Más American

I am so psyched to unveil a conversation and collection of films I’ve curated on the innovative crowdfunding and streaming cross-platform, Seed & Spark.   I can’t think of a more conducive and savvy approach to changing the conversation about Latino films, than by actually presenting those films that speak to that fluid and hybrid identity DIRECTLY TO THE AUDIENCE.  I’m also going out on a limb here and coining a new term, Mas American.  Let’s see if it catches on.   Read my post below (which I originally wrote for Seed & Spark’s Bright Ideas blog)  and check out the rad films in the program by clicking on the links.  Mas Later!

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If you hear someone utter, “Kids These Days,” it’s usually in a disapproving tone towards the younger generations’ fresh attitude or their breaking with tradition (or their tendency to speed while driving).  When I think about Kids These Days, though, it is in sheer awe.  I am so impressed by their confidence and transcultural expression with which they carve out their bold self-individuality.  I don’t remember ever being that loud and proud in my teens.  I, like most, just wanted to fit in.  But the Millennial generation has spoken: Assimilation is out; Non-conformity is in.

The_Never_Daunted-2Adjusted As a first generation Mexican-American I’m naturally drawn to bi-cultural narratives because they relate to my own culture dash – American clash.  Speaking Spanish at home, making tortillas with abuelita, and my parents’ late night dance and Tequila parties, blasting Sonora Santanera or the passionate cries of Vicente Fernandez, all formed a very specific childhood.  There is something really powerful about seeing a reflection of your roots in a contemporary context in the biggest form of entertainment, the movies.  You may have read the numbers; There are 55 million+ Latinos in the country, making us the fastest growing and youngest demographic.  Brands clumsily chase after this market and miserably try to coin terms to define us like New Generation Latino, Young Latino Americans, Hispanic Millennials.  The term Latino attempts to encompass far too many diverse ethnic and social cultures that it is a useless denomination.  A limited view failing to recognize the fluidity of our social zeitgeist in the 21st century.

GABI poster_18It is critical to adopt with the changing times and engage the new generations of our immigrant nation.  It’s time to reframe our notions and classifications on race and identity.  Más American is my humble attempt of doing away with outdated and ill-defined terminology like Hispanic or Latino.  It is meant to convey the real, inclusive and radical reflection of society’s eclectic fabric found in fiercely independent filmmaker voices.  More aptly, it speaks to the transcultural identity and non-conformist spirit of today’s characters and narratives.  It’s not necessarily confined to speak about people of “color.”  It is about all kinds of shifting identities, from conventional, traditional and sociocultural norms to a more progressive evolution.  It is about gender – equality, reversal of roles, gender variant.  Filmmakers are out there telling these unique perspectives through independent film.  These stories are out there.  I can attest to that with some authority because of the volume of screening I do for film festivals year round.  Films from underrepresented communities usually have an outsider/insider perspective, which in turn provokes highly original and compelling narratives by its very nature.  This emerging class of individualism is what embodies American spirit.

Más American also speaks to the influence Latinos have on non-Latinos.  You don’t have to have the blood in order to appreciate or acquire a sensibility of the Latino experience.  Many non-Latino filmmakers have made extraordinary films capturing the US Latino experience.  It’s only natural considering the countless generations who originate from before the Hidalgo treaty was signed.  We are your neighbors, friends, colleagues, lovers, wives, husbands, in-laws, in each of the 50 states.  Indeed, a long time ago my mom and I learned to stop talking trash when out in public about non-Latinos in proximity realizing that many people understand some Spanish.

f86291356d57663f4bd3b24608bdb159_largeAnd so it is with much pleasure, and gratitude towards the filmmakers, the Más American Conversation on Seed&Spark is rolling out.  These films purely conceive of characters and a world more reflective and authentic of our reality.  Perhaps the freshness comes from a subconscious in which they derive and embody a defiant individuality, outside of any identity politics.  Más American hopefully is a starting point for a more forward and richer conversation towards genuine, original and underrepresented narratives.  I hope to add more titles to the mix in this Conversation, championing filmmakers who get America’s evolving sense of cultural self-identity and who are on the pulse of the rapidly shifting zeitgeist.

In THE CRUMBLES, written and directed by Akira Boch, the acting talent naturally inhabit LA’s Echo Park hipster artist scene in such a sincere and rocking way.  The lead happens to be a Latina and her co-lead happens to be Asian.  Their color is so not the center of the tragicomic slice-of-life.  Yet it does make them who they are: badass rock n roll girlfriends who resist quitting on their dream of hitting it big with their band.

In THE NEVER DAUNTED, writer/director Edgar Muñiz explores the toll and cross a man must bear who can’t conceive, in such a profound, heartbreaking and uniquely creative way.  The film explores a modern masculinity more open to vulnerability, clashing with the Western stoic cowboy machismo image imposed on men from boyhood.

GABI – director Zoé Salicrup Junco’s impressive NYU thesis film – centers around its titular business-smart, sexy and confident 30-something woman living an independent and successful life, whose main conflict is the reminder that, in her hometown, her success represents a failure within the context of the marriage, kids and housewife model.

In all of these stories, new definitions of traditional norms are celebrated and scripts are being flipped.  I’m thrilled that with Seed&Spark the public at large can discover these rebellious voices.

I want to thank the filmmakers for sharing their inspiring non-conformist narratives on Seed&Spark and for, whether they know it or not, breaking type.

#WTF is Latino at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival?

The 288 features that make up the mega-sized and mega-watt Toronto International Film Festival have been announced.  It is awesome to see South America in the house and a substantial number of films from Mexico and Spain.  Sadly on the US Latino representation front we got next to nada.  Is it possible that it’s not since 2006 the festival has screened a US Latino film?   Bella by Alejandro Monteverde, about two people in NYC who fall in love, ended up winning the People’s Choice Award.  Randomly, in looking up the title to refresh my memory I came across this review by the late, great Roger Ebert who makes an amusing dig on Variety critic Robert Koehler about ‘being late’ in the course of reviewing the film.

Out of the 70 *countries the program represents, 26 of them are from Spain, Mexico (both which lead the pack with 7 films respectively), followed by Portugal, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay and Costa Rica.  Note this figure includes co-productions.

0 ,  “Ahem” that is,  Zero U.S. Latino filmmakers.  I have made an inquiry to the festival to confirm, if I hear different I will update.

Before the copied and pasted list of film descriptions and pics courtesy of TIFF – let me also note:

I’m so excited to see films play on this important world cinema stage that hail from Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Peru and Uruguay, countries who have fledgling film industries but such unique narratives and exciting filmmaker voices to tell them.

Latin/Spanish language genre is hot.  Alex de La Iglesia is back with another pulse throbbing spine-tingling, action flick, Witching and BeWitching which he describes as a It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.  I can’t wait to see this at Fantastic Fest.  Also making a return to Midnight Madness this year is Eli Roth and Chilean filmmaker Nicolas Lopez with The Green Inferno.   They previously teamed up on horrifying ‘real life’ scenario thriller, Aftershock.

A few Latino actors are sprinkled across English language films like Mexican Demian Bichir in Dom Hemingway by Richard Shepard, Colombiana Sofia Vergara in John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo and Dominicana Zoe Saldana in french hottie actor/director (Marion Cotillard’s man) Guillaume Canet’s Blood Ties.

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 2.41.45 PMMy M.O. in this series is  to dig through festival films’ log lines and cast to find and highlight actors, stories and filmmakers that might bear some Latino sensibility ahead of the festival’s opening.  My overriding goal is to expand on what a Latino story might be, and by monitoring some of the big fests’ track records try to illuminate the context and obstacles that emerging Latino film artists smash up against.  Reading through the film descriptions of this year’s TIFF, I find some really rad sounding and innovative twists of classic storytelling, as well as interesting revisiting of American history.  Which is why I’m so troubled by the near total exclusion of Latinos in both the cast and filmmaker roles, especially given our hard to ignore populace.   There are two stories set in Texas and neither feature one Mexican American role.  (Parkland about the 48 hours after the JFK assassination, and Dallas Buyers Club in which Matthew McConaughy travels across the Mexican border for HIV drugs).  Then there are a handful of contemporary films that take place in an imagined New York/LA/Midwest and likewise I don’t see any US Latinos in the otherwise homogenized billed cast so its like we don’t register on any plane of representation.  Black films, filmmakers and cast are slowly but steadily gaining profile in these big festivals and in the mainstream media but US Latinos are sorely behind.    I know its not news-breaking but it is heart breaking and it does not cease to shock me to find such a lack of interest in discovering US Latino talent.  As far as I can tell there are not any narratives from the US Latino perspective in TIFF’s international 288 feature film program.   In confronting this absence and disregard, I want to A.  Call out festival programmers/distributors to consider that part of their curating responsibility is to accurately reflect the spectrum of people who make up our society and movie going public by giving those few films  made by people of color and without precedent a shot in front of an audience.  B. Create a consciousness of the absentee-frame-of-reference in which Latinos are working from.  Finally to encourage all people of color/gender variant and other underrepresented groups to take things into their own hands, creating, producing, casting, exhibiting and distributing our stories because traditional gates have not and will not open their doors until we’ve already made a name of and for ourselves.

I will concede that last names and loglines do not always identify relevant sub-stories or acting roles that might be discovered as having a Latino element, so perhaps there is more Latino in the program than I have been able to pinpoint here.  Again the disparity is on the US Latino component.  As you can see below there is a rich element of Mexican, Central American, South American, Spanish, and Carribbean at the most important film festival in North America.

Gravity Alfonso Cuarón, USA/United Kingdom North American Premiere
Gravity is a heart-pounding thriller that pulls its audience into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer accompanied on her first shuttle mission by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). On a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone — tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth… and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But their only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.  Ahead of its stateside Oct. 4 release from Uno de los Amigos, Del Toro.

The Green Inferno Eli Roth, USA World Premiere
How far would you go for a cause you believe in? In horror master Eli Roth’s terrifying new film, a group of college students take their humanitarian protest from New York to the Amazon jungle, only to get kidnapped by the native tribe they came to save: a tribe that still practices the ancient rite of cannibalism, and has a healthy appetite for intruders.  Produced by Chilean Nicolas Lopez (Que Pena Tu Vida, Aftershock)

Jodorowsky’s Dune Frank Pavich, USA North American Premiere
The story of legendary cult film director CHILEAN Alejandro Jodorowsky’s staggeringly ambitious but ultimately doomed film adaptation of the seminal science-fiction novel Dune.

Little Feet Alexandre Rockwell, USA, World Premiere
Determined to see “the river,” two young children living in Los Angeles leave home to embark on a magical urban odyssey, in the marvelous new film by American indie icon Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup). Starring Lana Rockwell, Nico Rockwell and Rene Cuante-Bautista.  I venture to guess that the third kid, the big pudgy one seen in the trailer is Rene Cuante-Bautista and that he might be Latino.  And I hope that since getting to LA’s concrete river usually includes a criss crossing of East and South LA, there will be some Latino community in the foreground.  Regardless, the kids, who include Rockwell’s children (with Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s Karyn Parsons) look adorable enough to carry a 60 min movie.  The look and feel of the trailer remind me of Corey Mcabee’s Crazy & Thief.   

Dom Hemingway Richard Shepard, United Kingdom World Premiere
Dom Hemingway is a larger-than-life safecracker with a loose fuse who is funny, profane, and dangerous. After 12 years in prison, looking to collect what he’s owed for keeping his mouth shut for protecting his rich mobster boss, he finds himself drawn back to the perils and pleasures of his criminal lifestyle — while trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Starring Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon, Jumayn Hunter, Madalina Ghenea and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.

Blood Ties Guillaume Canet, France/USA North American Premiere, 
New York, 1974. 50-year-old Chris has just been released on good behavior after spending several years in prison. Waiting for him reluctantly outside the prison gates is his younger brother, Frank, a cop with a bright future. Chris and Frank have always been different, yet blood ties are the ones that bind. Starring Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Matthias Schoenaerts and James Caan.

Chris Nunez who was had a small role in A Guide To Recognizing your Saints and handful of small roles as busboys, waiters, tweekers and gangbangers and is a credited as a waiter in David Wain’s upcoming film plays the role of ‘barfly’ in NY set Can A Song Save Your Life by John Carney (Once). NYU Tisch School of the Arts graduate.

Fading Gigolo John Turturro, USA World Premiere
Fioravante, at his friend Murray’s suggestion, enters into the world’s oldest profession, and ends up finding something he didn’t know he was looking for. Starring John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara.

MEXICO

The Mayor Emiliano Altuna Fistolera, Mexico Canadian Premiere

Mauricio Fernandez is the polemical mayor of San Pedro Garza García, the wealthiest and safest municipality in Latin America. He presents himself as an active ruler who is capable of cleaning his municipality of drug cartels without questioning the methods he uses to achieve this. The Mayor describes the wild times of a country that is marked by violence and the complete discredit of the ruling class.

la ultima pelicura_01_mediumLa ultíma película Raya Martin and Mark Peranson, Canada/Denmark/Mexico/Philippines World Premiere
A famous American filmmaker travels to the Yucatán to scout locations for his last movie. The Mayan Apocalypse intercedes.  Also described as a “feverish, aesthetically startling re-imagining of Dennis Hopper’s notorious cult classic The Last Movie starring  Gabino Rodriguez and Alex Ross Perry.

Paradise (Paraiso) Mariana Chenillo, Mexico World Premiere
Overweight childhood sweethearts Carmen and Alfredo have re-located from the suburbs to the city. Feeling out of her element and subconscious about her body, Carmen joins a weight loss program and asks her husband to join. Ironically, he sheds the pounds and the distance between them grows, putting their relationship to the test.  Very excited for Mariana’s sophmore feature after her award winning 5 Days Without Nora in 2008.  Will also screen at the Morelia Film Festival.

The Amazing Catfish (Los insólitos peces gato) Claudia Sainte-Luce, Mexico North American Premiere
22-year-old Claudia lives alone in Guadalajara. One night, she ends up in the emergency room with signs of appendicitis. There she meets Martha, lying on the bed next to her. 46-year-old Martha has four children and endless lust for life, in spite of her illness. Moved by the lonely young woman, Martha invites Claudia to come and live with her when she leaves the hospital. At first, Claudia is bewildered by the somewhat chaotic organization of the household, but soon she finds her place in the tribe. And while Martha is getting weaker, Claudia’s bond with each member of the family gets stronger day by day.  First feature that will also screen in competition at Morelia

Club Sandwich (Club Sándwich) Fernando Eimbcke, Mexico World Premiere
Paloma and her 15-year-old son Hector have a very strong and special relationship. When on holiday on the seaside, Hector meets Jazmin, a teenage girl with whom he discovers love and sexuality. Trying to keep Hector close to her, Paloma has a hard time accepting that he will eventually grow up.

El Mudo Diego Vega and Daniel Vega, Peru/France/Mexico North American Premiere
After a short investigation, police conclude that the gunshot that nearly killed Judge Constantino Zegarra was nothing more than a stray bullet. But Constantino, who unlike his peers fervently adheres to the letter of the law, is convinced someone tried to take him out. He re-opens the investigation, and soon finds himself breaking some of his own rules to prove himself right. The Vega bros previously made their debut in Cannes with the beautifully formal and curiously repressed character driven film, Octubre which Global Film Initiative supported.

 

CENTRAL AMERICA

All About the Feathers (Por las Plumas) Neto Villalobos, Costa Rica World Premiere
Chalo is a lone security guard who struggles to get his first gamecock. His job in an abandoned factory is boring and monotonous but it doesn’t seem to bother him that his life is like that as well. Once he finds his prize rooster, which he names Rocky, his life changes. Not having a proper place to raise and train Rocky triggers a series of comical events that will put Chalo’s passion and love for his new (and only) friend to the test.  First Feature filmmaker Villalobos raised over his 14,000 post production fund goal to finish his film on Indiegogo.

CARIBBEAN

Old Moon (Luna Vieja) Raisa Bonnet, Puerto Rico World Premiere
Elsa lives in the mountains of the Caribbean Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. A visit from her teenage granddaughter, Mina, and her son-in-law, Alei, brings a sweet and bitter taste into her life. In order to protect her granddaughter, Elsa makes a decision that will change Mina’s life forever. Starring María Velázquez, Laura Cristina Cardona and Julio Ramos.  This is Bonnet’s grad short film from NYU Tisch School of the Arts

SOUTH AMERICA

Gloria Sebastián Lelio, Chile/Spain North American Premiere
Gloria is 58 years old and still feels young. Making a party out of her loneliness, she fills her nights seeking love in ballrooms for singles. This fragile happiness changes the day she meets Rodolfo. Their intense passion — to which Gloria gives everything, as she feels it may well be her last — leaves her dancing between hope and despair. Gloria will have to pull herself together and find a new strength to realize that in the last act of her life, she could burn brighter than ever.  Since its discovery at the Berlin film festival, Gloria, played by the effervescent 58 year old Paulina Garcia, has duly charmed festivalgoers and critics.  Roadside Attractions picked it up for stateside distribution, the film will next play at the venerable New York Film Festival, and in its Chilean release was the first non-comedy Chilean film in two years that has made top 5 most-seen films for an entire month.

A Wolf at the Door (O Lobo atrás da Porta) Fernando Coimbra, Brazil World Premiere
A child is kidnapped. At the police station, Sylvia and Bernardo, the victim’s parents, and Rosa, the main suspect and Bernardo’s lover, give contradictory evidence which will take audiences to the gloomiest corners of desires, lies, needs and wickedness in the relationship of these three characters. Starring Leandra Leal and Milhem Cortaz.


Bad Hair (Pelo Malo)
Mariana Rondón, Venezuela World Premiere
A nine-year-old boy’s preening obsession with straightening his hair elicits a tidal wave of homophobic panic in his hard-working mother, in this tender but clear-eyed coming-of-age tale. Starring Samantha Castillo and Samuel Lange. Third feature from the filmmaker of Postcards from Leningrad.  Rondon studied cinema in Paris and Cuba’s renowned EICTV film & TV school in San Antonio Los Baños.

Brazilian Western (Faroeste Caboclo) René Sampaio, Brazil Canadian Premiere
João de Santo Cristo is a young boy, who abandons his poor life in the Brazilian outback to try his luck in the capital, Brasília. A story of love, hate, revenge and violence freely inspired by the Brazilian song Faroeste Caboclo by Renato Russo. Starring Fabrício Boliveira and Isis Valverde.

The Summer of Flying Fish (El verano de los peces voladores) Marcela Said, Chile/France North American Premiere
Manena is a very determined teenager, and the darling daughter of Pancho, a rich Chilean landowner who devotes his vacations to a single obsession: the extermination of carp fish that invade his artificial lagoon. As he resorts to more and more extreme methods, Manena experiences her first love, deception, and discovers a world that silently co-exists alongside her own: that of the Mapuche Indian workers who claim access to these lands… and who stand up to her father.

The Militant (El Lugar Del Hijo) Manolo Nieto, Uruguay World Premiere
A university student involved in militant leftist activism is faced with some difficult decisions when his father suddenly dies, leaving him in charge of their troubled ranch and forcing him to take on the role of a middle class landowner.

SPAIN

Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi) Alex de la Iglesia, Spain/France World Premiere
Desperate dad José and his friends run from a coven of witches hell-bent on their souls and on the 25,000 wedding rings the guys stole from a Cash-for-Gold shop in a desperate attempt to escape their lives of wife troubles. Witching & Bitching marks the seventh film by cult-favourite Spanish genre specialist Alex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus) to be screened at TIFF

cannibal_01_medium
CANIBAL

Cannibal Manuel Martin Cuenca, Spain / Romania / Russia / France, World Premiere

Carlos is the most prestigious tailor in Granada, but he’s also a murderer in the shadows. He feels no remorse, no guilt, until Nina appears in his life. She will make him realize the true nature of his actions and, for the first time, love awakens. Carlos is evil incarnate. Nina is pure innocence. And Cannibal is a demon’s love story.  Yea this looks awesome.  Check out trailer here.  

Story of My Death Albert Serra, Spain/France North American Premiere
Loosely based on the autobiography of Casanova, the film depicts the journeys of the famous libertine from the joyful, sensual and rationalistic 18th century Europe to his last days where violence, sex and dark romanticism reigned.

"Libertador"The Liberator (Libertador) Alberto Arvelo, Venezuela/Spain World Premiere
The film is an epic adventure based on the incredible life of Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century revolutionary who fueled Latin America’s struggle for independence. Bolívar’s quests and military campaigns covered twice the territory of Alexander the Great. Golden Globe nominee Édgar Ramírez brings to life one of the most influential freedom fighters in history. Also starring María Valverde, Danny Huston, Erich Wildpret, Juana Acosta and Imanol Arias.

People In Places (Gente En Sitios) Juan Cavestany, Spain World Premiere
This kaleidoscopic film weaves together approximately 20 fragmented scenarios that offer a view of contemporary Spain, drawing conclusions about the persistence of the human condition, strangeness, and the chaos within relationships. Starring Raul Arevalo, Eduard Fernandez and Santiago Segura.

The Kids from the Port (Los Chicos del Puerto) Alberto Morais, Spain North American Premiere
In this charming neorealist gem set on the sleepy outskirts of Valencia, young Miguel and his friends undertake a seemingly simple mission on behalf of Miguel’s grandfather that teaches them all a lesson in real independence.

Ignasi M. Ventura Pons, Spain World Premiere

Ignasi M., a world renowned museologist, is living a dramatic moment, but has the capacity to turn any situation into an edifying one and any discomfort into a hilarious series of facts.

The  38th Toronto Film Festival takes place September 5 – 15th, 2013.  To see more of the festival films trailers check out their YouTube channel.

@TIFF_NET

#TIFF13

Facebook.com/TIFF

Morelia Film Festival unveils most impressive Mexican Competition yet

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 11.25.14 AM
Designed by Rodrigo Toledo based on Michoacana by Jesús de la Helguera

The 11th edition of the Morelia Film Festival (FICM) which will take place in Morelia, Michoacan October 18-27, announced its raison d’être  Mexican competition of 88 films consisting of 11 narrative features, 23 documentaries, 43 short films and finally 11 films in their Michoacan section, in which for the first time in its 11 years a feature narrative will compete.

Further proof the festival is at the fore of social media muscle and hipness, (FICM boasts the 2nd most followers on Twitter out of all international film festivals, second only to Sundance), FICM organized a Google Hangout to discuss the lineup announcement, forgoing the boring, stuffy press conferences that typically accompany festivals’ film announcements.    You can watch it here.   Festival Director Daniela Michel, Producer & Programmer (and film producer) Daniela Alatorre and Festival Advisor/Soulful spirit (and also a filmmaker) Alejandro Lubezki were onhand looking and sounding their ever poised, smart, warm, enthusiastic, professional selves.  The team underscored their deep appreciation and privilege of getting to know their beautifully rich and profound country via the images and stories of the filmmakers over the course of the festival’s history.  Coining this year’s edition as the “First year of the Second Decade”, Daniela Michel exudes a reinvigorated energy as she and her esteemed partners forge ahead in producing the most renowned, anticipated and beloved film festival in Mexico.

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Founding Festival Director, Daniela Michel

Since the program’s inception in 2007 (the festival did not include a narrative feature competition until four years after the festival launched in 2003), the Official Narrative Competition was exclusive to 1st or 2nd time filmmakers.  This year FICM opened it up, making room for such international superstars as Fernando Eimbcke and Michel Franco.   There are brand spanking new titles yet to premiere anywhere else like Paraiso by Mariana Chenillo, A Los Ojos by Michel Franco, and Manto Acuifero by Michael Rowe.  However, it’s hard to say if they will still be world premieres upon their Mexico bow in October since San Sebastian and Toronto are still unrolling their program selections.

Here’s a closer look at each of the 11 narrative features in competition

jaulaFrom this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard, La Jaula de Oro by Diego Quemada-Diez, a startlingly authentic portrait of Guatemalan migrant youths traveling by “La Bestia, or Beast, what they call the dangerous train on which thousands hitch a ride on at their own peril.  A first feature by the Barcelona born filmmaker who has accumulated a host of experience with varying camera operator credits on Hollywood films and has notably worked with Ken Loach.  The film was called the unglamorous non-Hollywood version of Sin Nombre.

img_15949The Empty Hours/Las Horas Muertas is Aaron Fernandez’s second film after 2007’s Partes Usadas.  It was in San Sebastian’s treasure trove Works in Progress last year and is world premiering in this year’s New Directors competition. Shot in Veracruz, its about a 17 year old who has to caretake his uncle’s motel on a remote stretch of tropical coast.

Last year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard winner and Mexican entry to the Oscars was Despues Lucia by Michel Franco.  Apparently he had been working on A Los Ojos before then and it was actually tipped for this year’s Cannes per IonCinema.  Oaxacan actress Monica Del Carmen who gave a fiercely intense and breakthrough performance in Michael Rowe’s Leap Year stars.  Michel’s sister Vicky Franco co-directs.

64121_176095105896167_1265303641_nThe idiosyncratic titled, Amazing Catfish, Los Insolitos Peces Gatos by Claudia Saint Luce is a first feature and only one of two female directed films (not counting Vicky Franco) out of eleven.  A n unexpectedly heart tugging film about a solitary twentysomething who becomes inadavertently folded into a dysfunctional family household run amok by the single mother’s worsening health, she becomes an indispensable honorary family member which ensues with the typical sibling rivalry.  The film is world premiering at this  year’s Locarno film festival and according to sales agent Pyramide’s website, it will also screen at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival even though it is not announced on TIFF’s website yet.  Claudia is for sure a talent to watch!

mari-pepaSomos Mari Pepa which just had its world premiere at the Guanajuato Film Festival is drawn from the short film, Mari Pepa which endeared audiences all over the world and won Morelia in 2010.  An unassuming, empathetic, immediate yet nostalgic portrait of youth as they finish their last year of high school, having to grapple with the gravity of what to do for the rest of their lives. Another  discovery to look out for as this first feature is certain to launch the talented filmmaker’s career.

5.LaVidaDespues-LIfeAfterLa Vida Despues/Life After is from David Pablos, an alumni from the thriving film school CCC, Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica and he is currently finishing up at Colombia NYC film school.  He co-wrote SKIN a mesmerizing short film which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, directed by Jordana Spiro.  The Life After  which will have its world premiere at the prestigious Venice Film Festival before its FICM premiere, is about two teenage boys who embark on a road trip in search for thier mother who disappears leaving nothing but a mysterious note.  Pablos’ previous film was the 2010 documentary Una Frontera, Todas Las Fronteras which premiered at world’s greatest doc festival IDFA in Amsterdam.  His short film, La Cancion de los Ninos Muertos played the Morelia Film Festival in 2008 and went on to win the Ariel Award in 2010.  You can watch it here

Workers played the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section and was notably in competition at the LA Film Festival by Jose Luis Valle. The film has a tinge of black humor in portraying a maid and a janitor who expect a retirement pension after decades of devoted service, only to take things in their own hands when they get shafted.  Like David Pablos, this is Jose Luis Valle’s first dramatic feature having first made a a documentary feature.  The Salvador born filmmaker who attended the most famous and oldest film school in Mexico city, UNAM’s  Centro de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC),  caught the attention of several Mexican festivals with El Milagro de Papa, a documentary he made when he read in the newspaper about a Zacatecas boy whose Leukemia was ‘cured’ by a visit from Pope John Paul II.

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The addition of feature length film Enero by  Adrián González Camargo gives FICM lots of personal pride since for years they’ve made grand efforts to strengthen Michoacan produced films by having a competitive Michoacan film category, resulting in today’s thriving filmmaking scene.  Adrian is not only an alumni and collaborator of the festival but he also run a series of indigenous film screenings in the Michocan area.  He will be attending CSU Northridge on a Fulbright scholarship this year.  The film sounds like a dark, on the run thriller about a man who kills his wife and hits the road with his lover, only to find that their own happiness together might not be their destination after all.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 4.42.24 PMFrom Camera d’Or winner for 2011’s Leap Year,  Michael Rowe, the Australian born Mexico based filmmaker is back with his second feature, Manto Acuifero/The Well.  Shot in Puebla.  The film is about an 8 year old girl who longs for her father to return even though her mom has moved in with another man.  A well in the backyard of their house becomes a secret place that inspires her imagination.   The Well is one of two films produced by Canana in this competition.  Rowe has already secured funding for his third film, Rest Home which will be his first film in English

Penumbra – Shot on 16 mm this film premiered at the Rotterdam film festival and is currently making the international festival circuit tour including Edinburgh Film Festival.  Eduardo Villanueva’s previous film was the trippy, wildly intriguing and strikingly shot German/Mexican film Trip To Tulum.

club-sandwich Fernando Eimbcke is back with his third feature.  He made a big splash back in 2004 with his first feature, Duck Season, a jewel discovered in the 2004 Guadalajara Film Festival went on to play Cannes’ Critics Week, won AFI’s grand jury prize and won the Ariel for Best film.  His followup was in 2008 Lake Tahoe, a script developed at the Sundance Institute Screenwriters lab and which film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the Fipresci Prize.  Club Sandwich is only described as the growing pains relationship between a mother and her teenaged son.  It is set to world premiere in competiton at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 4.44.01 PMAnd last but certainly not least, I’m super excited for Mariana Chenillo’s sophmore feature, PARAISO.  Chenillo won the Audience Award at FICM 2008 with her beautifully dramatic and humorously pitched film, 5 Days Without Nora. It went on to be a hit at many international festivals and won Best film at the 2010 Ariel Awards (Mexico’s top film honors).  The film is about an overweight couple who move to Mexico City where they immediately feel the social pressure of being overweight surrounded by beautiful people. When they decide to jointly go on a diet, their relationship is put to the test when one of them successfully makes progress while the other continues to struggle. Produced by Canana’s Pablo Cruz.

Below is the list recapped with International Sales Agent info.

*Denotes first feature (Opera Prima)

Sección de Largometraje Mexicano

1. A los ojos. Michel y Victoria Franco
2. Club Sándwich. Fernando Eimbcke  (Funny Balloons)
3. Las horas muertas. Aarón Fernández (Urban Distribution International)
*4. Los insólitos peces gato. Claudia Sainte-Luce  (Pyramide)
*5. La jaula de oro. Diego Quemada-Diez  (Films Boutique)
6. Manto Acuífero. Michael Rowe  (Mundial)
7. Paraíso. Mariana Chenillo   (Mundial)
8. Penumbra. Eduardo Villanueva
*9. Somos Mari Pepa. Samuel Kishi Leopo  (Figa Films)
10. La vida después David Pablos
11. Workers José Luis Valle  (MPM Film)

Not to ignore the bread and butter of the festival, the docs and shorts – I’ll get to them in a later post.  In the meantime, to see the rest of the competition titles click here.

Viva Cine!  Viva @FICM!

COMING OUT…..UNDOCUMENTED

COMING OUT…..UNDOCUMENTED

Dang, I really snoozed on this one (and fell behind on a number of other stories while working The Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival!).  With only ONE DAY LEFT to their crowdfunding campaign, I want to give a shout out to the documentary project in the works, NO LE DIGAS A NADIE by Mikaela Schwer (Call Me Kuchu).  The title means Don’t Tell Anyone in English, and in this case the ‘secret’ is the def poet and dreamer, Angy’s undocumented status.  The filmmakers are 65% funded as of now on Seed & Spark, the really cool platform that works like a wedding registry so you can decide where you want your money to go to (lighting, catering, transpo) and really feel like part of the team.  Check out the trailer.  These personal stories are crucial for filling in the ‘Dreamer” blank profile/status. The Oscar winning short documentary, Inocente is one of hundreds of compelling young ambitious American stories caught in this political ideological (asinine) battle of questioning who belongs in the United States of America.  

#Outfest doc shorts – The LA Latino Gay

I really enjoyed finding out about this local community organization, Payasos LA through the documentary shorts film block, Queerer Than Fiction at yesterday’s Outfest screening. This is the first episode of a series called RAD QUEERS by bright-eyed and charming Graham Kolbeins. The doc short form is a kind of an underrated, underplayed piece of film, so this selection of portraits, personal journeys and confrontations was a special and touching treat. I loved that each film reflected a super specific identity yet their plight couldn’t be more universal, and exploratory of the human condition. It’s especially neat to meet the people you just met on film, in real life right after the screening. The block is playing again tonight at 9:30pm so come on down to the DGA on Sunset & Fairfax to get your tickets and party with the most diverse, real and hip people in LA.

“Smashing taboos and redefining philanthropy, Payasos L.A. is an organization of gay Latino men who wear clown make-up, go-go dance, and try to make the world a better place for future generations. Rad Queers: Payasos L.A. takes a look at the Payasos’ optimistic philosophy as well as their sexy fund-raising parties. “Mr. Los Angeles Leather” 2011 title-holder and Payasos founder Leo Iriarte walks us through the wild world of his happy band of clowns, providing a uniquely personal perspective on this extraordinary group.”

Find out more about their work here

GOING HARD FOR IT – Carmen Marron and her upcoming new film(s)

Dreams (still) come true in Hollywood.  Although so few and way far in between, the against-all-odds fairytale dream of an unknown and bold voice getting a shot at the big time and the big screen remarkably still happens. Just ask Chi-town girl, Carmen Marron who didn’t let the fact she didn’t go to film school stop her from diving in and directing Go For It!  She got her movie into film festivals and sold it to Lions Gate who released it on 200 screens including all Home Entertainment ancillary.  But don’t get it twisted, this ain’t no lottery.  It’s a hell of a lot of work to get here. The story you tell has to come from deep within your core and show.  Only then will studios, agents, financiers come knocking on your door.  Take it from Carmen, you just got to do you.  You got to be in it for the art/humanities and it’s got to be something you would do for free.  If you had to, that is.

?????????????????????????????????????????????Go For It!  tells the story of a high school teen, whose passion and talent is hip hop dance, but pursuing this dream clashes with her humble immigrant working class family and stark reality of limited opportunities raised in the inner city streets of Chicago.   Carmen wrote it as a way to get through to the high school teens she met while a guidance counselor because she realized it was the only way to get their attention (through entertainment).  She never intended to direct the script until after five years of sending it around to directors including Ken Loach who told her she was the only person to direct it.  In 2009, Carmen rolled up her sleeves, crewed up and shot the film right where she grew up around Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Pilsen. She received a standing ovation at her sold out world premiere at the Dances With Films Festival in June of 2010.  Carmen has been mad busy since but surprisingly she gives off a calm, just checking things off her crazy full To Do list vibe.  I met up with her a few days before she was flying to Panama on behalf of the Fulbright Institute of International Education to talk to young kids about filmmaking.  Here is the scoop on her full slate of upcoming films. As you can tell, she is not only riding the momentum but is driving and steering it with a clear vision of the stories she wants to tell.  Check it.

Sounds like you had an amazing world premiere screening of Go For It!  How did you manage to sell out your first festival screening like that?  What kind of promotion did you do?

I’m a marketing freak and so I did a lot on Facebook.  I raffled off tickets.  I have a business degree so I took a lot of marketing classes.   I just think that to make it in this business you have to be marketing savvy.  If you are going to be an independent filmmaker, you have to have some knack for it.

They say it’s sometimes harder to make the second feature than the first.  How did it go for you?  At what point were you completely convinced that no matter what you were going to keep making films?

Before Dances with Films, I did a pre-screening at the Boston International Film Festival, not in competition. It was a rough cut and I just want to see how it played in a non-Latino city to get some honest, hardcore feedback.  The audience was 90% Caucasian and they were so moved by it.  Many approached me after the screening, crying!  That this Caucasian woman from Northern California can relate to a Latina from Chicago trying to follow her dreams – it was really surprising for me.  I knew I had a special story, and it was so much who I am. That’s when I thought, ‘I’m going to continue telling stories no matter what happens with this movie. I know now I have the ability to connect with the public.’

Once a film is finished there is so much more work to do to get it out there, at what point do you manage to find time to even think about the next project?

 It’s different with everybody but with me I was so focused on getting Go For It! in theaters.  I really wanted to affect as many kids and women as possible.  We got lucky winning audience awards at different film festivals.  I didn’t have a sales agent or representation.  Someone from Lionsgate came to the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival screening at the Mann theater. Lionsgate called me literally during the second added screening. I don’t even know how they got my number. From there it took the next six months to officially sell it.  The deal closed by January and we released it in May 2011.  After the movie came out, I was really exhausted.  I started getting offers.  I had an agent interested in me.  I was getting indie scripts to direct but I didn’t really feel any of them.  They were dark, Sundance-y stories, good scripts but not inspirational, not my type. Then out of the blue, I get contacted by an attorney on behalf of a writer client, who said they saw my movie.  They asked me to read and consider a script to direct. It was called Border Town back then and I didn’t like the title.  I didn’t get to reading it until a couple weeks later, in the middle of when I was writing my own script, a Latina comedy which I just finished. Anyway so I read this at night and I literally broke into tears, it was such a good script.  The writer and the producer flew out to LA to meet me and I got attached. It’s called Saving Esperanza. It’s an incredible true story about a woman who went to the border to do mission work with her child and then fell in love with a baby at an orphanage.  She tries to bring the baby to the US to provide critical medical care because the baby is dying but it is in the middle of Sept. 11.

ENDGAME SAN ANTONIOEndgame came about in the middle of working on that film.  The same producer I was working with told me about another script, also based on true events; an inspirational and empowering Latino story.  This was August of last year.  I read it, (Endgame) and it had so many good elements to it, but the script needed work so I said to her I would be willing to rewrite the script. The writer was also the producer and a wealthy immigration lawyer in Texas. I told him what I would want to do with it and he was totally receptive and he said we got a deal.  That was September.  I started rewriting it in October, I started flying out to Texas to do scouting and get local casting after the new year, we did prep in March and shot this past April.

Wow, so both projects came to you fully financed?

Endgame was, the other one we’re still trying to get the rest of the financing.  We hope to shoot that in the next six months.  I was really lucky because of my reputation with Go For It! These scripts came to me and they were good fits.  Its funny, it’s a lesson in this industry where you’re always looking for work, that if do what you love you will attract the right people at the right time. We are tying to get Endgame ready to submit for the Sundance deadline.

ENDGAME Med Poster 300ppiSo tell me more about Endgame

Endgame is inspired by this incredible success story that is happening right now in Brownsville Texas.  It’s the third poorest town in the U.S. It’s right on the border of Matamoros.  It’s 99% Latinos, straight from Mexico, and the drop out rate and poverty levels are really high.  About twenty years ago the school districts and the parents rallied together and started teaching competitive scholastic Chess in schools to try to improve kids’ cognitive skills, focus, agility, basically to keep them out of trouble.  It started with one teacher JJ Guajardo, who we got to be our chess consultant in the movie.  He literally took a group of delinquent kids who were always in detention and started teaching them Chess.  Sure enough the kids responded and he assembled a little team.  They went to regionals, then went on to state. Under his guidance they won State Championships seven years in a row, beating the rich prep kids in Dallas. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it, this is like true life!  The vice principal tells me some of these kids didn’t even have running water, and here is the community pitching in to get them bus tickets to go to Dallas to compete with kids who have had grand master coaches since they were five.  And these kids are beating the pants off them.  So now Brownsville is known around the country for their scholastic chess because they are realizing that is their way to make it.  Kids are growing up to go to Yale, Princeton, Harvard.  They are traveling all around the world to compete.  The film is based on education and Latinos, which is kind of what drives me, like in Go For It.   I was a guidance counselor so that resonates with me.  It was an honor to be there in Brownsville around all those giving, loving families with so much integrity.

RicoTell me about the cast

We have a real strong cast.  We got lucky.  Rico Rodriguez, Manny, the kid from Modern Family is the lead and he is amazing. He carries the movie.  He’s very charismatic, very humble, normal down to earth kid.  His parents have done an amazing job.  He’s Mexican from Texas, that’s why we were lucky to get him for this role.  We could have never afforded him.  This is low budget, I mean much higher than Go For It! but the actors that we got are incredible and we couldn’t really afford their rates.  Rico’s parents however, felt that this story represented their lives so they wanted their son to represent their family in such a positive way.  Justina Machado plays Rico’s mother, she is also from Chicago.  She is a phenomenal actress. Efren Ramirez from Napoleon Dynamite also stars.  The film is a mixture of both drama and humor, like Searching for Bobby Fisher, Stand & Deliver.  It’s a family film, PG 13.

Was there a conversation about whether it should be bi-lingual? English or Spanish?

In the original we had it that la abuela would speak Spanish and we would do English subtitles, but then Ivonne Cole who plays la abuela said, ‘I really think we should have her speak English with her accent so we can keep her more relatable and people can connect with her’.  And it worked better that way without the language barrier.  She has her own type of Spanglish.

Carmen Marron ENDGAME BehindTS stillI remember crossing through Brownsville in my childhood when my family and I used to drive from Chicago to San Luis Potosi.  It was like being in a different world, transients, predators and shadiness.  Do you touch on the seedy border town side as well as the politics that come with it?

We are telling a tremendous success story here, so yeah we touch on the social obstacles that the kids face.  We touch on Rico’s family and the immigration and border issues.  It was definitely important to the investor who is an immigration lawyer, to ask questions like, ‘If your child wasn’t born here, should your child be deported as well?’ The Dreamer angle plays into the story.  In general what I wanted to convey was that these students, even though they come from a poor, marginalized community, they are the most confident, down to earth, giving, honest, normal kids that you will ever meet.  It shocked the hell out of even me because I also had my own preconceived notions. I was also nervous about the safety since it was a border town.  But I was so blown away.  I remember seeing Rico Rodriguez, who is a millionaire kid, home schooled forever and around the most intelligent sophisticated adults all day long.  Here he is transplanted in Brownsville, hanging out with ten other real local kids and I couldn’t tell the difference between any of them.   I really couldn’t and I’m very perceptive of emotional behaviors.  After this experience I would live in Brownsville and raise my kids there and I know they’d be respectful and normal.  I wonder if a lot of that has to do with the chess program’s influence.  It’s been around now for twenty years.  It’s made a huge social impact.

So you got one film in the almost can, another about to shoot, you are also writing your own…tell me

I have written a musical I want to shoot in Chicago.  Even though I’m working on these really great projects, that’s my baby baby next.  My gift to society, to really show Latinos, you know.  It makes me feel really good to provide opportunities to new actors to let them shine, to open more doors so that the audience can demand more roles.

That’s right, you got “Introducing Gina Rodriguez” in Go For It!

Yes, Go For It! was her first feature.  I got her right out of NYU.  She had only done a short film and some commercials.  She moved out to LA right after Go For It.  Then there is Aimee Garcia who plays the lead in the film who has been in the industry for 20 years; She said to me it was her first leading role. I couldn’t believe it.  That resonated with me.  I think it’s our responsibility as Latinos to keep trying to push these types of films.  The films that we are making or choosing, like the scripts that I’m writing or the scripts that come to me.   I always think when I’m reading something, how can I make this lead a Latina? I figure it out how so I can pitch it.  You can’t just be like, ‘Oh I’m just going to do whatever they want me to do’.  I could’ve easily done that and probably would have made it faster.  It’s not what I got into this business for.  It’s so much a part of me to tell these stories.  I would do this for free.

For all my chi-town peeps, you can see Carmen speak at the Women in Film, Chicago event next Wednesday, July 10, 6:00pm – 8:00pm at Moe’s Cantina.  Event cost for non-members is $20.  More info here.

TRAILER WATCH: GRAVITY – Alfonso Cuaron’s upcoming sci-fi George Clooney starrer

Deadline News reports that Alfonso Cuaron’s sci fi thriller GRAVITY will have an out of competition world premiere screening at the venerable Venice Film Festival in August. The film stars A-list topping movie stars, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Cuaron’s precious Y Tu Mama Tambien also premiered in Venice back in 2001. Gravity will be released stateside in October. The teaser hits a striking mood and the terrifying, panicked note of drifting untethered alone in the big black abyss of outer space, regardless of the quiet, tranquil breathtaking view of our blue beautiful planet.

That makes two of the three Amigos directing Hollywood blockbusters put out by Warner Bros this year. Curiously, neither is a Universal Pictures release, the studio with who they have a first look deal with through their production company Cha Cha Cha. Guillermo del Toro’s $180 million dollar explosive giant drone action/sci-fi film Pacific Rim which also unleashed yet another trailer today, will be released next weekend after 4th of July. That leaves Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (Amores Perros), the self described black sheep of the three. He’s got a really intriguing film in post called Birdman, which is being described by Indiewire’s Playlist as a meta kind of Kaufman flick about a washed up actor who use to play a superhero. Armando Bo, Argentine director of The Last Elvis co-wrote the script. Oscar nominated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Tree of Life) – who also shot Gravity is the cinematographer on Birdman. Between Los Amigos and Malick they must be running him haggard! I’d say Alejandro has got the most real human intrigue, not to mention a stellar and unique cast going for him, including Emma Stone, Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifanakis. It could hardly be called an indie film, but it is being put out by ‘specialty arm’ Fox Searchlight. The screen roll out on that film will obviously be considerably less than his compadres’ movies.

Who’s your favorite Amigo?

It’s official #LALIFF2013 open for submissions

quince
After celebrating its Quinceanera in 2011, it took a hiatus in 2012

It appears that The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival is back this year after canceling what would have been last summer’s sixteenth edition.  Without much fanfare, no press release or even news item on their website, yesterday @LALIFF tweeted that the call for submissions was open and shared the link to the entry form.  Yet there are no festival dates specified, only that it will take place (sometime) in the fall. For anyone who submitted last year, the submission page encourages you to reach out to them directly:  programming@latinofilm.org.

Last year I wrote a rather lengthy post about LALIFF’s sudden flatline here. In it I interviewed Moctezuma Esparza, Ben Odell, Douglass Spain, Alex Rivera among many other filmmaker and industry vets and luminaries who have participated over the course of many if not all of LALIFF’s history.  Repeated attempts to reach figurehead Edward James Olmos went ignored.   A lot of the community was confused at such a quietly suppressed shutter, and shaken that the festival had to hit the brakes so sudden and hard after accepting submissions and in some cases inviting films for the 2012 edition.  For fifteen years LALIFF had been the fundamental forum in our great city of Angels for US and Latin American filmmakers.  In many cases it was the ONLY place US Latino films had a real shot of screening.  I was personally appalled that the mainstream press didn’t bother to lend weight to such a cultural riptide, let alone pick up the story, so I took it upon my amateur self, counting on just my personal experience and contacts to examine it closer.  It was the very first film festival I ever worked on.  Like many filmmakers and filmgoers, it kind of changed my life.  I took that passion for nurturing original Latino films and went forth into the world working at high profile film festivals, mainstream and specialized, to gain a wealth of programming experience, most influentially at Sundance and Morelia.  It’s been seven years now, and every year I make sure to reach out to LALIFF with the hopes of capitalizing on my ever growing network, relationships, programming insight and producer skills I’ve accumulated to apply it towards making LALIFF’s infrastructure and programming sustainably stronger.   It is only natural, like wanting to give back to your alma mater once you’ve made it because you feel that at long last you can actually make a real impact to something that made such a difference to you.  But for either vague reasons given (or sometimes no response at all) my eager interest to help has never been taken up.

This year once again I offer myself up to do what I do best, steering an innovative programming vision and implementing a well executed festival.  It’d be easier for me to sit back and critique its’ weaknesses but what is the use, or greater good in that?   Instead, I’m saying right here, right now, Eddie, Marlene, I’m here, ready and willing to get my hands dirty and help make this institution reach its full potential and thrive once again.

Are you down for collaborating with the festival?  Will you be submitting to LALIFF this year?  How do you feel about its return?  Cuentame.

Image

Are you?

AMPAS invites US Latinos to join ranks (as Actors not Writers/Directors/Producers)

Today’s announcement of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science’s whopping and unprecedented 276 invitations to join their exclusive film society ranks indicates a baby-step push to be more diverse following the public spanking they took by last year’s LA Times piece which revealed the membership was 94% white and mostly male and old (average 62).  Then there was the furious outcry from the Latino community over the omission of our beloved late actor Lupe Ontiveros in this year’s Oscar telecast RIP memoriam.  In an open letter to the Academy, the National Hispanic Media Coalition went so far to assert that Lupe applied and was denied membership, giving rise to further shock and anger that an actor with such a long-spanning career (who played the role of a maid some 150 times) was not given recognition (by a white establishment, mind you).

THE PROBLEM WITH CONTROLLING IMAGE CONTROL

La Lopez
La boricua J-Lo, outspokenly committed to American Latino stories

Lets be real here, by nature, any veritable member organism charged with promoting and recognizing excellence on the popular masses scale, is usually an unwieldy, slow, political agenda-ized machine that struggles to keep step with the changing culture of subcultures and  geo/social/cultural demographic shifts.  Often times it is a dated lens of the current climate.  Almost always, admission to such preeminent establishments is a rigid and puzzling bureaucratic, over-protective process which keeps many guards at the gate.   If the AMPAS is the establishment of the center of the industry, minority representation outfits like the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the NAACP are similarly erstwhile establishments of their historically marginalized People of Color domain. The hazard then, is that in their high profile position they become yet another filter towards clearing and edging forward the mainstream path. Their relevance and integrity requires a high level of proactive responsibility.  It’s much more productive to the cause (and challenging) to galvanize and mobilize on behalf of “unrecognized’ yet hugely talent artists, rather than to mobilize and forever celebrate someone already well established.

Mosquita_Y_Mari_Filmstill4_Fenessa_Pineda_Venecia_Troncoso_photobyMAgelaCrosignani
Mosquita y Mari (click on pic for link to watch)

Last week the nominees for the The Imagen Awards were announced, an awards gala known as the Latino Golden Globes, designed to recognize and reward positive portrayals of Latinos in all forms of media.  In the feature film section, there was a huge oversight in their unwillingness to nominate two US Latino written and directed films which captivated audiences at hundreds of festivals.  Both films couldn’t organically exemplify the positive image more, with their shining and refreshingly authentic depiction of an often times ghettoized world, not to mention accomplished use of the cinematic medium. Why weren’t they considered? Because the films were not officially submitted. I’m talking about  Mosquita Y Mari by Aurora Guerrero and Elliot Loves by Gary Terracino.  These two first feature films are transcendent coming of age stories that happen to speak directly to the Gay Latino community and offer insightful, multi-cultural and dimensional underrepresented narratives.

Elliot Loves
Elliot Loves (click on pic for links to watch)

The NAACP’s Image Awards follows similar protocol as does the IDA Awards, I later learned.  I find it frustratingly counterintuitive  that such entities acting as the preeminent Image authority on behalf of a minority group and whose aim is to cultivate a new culture, whether it is awareness for the extraordinary documentary, black or latino narrative, it is not a priority to do outreach and consider outstanding work that highlights their mission, regardless of whether they paid a submission fee.  The non-profit, under-staffed response is not acceptable.  Surely there are people in those communities who would assemble an adjunct committee to look out for these films on the organization’s behalf.  Film festivals do outreach to films made by people of color and even offer fee waivers because they understand their gatekeeper reputation and existence rests on being the first to discover new visions and perspectives.

Pena
Michael Pena, dare we say the next bankable Latino leading hollywood star?

Back to the list of Academy invites out.  There are seven US Latinos on the Actor list of 23.  Michael Pena (no doubt sponsored by his buddy and co-star of End of Watch, member Jake Gyllenhaal), Danny Trejo and Jennifer Lopez feel very du jour nominations.  Miriam Colon and Alma Martinez fall in the should have been nominated ages ago.  Both are amazingly still very much active today.  The Geno Silva nomination feels kind of random.  He was first seen in Zoot Suit in 81,then made a number of television appearances in the 80s and 90s., he was in Spielberg’s Amistad in 1997.   His last film credit listed is the Vin Diesel movie, A Man Apart in 2003.

What about content creators?  As far as I can tell zero from the branches of writers/directors/producers on this invitee list are US Latino.  Given the mostly secretive 6,000+ membership it is somewhat difficult to add context without knowing the complete list of US Latinos who are currently members, those who have been a member before and later resigned, or how many US Latino artists over the years have been invited.  The reason the AMPAS gives behind not wanting to publish the full list is fear of lobbying.  No kidding.  I would guess there would be more pressure on those minority members to crack open the door a tad more.  But I wonder if Rodrigo Garcia, Patricia Riggen, Patricia Cardoso, Robert Rodriguez or Gregory Nava to name a few of the few on indeed members?  (anybody know??)

Dawson
Rosario is Puerto Rican/Cuban on her mom’s side.  She plays icon Dolores Huerta in the upcoming Chavez pic

In the LA times article from last November, Academy leader Tom Sherak said they are eager for more applications from women and minorities, AND more involvement from those who are already members.  He was quoted, “If you are sitting waiting for us to find your name in our make-believe book and we are going to call you, we are not going to do that. Come to us, we’ll get you in. We want you in. That would help us a lot.”

So, if our own organizations run by people vested in our representation, aren’t actively seeking out, championing and pitching talent who have yet to be recognized in the mainstream, why would we expect the longstanding establishment to do so?

Martinez
Mexicana Alma Martinez will be next seen in FX’s The Bridge

Here’s the Actor list.

Miriam Colon – “City of Hope,” “Scarface”
Rosario Dawson – “Rent,” “Frank Miller’s Sin City”
Jennifer Lopez – “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” “Selena”
Alma Martinez – “Born in East L.A.,” “Under Fire”
Michael Peña – “End of Watch,” “Crash”
Geno Silva – “Mulholland Drive,” “Amistad”
Danny Trejo – “Machete,” “Heat”

Cinematographers:

Checco Varese – “Girl in Progress,” “The Aura”, and Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming summer tentpole release, Pacific Rim (Peruvian born married to Patricia Riggen)

Colon
Puerto Rican Miriam Colon, most recent credits, Bless Me Ultima, Girl in Progress

Members-at-Large:
Victoria Alonso is Marvel Studios’ Executive Vice President of Visual Effects

Music:

Cliff Martinez (Only God Forgives, Drive, Traffic, Solaris…).

I know that last names are not always a barometer of whether someone has Latino roots or not.  If you know of or can identify other Above the Line (w/d/p/actor) who are US Latino, give me a shout.

ADDENDUM, Per Hollywood Reporter, the National Latino Media Council applauds the Academy for the 22/276 Latinos nominated.  That’s  8% people.  And that measly 8% includes Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padhila, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain and a handful of other international artists mixed in with US Latinos.  Nada que ver.

NICOLE GOMEZ FISHER WINS BEST DIRECTOR AT BROOKLYN FILM FESTIVAL

Tonight the Brooklyn Film Festival drew to a close and I’m so thrilled to hear the news that Nicole Gomez Fisher was awarded BEST DIRECTOR for her debut feature, Sleeping with the Fishes starring Gina Rodriguez!  In case you missed it you can ready the interview I did with Nicole last week here.

Festival wins for indie films often help the visibility and future of their distribution. Make sure to like the film’s FB page to stay tuned for future announcements on where we might see the film next.

Cast:  Gina Rodriguez, Ana Ortiz, Steven Strait, Priscilla Lopez, Tibor Feldman, Orfeh, Producer: Courtney Andrialis – Director/Screenwriter: Nicole Gomez Fisher – Cinematographer: Raoul Germain – Editor: Carlos Berrios,

Email:  swtf13gmail.com

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