Here we go! Kickstarting the Ambulante USA movement

I nodded off at 3am with Orange is The New Black finale in the background while compiling my old yahoo contacts and email lists from the various film festivals I’ve worked in the past 12 years.  Why?  To prepare a Master email blast to ask people to back Ambulante California on Kickstarter.  If I didn’t love this social cinema platform and believe it to be a noble and radical vehicle that stimulates the ecosystem of audiences and filmmakers I would probably think twice about emailing folks I haven’t talked to in a while.  But that’s not the case.  Here’s me a few hours ago all showered after two strong instant black coffees making a video to commemorate the launch.

And here is the campaign video and page.  Please click HERE to go to page and get involved and support this project!

Don’t be shy, tell me what you think.  I will try to update my blog with this crazy rollercoaster journey of the Chicana from Chicago heading up a traveling documentary film festival.

#AllOrNothing

#DoubleDown

 

 

 

Meet Tin Dirdamal – Director of Death in Arizona

opening2014Last weekend I was in Mexico City for the official launch of the 2014 Ambulante documentary tour.  The roving film festival has an insanely impressive 35 venues through out most of the burroughs in El Districto Federal.   It wanders around in Mexico City one more week until the 13th when the tour hits the road to its next stop in Guerrero.   The tour will conclude May 4 in the magical land of Oaxaca and by then it will have traveled to 12 different states throughout Mexico presenting its diverse, international lineup of the latest documentary cinema.

Ambulante has 12 different programming sections including the popular music section, Sonidero, Dictator’s cut, devoted to human rights & freedom of speech,  and Injerto, the art & cinema experimental section.  Ambulante’s viscus however is Pulsos, where you’ll find the most recent, most original voices of the robust Mexican non fiction narrative.  It is here that the world premiere of Death in Arizona, a futuristic documentary, as described by the director, Tin Dirdamal is being presented.

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Still6 copyI first met Tin at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival with his opera prima, DeNadie which won the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.  He is by far one of the most curious, unpretentious, inspired minds I’ve ever met.  We took a jaunt up to Coyoacan plaza, an ancient mecca of artisan vendors and merchants, for coffee at my favorite El Jarocho, tamales, and found a relatively quiet garden to have a conversation.

DeathArizona1The story is quite personal, about a love lost and a self found, to say it broadly.  Without giving away too much, the love in the film is also the producer and co-director Christina Haglund.  I asked Tin about his creative process, his favorite Jodorowsky film, his experience at Sundance, and his philosophy on filmmaking and well, life.  Check out our conversation and then the trailer to his film.   He is truly a one-of-a-kind, thought-provoking, and perhaps the most brilliantly unassuming human being I’m happy to know.  Now you meet him.

Here is a trailer of the film – that for me resonates as a journey culminating towards a flickering light and illumination at the end of a tunnel of heartbreaking solitude.  The intimate, moody, futuristic and transcendent film, Death in Arizona.

Meet Edgar Muñiz: The Most Prolific Filmmaker You Don’t-but-should-definitely Know

Bio_Pic_photo_2“I’m a compulsive filmmaker,” admits Eddie Muñiz the 33 year old California native who has 12 films under his belt.
One of them is The Never Daunted, his 10th film. Not too long ago I saw it as a festival screener dvd and I vividly and immediately felt that rare exhilarating rush of discovery amid the dvd stacks of derivative story lines.   The film is about a  man who, unable to cope with his infertility and the monotony of a dead-end job, becomes withdrawn from his relationship and grows obsessed with a strange Western that comes on television late at night – which only he can see.   The film’s captivating sincerity and epic  male psyche exploration makes Muñiz not only a writer/director to follow, but one to actively support.  He’s one of those creative manic types who are actively pursuing their art of storytelling without frills, on the fly and for the love.  On the weekends and perhaps limited by budget but never held back by its raw, transcendent humanity.  In talking to him you can tell he is completely immersed in and relishes the craft.  So much he hasn’t had the bandwith to fully explore the mine of distribution outlets.  Thanks to our brave new world of Direct to Fan online distribution, we can finally check out some of his films, in particular the singular The Never Daunted.  Now available to stream on Seed & Spark.  Once you get hooked you’ll want to see more of his work, some of which is available on his website.   Read on, get to know this cool cat and get a  taste of his sensibility and work ethic and tell me if he’s not inspiring.
The_Never_Daunted-2Adjusted1. Putting together one film no matter how modest the budget requires a lot of collaboration, an insane amount of tenacity and organization.  What is it about your creative process and style that has allowed you to be so prolific?
 
You’re right.  Making a film does require a lot of collaboration, and I think there are either filmmakers who embrace this aspect of filmmaking or they don’t. I completely rely on it, but that’s also because I work with a lot of like-minded people and really talented, smart people. I think that the only real trick I have is that I won’t start with a script. The only reason I’m able to complete so many projects and get them done so quickly is because I’ll take care of the scheduling first, which I think is the hardest part, and then force myself to write something under pressure before the day I have to shoot. I never really start with an idea or theme in mind; I’ll start with a person I think is interesting or that I love being around. I know that sounds weird, but so many of the films I’ve done started from just hanging out with a friend or with new people. After hanging out and getting a sense of their personalities and of their views, I always think it’s interesting to take a version of that person and place him or her in different scenarios that I later come up with. This approach not only opens up several narrative possibilities for me, but it also makes it so that I can make the film and keep discovering new things as I’m going along. The part that I play in this is almost nonexistent. I just have to make sure to listen very carefully, work within my means, prepare for any setbacks or last-minute changes and finally remain objective enough to shape a film out of all of it. It is a compulsion in that filmmaking is a priority for me, and I’m constantly thinking about it. I never stop and it drives a lot of my friends and family crazy. I would always rather film than go to bars or to parties or to lunch or to dinner…unless I can film when I’m there!
 
2.  The dialogue feels so natural in your films.
There’ve only been a few times that I’ll have specific lines I want my actors to hit.  Sometimes I’ll be married to these lines because I overheard someone say it a certain way, but all of the credit here should really go to my actors. I’ll know the emotion I want from the scene, I’ll know the tone, and specific expository points, but that’s it, and that’s only the structure or the blueprint. They’ll improvise off my sides, and sometimes this will be a page with four or five lines on it – between two or three people – and what would’ve been a 1-minute scene on the page, they’ll turn into a 3 to 4 min. scene full of twists and turns, with sharp, understated, and insightful subtext, sometimes strange, sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious. But always unexpected, and that’s the point. 
_DSC22313.  In The Never Daunted, there is such a genuine vulnerability not often found in male driven films.  You said you were raised by your mom and aunts, do you think this helped you get in touch with this modern masculinity side?  You show such a profound and illuminating notion of the pitfalls of having to live up to a macho masculine, cowboy, protector and provider role, it really expands my perception and elicits my empathy for the male perspective.
That’s really cool of you to say!  Because my mom was always working, I’d spend a lot of my days with my aunts and my grandmother…. I have two uncles that I admire very much, but I don’t think I ever measured up to that Mexican macho male thing, nor did I ever really care to. For what it’s worth, I grew up with more of a feminine perspective – because of my aunts and my mothers – and this kind of allowed me to see how proud men can be, how delusional, overbearing, fearful, and how selfish we can be as well. And I do love to look at this in my films, and I’m often guilty of all of this male posturing too. Although I understand the culture of cool cinema and even appreciate some of those films – the cowboys, the gangsters, the hitmen movies- I can’t help but see that same macho bullshit from my childhood being perpetuated over and over again in our culture. It’s also a constant reminder that I’m none of those things and that maybe I should be feeling like I ought to be. I think men are much more interesting than that though, much more complex and multidimensional. But a variation in movies is great – don’t get me wrong. Nevertheless, if there’s a story about a bank robber being chased by the cops, and he’s forced to pull a man and his little boy out of their car, and speeds off, I’d rather see the story about the man having to explain to his boy what just happened.
 
The Never Daunted STILLS 384. You mentioned you’ve gotten feedback from Guy Maddin and Monte Hellman, have they inspired your approach and aesthetic?  Who else contemporary filmmakers do you draw from and connect?
Guy Maddin and Monte Hellman were the only two that took the time to respond, and they were also the two that I was desperately hoping would respond, so I did make more of an effort with them. I do love movies that are very postmodern and abstract and these two guys are still making very interesting and provocative work. Guy Maddin continues to find new ways to tell stories and I can’t passively watch any of his movies. They require my complete attention and that’s what cinema should be, I think. With Monte Hellman’s Road to Nowhere, I had the experience where I had to keep watching the movie over and over again so I can decide whether or not I liked it.  And Road to Nowhere was a movie about movies, which is something that still interests me, as indulgent as it might sound, and this meta-fictional element comes up in not only The Never Daunted, but in other movies I’ve completed since then. And I love all types of films and filmmakers, but as far as the ones that make me excited about not only watching their movies but going out and making more of my own, I’d say Hong Sang Soo, Carlos Reygadas, Lynne Ramsay, Agnes Varda, Gus Van Sant, Miranda July, Alfonso Cuaron, Bela Tarr, Tsai Ming-Liang, and Mary Harron are maybe my favorites right now. And obviously, this list is always changing .
 
IMG_7983
5.  Does is it get easier with each film you make?
Working with actors and non-actors has gotten easier for me. It’s a different language I use with both, but I’ve learned to appreciate this aspect of filmmaking more than any other. It’s the part where I get to work with them as people, but the discussions aren’t always about choices or behavior or the psychology of a character. A lot of times it’s them telling me personal stories and me sharing personal stories with them as well, which is why I feel that the friendships I’ve made through filmmaking have been so rewarding and amazing to me. There’s no chit-chat or formalities; there’s no time for that. So a person will go from being an acquaintance to a deep personal friend you feel you’ve known for a long time, and this will happen simply because they’re willing to bring their personal experiences and specific views to the table. As cheesy as it sounds, it can feel like the purest expression of the self and art. Learning that a lot of them are willing to do this, or maybe because they trust me, has given me much more confidence when directing a scene, so it feels much easier. All the other technical stuff is a pain in the ass, but I learn it because I have to and because I didn’t go to film school.
 
_DSC16696.  What do you personally get out of making a film from the creation and observation of the human condition? 
I guess it’s the same thing that I get out of teaching, but to be honest, teaching is much more rewarding. Both require a lot of self-reflection and discipline, but in teaching, the results are right there and you can actually see the light bulbs go on in front of you. With filmmaking, it can be very painful and I can think that I’m addressing several questions that are important to me, but once the film is done, I’m sometimes left with even more questions and concerns than before. The greatest pleasure that I derive from making a film is having connected with people in the process. At the end of a film or at the end of a screening, I often feel like a fraud and like I didn’t complete what I set out to do. I start wondering what I even want to gain from all of it, and I’ll just watch other people’s films and wonder, “Who the hell do I think I am, making my own movies, or assuming that people even care?”. But the one constant pleasure is my relationships with my friends. The fact that I built friendships in the process and that they trusted me and that we completed something together. Then, inevitably, I’ll get excited about another project and I’ll bury myself in another opportunity to work with them.
 
Haley_Project_STILL_137.  In your words, what is Haley, your latest film about?
The Haley Project has a couple of stories running parallel throughout, but at the center is the story about a girl named Haley, who we only see in the beginning of the film and in a flashback at the end. It’s loosely based on my friend Laura Benson, who actually plays Haley, but it’s also about other people in my life who I’m always in awe of. I have a few friends who are always telling me stories about these exotic places that they’ve visited and these crazy adventures that they’ve had.  My friend Nick Null, who plays Murray in The Never Daunted, has a lot of stories like this too. But I thought it would be interesting to look at this kind of person, but from the perspective of all the supporting characters in each of their stories. How are these supporting characters, who don’t get to float on from place to place, affected by having met someone with a seemingly more interesting life? So I had two guys, played by Seth Johansson and Brian Randles, become competitive and mean with each other over their love for Haley, without Haley even there anymore. And in the same movie I have a romantic Frenchman who arrives in LA, in hopes of finding love. And I love this idea because it’s usually the other way around: the starry-eyed, American Francophile visits Paris in search of love.
Check out the trailer for The Never Daunted below and click here to watch the film on Seed & Spark.
 

IN THEATRES – MISSION PARK

Next weekend, Film Festival favorite Mission Park written and directed by Bryan Ramirez is finally dropping at AMC theatres in select cities across the nation on Sept. 6th.  So Fandango it over after your crazy Labor Day plans. Chi-town, head to AMC Cicero in Lawndale. In LA, it’s playing at Universal Citywalk, and in NYC the AMC Empire.

Rounding out the hot emerging cast which includes Joseph Julian Soriana (stud Hector Cruz in tv show Army Wives), Jeremy Ray Valdez (La Mission) Walter Perez (Friday Night Lights, Pop Star) and Will Rothhaar (Battle Los Angeles) is Douglas Spain (Star Maps, Resurrection Blvd) who is also a producer on the film AND none other than Original Gangster Jesse Borrego (Mi Vida Loca).  His line “One Day Does Not Define a Man” hits a resonant chord and plays as a resonant theme in the flick.  I’ve mentioned the film several times on my blog (official description below) because its played a dozen festivals and has racked up hella Best Director, Audience and Jury Awards.  While I’ve used the terms like Latino all-star cast, “street’ crime action thriller, and genre swagger – all an apt way to describe its edge, the biggest reason you should go watch it is that its just a bomb ass classic hood tale of friendship, betrayal and free will, through the eyes of four regular kids from San Antonio.  Underneath the slick action, what hits home is the dramatic sense that its all on you to defy your fate (every day) and not be another statistic or stereotype (Latino gangbanger).

Oh and if that’s not enough to get you turned on, the sexy rising actor, Fernanda Romero plays the irresistible love interest.  YOW!fernanda

LOG: Set in San Antonio, TX, where a drug syndicate has taken control of the region, “Mission Park” follows the lives of four best friends who choose very different paths. Torn apart over time by their ambitions, their choices ultimately bring them back together on different sides of the law. In this urban crime drama, two young F.B.I. agents, Bobby Ramirez (Jeremy Ray Valdez) and Julian Medina (Will Rothhaar), go undercover to infiltrate and take down an illegal drug organization run by the untouchable drug lord Jason Martinez (Walter Perez) and his right-hand man Derek Hernandez (Joseph Julian Soria).

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#HotSec Fridays – Somos Chavalos – a microshort by Julian Yuri Rodriguez

From the cutting and pushing edge Miami wrecking production crew, Borscht Corp. here is SOMOS CHAVALOS, adopted and directed by Julian Yuri Rodriguez.  It is a modern urban Latino youth interpretation of the Gwendolyn Brooks’ brief and majorly significant poem, We Be Cool. What’s raw and real here is that this perspective is unapologetic and from the youth direct, made searing by the disconcerting casually tragic POV of their short term life. This aint no outsider looking in told tale as we often are given these stories. If we want to ‘get kids these days’ we gotta dig under the surface and give weight to their reality. Do that by really listening between the lines and implications. The street family and code of honor, for all its criminality and corruption, offers a place of respect, love and pocket money – a badge of status – for lower class kids. The easiness and eagerness with which they pursue this avenue of survival is a critical discussion to engage.

Julian (24) may be young blood but his provocative in your face style has this between the lines intensity and import. He’s my latest add on my TALENTO filmmaker list of emerging filmmakers to watch. Check him out on Piratas, a short he narrates and co-directs. And coming soon online is C#ckfight, watch the cheeky trailer here.  Borscht has received considerable funding support from the James L. Knight Foundation, one of the more visionary and bold arts foundation out there, based in Miami. Keep up with Borscht’s crazy cool transmedia storytelling stimulation on their Tumblr where they release their own work as they please and for free.

Here’s We Real Cool 1963 poem by Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks:

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Don’t miss the PBS Social Screening: REBEL by Maria Agui Carter

392829_10151353491043027_161342741_nPBS is doing a really awesome thing for social activist/educational mobilization and awareness for all the arts.  It’s called OVEE and it’s a new live, interactive social screening platform where you can choose your own content from the eclectic documentary PBS library.  You can invite up to 500 people to join and watch from anywhere, along with the added plus of having a Question & Answer chat  with the filmmaker!  The possibilities for launching and fundraising a spectrum of educational/grassroots organizations are endless.  It doesn’t have to be a social issue.  PBS also programs a lot of great music programming, so you can get together and watch Bonnie Rait at the Austin City Limits concert if that’s what you want to do.  But it also just might be a game changer in that it offers an optimal tool to connect beyond geography.

The beta version of OVEE is available to public media organizations and their community partners. If you are interested contact ovee@itvs.org.  They’ve queued up a range of upcoming public screenings including Ted Talks, culinary arts shows and a number of concerts, listed here.  Which leads me to:

This Thursday, June 20 at 4pm PST you can join to watch this extraordinary historical portrait, REBEL by Maria Agui Carter.  Co-presented by Latino Public Broadcasting and Women and Girls Lead, an innovative public media campaign designed to celebrate, educate, and activate women, girls, and their allies across the globe.

Screening info and how to join here.

Rebel is the forgotten story of a woman civil rights soldier.  What???  Yes.  That’s right.  Loreta Velazquez fought as Harry Buford, a Confederate Soldier, then spied for the Union.  Born in Cuba and raised in New Orleans, Loreta was unconventional to say the least. Her memoir which was published in 1876, revealed the dark side and ills of the war-time society.  She was publicly attacked and discredited over it, and for over a century, critics have dismissed her as a hoax.

The film inhabits an ambitious hybrid form of classic documentary and epic drama, featuring luscious costume and production design, a lively score and a huge cast of actors embodying the reconstruction of Loreta’s infamous practically erased life and times.  It plays like a big scale period piece weaving dramatic sequences of Loretta as a woman in those times, with battle action scenes and fascinating recently uncovered archives.

309895_10150317307748027_394344489_nI recently met María Agui Carter at NALIP where she is the Chair of the Board.  I admire her character and drive for continuing to raise the bar for herself.  Bringing to light this Latina Civil Rights soldier was so important to her that when she realized there was barely any footage she dove in and recreated the feel for the era.  She joked that if she had known how much work it was going to be she would not have gone though with it.  But that just goes to show she went with her gut, doubled down, and the result is a distinctly novel aesthetic.  At one of the keynotes she shared her story of immigrating to the U.S. from Ecuador, growing up as an undocumented “Dreamer” .  A Harvard grad, she is passionate about using media storytelling to inspire social change and specializes in visually arresting and complex storytelling.
306415_10150317315598027_162902961_nREBEL is a co-production of IGUANA FILMS, L.L.C. and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with WPBT/Miami and Latino Public Broadcasting with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

You can also watch Rebel at the Roxie for the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco June 29

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#HotSec Fridays – web series American Nobodies episode Antonio by Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck

In honor of their very first feature Forty Years From Yesterday debuting at the LA Film Festival this week I want to share this particular mini-doc portrait made by the filmmakers Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck.  In distinct auteur meets D2F fashion, American Nobodies is an original web series in which they film and introduce us to “Average Americans Doing Extraordinary Things” then upload them online for free for everyone to see.  In little over a minute they manage to capture and highlight the startling souls of individuals as the camera unyieldingly gazes directly into their eyes, and follows them in their element.  We get to meet Don Antonio in this one, a weary, aging man who recounts his grueling 9 day trek across the US – Mexico border.  Even though it must be decades since the terrifying ordeal, we can tell the experience will forever and firmly remain embedded in his memory.  Meet Antonio and check out more extraordinary Americans here.

The boys from NoCal have a considerable body of work in multi-media short forms that defies and blurs through genres, demonstrating a love and anthropological eye in its dreamy realist cinema.  It’s always awesome to see short filmmakers take their craft into the feature form, especially ones with such original voices and aesthetic. The world premiere of Forty Years from Yesterday is this Sunday at 7:30pm.  Get tickets here.