This savage satire written, directed and produced by Omar Rodriguez Lopez topped my list of most excellent American Latino films that popped up in 2012. Los Chidos cracked people’s faces when it premiered in competition at SXSW last year, as you can tell by the savvy mainstream and hard core cult film critic quotes in the trailer. Having seen the film thrice, I can appreciate this sneaky and clever approach in contextualizing the film’s mad provocation. Thanks to Adam Thomson (editor/producer) for giving me a first look. Enjoy. More screening play dates to be announced soon and a unique distro plan is likely. Follow @ORLProductions if you are not already trying to keep up with Omar’s progressive and nonstop music and film creating endeavors.
Last week I offered up my top 5 fiction films to look out for in 2013, and as promised, here is my non-fiction list of films coming down the pipeline, bound to make an impression and impact this year. Two are profiles of influential iconic American activists whose work and spirit have left indelible marks on their generation. Hopefully their reintroduction through the docs will serve to celebrate and carry on their positive influence as Latinos for many next generations. The other films deal with redefining our perception of American identity, gender and human rights while wielding cinematic ingenuity and power. As these films prove, docs can be just as striking in their characterization and cinematic form as their fiction counterparts, in addition to their intrinsic educational value. Take note, all of these are seeking opportunities to engage with their audiences so again click on the links to follow and show your interest in their work so we can bring awareness and demand their exhibition.
In Laredo Texas, there exists a debutante ball held by the exclusive Society of Martha Washington that takes place every year celebrating George Washington’s birthday. A 114 year-old tradition, the lavish affair presents members’ daughters- all of aristocratic pedigree and lineage dating back to the foundation of Texas, who dress up in grand, colonial gowns representing characters from the American Revolution. Las Marthas follows a couple of high achieving, bi-literate and conscious young Mexican Americans going through the lengthy preparations as they enter this rite of passage that ends with a parade that draws huge crowds. What’s especially remarkable about the whole patriotic event is that we are talking about a city that is 94% Latino. Laredo became part of Texas in 1848, when everything north of the Rio Grande became the United States. Many families who stayed, benefited off the oil boom and settled into an upper class aristocracy. Many generations later these are still the most prominent Laredo citizens and proud bearers of this historic tradition.
I’m so proud of this Chicana sister for revealing this world. She has intuitively seized on and explored this unique legacy, which clearly demonstrates the vibrant bi-culture of Texas and shows how aptly the founding father narrative belongs to Mexican Americans. She is also working on a fiction feature titled Love and Monster Trucks about an 18-year-old Chicana artist named Impala Mata who can’t wait to escape her 4×4 truck-obsessed, Texas bordertown family. Sounds so cool. Need to track that one too.
Filmmakers website here
2. CESAR’S LAST FAST by Richard Ray Perez, produced by Molly O’Brien
Back in the Spring on Chavez’s anniversary I wrote about this documentary in progress here on the site. Cut to today and I’m happy to share it is just about ripe and ready for its premiere. Wisely and effectively entering the vast legacy by angling on Chavez’s 1988 Fast for Life, the film focuses on conveying the private sacrifice and spiritual conviction behind Chavez’s struggle for the humane treatment of American farm workers. With each and every day adding up that he refused to eat in protest of the rampant use and ill effects of growers spraying pesticides on farm workers, Chavez seriously risked his health and life and in turn inspired a nation. It boasts never-before-seen footage in which artists and activists came to see him, endeared in solidarity by his fortitude, including the likes of Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Kennedy family, interviews with his son Paul Chavez, Chicano filmmaker Luis Valdez, activist veteran, Dolores Huerta and Martin Sheen, along with showing the press hoopla this man was able to attract back then. It’s taken years for the family to trust someone with his story so it’s telling that Rick has managed to gain their support.
Film contact <CesarsLastFast@earthlink.net>
3. RUBEN SALAZAR: MAN IN THE MIDDLE by Phillip Rodriguez, produced by City Projects
On August 29 1970, just as the Chicano Moratorium March, a protest denouncing the extremely high number of Chicano soldier casualties in Vietnam (front of the line browns), was winding down, a tear gas canister was suddenly thrown by LA County police into the old Silver Platter Cafe on Whittier Blvd, killing the pioneering civil rights journalist Ruben Salazar. Set to broadcast on PBS in the Fall, this documentary is the first thorough investigation into the life and mysterious death of Salazar who was raised in El Paso and went on to become a brilliant reporter covering Vietnam, the Olympics and the Chicano movement for the LA Times and KMEX TV 34 television, making him the first Mexican American to cover news for mainstream outlets. In that critical and turbulent moment in the Chicano rights movement, Salazar gave voice, rationale and dignity to Chicanos’ fight to demand equality. An inquest was later regarding his untimely death made but murder charges were never brought. Instead Los Angeles County paid $700,000 to the Salazar family to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.
Just last month, after two years of requests, Philip Rodriguez finally won the battle to uncover case details when MALDEF sued Sheriff Lee Baca for withholding unredacted records regarding the 42 year old case. This new unearthed footage, photos and documents will appear in the film along with interviews with Salazar’s family, friends, colleagues as well as the deputy who threw the fatal tear gas missile, Tom Wilson. So the story goes, there had been allegedly a tip that an armed man entered the bar (hence blindly throwing tear gas while folks were in there?). For the first time we might get answers and insight surrounding the mysterious and suspicious circumstances of this leading Latino voice. As quoted on KPCC, Phillip Rodriguez says, “I think this is one of the most important stories that has remained on the margins and that has been characterized as a regional or an ethnic story and it’s a fantastic American story”.
Although this premiered at a few noteworthy film festivals in 2012, including Austin’s SXSW, Outfest in Los Angeles and MOMA in NYC last December, I’m thrilled to know there is still a long life ahead towards sharing this beautiful experience with the public so it definitely deserves to be on the Watch Out For list. A dazzling requiem to the 7th & Alvarado corner bar joint, Silver Platter, specifically the transformation and haven as a Latin/LGBT/immigrant community spurred on by the introduction of performance parties known as Wildness, produced by a fiercely talented collective including Wu Tsang, the director of the film. The intersection of stories and people borne out of that multi cultural, trans and cross-generational magic potion is fascinating and poignant to behold in this cinematic and audiovisual piece. The cinematography captures the wonderful and tragic beauty, and by personifying the bar as a majestic hostess welcoming all wayward transients, the film pulses with heart. Currently looking for distribution opportunities (repped by Cinetic). Check out the trailer below and go to the Facebook for more info.
5. WHO IS DAYANI CRYSTAL? by Marc Silver, produced by Canana and Pulse
I previously highlighted this unique docu-drama about the discovery of a migrant found dead in the border desert and the unfolding mystery of his identity with the parallel of a retracing of his journey, as part of my WTF is Latino at Sundance post. The film will open the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival this Thursday and I will be onsite to cover the audience’s reaction (Don’t forget to follow me on twitter for my sporadic SFF coverage). Not only is it a feat of ingenuity in the way the narrative is structured, it’s an extremely urgent topic deserving a larger audience to provoke more humanity and thought into the pressing immigration reform debate. I guarantee this one will travel to many festivals in 2012 and get theatrical distribution, aided in no small part by its compassionate and driven producer and narrator, Gael Garcia Bernal. Last year, Searching for Sugarman screened in the same Day One screening slot, was subsequently snapped up by Sony Pictures and as of last week officially nominated for an Academy Award. Hmmmm. Get updates by following their twitter @DayaniCristal
Film Contact: < email@example.com>
Peep this and pay mind folks, especially Festival Programmers and Distributors. Here’s my list of the most exciting American Latino independent fiction films coming through the pipeline ready to break out and make noise in 2013.
All are first features by wildly original voices who are remixing potent multi-cultural heritage and inventing their own unique brand of genre. So much talent! Makes this Chicanita proud.
Let’s start with numero uno:
1. WATER & POWER – from Chicano wordsmith warrior and Culture Clash iconoclast, Richard J. Montoya, produced by Mark Roberts. This is the screen adaptation of Montoya’s 2006 play originally performed at the Mark Taper Forum. Rife with the City of Angels’ legends, haunts and lore, the Chicano noir tale (how cool is that?) takes place over the course of one fateful night. An intense story unravels centered on twin brothers nicknamed “Water” played by Enrique Murciano and “Power” played by Nicolas Gonzalez who were born and raised on the East Side streets playground – one grows up to be a senator and the other a high ranking cop. The amazingly gifted musical artist and composer Gingger Shankar (Circumstance, Charlie Wilson’s War) has contributed music to the film. The project participated in the 2007 Sundance Institute screenwriters & directors lab. A madly prolific playwright (a regular Berkeley and Yale Repertory Theatre collaborator), I got a chance to see Montoya’s uproarious and thought provoking American history redux play, American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose last fall (read the LA Weekly feature review here). An uncompromising artist with a thundering voice all over the pop culture pulse and map, Montoya’s first feature film tops my list of films to watch out for in 2013. Can. Not. Wait.
Film contact: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
2. PARDON – written and directed by R.F. Rodriguez and produced by his production company BadMansSon. A story that deals with a cholo ex-con who returns to his barrio ready to go on the straight and narrow but soon finds himself pulled by his old gang familia may sound familiar, but never has it been as emotionally excavated and depicted with such sensitivity and complexity. Hector Atreyu Ruiz is Saul Sanchez whose driving motivation is the chance to reunite with his estranged daughter. Guided by a sympathetic parole officer, played by Tracey Heggins (from the 2008 indie African-American gem Medicine for Melancholy), Saul tackles catch-22 circumstances towards his mission and confronts a growing uneasiness and threat from his vatos who continue to test if he’s still down. At its core the film is an exploration about fatherhood and coming home, and speaks to the social phenomenon of absentee fathers as the result of incarceration, an issue predominantly afflicting Latino families and communities.
Set in Highland Park, Rodriguez, a USC film school grad, shot the feature before graduating, having fleshed the story further out of the short film he made of the same name. His project mentor, Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves) encouraged him to do more with it and this is the amazing result. With earnest and raw performances, the moving and powerfully directed film marks this a sign of a true filmmaker talent discovery.
Film contact <email@example.com>
3. RECOMMENDED BY ENRIQUE written and directed by Daniel Garcia and Rania Attieh and produced by their NY based company En Passant Films. Shot in border town Del Rio, Texas (the U.S. side of the Rio Grande) with an offbeat hipster cast of young non-professionals plucked locally, the quirky, mystical tale is about an aspiring actress and an old cowboy who each arrive into town with respective plans and expectations, only to end up waiting for something to happen. Forced to wait out their time, they’ve nothing to do but explore the bewitching town and its people. Lino Varela plays the Cowboy and Sarah Swinwood, a Canadian newcomer actress nails the airhead wannabe star.
This is the second feature film from Texas native Daniel Garcia and Lebanese born Rania. Their first film, OK, ENOUGH, GOODBYE screened at San Francisco International Film Festival among other world wide festivals, and the duo were included in 2011’s Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Undertones of a Twilight Zone type of dimension and the spellbinding pull of the dusty town are perfectly captured – as anyone who’s been in these strange little Texas towns can attest. Unexpected and unpredictable, this definitely gets my recommendation.
4. VINCENT & LUZY (FKA On the Run) written and directed by Alberto Barboza and produced by Cinético Productions. A charming, hip and modern fairy tale love story between a soulful graffiti artist,Vincent, played by Miguel Angel Caballero, and sexy tattoo artist, Luzy played by Iliana Carter Ramirez. The film captures and romanticizes the happening, multi-culti rockabilly/emo scene and counter culture of Boyle Heights and features lots of home grown talent and spots like Self Help Graphics, the community visual arts mission center. The posters created by Vincent in the film are designed by rising street artist, El Mac (Miles MacGregor). You’ll recognize some of his murals around LA like this one on Hollywood and Wilton, one of my favorites. He just did the album cover for No Doubt.
An eclectic soundtrack featuring local Vallenato band, Very Be Careful, Hermanos Herrera, Irene Diaz, Doghouse Lords and more. The cast also includes ol’ G’, Sal Lopez (American Me) and Lupe Ontiveros in what may be her last film role before she passed away last year (she also has a small role in Water & Power).
Fresh, exuberant and inhabiting a distinct, heightened magical street reality, Vincent & Luzy might be the first film to truly reflect this young, vibrant artist subculture, making this one a hot flick to track.
5. BLAZE YOU OUT – written and directed by Mateo Frazier and Diego Joaquin Lopez and produced by Alicia J. Keyes. Set in the rarely seen mystic world of New Mexico, this young female driven thriller is uniquely atmospheric. Starring the rising young talent, Veronica Diaz Carranza (Mamitas) along with a terrific cast including Elizabeth Peña, Q’orianka Kilcher, Raoul Trujillo and Mark Adair Rios, all who ignite the screen. Diaz stars as Lupe, a DJ who is forced to venture into her town’s heroin trade underworld in order to save her younger sister Alicia’s life. To do so she must confront mysterious occult figures and harness the power within her to connect with the divine that surrounds her.
I was thrilled to hear that Lionsgate picked up the film at AFM a couple months ago. Lionsgate/Grindstone will release the film July 2013. 6 Sales is handling rights to rest of world. Intense and wicked and unlike anything else this is a sizzling genre film to look forward to. In the meantime, check out the press kit, pics and more on their site.
CHAVEZ – written and directed by Diego Luna and produced by Canana Films, Mr. Mudd and backed by Participant Media. Given it’s a biography of an iconic Chicano figure, labor rights activist Cesar Chavez, and Luna is an international name talent, this project has already attracted major press coverage ever since it was first announced so it doesn’t really fit my ‘Discovery’ profile. That said, it is a highly anticipated and important film. I really hope the film opens wide and mainstream – although Participant will likely need a partner to make this happen in the U.S. Michael Peña, the Puerto Rican actor catapulting towards leading man roles and already a regular in big Hollywood films (he’s in Gangster Squad opening this weekend), embodies a young Chavez. It wasn’t quite ready for Sundance so it’s possible the film will bow at a high profile festival like Cannes or Toronto. Although I’m hoping Stephanie Allain, director of Film Independent’s LA Film Festival will go hard after the film to wrangle what would be a fitting LA gala premiere. Diego Luna proved his salt as the filmmaker of Abel, an eloquent and heart-stirring portrait of a little delusional boy who pretends to be the man of the house since his father left. Peña recently shared his approach was to be truthful to Cesar the MAN not necessarily the legend or myth generated by his colossal perseverance and labor rights feats. All eyes will be on the representation of such a querido and influential figure. My bet? All in. I trust the filmmakers and cast will deliver a resonant and accomplished cinematic film worthy of the inspiring civil rights story, and more importantly re-introduce Chavez to mobilize our millennial generation.
Do you have a hot independent American Latino film recommendation I should track? Holler at your girl. Email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Next up, Non-Fiction American Latino films to track in 2013
I recently contributed to a Top 5 Latino Films of 2012 on Indiewire’s Latinobuzz blog. Among the Programmers’ picks were films from Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and Peru, alongside U.S. films like Filly Brown. In fact, when asked for my list, I thought I needed to make a statement by pointing out I picked all “American” Latino films. The exercise indicated once again a lot of us are not on the same page when it comes to the definition of the term “Latino”. As filmmaker, Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer) commented on the post, “It’s important to have a term that describes the diaspora community here in the U.S. Latinos in the U.S. face very different challenges and opportunities than Latin Americans…..in terms of tracking what’s happening in film, we need this distinction, the way there’s a very clear distinction between African Cinema and African-American Cinema.
I couldn’t agree more. Even if it still makes for a fairly broad category to band together the vastly different and culturally rich spectrum of “Latin roots,” at least the unifying reference that can serve as glue or a constant, and help level and monitor the landscape within the context of film, is the social/political experience of life in The United States. It’s these vibrant and unique bi-cultural stories and voices that must be shepherded through the bottleneck gates towards distribution. More so because these groups are largely under-represented or marginalized in the main arteries of film distribution channels. With a growing number of new alternative models of distribution available and the power of the audience/consumer, now more than ever, we can demand our content.
So with that, let’s take a closer look at my Top 5 American Latino Films of 2012 – all of which compellingly portray singular, rarely-represented walks of life and perspectives – and in each case the filmmaker’s personal and distinct multi-cultural makeup adds to the film’s alchemy. Every film on this list has bowed at film festivals and only two of them have had a very limited theatrical run. In a sense, these films have been born but now its time to help these babies walk and talk. There’s no better way than today’s word of mouth: the social media. Please click on the films’ links to follow and interact with the film’s life and if you dig it, be proactive and support these films to help them reach their audience.
A ver ~
Festivals: NY Latino International Film Festival (world premiere) and stay tuned for future festivals this Spring 2013.
Why it stands out: Of all the films on this list this might have the biggest commercial potential because of the broad appeal of the classic, wholesome high school coming of ager comedy genre. Filmmaker Guardado, Jr., who is a video teacher at Heritage High School by day, injects a modern, refreshing representation and empathetic, teen authenticity to the formula. For far too long this type of movie has been domineered by slender-shaped Anglo protagonists with your token black/brown/gay supporting characters. And while it is awesome to see brown leads; curvy, nerdy cute girl played by Angelina Leon and class clown/jock played by Jorge Diaz, at the epicenter of this story, it’s more importantly a perfectly pitched sweet, funny and ‘real’ high school romantic comedy that resonates. Just check out the trailer here. I reviewed it earlier this year here.
Where to see it now: Like I say, this is especially ripe for mainstream release opportunities (cable/DVD/VOD). So far the film had a one night screening in its hometown sponsored by Brenden theaters. The filmmaker is currently approaching other local theaters to arrange more screenings. Interested parties (festivals/distributors/PR) can email the filmmaker directly at: email@example.com.
4. Aqui y Alla (Here & There) – written and directed by Antonio Mendez Esparza (Raised in Madrid and has lived in Mexico and NYC – film shot in Mexico)
Festivals: 45 – among them, Critics Week at Cannes (world premiere), San Sebastian, AFI, Morelia, Mar de Plata, Dubai, Lone Star Festival.
Why it stands out: The magnetic non-professional acting ensemble and the film’s doc-like aesthetic subtly immerses the audience into the psychological aftermath of a story rarely told onscreen. Quite simply it’s about a Mexican father who has recently returned to his family after being away in the states for a long time. The film fills a void within the canons of the Mexican immigrant story. There’s so much more than the grueling border-crossing journey, which is one small part of the ‘immigrant experience’. The more opportunities and support Latino filmmakers can reach to tell their stories, the more their storytelling can evolve to truly capture the whole context. It’s only recently that I’ve started seeing some reflection on those families of immigrants who stay behind and the generation-spanning social effects – and I’m not only talking within US and Mexico panorama. In 2009 Antonio’s short film, Una Y Otra Vez garnered him much attention as it traveled to many festivals worldwide. It probably helped give him a profile when it came time to submit his first feature. Antonio is currently busy with the limited release of his film and is also already at work on his next project; a mother and son story titled, Saudade.
Where to see it now: You are in luck if you are in NY! The film premieres in three different venues for limited release NOW. Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, the reRun Theater in Dumbo, and the Jackson Heights Cinema. (Click on links for tickets and showtimes).
3. Elliot Loves – written and directed by Terracino (Dominican New Yorker, film shot in Harlem)
Festivals: Over 50 film festivals, among them, Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in May (World Premiere); New York International Latino Film Festival, Outfest, San Francisco Frameline, Global Film Festival in Dominican Republic.
Why it stands out: Elliot. He is as lovable and charming as he is emotionally conflicted and flawed. We meet him as a sweet, precocious boy growing up in Harlem with his young, single mother, an ill-equipped parent who suffers from a co-dependency on a string of deadbeat-boyfriends. As we jump forward to Elliot’s adult years, his strained relationship with his mother and deeply rooted childhood fears and dreams continue to play a role in how he pursues love. How else do I put it, I’ve never seen as real of a depiction of a ‘gay cholo’. I enjoyed the romantic dalliances – especially the steamy love scenes, the old school mano-a-mano fights on the street, and the drama that while zany, eschews any of the flamboyant queen diva archetypes or melodrama we’ve seen associated with gays before. Like Mosquita y Mari (next on the list) the gay Latino niche has huge potential. For years, gay representation has been relegated to background or one dimensional characters, or lead roles in a serious coming out/AIDs dramas. But what about mainstream genres like romantic comedies? When a film like Elliot Loves comes around, no wonder it is fiercely celebrated by the gay community and film festival circuit. At the end of the day though, the storyline’s universal resonance (looking for love) is what hits a chord with gay AND straight audiences alike.
2. Mosquita y Mari – written and directed by Aurora Guerrero (Chicana from the Bay, film shot in LA)
Festivals: A whopping 110 festivals, both mainstream and queer including Sundance (world premiere), San Francisco International, Seattle, Sarasota, Melbourne, Sao Paolo….
Why it stands out: I’ve long wanted to articulate that extra magical ingredient and feeling you get when you watch something and find it so incredibly in tune with a part of you. As a first generation Mexican-American I find many of these moments related in Mosquita y Mari. The log line seems simple enough; Two high school Chicanas, one square, one street, make friends and come of age in LA. The palpable emotion and sensitivity in portraying adolescent romance, sexual impulses and tensions with parents who shoulder you with the heavy pressure of achieving a better life on behalf of all your ancestors, drives the heart and veracity of the story. The way they talk, look, the music they listen to, is all me. I’m sure I’m not the only chicanita who feels that way either. When film speaks to you on a specific level – it’s a wonderful feeling of connectedness. Again, early awareness helps; Guerrero worked on getting this film made for several years, reaching out and applying to as many non-profit partners for assistance, including Sundance Institute’s Native Screenwriters lab and San Francisco Film Society’s robust year round Filmmaker grants. Combined with her Kickstarter campaign launched while finishing production, the film attracted attention early on, making it easier for film festivals to track. Guerrero is currently at work with her next feature, Los Valientes which recently obtained a grant from San Francisco Film Society.
Where to see it now: DVD/internet/broadcast rights sold to Wolfe Releasing earlier this year. Let the filmmakers know you want to see it! Express your interest on their film site to purchase a DVD (late 2013) and or request a screening of the film near you. This information will help their ongoing self-release theatrical strategy in partnership with Film Collaborative a non-profit film distribution/consultant outfit catering to specialty releases that is helping the film book theaters and educational outlets. HBO broadcast also in the future late 2013.
1. Los Chidos, written and directed by Omar Rodriguez Lopez (Puerto-Rican, grew up in El Paso, shot the film in Mexico, citizen of the world)
Festivals: SXSW (world premiere), NY Latino International Film Festival, Rio, Santa Fe Independent, Hola Mexico (Australia).
Check out the recently released trailer here:
Why it stands out: Provocative genre. Whether it incites a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reception, taboo-defying, wicked satire and social and political commentary under an unsettling visually graphic aesthetic, elicits a fervent reaction and guarantees a degree of attention. ORL is not one to hold anything back and you can feel an exhilarating rush as he discovers and makes the tools of the visual medium his own to challenge and trans-mutate society’s views about identity, religion and sex, among other hot-button issues. Like the poster tag reads (translated), “Those who don’t criticize their culture don’t love their mother”, signaling the film’s unrelenting attack on every stereotype ever pitted to lazy, homophobic, incestuous, thieving, murdering, macho Mexicans. There’s no doubt his prolific music career (The Mars Volta, currently Bosnian Rainbows) has spawned a specific audience for his work as an uncompromising artist. This built-in audience will be the first to give flight to his flourishing career turn as filmmaker. I personally can’t wait to see future films as I bet he’s only getting started in this arena and has so much to say. Omar returns to his hometown of El Paso next month to begin shooting Niño de la Esperanza.
Where to see it now: Indiewire recently included Los Chidos in their Top Ten Undistributed Films of 2012 piece. So unless a savvy and daring outfit (like Oscilloscope) picks it up, expect ORLP and music management/record label, Sargent House to self-distribute as they are doing with Omar’s 2010 film, the psychedelic identity trip, The Sentimental Engine Slayer (You can buy the DVD, and cool poster art and t-shirt for $35 here). These guys are the perfect example of D2F (Direct to Fan) distribution at work.
Links: Facebook, Website
Next up, top 5 American Latino films to watch out for in 2013!