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.
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
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.
New 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
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Its 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 used3-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
I 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
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.
Quick answer: Not much. But it’s too easy, not to mention unproductive, to bemoan and criticize awards shows for their lack of recognition when it comes to Latino writers/directors. Unfortunately there isn’t much of an eligible pool for these big awards shows to consider (why that is -for another post). Also, for those new to my blog; I define Latino strictly in the American generation/context, not international, and I focus on creators (writers and directors). Now lets celebrate who we do got because it’s pretty cool that of these few American Latino writers/directors in the Golden Globes mix, they happen to be all WOMEN!
Although it is the showrunner/producers who accept the Best TV categories, the writers and directors of the nominated shows obviously are part of what makes the show stand out. To that end, lets give props to the ladies that contributed to the critical success of these nominated series:
In the Best TV Drama series category, there is Jessie Nickson Lopez, staff writer on Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS. The young Columbia University grad was raised between Canada and the U.S. and has Venezuelan roots. After a brief stint at ICM followed by being staffed on A&E’s short lived The Returned, she worked as assistant to Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad EP/writer) on STARZ ballet drama, Flesh and Bone which was nominated for a Golden Globe last year in the Best Television Limited Series category. Stranger Things debuted this summer to much acclaim and hype with eight episodes. She wrote episode 6: The Monster. The show will be back for season 2.
In the Best TV Comedy series category, Mexican-American Linda Mendoza has directed 4 episodes over the course of the 3 year old series BLACKISH from ABC. Mendoza has been directing hit television show episodes on the regular ever since The Chris Rock show on which she directed 13 episodes during 97-98 season. Except for her 2003 feature Chasing Papi for Pantelion, she has stayed entrenched in the television business.
WINNER ********Also in the Best TV Comedy series, Panamanian Janizca Bravo directed an episode of another new show that came in hot this year, ATLANTA. Her episode was Junteenth. Bravo has a great eye and very soulfully brings a dark comedy to her work. She has directed a number of short films as well as a virtual reality project about police brutality that was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival. She is about to premiere her feature debut, Lemon at this month’s Sundance Film Festival, so you’ll be hearing a lot more of her in the next few weeks.
As mentioned, award shows can only be as representative as the eligible pool so to be fair, what features and television shows were eligible and were snubbed THIS YEAR? I regret to say I lack hard data and to be honest I’m not as well versed in the television landscape as I am in the indie film world (new years resolution!). A few I do know who we’re technically elegible bear mentioning; Danielle Sanchez-Witzel who is the showrunner on The Carmichael Show on NBC didnt get any GG love. Empire which was nominated last year has a writing room that includes Carlito Rodriguez who is also co-producer. He previously wrote on the first season of HBO’s The Leftovers. Orange is the New Black which boasts a killer Latina cast who didn’t get recognized- includes Marco Ramirez as writer. The Get Down includes Jacqueline Rivera as staff writer who also directed an episode. While Gina Rodriguez gets her third nomination (and sole Latina acting nominee) for her acting on Jane the Virgin the show didn’t get any love this year (It was last nominated in 2015 the year of its debut). The show consistently engages Latina scribes, Emmylou Diaz and Valentina Garza, and director Zetna Fuentes. In previous years Hulu’s hit show East Los High received a number of daytime Emmy Awards but the Globes never recognized the show which was created by Carlos Portugal and included a robust number of Latino writers. NBC’s Shades of Blue wasn’t nominated which includes writer Benjamin Lobato who also wrote on USA’s Queen of the South another show that premiered this year. Peter Murrieta wrote on TV Land’s Lopez show. Just recently premiered, so not part of this year’s submissions, Netflix’s One Day at a Time counts Murrieta as a writer and notably Gloria Calderon as showrunner (next year?)
Last year we had Ricky Gervais prophetically introduce Eva Longoria and America Ferrara as folks our future president wants to deport. Conceptually (painfully) funny to prove a point/Brit rub it in move, except both are American citizens. The ladies proceeded to do a bit on people mistaking them for other famous Latinas. Among this year’s presenters, Zoe Saldana who plays Ben Afflecks love interest in his period gang drama Live by Night is the only American Latina on deck. The Dominican American is known to speak flawless Español. Her body of work is fascinating in that she’s managed to play Black, Latina and now simply blockbuster actor (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar). Saldana has a production company Cinestar which she runs with her sisters and has a first-look deal with South Shore Television and Pantelion Films, the U.S. joint ventures of Grupo Televisa and Lionsgate. Hopefully they manage to bring up and work with some talented Latino creators.
In the Best Original Song category, musical star Lin Manuel-Miranda was nominated for his work on How Far I’ll Go with Mark Mancini and Opetaia Foa’i.
In my last post I highlighted Rafael Palacio Illingworth and his intense relationship drama, The Force now called Between Us. Very cool to share the announcement that it will premiere at the Tribeca film festival this April. Lucky new yorkers! Browsing through the list I’m also pleased for Cecilia Aldarondo’s documentary Memories of a Penitent Heart, a very personal film in which she rattles some family secrets comcerning her estranged gay uncle. And I am so stoked for the opener, KICKS, a script I fell in love with years back. Justin Tipping and Josh Beirne-Golden have two back to back features unspooling this year, this bay area sneaker caper and LOWRIDERS which they wrote and peruvian Ricardo de Montreuil is directing, starring Tony Revolori. Check out rest of the fest list here:
The 15th annual New York festival has unveiled about half the films on its 101-feature lineup, with 55… Read more »
Two transcendent nights in two pueblos magicos, (Valle de Bravo and Tepotzlan), hallucinating pulque, and an overdose of Mexican cinema at the Morelia Film Festival later, I’ve got a roundup of what and who you need to know in new Mexican Cinema (fiction), the 13th edition of the Festival (and my 8th consecutive year!), and whats to come in 2016.
While one of the biggest Mexican movie rockstars (no pun intended), Guillermo del Toro did not show up to Morelia’s Opening Night screening of his latest, La cumbre escarlata aka Crimson Peak, there were plenty of internationally acclaimed Mexican cinéastes present.
First, outside the festival’s competition, making their home turf Mexican premieres was young auteur David Pablos’ remarkable, bittersweet and bleak Tijuana set portrait, The Chosen Ones which premiered earlier this year in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard. A Canana production. Mundial handling sales. Yet to premiere in the U.S.A.
It was a family affair for the querido Cuarón clan at the festival. Oscar winning director Alfonso accompanied his son Jonas, along with his brother, Carlos. Jonás’ second feature, Desierto which premiered in Toronto and won the FIPRESCI award stars Gael García Bernal. The Mexico/U.S. border crossing story intends to imbue a “Hunger Games” type/hyper sensory action thriller approach but falls a bit short of that cool aim. STX, a new distributor led by producer Bob Simonds picked up North American rights. It is yet to screen in the U.S.
Raised in Mexico, Rodrigo García, who I had no idea until recently is the son of famed Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez which gives me another perspective and appreciation of the symbolic father/son relationship in his astral film, Last Days in the Desert, made his first long-awaited visit to the festival. The Ewan McGregor starrer, Emmanuel Lubezki shot film was picked up by Broad Green recently.
I missed two Mexican co-productions but thanks to AFI Film Festival will catch this coming week in LA. From Afar, a Venezuelan/Mexican co-production and first feature from Lorenzo Vigas which won Best Film at Venice Film Festival, and Chronicby Michel Franco which won Best Screenplay at Cannes is also making its U.S. premiere at AFI. Franco has been busy directing and producing through his shingle Lucia Films which also includes 600 Miles by Gabriel Ripstein, Mexico’s entry in the best foreign language film category at the 88th Academy Awards. Tim Roth stars in both Chronic and 600 Miles, and was in Morelia presenting them where he was given a tribute for his body of work which includes directing. Rumor has it he will be directing his next film in Mexico.
The competition was a bit more uneven than in previous years, comprised of a few fantastic films among many more average. But that has always been the tightrope walk; using the platform as a discovery of Mexican world premieres, and the necessity of including films in competition that come with built in word of mouth from having played abroad at prestigious festivals. In fact, 7 out of 10 films in the official feature fiction competition were world premieres. More so than in previous years and I applaud that direction as it’s a risky but one that should further consolidate its reputation of supporting Mexican filmmakers, as well as encourage more Mexican filmmakers to world premiere their features at home. 3 were first time feature filmmakers, 3 co-productions including 2 with Spain, 2 out of 10 directed by women, of which are the only films who have a female lead/role with the exception ofRodrigo Pla’s film, A Monster with a Thousand Heads.
Having seen all the films in competition – and for that matter many of this year’s Mexican films, I Promise you Anarchy by Julio Hernandez Cordon (Marimbas from Hell, Gasolina) stands out above the rest. A skater boy lovestory that is genre and gender bending, it’s played in all the big fests including Locarno, Toronto, San Sebastian. It’s his first film shot outside his country of Guatemala, in various exterior locations in Mexico City, and the first with a real budget. It took home an Honorable Mention at Morelia. I found each shot transfixing and saw depth and true emotion within the surreality of his narrative. Interior XII is behind the film, a film production company known for its risk-taking bent. Latido Films is handling rights, and the film is yet to premiere in the U.S. Hernandez Cordon is already at work developing his next film.
Among the world premieres, the magnetic The Pleasure is Mine by Elisa Miller, is for sure the discovery of the Morelia Film Festival in my mind. It was awarded with Best First or Second feature film (It’s her second). Co-starring Flor Edwarda Gurrola who I first saw in Plan Sexennal and newcomer Fausto Alzati who makes a “big” full frontal impression. Fernando Eimbcke (Duck Season, Lake Tahoe, Club Sandwich) and Christian Valdelievre produces. Playing with the male/female gaze through a female perspective, the arrested in sex lovestory is bound to have a bright future in the hippest festivals around the world
The Heirs is another world premiere worth mentioning. A second feature by Venezuelan Jorge Hernández Aldana, (Buffalo of the Night) featuring the kid actor in Güeros, Sebastián Aguirre. The performances and dynamic between characters are impressive, however the story itself, idle privileged youth who live reckless lives of impunity, feels like over-tread terrain. From Lucia Films and prolific film producer Alex Garcia.
I’d give honorable mention to Lucia Carreras’ The Greatest House in the World which premiered in Berlin earlier this year. Her first directorial debut screened a couple years ago at the festival, called Nos Vemos Papa, starring Cecilia Suarez. Her latest co-production is shot in Guatemala, A visually captivating film about a young girl who loses a sheep (read her innocence) it is a jewel of an art house film, and alongside Guatemalan feature Ixcancul by Jayro Bustamante and Hernandez Cordon’s previous films, propelling Guatemala on the film map as of late. Indeed, this year marks the first time Guatemala submits a film for the Academy’s foreign language entry.
Rodrigo Pla’s fourth feature, A Monster with a Thousand Heads, blasts on the bureaucracy and apathetically broken medical care system in Mexico. Taut, it gets right to the point, but it is not as compelling for me as his previous films.
The Best Film Award at Morelia Film Festival went to Matias Meyer’s world premiere (The Last Cristeros) for YO, about a mentally stunted overgrown teenager who lives with his mother, based on a short story by Jean-Marie Le Clezio. Film is handled by Figa Films. The film, like the lead, is touching but overly earnest and ambling.
People outside of Mexico see far more independent and art house Mexican cinema than people in Mexico because of limited exhibition platforms. One shining beacon in Mexico City is La Cineteca Nacional, a cinema palace with 10 theaters that programs year round classic and contemporary Mexican films. The country’s two major film output entities are Cinepolis the largest theater chain in Mexico with over 2500 screens (nearly half the market), and IMCINE, The National Film Institute. Per IMCINE’s film report, 130 Mexican films were produced in 2014 and 68 were released. Cinepolis has established their Sala de Arte, their designated documentary and arthouse theater inside their multiplexes, as well as begun to distribute films. Meanwhile IMCINE, which has long funded development and production, recently created a fund for distribution, so that Mexican independent fiction and documentary films can be seen. Still, because they are the corporate/government film monopolies in Mexico, some feel it is their responsibility to do much more. Yours truly moderated a panel with their new digital platforms CinepolisKlic, and FilminLatino. CinepolisKlic offers VOD of a variety of commercial national and international titles while FilminLatino (IMCINE) is a subscriber based platform with a very curated selection and cool editorial tone. Both are open for filmmakers to submit their films, regardless of whether its had a theatrical or festival premiere.
For far too long Mexican filmmakers have been overly influenced by european cinema- no doubt to appeal to international fests where sometimes its the only place their independent work has a chance to be seen. So I love it when I see filmmakers like Julio Hernandez Cordon, Nicolas Pereda, and Gerardo Naranjo creating original aesthetics and risk-taking narrative approaches. Thematically this year, there seems to be a thruline of simmering desperation, desire, and fighting for something aspirational, even if only for a brief respite…. before landing to reality and surrendering to the same old.
El FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE CINE DE MORELIA
Film Festival heads; President and Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez, Vice President, cultural ambassador and Architect, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel, and the always eloquent and die-hard cinephile Festival Director Daniela Michel are super involved and present every day/night hosting their guests and introducing films. They elevated the quality of intros and q&a’s at the festival along with Festival Programmer and filmmaker (and for many years the head of production for the festival) Daniela Alatorre, who framed context and created rich dialogue around the documentary screenings. Although it was rumored that Hurricane Patricia scared away some attendees, the festival seemed to have more special guests and industry presence than ever. Sundance Institute’s Artist Services engineered a popular workshop which included a 101 with Dan Schoenbrun from Kickstarter, a conversation with doc master Ondi Timoner and a conversation with SXSW head, Janet Pierson. This year also marked an alliance between Locarno’s Industry Academy and Morelia Film Festival, focused on developing professionals working in international sales, marketing, distribution, exhibition, and programming. The Festival broke its attendance record reaching 40,000 filmgoers per Alejandro Ramirez at the Closing Night Ceremony.
TRANSCENDENT NATURE OF CINEMATOGRAPHY
I had not seen any of Thai auteur darling Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films before until now (sigh). Truth be told I only went to see Cemetery of Splendour because it was shot by a Mexican. Cinematographer Diego Garcia (Without, Fogo), who alongside the high profile company of Emmanuel Lubezki aka El Chivo, represent exceptional Latin American cinematographers doing incredible work in and outside of Mexico. I also would include Maria Secco, Sebastian Hiriart and Lorenzo Hagerman among them. Garcia’s latest film is Neon Bull by brazilian filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro, also showing at this week’s AFI Film Festival.
Garcia is shooting Carlos Reygadas next film which starts filming next week and throughout all of next year. We can also expect very soon the new film by Amat Escalante. The Untamed just finished shooting in his home state of Guanajuato. It is produced by Nicolas Celis, a young intrepid producer with impeccable taste in projects he takes on. He is also the producer of first feature, female directed Easter by Alejandra Márquez which world premiered at Toronto. It will be making its Mexican premiere in competition at the Los Cabos Film Festival which starts in a couple weeks, November 11-15. There is some overlap of Mexican films between Morelia and the 4th edition of Los Cabos Film Festival. Among Los Cabos’ world premieres, I’m excited to see Marcelino Islas Hernández new film, Charity. He made a very small and touching film called Martha back in 2010. I’m also curious about You’ll Know What to do with Meby Katina Medina Mora. It will be her directorial feature debut. She has worked as 1st AD on several awesome films like Gerardo Naranjo’s Voy a Explotar, the Gael Garcia Bernal directed Deficit and festival darling Cochochi.
WATCH OUT FOR – FILMS IN POST
Aside from Escalante and Reygadas, there are a few hotly anticipated First features which will be ready to premiere in 2016. I’m so glad to have gotten the chance to see a cut of Zeus by multi media artist Miguel Calderon in Morelia’s Work in Progress, Impulso section. The film has an unnerving, escalating tension between a young man and his mother, and unique visual allegory. The film is produced by Christian Valdelievre, and was developed and supported by Sundance Institute’s international Feature Film Program. Also currently in post, first fiction feature Pan American Machinery by Joaquin del Paso, produced by Mantarraya. And one of my favorite filmmakers of the world (for reals), somebody who draws outside any prescribed doc and fiction lines, Nicolas Pereda, has a new project called The Heart of the Sky.
To see the full list of winners at the Morelia Film Festival click here. If you missed it, do not fret! You can see great interviews by film critic and friend, Anne Wakefield with Stephen Frears, Rodrigo Garcia, Tim Roth, Peter Greenaway and more on the festival’s YouTube channel. Also, right now until November 15 you can check out some of the short films in competition here! Many short film filmmakers who go on to screen their feature debuts at the festival as well as already well established, compete in the short film competition. Speaking of which one of my favorites (not online yet) was Boy at the Bar Masturbates with Fury and Self Assurance by new wave queer film cineaste, Julian Hernandez. Check out the trailer:
Don’t think I forgot the Mexican documentary treasures! The award for Best Documentary at Morelia went to 25 year old Mazatlan female director, Betzabe Garcia for Kings of Nowhere. The film was developed and supported with a post production grant from Ambulante and had its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year where it won the Audience Award.
Stay tuned for a Mexican documentary round up post, my experience at the first ever Mexican Film Residency, and my visit to the extraordinary Splendor Omnia studios, Carlos Reygadas’ hidden jewel of a post production studio compound in the magical village of Tepotzlan.
From the down-home slices of besties and roomies, I Love Lucy and Bekka, co-starring Gina Rodriguez by Rachael Holder, to The Impossibilities by Anna Kerrigan, an impressively produced and sympathetic series about a Lesbian Yogi, to deadpan and quirky The Incredible Life of Darrell by Darrell Lake, and the bust-a-gut laughs of The Oversharer by Ali Le Roi, this program is a high octane zone of bold talent and content. Who’s behind this #HotNow program? None other than Programmer/Curator Drea Clark who went internet surfing like a Pro to bring us a wild snackable program. In addition to being a Programmer on the features and shorts committees, Drea curates the music videos, this new Launch program that includes the Interactive Storytelling: Indiecade Gaming Favorites – which pass holders can experience at the Festival Lounge. Oh, she also programs for Slamdance. Oh, she is also a Producer (Lake Los Angeles, The Last Time you had Fun). After my own heart that one. From an undisclosed remote location during the annual LA Film Fest Filmmaker retreat, Drea answered a few of my q’s about programming this exciting new program.
Sifting through the world wide web for quality series sounds daunting. What’s your approach? Where did you find them?
Totally daunting, but there’s actually a lot more really well-crafted work out there than I thought there was going to be when I started. We got a number of the webseries through our general submissions when we added it as a new category this year, and for almost all of the submissions that I liked I would also find them online and watch all of their episodes in case there was one that would play better at the Festival, or improved upon something I dug in the submitted piece. And as anyone who has ever spent quality time on the internet knows, it’s VERY easy to start to wormhole and lose hours watching more and more content. I was following a ton of random links that YouTube was auto-generating based on what I was already watching, that sort of thing. I also went through and read pretty much every “Best of the Web” wrap up I could find, and had some discoveries that way as well.
Is it your curation, or do you find that there are more female, comedy, multi-culti voices exploring and having fun on the new digital platform?
It was definitely a goal of mine to have a webseries line-up with a lot of different authorial voices. I basically approached it like programming my own TV network, and since a lot of my own complaints (and the industry’s in general) are how underrepresented certain voices are, I wanted to prove how many great stories were actually out there and being told from a wide variety of perspectives. The good news is, there is a LOT to choose from, and I do think it makes sense that people who have traditionally felt ignored or pigeon-holed by mainstream television would just make their own damn show on the web. That’s the beauty of the internet, and what balances out all the ugly comment threads and nightmare garbage people – it’s a place where anyone can be heard. If you’re an artist with an idea and a work ethic, you can put something out there… I was lucky that so much of what was being created was also really smart and enjoyable.
What’s exciting to you about this new medium? More risks? More voices?
What I love, in addition to the access to so many different perspectives and their subsequent various takes on these mini-shows, is how each creator is also defining what it MEANS to be a webseries. Some of the pieces I selected for the program reminded me of old Saturday Night Live or Kids in the Hall character bits, where there was an entire sketch built around one super eccentric character. And then some of them had entire ensembles of characters, or really unique tones, or really hilarious moments, or combinations of all those things. It does come down to risk, that they are already leaping without a net but there are also not terrible consequences if they fail – so people can push boundaries, or try something ridiculous, in a way that they couldn’t with “regular” television. As someone whose background is programming film festivals, the other element that makes webseries so special is that they really are episodic, they’re built to be watched one after another, and the stories and characters grow as you go. These aren’t short films, they’re moments of a larger whole that can still be enjoyed piecemeal. I think they’re really impressive.
To buy tickets to the showcase (and a chance to meet these talented creators) click here. Or watch right now. Click on the titles of the whole lineup below.
Dir. Ndosi Anyabwile
In the wake of a viral epidemic, a novice fighter struggles to survive illegal experimentation in order to escape from the company that imprisoned him.
Dir. Tulica Singh
A depressed croissant trying to find meaning in the superficial world of Bourgeois pastries.
Dir. Emebeit Beyene, Chandra Russell
Four recent college grads decide to call their own shots, raising money to launch their own business by turning their NYC apartment into a lucrative nightclub.
The Genderton Project(World Premiere)
Dir. Anna Martemucci, Victor Quinaz
A modern group of young gay men head to Palm Springs for a gay wedding weekend, when their story is interrupted by the tale of a 1960’s Pasadena housewife whose life is anything but a piece of cake in this gender-swapped comedy.
Happy And You Know It
Created, written and directed by Kira Hesser, Jeremy Howe and Ramsey Robinson
Having just moved to Los Angeles to take care of her grandmother, an aimless girl meets a small-time drug dealer who is similarly searching for purpose.
I Love Lucy & Bekka
Dir. Rachael Holder
Lucy & Bekka have been roommates and best friends since the beginning of their twenties. They are so close that they finish each other’s sandwiches.
Dir. Anna Kerrigan
The unexpected connections of Harry, a jaded children’s party magician and Willa, a daffy, lesbian yogi.
Jon and Jen Are Married
Dir. Gregory Fitzsimmons
Jon and Jen are married, they’re expecting a child, and they take absurd measures to influence their fetus.
Dir. Ali Le Roi
A friendly woman embodies the phrase “too much information”.
Toybox Theater: Sad Little People
Dir. Marty Schousboe / Creator Barry Hite
Stan is a Minotaur managing a midlife crisis while working at the hottest ad agency in town.
Dir. Melinda Cohen, Adam Roa
A man whose sole skill in life is his mastery of drugs begins offering his services to the public, providing guided ‘trips’ to a variety of eccentric characters.
Dir. Tom Huang
A hit man specializing in supernatural beings tries to learn on the job while taking down monsters that live and hide among the people of Los Angeles.
I went to support my esteemed Programmer friends participating in the Master Class that Women in Film put on last night called “What Film Festivals Want.” Representing the top festivals in Los Angeles was Kim Yutani, Senior Programmer at Sundance Film Festival, Roya Rastegar, Director of Programming at LA Film Fest, Jacqueline Lyanga, Director of AFI Fest, and Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Director of Programming at Outfest. Executive Director of WIF Kirsten Schaffer, formerly director of Outfest, was perfect to moderate the panel, keeping it new filmmaker friendly and full of insight. Since I have the pleasure of knowing and/or working alongside all the ladies on the panel, I knew it wasn’t going to be another diluted, unproductive, bland conversation on Film Festival Tips. There were about 50 people there ($20 admission for non-WIF members), and it was by and large women filmmakers, across all colors and ages, from my friend, young dancer/actress Carmen Corral who just wrote and directed her first short film, to an audience member who shared she has just finished her first film at 67 years young. The difference in practices and opinions heard is proof that each festival and each film festival Programmer has their own brand of curatorial focus, taste and sensibility. As Kirsten summed it up, its worthwhile to listen to each of their takes, but do not forget that ultimately you have to follow your own instinct. Briefly each festival’s mandate: AFI Fest takes place in November so they screen LA premieres of the most acclaimed as well as under the radar international gems of the year. A big chunk is curated from other festivals, however they do have a Breakthrough section which they cull mostly from submissions. Also it offers its program for FREE! Outfest seeks to obviously show films from the LGBTQ community. However, Lucy noted more and more the programming has matured to one where LGBTQ is not the drive of the storyline but rather a perspective through which to explore different genres. LA Film Fest has gone through a programming shift this year and it is more closely aligning itself with parent nonprofit Film Independent’s mission to “support artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision”. This year the festival has an unprecedented 39 world premieres and nearly half of the program is made by women and people of color. Sundance Film Festival – what can we say about the original rebel. U.S. Competition, Next, New Frontier and Midnight is the discovery zone heard around the world for breaking innovative stories and talented storytellers. Sundance’s submissions increases each year. It received more than 12,000 submissions for the 2015 festival. Around 8,000 of them are shorts – of which they show 60-70. Yep, that’s less than 1%
On the topic of WHY IS MY FILM (S) NOT ACCEPTED. I can see why deciphering the festival code; “It is not a right fit” can be frustrating for filmmakers to hear. It is a catch-all of saying a possibility of things. First thing to remember however is that just because you don’t get into a festival it does not mean your film does not have artistic merit or deserve a platform. You are talking about 3-4 people at one festival who watched it but did not respond ENOUGH to champion or select it in the festival (My own personal note as Programmer; you have to kill your darlings and pick your battles in the room). A lot of times the reason your film may not get in is simply mathematical. There are not enough slots at a festival to select all the films the Programmers like. Sundance can theoretically program another entire (just as solid) festival program after locking their lineup. Maybe your film does not get in because that particular festival does not offer the section, or cater to that particular focus/niche your film covers. And yet another reason might be your film may be one of several films that tackles very similar issues or has a very similar storyline to other films Programmers see that year.
WHAT CAN I DO TO RAISE MY CHANCES? Sounds like common sense but follow submission instructions is number one tip (seriously not following instructions is a number one Programmer pet peeve). Not all festivals are the same. Some want press kits with film submissions. Some of the panelists encouraged the audience to write cover letters while others admitted they never read them. (Personal note: If you have something relevant about your background that you think informs your vision then by all means write up a paragraph). Roya made the point that if you had a crowdfunding campaign, or have a cast member who has over 2 million subscribers on Youtube that usually indicates you already are building an audience that is invested in your film, it doesn’t hurt for the festival to know given their concern is selling tickets to sustain the usually nonprofit’s activity. It is definitely vital to communicate these things once you have been selected so that the festival can disseminate the distinct and soundbyte aspects of your film to ‘pitch it’ (first film shot in Cuba since 1959, first indie film shot in Little Armenia).
CRITERIA: Screeners are asked to submit a detailed synopsis of the films they watch and rate technical proficiency, character and story development. But inspired (and ripped off) by Sundance’s evaluation forms, most festivals want to frame it around ORIGINALITY OF VOICE/EMOTIONAL IMPACT. Roya mentioned that she tends to be more forgiving of production value if she recognizes there is a strong, rarely heard voice driving the story. Lucy mentioned she enjoyed abiding by this guiding principle during LA Film Festival’s programming process. Knowing that films made by women/people of color tend to be the least funded and least commercial having this awareness is key, and underlines the bottom line criteria of a Programmer or anyone for that matter, wanting to find that film that can MOVE people above all.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH FESTIVAL IS RIGHT FOR MY FILM? You can do your homework and check out the archives of the films that a festival has played to see if there is some alignment, said Jacqueline. But take it with a grain of salt. As mentioned by Roya there is a tendency of folks to carbon copy what they think is a festival film, and making a film driven by the desire to get into a festival tends to backfire. Look into international festivals, smaller niche festivals. Lucy, who is also a filmmaker, recalled being rejected by all the major festivals until they submitted randomly to new Arkansas festival, Bentonville where they ended up taking best prize. (Note: Sign up to Withoutabox. You’ll have to do some digging but you can do a search by region, niche, specialty to find the most suitable festival.) GETTING THE MOST OF YOUR FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE. Squeeze your Programmers for advice. If you are wondering whether you should contract a publicist or a sales agent ask us for recommendations, encouraged Kim. They have the relationships and know the sensibilities of all the established and emerging industry. In many ways this is Programmers’ second job after locking. Adopting film teams leading up to the festival who they can shepherd up the mountain.
DO YOU REALLY WATCH EACH FILM? Why do people LOVE to ask if a Programmer ‘really’ watches a film from beginning to end?? That is our job! First of all we get paid to do it. Second, as Kim mentioned, the worst thing for a Programmer is to have ‘missed’ a film. Make no mistake, if a film does really well at a festival or comes out somewhere else, and you don’t recall seeing it, you go back to your database to make sure it was fully considered by someone on your team (and see who the hell may have passed on it). Senior Programmers do their due diligence and review screeners’ coverage, ratings, and exports lists whether it be by region or filmmaker background. Especially nearing the end of progamming lock, they sweat over making sure they saw everything they should, and some actually dig deep into the lower ratings like films that got a 1 out of 5, just in case the screener was turned off by the premise. That strong negative reaction could very well mean a film is polemic and possibly brilliant because of it.
WHAT IF I DON’T GET IN? If you know your film has an audience, who cares if your film doesn’t get into festivals. Get a network of filmmaker and programmer friends. Get feedback. Festivals can’t supply feedback as a rule because of the volume but if you have a Programmer friend or trusted industry acquaintance ask them for input. The dangers of asking friends and families for feedback on your film is that it usually won’t be critical. As Lucy pointed out and I think everyone was in agreement; We (read: good Programmers) understand that filmmakers set out to make a good movie. The ultimate criteria is asking ourselves “What was the filmmaker trying to achieve and how close did she/he get to it in the execution?”
Last words from the panelists: Lucy: Keep making films Jacqueline: Be bolder and louder. Kim: Support other female filmmakers Sundance opens submissions in July. In August, Sundance’s Next Fest will unspool a few film and music experiences at the Ace Hotel. Outfest will be announcing their program soon and will take place July 9-19. Coming up soon is LA Film Festival, June 10-18. AFI is currently accepting submissions until July 24 for its November festival. Women in Film is accepting submissions until June 16 for their Finishing Films Fund. Shorts and feature length films that are 90% complete are eligible. Grants range from $1,000 – $25,000.
That is the $64,000 question left unanswered from last night’s Zocalo Public Square ‘ideas exchange’. For over forty years Moctezuma Esparza has paved the way for successfully producing Mexican American films, and he himself asked the question why there aren’t more producers leading the charge today. The launch of the series, “What it Means to be American” co-sponsored by leading government cultural institute, The Smithsonian was held at the Arclight Cinemas followed by a free cocktail reception – to better create community as Zocalo Public Square founder Gregory Rodriguez aptly joked. Moctezuma Esparza, Maya Cinemas theater chain owner and producer of over 40 movies including Selena, Walk Out and Milagro Beanfield War was joined by the fiery Luis Valdez, renowned playwright and founder of El Teatro Campesino. The two, who have known each other since the 60s, were candid, humorous, and proud of their accomplishments. Throughout the course of the talk, they challenged the audience of content creators to keep going, upwards, strong, and to have the courage of their convictions. Luis was, as expected of a wordsmith, full of passionate statements (“We carry within us the legends of the Americas and those stories are not being told”) while Moctezuma in his own elder statesmanship style gave insightful historical references relevant to today’s climate of Latino representation. Both of them asserted there is no use waiting around for “Pendejos” to greenlight your stories. At times the panel drifted from the What it Takes to Film the Mexican American Story theme, nonetheless, it was always entertaining. I could listen to Luis’s tangential anecdotes all day; the time his Frida movie with Raul Julia got fucked because he cast Laura San Giacomo as Frida and Latinas caused such an uproar causing New Line to ax it, his childhood growing up 5 miles from McFarland Texas and the time he went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still at the ol Mac, which changed his life. We learned that Esparza’s legacy doesn’t stop at the iconic films he’s produced. He is the founder of charter school Los Angeles Academy of Arts & Enterprise in the Pico Union area, and is successfully expanding Maya Cinemas, providing state of the art sound and projection theater experiences to decentralized Latino communities in Salinas, Bakersfield, Pittsburg and now in Fresno. What’s most illuminating about listening to these pioneers is understanding the political context as well as their unique trajectories. By pointing out social precedents that factor into the Hollywood culture, a greater understanding emerges of what led to their glorious era of iconic Mexican American representation’ in films like La Bamba, Mi Familia, Zoot Suit, Stand & Deliver. What isn’t understandable is why these universally appealing yet culturally specific storylines have not reigned since, let alone continue to be seen widely in TV and film. The closest we can gather is the status quo shakeup theory that the sheer size of a remarkably growing population of Latinos threatens, or perhaps is being unconsciously resisted by a media gatekeeper culture scared of changing to reflect the cultural fusion that dominates our reality…..until they figure out how to easily exploit the money making value. What does legalizing interracial marriage have to do with the subject at hand? Luis mentioned the 1967 anti-miscegenation law in response to a woman who asked ‘When will the change of gatekeeper guard happen’. The Supreme Court decision was the result of decades of protest that took place against this reinforcement of segregation. It takes a while but if we identify the problem of disparity and engage in personal and social activism to change it, like financially supporting content that represents us, or petitioning government to put in place a law protecting equality, it will happen. This last comment reminded me of the current ACLU drive to mobilize the government to investigate the studios/networks’ embedded discrimination against women directors through biased hiring practices. Esparza mentioned stars that he looked up to growing up like Ricardo Montalban, Anthony Quinn, Katy Jurado, Jose Ferrer were allowed to emerge as stars because of the national interests during WWII. The U.S. was courting Mexico as an ally, afraid of the tentacle reach of Stalin and Hitler. I never thought about it that way. Esparza noted there is nothing comparable on television today representing heroic Latino culture from the past referencing I Love Lucy, Cisco Kid, Zorro, The High Chapparal. When it came to addressing the distorted representation in the years after WWII and short lived 80s/90s heyday, Moctezuma intelligently observed the ‘aspirational representation’ malady; the persistence of mass media to perpetuate a so called perfect but homogenized image and story stream. Mainstream has long re-appropriated other cultures for the hip factor, and after decades of interracial lovemaking our Millennial generation finally, perhaps unwittingly, disrupts this one perfect image, owning their multicultural identity on a whole new (digital) level. When asked about writing what you know without fear of being criticized by your own community of perpetuating stereotypes, Luis answered to be ready to defend yourself. “You’re not any good if you aren’t being criticized”. Moctezuma referred to the backlash he got for casting a Puerto Rican (J-Lo) as Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, a Mexican American. After months of open call auditions he decided Jennifer Lopez was the best one for the role. Or as to why he chose Robert Young to direct The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, he answered that he wanted Eddie Olmos to star in it, and Eddie wanted to be directed by Young. Makes sense to me. Spreading cultural sensitivity is necessary but lets be wary of firing displaced attacks without considering the context.. We have no right to demand how artists realize their vision. Wanting to work with the best actor, director, cinematographer etc. is valid. But when systemically marginalized minorities don’t have the opportunity to access creative, entrepreneurial mentorship and funding they are at a deficit and hence scarcity. Only thing you can do is invest your time, sacrificing your livelihood at times, to practice your artistic craft. As Luis pointed out he writes plays all the time. That’s how he got into the movies. Plays are scripts for movies. So write. I want to point out here that this advice is for every single filmmaker regardless of color. WATCH: Luis Valdez 1969 short documentary, I am Joaquin, which Moctezuma Esparza credits as being the reason he got into film.
Maybe there aren’t more power producers like Moctezuma Esparza passionately fighting for producing Mexican American stories because the traditional social and business infrastructure that he broke through is kaput. Its the accelerated acculturation and proliferation of new media that makes this defensive and recurring “Why aren’t there more Latino stories in film and TV” conversation an unproductive and tired framework. The real work is developing talent and distribution pipelines. Latino content creators are out there telling their stories on their own terms through multimedia channels they own. In the end, its about confidently voicing your personal perspective, honing your signature craft, and being open to new channels that directly connects with audiences. What hit home for me personally was Luis talking about immigration being two ways. He expressed his honor of having the National Theater Academy of Mexico Bellas Artes perform his play Zoot Suit (noting the hilarity of teaching Chilangos to be Chicanos). For him to be embraced that way by his origin and to know that he can work in Mexico and be appreciated as an uncompromising artist representing his distinct American identity is something he takes great pride in, as he should. To inhabit both worlds completely yet define my own bi-cultural American identity (and nurture storytellers by helping them find a platform) has been my journey, and in the last few years more so as I’ve collaborated with my Mexican colleagues in The Morelia International Film Festival and now Ambulante. Ultimately, I think that’s what being American is all about. #MasAmerican Check out Zocalo’s upcoming events including next week’s “Is LA’s Past Worth Saving”. Free admission but reservation highly recommended.