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.
I am happy to see more people vocalize demand for Latina representation onscreen and the resurging interest in solving this messed up disparity issue (Thank you Gina Rodriguez Golden Globes acceptance speech). However, the representation issue I find ten times more urgent to address is the anguishing miniscule percentage of Latina CONTENT CREATORS in film and television.
I give you 5 bomb Latina DIRECTORS who are are at the helm of brand new feature films coming out this year, women who are striking through the hostile mass media industry to escape the rule of homogeneity (white male perspective). Now that is something to celebrate. It’s not surprising that three of these are documentaries. The percentage of women directed films in documentaries is higher than in fiction. Now I can’t say with total certainty these 2 Latina directed U.S. fiction feature length films are the only ones out there this year…actually yes I can…..until someone reaches out to correct me ….and I really do hope to be corrected because only two???????
Director: Patricia Riggen Writers: Mikko Alanne, Michael John Bell, Craig Borten, Jose Rivera Producers: Robert Katz, Edward McGurn, Mike Medavoy Cinematographer: Checco Varese Music: James Horner U.S. Distributor: TBA Cast: Rodrigo Santoro, Antonio Banderas, Cote de Pablo, James Brolin, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips, Kate del Castillo, Tenoch Huerta Social Media: @The33Pelicula
Logline: Based on the incredible real-life story of the 33 survivors of a copper-gold mine in Chile that collapsed and trapping them 700 meters underground for 69 days until their rescue.
Add Riggen to the exclusive ranks of women who fought for and have proved they got the chops to direct big action, Hollywood type genre movies like Katheryn Bigelow, Mimi Leder. The trailer for Los 33 that dropped last week reveals an epic dramatization of the intensely emotional struggle to survive the Chilean mine disaster. The English language film carries a sweeping score by none other than James Horner (and naturally you can hear Violetta Parra’s classic song, Gracias Por La Vida). Add to that a big hero performance by Antonio Banderas who leads an ensemble cast of well known international actors (including hottie Mexican star of Güeros, Tenoch Huerta!!). Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara but moved to the states after graduating Columbia’s film school in NY, made a splash with her 2007 film, Under the Same Moon starring a back-then-virtually-unknown-in-the-U.S. Eugenio Derbez, and Kate del Castillo. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival then was picked up by Pantelion, the studio she later worked with on the Eva Mendes starrer Girl in Progress.
Domestic distribution and release stateside is yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile Twentieth Century Fox will be releasing the film in Chile in August, marking the fifth anniversary of the incident, before rolling out the film throughout Latin America including Mexico. For an in-depth account of Los 33, check out current best-seller, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free” by Hector Tobar.
Director: Carmen Marron Writers: Hector Salinas, Carmen Marron Producers: Sandra Avila, Carmen Marron Executive Producers: Hector Salinas, Betty Sullivan Associate Producer: Bonnie Emerson Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli Music: Brian Standefer Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli U.S. Distributor: TBA Cast: Rico Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Justina Machado, Jon Gries Social Media: @GoForIt_Carmen Facebook
Logline: Shot in Brownsville and inspired by true events, ENDGAME is a coming-of-age story about a young boy who joins the school chess team, and with the help of his coach, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, team spirit and the importance of family.
Another talented genre director (and fellow Chicana from Chicago, HEYYY) whose tenacity and talent make her primed to be our Latina Ava Duvernay success story (of course that depends on whether the public (and gatekeepers) support her to make the change to the system to demand her spot in the national mainstream). I wrote about Carmen’s tireless spirit before, mentioning her first film which she shot, wrote, directed and produced in Chicago called Go For It (which incidentally was Gina Rodriguez’s first feature role). Her latest film is Endgame starring the precocious Manny from Modern Family, Rico Rodriguez, and Efren Ramirez from cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, Endgame is one of those irresistible competition, underdog, against-all-odds stories. Ramirez portrays the galvanizing Brownsville public elementary school teacher and chess afficionado, J.J. Guajardo, who in 1989, upon seeing his 6th grade class take an interest in his chess board, began to teach them on the regular. The class excelled and entered regional competitions, going on to enter and win state championships against schools with far more resources. Echoing the positives of disrupting a broke educational status quo with simply offering access to advanced mental cognition building tools, the film echoes another real life story and seminal Chicano film, Stand & Deliver. Big difference; that movie was not directed by a Latino/a.
The film is world premiering at the Dallas International Film Festival April 12 &13. Distribution is yet to be confirmed for theatrical/VOD but stay tuned via the Facebook page.
NO MÁS BEBÉS
Directors/Producers: Renee Tajima-Peña, Virginia Espino Associate Producer: Kate Trumbull-Valle Executive Producers: Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettinger, Judith Helfland, Sally Jo Fiefer and Sandra Pedlow U.S. Distributor: ITVS/Latino Public Broadcasting Cinematographer: Claudio Rocha Music: Bronwen Jones, additional music by Quetzal Cast: Antonia Hernandez, Gloria Molina, Dolores Madrigal, Jovita Rivera, Consuelo Hermosillo Social Media: Facebook
Logline: An investigation of the sterilization of Mexican-American women at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s
Sadly, there is an appalling history in the United States of laws and policies authorizing sterilizations of poor women without their knowledge or consent for the “benefit of society”; Buck v. Bell (low-income white women in Virginia), Relf v. Weinberger (young African-American women in Alabama), and female inmates in California. This film focuses on the case of Latinas of Mexican origin in California in Madrigal v. Quilligan. Shedding light on this horrific human rights violation, the film includes interviews with women who suffered this terrible ordeal and locked the memory away, along with former medical staff and the incredible lawyer who filed this suit forty years ago, Antonia Hernandez. A long-time coming, supremely valuable and eye opening contextualization of the Chicano rights movement from the late 60s/70s as well as the current reproductive justice movement.
Renee, a proud Asian American, is a sister in the struggle to document the Latino community, and Virginia Espino, is a Latina LA born-and-raised historian. This is one of those Latina stories that really needs to be known and remembered this year which marks the 40th anniversary of the lawsuit (June 19). It is ready to be unveiled and seen by as wide an audience as possible. Stay tuned to hear when the film will have its world premiere before its broadcast on Independent Lens in the fall.
NOW EN ESPAÑOL
Director: Andrea Meller Producers: Aaron Woolf, Andrea Meller Music: Camara Kambon Cinematographer: Charlie Gruet U.S. Distributor: PBS/Latino Public Broadcasting Cast: Marabina Jaimes, Marcela Bordes, Gabriela Lopetegui, Ivette Gonzalez, Natasha Perez Social Media: @NowenEspanol, website
Logline: Follows the trials and triumphs of the small group of Latina actresses who dub “Desperate Housewives” into Spanish.
Currently hitting the festival circuit in such reputable festivals as Santa Barbara, Chicago Latino Film Festival, CineFestival, ahead of its showing on PBS Voces, Now en Espanol is such an effective and distinct balance of humor, serious-ness and insider look by Chilean-American Andrea Meller.
Profiling Marcela Bordes, Ivette Gonzalez, Marabina Jaimes, Gabriela Lopetegui and Natasha Perez, the film is quite plainspoken and sympathetic about the struggle of the actor in Hollywood. Like the comedy fiction film (also directed by a woman!) In a World, by Lake Bell, the film offers a rare behind the scenes and insight into the voice acting industry. Few actors make make careers out of this, others pick it up for income, but in the end it is a highly distinct skill to dub millions of shows. It’s really fascinating perspective on the representation of Latinas onscreen and off. What I love most about this film on top of it being an important tool for dialogue and change, is that the filmmaker injects a whimsy tone (apropos Wisteria Lane) which makes sparking this conversation and call to action so much more effective. You have no reason to miss this as it premieres on Friday, April 24, 2015, 10:00-11:00 p.m. (check local listings) as part of VOCES, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series on PBS. To get a taste of the ladies’ charm and humor check out the trailer:
Director: Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski Producers:Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski U.S. Distributor: ITVS (broadcast) Cinematographer: Michael Raines Music: Jimmy LaValle Cast: Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade Social Media: Facebook
Logline: Follows the story of an all woman of color bicycle brigade, the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade. Based in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in Eastside Los Angeles, the Ova’s are a collective of unapologetic, politicized, young Latina women who host monthly bike rides every full moon for women and women-identified riders.
Ever since I interviewed Kate during her film’s Kickstarter, I’ve been madly anticipating this, so I’m pleased to scoop that it will be ready late Fall thanks to ITVS coming in with finishing funds. Protegees of esteemed film ladies like Renee Tajima Peña and B. Ruby Rich, the ladies have spent more than two years riding with the Ovas for this documentary. Says Joanna, “There are lots of bike groups in LA, but what’s unique about the Ova’s is each ride has a socio-political theme and ends with a group discussion. They dialogue about everything from violence against women to the gentrification of Boyle Heights”.
The Ova’s s leadership is run by the collective who work “To Serve, not to Self Serve. Credited as founder is activist and music artist, Xela de la X who formed this rad collective in 2011 with the mission to cycle for the purpose of healing, reclaim neighborhoods, and create safer streets for women on the Eastside. Currently being edited the film should be ready for the Fall if not early next year.
In case you are wondering Trumbull-LaValle is two generations apart from family in Northern Mexico. Which I only add as proof that last names and color of skin are not indicators for knowing whether someone identifies as Latino/a or not.
Which leads me to reiterate, I really hope these 5 are not the only Latina directors with films coming out this year. Calling out an A.P.B. to Latina directors with a feature length film (fiction especially) in production or post, holler at your girl email@example.com!
We are only a week away from the avalanche of discovery that will unfurl at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so let me give you a heads up on everything Latino.
First, a slew of qualifications, caveats and disclaimers; I like to differentiate between U.S. born artists of Latino heritage and international artists. Second, keep in mind “Latino sounding last names” does not indicate who is Latino behind a film (and a Latino sounding last name does not necessarily indicate that person identifies as Latino and or tells Latino stories). I mention this to emphasize Latino identity is often subjective and always complex. Lastly, these are not reviews or spoilers but a quick reference for those interested in tracking emerging Latino talent and topics.
Perhaps more ubiquitous to spot are the Latinos in front of the camera; J-Lo plays Lila opposite queen bee Viola Davis in Lila and Eve. John Leguizamo has a role in The Experimenter, the late Elizabeth Peña has a wicked cameo in Grandma opposite Lily Tomlin. Tony Revolori (Grand Budapest Hotel) plays the Latino kid in Dope. Scott Mescudi is Christopher Abbot’s friend in James White.
Exciting acting debuts to watch out for include Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Sean Baker’s pulsing Tangerine and Robert Lorrie in The Strongest Man by Kenny Riches, both in the indie gem Next section.
There are eight films that have Latino subjects. Two films in U.S. Documentary Competition are about the U.S./Mexico border, which makes me very happy (not the anguishing realities portrayed in the films but the fact that Sundance recognizes the urgency of the conversation and supports these filmmakers novel perspectives in tackling the complexities of the ongoing drugwar.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in the U.S. Dramatic Competition with Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. This successful television writer has been quoted about his bordertown childhood; “Laredo is in my DNA, as much as Nuevo Laredo (Mexican state across the border) is in my DNA”.
Kyle Alvarez who has Cuban roots, is at the festival with his third feature, The Stanford Prison Experiment.
Daniel Garcia who recently was named “Filmmaker to Watch” at the Independent Spirit Awards co-directed the enigmatic film, H. in Next. He is from Texas and has family from Mexico. Check out the trailer:
In the shorts program we got Reinaldo Green with the powerful Stop, Ryan Gillis with animated short film Palm Rot and Ronnie Rivera and Bernardo Britto are the co-directors of The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.
If we are including writers/directors born and raised in another country but based in the U.S. let’s add:
Rodrigo Garcia – The Colombian born Mexican long time LA resident is back in Premieres with Last Days in the Desert shot by Mexican Oscar winner DP Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity).
Sebastian Silva from Chile based in NY returns with Nasty Baby featuring another juicy dramatic performance from Kristen Wiig following last year’s Skeleton Twins.
And two international filmmakers who are making their English language debuts:
Claudia Llosa from Peru wrote and directed Aloft starring Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy which premiered at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.
J.M Cravioto makes his English language and fiction narrative debut with horror midnight movie, Reversal.
It’s worth noting not one of these films feature Latino actors with the exception of Silva who stars in his film, and Reinaldo Green’s Stop. And I will take a step further to comment those films do not have a storyline that reflects a Latino experience (I know, we can debate what qualifies as a Latino experience).
PRODUCERS AND MORE
Mimi Valdes – the former editor of Latina and Vibe Magazine and now creative director of Pharell Williams’ multi-media company is a co-producer on Dope with Nina Yang and Forest Whitaker (Fruitvale).
Felipe Marino of Occupant Entertainment produced creature feature, The Hallow. Named “Producer to Watch’ by Variety, the U.S. born of Colombia descent producer previously brought The Wackness to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
The Borscht Corp powerhouse are behind shorts Papa Machete shot in Haiti and the previously mentioned, The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.
Nicolas Lopez (Aftershock) co-wrote Eli Roth’s Knock Knock starring Keanu Reeves showing in Midnight.
Mexican cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman shot Rick Alverson’s Entertainment.
Cartel Land by Matthew Heineman. Senior Programmer David Courier’s description is on point; “Brilliant, dangerous, and provocative, Cartel Land is a chilling meditation on the breakdown of order and the borderline where life trumps law.” Here’s an interview with the filmmaker that includes clips of the movie:
Western by Alex and Turner Ross. If you saw their previous film, Tchoupitoulas you are familiar with their beautiful, observational and visceral style. Motivated by finding the real iconic cowboys of the dusty old frontier, these two consider this part of their American trilogy.
The Wolfpack by Crystal Moselle – Its best if you know nothing going in and I will wager that this one will be one of the most talked about films at the festival. I will only mention the pack are the children of a Peruvian man.
The Strongest Man –The lead character’s thoughts and voiceover is uttered in Spanish throughout the film.
Royal Road by Jenni Olson talks about the Mexican land before it became the United States.
Fresh Dressed by Sacha Jenkins– documents the shift from when cats started settling beefs on the dance floor and on the mike instead of violence. Fashion and hip hop style created by urban (read: blacks and Latinos)
Paris is Burning by Jennie Livingston –celebrating its 15th anniversary a special Collection screening of the film will take place on January 26 at 3pm at the Egyptian. Love love love this film. The House of Extravaganza was one of the first Latino/a Harlem balls. RIP Angie and Venus.
Making it in America by Joris Debeij is a short film about a Salvadoran immigrant in Los Angeles.
And now for straight up INTERNATIONAL FILMS:
From Mexico/Colombia in New Frontier is Live Forever or QUE VIVA LA MUSICA! by Sundance alum Carlos Moreno (Dog Eat Dog, All Your Dead Ones), a sexy, music driven film starring a magnetic new Colombian actress Paulina Davila
Short film, Spring from Mexico which played at the Morelia Film Festival by Tania Claudia Castillo.
Wild Tales from Argentina/Spain by Damián Szifrón
The Second Mother by well-known Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert
The Games Maker by Juan Pablo Buscarini in the Sundance Kids section is from Argentina.
And a MUST-EXPERIENCE at the New Frontier is virtual reality film Assent by Oscar Raby a Chilean who lives in Australia. Description: In 1973 my father witnessed the execution of a group of prisoners captured by the military regime in Chile, the same Army that he was part of. Assent puts the user in my father’s boots as we walk to the place where that happened.
And lastly, presenting short films in the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are alumni Marialy Rivas, the hip director from Chile of Young and Wild, and actor/filmmaker Diego Luna.
To check out the entire lineup of films, screening times and descriptions go here. To meet the directors, check out Sundance YouTube Meet The Filmmakers series here. And lastly follow all the haps as it haps @sundancefestnow