the homemade salsas and preparing the chile rellenos as the Nortena music blasted on the radio, we cultivated a loyal clientele with an appetite and appreciation for our authentic food, which in turn gave me a special feeling and bi-cultural pride.

I reached out to filmmaker Ivete Lucas who was born in Brazil, grew up in Monterrey, Mexico and moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas. She made this short as part of her MFA in Film studies. First watch the short and read on for a quickie Q&A I did with her over email.

How did you find and get to know and gain this family’s trust? 

My producer, and now husband, Otis Ike initially met the Macedos through his aunt in Austin, TX. They live next to her and partied every weekend, blasting Mexican music. He made friends with the kids a few years before, and introduced me to them in 2009. Since I am Mexican, I could speak with them in Spanish. And although the kids speak perfect English, their parents don’t, so I helped them communicate with the neighbors. Moises was 13 at the time and he was about to start High School. He is an intelligent young man and was accepted into a very good school. His mom explained to me that he got good grades while working two jobs. I was very impressed by Moises, so hard working at such a young age, and I was extremely sad when he told me that he didn’t know if he could go to college because he didn’t have the right papers. So I asked them if I could make a movie about them. From that day on, I spent many afternoons at their house with a camera in my hands. They eventually got used to the camera and my presence. They knew they could talk to me in English or Spanish, that they could ignore me or engage me if they wanted to. I did everything I could to make them feel comfortable. They allowed me to be part of their world, and Moises made me his confidant.

How much footage did you shoot and over how long a period of time?

It was about two months of hanging out with Moises’ family two or three times a week. It must have been about 30 hours of footage.

Was there anything that surprised you during the shoot of the film?  Some revelation or insight you had from meeting this family and bringing this story to light?

I edited this film in a way that allows audience to experience the same surprises I had. Latinos have this will of gold. Life can hit us hard, but we are tough and we usually make it through. Sometimes it really hurts, but we always find the way to laugh and enjoy what we have. I’ve seen a lot of films made about Latinos facing hardships and they are usually bleak or angry. As a Latina, I wanted to make a film that reflected how we really deal with pain. Yes, we cry and get angry, but then we invite our friends over for carne asada and we dance, knowing that we’ll have to put up a fight tomorrow.

Ivette says that Moises is currently exploring college and is interested in applying to Texas State. Best of luck to Moises, and thanks Ivete for the q&a.  Looking forward to seeing more of your work!  Ivete is currently finishing up a documentary about Vietnam war reenactors, and just completed a new short shot in Mexico and with the collaboration of the Huichol tribe.  It’s called Ex-Votos.  Check it out here: 

#HotSec Friday – LAREDO, TEXAS a short film by Topaz Adizes

Announcing a new weekly feature:  Every Friday I’ll upload an eye-opening short film capturing the modern and authentic bi-literate American experience made by a talented multi-cultural American Filmmaker to Know.

To inaugurate the series I’m pleased to post the short film Laredo, Texas by Topaz Adizes, which screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.  With such short sighted, stat-driven, divisive and one sided media-induced rhetoric swirling around immigration reform and undocumented labor presently, this film offers a compassionate, layered and intimate glimpse, humanizing the issue and demonstrating its psychological depth.  At just about 11 minutes, the story quickly simmers and cuts into the heart of the compelling conflict between two points of view, which we get to see play out in a way that feels credible, because the circumstances that have led these two completely seemingly different people in such close proximity is a common instance of how life revolves.  Substantial, economical and veracious, it’s hard to tell this is a ‘scripted narrative’ and not a straight up documentary – a unique quality Topaz crafts in his films which tend to delve into the interconnection of national and cultural identity and how it confronts perception and ideology, all within a framework of transnationalism and globalism. His work has screened at numerous international festivals, and his Americana Project, shot around the world explores what it means to be American and is available for educational purposes.  He is currently working on a couple new feature films.  I highly recommend you get to know his meaningful, sociological and humanistic docudrama storytelling.  Check out his work on his website.