#SXSW2014 Storytelling for Change: Diego Luna on the making of Cesar Chavez

Tonight at 6pm at the Paramount is the North America premiere of Cesar Chavez a film directed by Ambulante co-founder Diego Luna.

Hear his candid thoughts about making the movie with the Chavez family at this morning’s Participant Media panel

REZETA – Mexican feature film wins Special Jury Award at Slamdance

REZETA written and directed by Mexican born but trans-nationally influenced Fernando Frias, was recognized with a Special Jury Award Prize at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival which celebrated its 20th anniversary last week.  It was the U.S. premiere of the film after its world premiere at the Morelia International Film Festival in 2012.  The story is about an Albanian model named Rezeta (played by the naturally charming Rezeta Veliu) who flies in to Mexico City for a work stint and develops an unlikely relationship with a down to earth, blue collar guy who works construction on set and who doesn’t fall all over her like most men do.  It’s an unexpectedly genuine, credible and revealing take on the opposites attract friendship romance, and one enjoyably surprising in its sympathetic and dimensional portrayal of a jet set beautiful model, who in many ways, her world savvy independent experience and maturity becomes much more of a threat to the men in her life than her looks.  Here’s the trailer.  Read on for my post Park City interview with Fernando – a talented up and coming voice to watch out for.

1. How was your Slamdance experience?  What is something that people might not know about Slamdance?

Slamdance is fucking fantastic. It’s all about filmmaking at its purest form. Slamdance has a very unique stamp. They dare to program great work that defies convention and they help create communities around genuine filmmaking. They have kept loyal to their famous phrase: “For filmmakers by filmmakers” for 20 years now. There’s a lot going on during the festival and still all the staff are extremely friendly and have such great attitudes. People might not know that the festival has been around for that long and that they have discovered people like Christopher Nolan and Lena Dunham, among many other big names.

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Film Still of Rezeta
2. What’s the next script you are working on?
It’s a story about a very particular Mexican kid around Queens. I had one earlier draft that I wrote for a class at school but when I came back to it, I found that it went in a very different direction that what I originally had in mind. The good thing is that after realizing that, I wrote the story in prose as a short story in the voice of my character and I had the great luck to be selected  winner of the  Bengala-UANL award (Nuevo León University). It’s a first edition contest open to all writers, journalist and filmmakers from Mexico and the objective of such a great contest is to find good ideas for scripts and help them throughout their developing stage. After I found out that I won, I got so excited that I completed a new draft in 2 weeks. I am currently revising it in 2 different workshops.
20140120-Slamdance-DSC_01065. What kind of culture do you belong to?
I’d say I belong to the DIY culture but I don’t know how much will that do for an answer. I can tell you that I’m Mexican born and raised in DF with parents who came from opposites sides of town.  I grew up traveling to unknown places because my mother worked for more than 25 years in Airlines, so we had standby tickets and we would go to the airport not really knowing where we were going too. It was cool because we could only fly on low season so I missed school and I wouldn’t know where we were heading until the very last minute… I guess this made an impact on me because all my work ends taking place around cultural differences…
6. What was the most inspiring thing you did or saw in Park City?
I have to say that winning the Jury award  for best narrative film at Slamdance was a huge surprise and really exciting but I also had a blast snowboarding, something that is kind of new to me.
7. What other US Latino filmmaker have you recently discovered or follow?
I discovered Alejandro Fernandez from Chile. I really love his film To Kill A Man which played at Sundance and won a big award. At Slamdance I think I was the only Latino but I might be wrong. As for names, I have to say that this last year I saw two amazing movies from Chile and Brasil: Gloria by Sebastian Leilo and and Neighboring Sounds by Kleber Mendoça. 
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Fernando is pretty modest.  He’s a Fulbright scholar in NY at Columbia, and his experimental documentary, Calentamiento Local (which means “Local Warming) won the Digital Prize at the Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival known as FICCO in 2009, the penultimate year of the once IT festival.  A highly lyrical, romantic capturing of the symbiotic, magnetic relationship of ethereal beaches and the sensual bodies who traipse and fall in love on them in  Mexico. You can see the full film here.  Fernando has also made some really cool artist portrait commercials for Converse.    
Check out more of Fernando’s work on his vimeo channel

Ambulante California – unveiled at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, co-founders of the traveling documentary film festival, talk about the inception of Ambulante, the power of cinema, and the upcoming launch of Ambulante California. Coming soon September 21 – October 4

@AmbulanteCA

Curaçao International Film Festival Rotterdam – Looking for Caribbean Island films

Hola!

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A rich hot mix of African, European and Latin American influences make for a striking unique multi culture and perspective

I know it’s been a while since my last post.  Lots to report on, but I’m jumping on right now because I’m putting out an APB (WANTED) out on Caribbean island feature length films.  I’m so delighted and honored to be Programmer of the Yellow Robin competition at the  Curaçao International Film Festival, taking place April 2 – 6.  I was happy to learn I was recommended by the veteran Latin Film Programmer at the  Toronto International Film Festival, Diana Sanchez (thank you!).  I got the gig after speaking with Rutger Wolfson, director of IFFR and then while at the Morelia Film Festival, I met with Percy Pinedo who leads the program from Curacao.   I was impressed to hear the year round efforts and programming The Cinemas Willemstad has been doing thanks to the support of the Fundashon Bon Intenshon.  The aim of Rotterdam’s Caribbean baby sister is to develop the local audience and spark the filmmaking impulse, and create a meeting point for Caribbean and Latin American film producers.

As a huge fan of Rotterdam’s edgy, discovery programming, I’m so happy to be collaborating with their smart team’s  bold initiative to register the filmmaking voices and people of the Caribbean islands.   This is a region to watch. This year I was excited to watch 4 fiction feature length submissions from the Dominican Republic films for Sundance, each completely distinct from each other.  The Havana Film Festival which 35th edition ended last week, boasted a stronger than ever regional program , including the premieres of Land Without Evil by Juan Carlos Valdivia (from Bolivia), whose last film, Zona Sur played at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, and Giraffes, a Cuban/Colombian/Panamanian film by Cuban Kiki Alvarez.

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The audience at Curacao

There is also for instance, The Panama International Film Festival which has solid ties with the Toronto International Film Festival (Diana Sanchez is the Artistic Director) and is taking place from April 3 – 9.   Like Curaco IFFR, it will put on its 3rd edition in 2014.  I heard great things about Panama from Latin Film Market industry friends.   Since 2006 the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival has been earning a name for itself, and it looks like it also has a robust little engine of year round programming to engage the community.   Surely these kind of co-organized visionary festivals are encouraging the slowly increasing trickle of feature length films I’m seeing in submissions.  That said, there is not much film input  from specifically the island region, which makes the viewing process exotic and exhilarating to see such underrepresented culture.  The shortage and inconsistent quality is a challenge towards assembling a worthy, well rounded competition if restricted to only Caribbean islands therefore the competition will also select films from Central & South America, countries near geographically and influence.  For me, there is something so metaphysical about being so naked and vulnerable out in the middle of the sea that shapes the perspectives of these stories.

I’m looking forward to spending my holidays visiting the islands through film.   If you have any recommendations even if they are just the titles without contacts, let me know.  Please share and pass along the link in case someone you know might have some.

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LALIFF – Back in Community Effect

2013-10-10 18.35.41Last night was the Opening Night Screening and Gala of the 2013 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.  Invoking it’s “Sweet Sixteen”, the tradition of celebrating an American Girl’s coming of age is appropriate even if technically, this would have been its 17th year, had it not taken last year’s hiatus. It’s appropriate all the same because this year’s program represents American (Latino) films AND a substantial amount of Latinas driving and depicting these stories.  Newly instated Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti was on hand to give his blessing.  The grandson of Chihuahua, Mexicans, his poetic remarks referring to Los Pobladores (the original mestizo settlers who founded LA in 1781) confirmed the passionate consciousness and respect he has for LA’s history. Edward James Olmos presented the Gabi Lifetime Achievement award to Pablo Ferro, a bohemian whose signature skinny long letters and influential film titles sequences on such films like Dr. Strangelove, Bullet, Russians Are Coming, BeetleJuice, Men In Black among countless others, established an art within the art of cinema’s first impression and tone.

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This is Pablo Ferro

The documentary, Pablo handled by Shoreline Entertainment and directed by Richard Goldgewicht is an animated, whimsical treatment of the life and times of this consummate artist and original hipster.  Folks like Angelica Huston, Andy Garcia, Leonard Maltin praise his genius, and narrated by The Dude, Jeff Bridges gives it an added air of deadpan wit, whose “This is Pablo” narrative  conceit, strikes the tone of the bohemian Cuban born artist.  Wearing his trademark red scarf,  Pablo accepted his award without so many words but no matter, as the audience generously paid enthusiastic homage to one or our own being rightly commemorated.  Also at long last given the deserving (posthumous) commemoration was La Madrina of the festival,  the late great Lupe Ontiveros.  Olmos made a point that even in her passing she changed the course of our community when her painful absence of the In Memoriam at the Oscars galvanized the Latino Academy members to rally and re-examine their presence within the organization.  Olmos’s handsome rugged face, much like Robert Redford, transmits such grit & soul, add to it that wicked Zapata mustache and his Escalante personality that he never got rid of, when he closed by saying It’s time for the community to take charge” his onda was fully registered.

At the party across the street at the Wax Museum where the uncanny real life sized figures freak you out every time you feel you should turn around to introduce yourself  (guests remarked where are my brown wax at!) I got a chance to see many of the US Latino filmmakers with films in the festival.  From Jesse Salmeron and Jeremy Ray Valdez of Dreamer, Richard Montoya of Water & Power.    I got a chance to catch up briefly with one of my esteemed mentors and friends who is also a LALIFF Advisor Sydney Levine of Sydneys Buzz on Indiewire.  She is a treasure trove of insight and knowledge in the international film circuit and I cannot wait for her upcoming comprehensive book focusing on Latin American Cinema.  Maria Agui Carter, NALIP member and filmmaker whose documentary on civil rights soldier Loreta Velazquez, Rebel screens in its full running time on Saturday at 3:10pm (The 52 minute version has been broadcasted on POV).  Maria and I started to get into a passionate chat on women authored and women depicted stories.  I’m pleased to find out there is a panel, Women and girls in Media Panel at 5:30pm today. We agreed that a candid and collaborative discussion needs to be had regarding these so called  female empowered yet still sexually objectified characters (see Sofia Vergara’s ak47 tits in Machete Kills), and on how as women we need to deconstruct our stories in a different way, not so much replace roles men have traditionally had.  Stories doing just that at the festival along with Rebel, are Maestra about Cuba’s National Literacy Campaign, a profile of the women who taught a nation to read and write, by Catherine Murphy. Colombian non-violent revolutionaries, in We Women Warriors by Nicole Karsin.  On the dramatic front there is Nicole Gomez Fisher’s delightful comedy Sleeping with the Fishes and the DIY Venezuelan inspiring guapa/activist/filmmaker/vlogger/mother, Fanny Veliz who has written directed, produced and has been distributing her film Homebound.

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Eric Garcetti remarking on the flowers the Pobladores seeded 231 years ago

While LALIFF has had and continues to have many organization struggles and challenges, I’ve become so aware that one thing you can never take away from it,  is the powerful sense and network of community.  So many talent pursuing their craft have made connections, collaborated and grown in their careers as a result of hanging out at LALIFF.  Someone should archive these fruitful connections as much as the films that have been shown.   Further proof is the filmmaker who told me last night how he met someone he wants to cast in the film he is working on.

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Mi querida amiga Maria Oliva! Documentary filmmaker/photographer and LALIFF’er

My dance card is full this weekend before I head to Mexico on Monday.  I’m in screening crunch mode for Sundance, but I’ll try to run down to the festival at the TLC Chinese 6 theaters when I can to write up another dispatch of films and filmmakers to watch.  If you are in LA please do buy a ticket to support the Latino Film Institute and the next wave of Mas American talent.  As with any festival your best bet for discovering emerging voices is the short film program.  Go watch shorts The Shooting Star Salesman by Kiko Velarde,  Llegar a Ti by Alejandro Torres, The Price we Pay by Jesse Garcia and El Cocodrilo by Steve Acevedo.  Go to http://latinofilm.org/festival/ for full program and check them out on Twitter & Face

Mas Later

#MasAmerican

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.