#Outfest – Where my hip Latinos be at.

If you are wondering where to meet and connect with the hip, new Latino generation of film and television right now, the answer is LA’s very own Outfest Film Festival. So get your booty over here. It runs until this Sunday, July 21.  If you are not in LA, don’t sweat it, I’m on the beat, finding out about all the crazy Latino talent coming up.  On the screen, and in the DGA Atrium where most after-screening receptions are being held, I got the chance this weekend to discover and meet some really fierce brown talent.  I was pleased as punch to look around me and see faces and bodies epitomizing the spectrum of LA diversity on so many levels, not just “Hollywood”.  Old, young, singles, couples. Sure you got your beefcake WeHo boys with jaw dropping sculpted bodies, fine ass butch and girly lesbians who look like they walked off the set of The L Word (and who I secretly wish would  hit on me), and fabulous transgender artists, but what’s more exciting to behold is the plenty of ‘regular’ folks whose unquestionable magnetic air of confidence, smile and style compete for my undivided attention among this colorful crowd.

I’ll be down there all week to meet more folks and hopefully get some video and more intimate conversation regarding the stories being told. For now, lets put these three on the spotlight:

Eloy Mendez
Eloy Mendez on the left, Polo Munoz of LatinoWeeklyReview.com

ELOY MENDEZ

Outfest’s Opening Night film last Thursday was C.O.G which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is directed by Cuban-American Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Easier With Practice).  Its the coming out and of age story about a college boy, David (based on David Sedaris’ short story) who goes on a sabbatical like journey to spend a summer picking apples.  Naturally the people he encounters on the fields are Latino. Instead of being relegated to background characters, however, Eloy Mendez plays Pedro who embodies him vividly, affecting David’s inner work in progress.  I met Eloy and learned that this role has opened  new doors from him, after years of working in television and film.  BIG SCOOP: He will next be seen in Mike Ott’s upcoming film, Lake Los Angeles, which apparently is mostly told in Espanol!  Mike is the visceral director of such festival faves as Little Rock and Pearblossom Highway.  I applaud Ott’s efforts in making this film in another language, and for really exploring and mining these stories of unanchored souls caught in the greater desert mountain landscape of Los Angeles.  Make sure to check out Lake Los Angeles Facebook page to find out where it will be premiering in early 2014.

Robles

AUGIE ROBLES

Augie Robles graduated from AFI Film school, made a few short films then landed a gig on CSI which ended up being 14 years during which he sharpened his cutting skills as an editor, and became restless and eager to tell his own stories again.  He recently did his editing magic on Aurora Guerero’s film, Mosquita y Mari which y’all know how I feel about. (love).  He edited the film, BIG GAY LOVE  which just premiered at Outfest, directed by Ringo Le and starring Jonathan Lisecki in a super sweet and tender love story about a hopeless romantic in LA who struggles to fit into LA’s lofty pressure and idealized gay man archetype.  Back writing and directing his own work, Robles recently screened his short film,  The Rookie and the Runner, set in Elysian Park at a number of film festivals.  He also has plenty of other projects in the works, including something a la Twilight Zone !  He has a lot of technical and narrative genre skills to unleash in his own voice, and I find it really sweet that he is sharing his wealth of experience as a mentor for Outfest’s program, Outset, created to empower and educate LGBT youth(16-24) to tell their stories through film.

HARVEY GUILLEN

In a show stealing/stopping cameo in Big Gay Love, Harvey plays a kid who represents the essence of gay youth who try with all their might and ferocity every damn day to battle and defy mainstream society’s twisted dictation of what normal, perfection and beauty should look like.  Encapsulating perfectly how important it is to see people like you in order to not feel alone is a bigger theme of the importance of Outfest and for that matter, a diverse representation.  Harvey can next be seen in Pantelion’s luchador comedy, Aztec Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 8.50.24 PMWarrior directed by Scott Sanders (Black Dynamite) starring Luis Guzman and gorgeous Nadine Velasquez.  You might know have seen him in The Internship and on 2010 ABC Family television show, Huge.  He is absolutely charming, playful and a bon vivant with a deliciously fierce streak.

REFLECTIONS OF: Outfest is truly LA’s most inclusive and community driven festival.  Not just for the LGBT community but the organization picks up the slack of other festivals by embracing many underrepresented multi-ethnic voices.  The AFI Festival is a wonderful showcase of international film but as an extension of the film school, it has positioned itself as a program driven for cinephile-centric and auteur platform.  Meanwhile LA Film Festival certainly offers big broad fare for everyone, but also tries to inch in on AFI’s international showcase turf. Don’t get it twisted, I was really happy to see LA Film Fest screen three U.S. Latino films this year.  But just think how much more impactful it would be to tap into the U.S Latino film representing the rich and underplayed walks of life AQUI in Los Angeles.    Films like Water & Power, Vincent & Luzy and Pardon are really original and telling narratives with a distinct aesthetic, and all three have yet to have their official premiere even though they’ve been submitted to the festival circuit.  While I don’t think its reasonable to rely on the big distributors to be the platforms of discovery for these films, I do believe that festivals on this scale have that cultural responsibility, or at least it should behoove them to do so.  An often heard comment that I take issue with is that a film has to be ‘good enough’ to show at these festivals.  Every film is imperfect so this does not hold agua with me when we are talking about the discovery and expanding of marginalized voices.   I previously reported that The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival has announced it is currently taking submissions after its sudden shutter last year. There is no doubt there is a sizable hungry audience and community for these films, and filmmakers who want their films to be seen by them, so even though its bewildering to me that LALIFF does’t have their festival dates set yet, I’ve a feeling they will still be looked to as the last beacon and chance for the array of Latino filmmakers and stories in LA trying to emerge through the bottleneck.

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.

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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.

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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.

Reel Rasquache – the only REAL LATINO festival on the block

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Delusions of Grandeur after party

Latino Film Festivals have always lumped together international films and American films under the same Latino category.  As if the Latin prefix used to classify the totally different identities of South & Central America, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Spain was not already broad enough.  The few indie US narratives selected inside these programs look scrappy compared to the Spanish-language, art-house films which boast a higher production value due to their country’s government film subsidies.  It’s like  forcibly pressing two pieces of a puzzle together, when they clearly don’t fit.  These two kind of films do not lend themselves to the same audience.  Which is why I’ve always sensed the US Latino film in this platform is treated like an adopted stray.  Up until now, I had not heard of any sustaining film festival devoted entirely to American Latino (I’d love to be corrected.  If you know of any, give me a shout!). Enter the Reel Rasquache Art and Film Festival in East LA.  Leave it to the activist Chicano studies curriculum track at Cal State to oppose such a disparity of their representation and say, oh Hell no, by way of their actions.  They galvanized the community and wrestled a space for a showcase, led by the efforts of Dr. Richard T. Rodriguez and Dr. John Ramirez, who in 2004 christened the festival with the name Rasquache, derived from the Native American Nahuat people.

Front
The one of a kind Award trophies sculpted by Yolanda Gonzalez. click to go to her website

Sadly, I was not able to attend the entire jam-packed weekend festival that took place May 17-19, but I did manage to make it to the closing night and awards ceremony on Sunday.  I arrived to see Counterpunch, a film dramatizing the real life story of an undiagnosed, bi-polar boxer – the latest film by Kenneth Castillo who was bestowed with a Trailblazer Award.  Other Awardees of the evening; the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Carmen Zapata who was not able to attend but were assured by her friends accepting on her behalf she was fine and dandy in her 80 years young age. The Pioneer Award was bestowed on a colorful and lively Pepe Serna.

In the crowded, over-awarded Hollywood landscape, I’ve usually found awards, arbitrary or unwarranted, and just an excuse for a gala event driven by money and press.   And within the ‘Hispanic Hollywood’ circle, the awards tend to be given to the same artists over and over, celebrated BECAUSE they have (already) been recognized by the mainstream.  I’m not saying the breaking of barriers is not a triumph worth celebrating, but the days of Rita Moreno and Ricardo Montalban is long past (40 years).  In this day and age, we are bigger and stronger in numbers and we should be using our ‘purchasing power’, to demand our content and taking back our history.  It’s much more constructive to empower those who the mainstream forgets, dismisses and generally fails to acknowledge.  Those, who despite the lack of mainstream recognition, persistently continue to craft their art and who do not shy away from identifying as Chicano, Puerto Rican, whatever their bi-cultural origin may be. Although I’m embarrassed to admit, I share as proof to my argument:  Until Sunday night, I was not familiar with Kenneth Castillo – a genuinely independent working director who is about to shoot his seventh feature this summer. And worse yet if someone were to have mentioned to me Pepe Serna or Carmen Zapata –I would not have been able to place the two veteran American actors –  both of whom have forged incredible careers that span over six decades within both mainstream and indie theater and film.  Thanks to Reel Rasquache’s recognition of their talent I am now turned on to their work.   It allows me to connect the dots of the history of American Latino entertainers, who have been and continue to be so harshly forgotten and suppressed from mainstream history and therefore our collective psyche.

It was my first time at the new location of Casa 0101, the cultural center founded by writer Josefina Lopez. A comfortable 99 capacity seat theater is located at the end of a a long hall on which walls hangs an arresting series of artwork.  On Sunday it was the paintings of Juan Solis whose palette provided the signature theme of the festival this year. Kiki Melendez, a saucy comedienne and 96.3 Latino radio personality emceed the festivities.  Kiki straight up asked what I had wanted to ask but was too embarrassed to;  Just what the hell does Rasquache mean? (“Is it like scratching your ass?” she uncouthly asked).  The academic maestro Dr. John took the podium to illuminate us on how the word references the festival – it’s made of whatever scraps you can pool together to make the most out of the least.

Castillo
Kenneth Castillo, the Trailblazer

In his acceptance speech, Kenneth Castillo commented on the urban crime drama genre of his filmography (including such titles like Chronicles of a Drive by).  His earnest thoughts challenged me to re-think my resistance to American Latino writer/directors pouring out the same cholo gang hood films.  Clearly, there is a population heavily influenced by the gang crime genre (I’m no exception, I’m the biggest Goodfellas fan). It makes sense that the  young filmmakers who are fans of the genre, evoke it in their work.  If they are conscious about flipping the script and attacking the stereotype by developing deeper dimensions to the characters, then that IS a game changer.  Because what I’ve heard frequently is that these filmmakers KNOW these people.  They grew up around them. Kenneth reminds me, they are real people.  That the stories and characters continue to be stuck in the barrio is evidence of the  lower socioeconomic class that still plagues black and brown communities.

Pepe Serna
Maestro, Don, El Senor: Pepe Serna

I kept noticing an older man with rascal eyes wearing a loud green jacket and white pants in another row.  Turns out this was The Pepe Serna.  Serna has over 100 movie and television credits including Scarface, American Me, Caddyshack.  For years he has been performing his one-man show, Ruco Chuco, Cholo, Pachuco in which he punctuates Mother Goose a la barrio rhymes like, “In order to beat the gringo. At bingo. You gotta learn the lingo.”    Like a wise and sprightly elder (he’s a Cancer survivor) his vaudeville comedy sense of show and his Texas hospitality twanged voice utterly endeared me to him.  He charmed the audience some more when he treated us to an impromptu performance right then and there.  With exaggerated cholo swagger he first transforms into a young gangbanger who thinks he’s all that, only to then transform and be schooled by the Cholo’s older self, now called Ruco who espouses words of wisdom about the path he’s going down.  Serna also paints; his wild kaleidoscope Mona Risa series will be showing in Untitled Projects gallery on Beverly Blvd June 15th .  His next role is in the upcoming high comedy, A-GuroPhobia co-written and starring the gifted and pretty comic multi-hypenate, Jade Puga ( Kristen Wig watch out!).  It looks like an enjoyably, hilarious campy riot given the trailer they showed at the festival.

Rasquache
artwork by Juan Solis

Continuing its winning streak of racking up Best Film Awards, Mission Park written and directed by Bryan Ramirez won, once again proving its connection with filmgoers.  It will next screen at the Las Vegas Film Festival.  A theatrical release September 6 is scheduled (self-financed by producer, Flip This House star and Real Estate magnate Armando Montelongo), and Lionsgate will put it out on VOD.  Producer Douglas Spain was on hand to accept the award and later we both marveled at the gorgeous copy of the Juan Solis print on the Best Film certificate.  He confided it was one most beautiful awards ever to be bestowed to the film.

Afterwards I got a chance to hang with the filmmaker of Delusions of Grandeur, my new homegirl Iris Almaraz and I did a sort of follow up to the interview I did with her a couple weeks ago.  Check it here.  Not only is she working the latest draft of her next film, La Puta, but she is already swirling around a concept for the next one which although unplanned might form a a novel trilogy about the contemporary female odyssey going through womanhood, motherhood, and a post motherhood sexual discovery.

At Reel Rasquache I discovered such a refreshing confidence and tuned-in conscious of identity, unfettered by what the mainstream is NOT doing for them.  Instead,  the spiritually resilient and tireless efforts are focused on making art for ourselves. I noticed in Dr. John’s Closing remarks he included the term ‘self-identifying Latinos’ when talking about who Rasquache is geared towards.   It was in stark contrast to what I usually run into; a desperate want to assimilate into the mainstream, or the commendable, yet generic and trite aim of telling ‘universal’ stories that transcend ethnicity, or the irksome thought that we should not ‘limit’ ourselves by identifying as Mexican American or Chicano (thanks Robert Rodriguez).  But don’t we all perform and write what we know?   In that sense sharing it with the people who will relate to it the most feels the most unifying and mutually satisfying.  We crave an audience to share our art with, that’s what keeps us going. Who better to show it to than someone who gets it.

Within the kingdom of Americans who have  a widely mixed variance of Latino descent, there exists a fierce genus called La Raza.  Unapologetic, raw, fiercely conscious of their people’s history, embracing of multi-cultural solidarity, they ain’t waiting around for opportunities but seizing them for themselves.  I admire this incredible sense of identity and believe that is what is worth celebrating and awarding. This confidence is the missing key to taking charge and writing our own narratives.  Not to mention, confidence is just más sexy.

WTF is Latino at the 2013 LA Film Festival?

The summertime, downtown set, glitzy yet ‘cashz’ LA Film Festival, presented by Film Independent has announced their film lineup today.  The verdict on the Latino rep?  Compared to the last three festivals I’ve examined this year, Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca, LA Film Festival comes through with arguably the most valuable representation; there are three films representing American Latino in the narrative competition and one in documentary competition.

736490_402811483141484_1993639310_oThe lineup consists of a handful of new American indies mixed in with many favorited international films from last year’s Toronto, Venice, London and Berlin film festivals, and seven Sundance films screening out of competition including Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, which won both the Audience and Jury Awards in Park City.  Starring Boricua Melonie Diaz as Oakland police murder victim Oscar Grant’s girlfriend, Fruitvale will be given the gala treatment (like last year’s Sundance awarded, Black film, Middle of Nowhere), alongside the direct-from-Cannes, Only God Forgives, the reteaming of director Nicolas Winding Refyn and GQ sensitive alpha hero Ryan Gosling (Drive).

But I’m not here to comb and recycle through the ‘high profile’ films that come armed with buzz. As always I’m spotlighting U.S. films in which the writer/director/cast are native born whose ethnic/cultural roots originates from the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Central or South America.  In addition, films by filmmakers who may not be Latino, but whose narratives explore and relate to the relevant bi-cultural experience/subjects.  And finally I also like to mention the Latin films (international).

While I’m happy to acknowledge and give it up for LA, it’s still painful for this blogger/programmer to know there are so many more fresh American Latino films out there ready to be discovered.  Game-changing films offering such fresh and original perspectives, which have by and large been dismissed by most of the major US Film Festivals.  With the futures of the two highest profile Latino niche festivals in limbo, The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and HBO’s NY International Latino Film Festival, it’s especially crushing to know that these films might also be robbed of their only community platform.  It’s cause for alarm and high time to address this void.  But wait, lets save that for another post. For now, lets get back to the Latino stories coming at you at this year’s LA Film Festival.   For official synopsis and pics check the Film Guide here.

NARRATIVE COMPETITION – Notably 9 of the 12 are US, hopefully giving the scrappy indies a better chance to compete and win the cash prize against the healthy subsidized production value of foreign movies.  Five are first features and only one female narrative director.

40 YEARS FROM YESTERDAY written and directed by Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck and Robert Machoian

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 12.06.58 PMThis is the first feature from the writing/directing team who got a lot of attention with their 2010 short Charlie and The Rabbit.  Ojeda-Beck (whose parents are from Peru) and Machoian who is from the heavily Mexican populated King City, met at Cal State, Monterey Bay where they forged a tight artistic collaboration. Forty Years from Yesterday is described as Machoian’s imagination of how his mother’s death would unfold for his own family, capturing the loss his siblings would feel in losing a parent and his father’s pain in facing the death of his partner.

The duo have their way with documentary, fiction and experimental form, instilling an aura of temporality in an anchored realism.  This unique evocative alchemy is found in Machoian’s doc short, Movies Made from Home #16, a 4 minute existential moment which screened at Sundance this year. The cosmic life themes they tend to broach are treated in such a down to earth and sensitive way, which is further made relatable by the natural non-pro performances they employ.  Robert’s father, Bill Graham has starred in a few of his films and in Forty Years from Yesterday, both Robert’s parents and siblings play themselves. See this endearing behind the scenes clip of the making of the film:

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT written by Joseph B. Vasquez and directed by Henry Barrial

Written by the late Joseph B. Vasquez (d 1995) whose 1991 movie, Hanging with the Homeboys, was a groundbreaking urban comedy when it came out, now very much a classic, albeit sadly forgotten gem.  The only one of Vasquez’s five movies that was distributed (by New Line), Hanging with the Homeboys was shot in the South Bronx where he was born and raised.  About four homeys, two Puerto Rican (one of them played by a baby-faced Johnny Leguizamo) and two Black, the movie, available on dvd from Amazon (or, I found it in 6 parts on Youtube) screened at the Sundance Film Festival at its indie darling peak. Its good-natured humor is derived from neighborhood beefs, trying to rap to ladies, and the racial tensions of the day delivered with unapologetic commentary.  A slice of barrio life, the film is clearly an early influence for the Ice Cube Friday series.

Jack & Lilly Wedding - GRDThe House that Jack Built similarly has that raw and authentic Nuyorican energy but pushed into a rollercoaster of a dysfunctional family drama with warmth, affection and intensity.  The director, born from Cuban parents and raised in Washington Heights, Henry Barrial, is also an alumni of Sundance (Somebody 2001).  The film stars E.J. Bonilla as the hot-blooded self-imposed king of his family who buys an apartment building to keep his family close, only to start dictating everybody’s life since he’s letting them live rent free.   Bonilla is a fiercely charismatic up and coming actor who has been turning heads  in the indie world.  This is his third consecutive time at the festival (Four, Mamitas) and he was in Don’t Let Me Drown (Sundance 2009).  An uproarious and high-edged Harlem set chamber piece, the heavy conflict of gravity that besets Jack is from being pulled in opposite directions by his street values on one side and deeply rooted family values on the other.  See the trailer on their Kickstarter page.

 

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MY SISTER’S QUINCEANERA written and directed by Aaron Douglas Johnston

This was reportedly one of the most talked about American films in the experimental leaning Rotterdam Film Festival this year.  The filmmaker who was born and raised in Iowa, Aaron Douglas Johnston, has an impressive academic pedigree having attended world prestigious universities, Oxford and Yale.  His first feature, the small town, gay life set, Bumblefuck, USA screened at Outfest 2011.  In My Sister’s Quinceanera, he uses the local Mexican-American Iowa residents as his non-pro actors with whom he collaborated with on the story.  It’s a gentle and earnest portrayal of a young man named Silas who is convinced he has to leave town to become independent and start his life but must first see his sister’s Quinceanera take place.

WORKERS written and directed by Jose Luis Valle  (Mexico/Germany)  – A quietly simmering artful drama about a retiring factory worker and housemaid in Tijuana circumstantially reunited and trying to compensate for their spent lives.  An accomplished and arresting feature debut, the film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section and won Best Mexican Film at the Guadalajara film Festival.  A full investment into the contemplative tone and rhythm yields an appreciation for the film’s visceral and dry humor undertones.  Born in El Salvador, Jose Luis Valle previously made a documentary short called Milagro del Papa.

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION:  7 out 10 are US, 4 first features, six female directors (incl. 2 co-directors)

tapia_1520167aTAPIA directed by Eddie Alcazar

The 5 time world boxing champion and emotionally damaged blue-eyed Chicano from the 505, Johnny Lee Tapia, survived a series of near deaths before his turbulent life ended at the young age of 45 last year. The sheer volume of tragedy and coping afflictions Johnny endured in his Vida Loca, as he openly shares in his autobiography, includes the scarring experience of seeing his mother’s kidnapping and violent murder at the tender age of eight.  Tapia funneled this heartbreaking formative incident and many other painfully grueling experiences to fuel a successful professional boxing career.  Tapia’s confrontation to such tumult is so impressive, it’s no wonder that former EA video game designer Eddie Alcazar decided to both dramatize and document his harrowing real life story.  Originally announced as a biopic, subsequently the documentary was born of it, in which Eddie captures final interviews and archival footage with the haunted boxer.   This is actually the first feature out of the gate for filmmaker Eddie Alcazar whose radical sci-fi film 0000 has been curiously tracked as in production for a couple years now and the ambitious looking trailer only piqued mad interest.  Watching the clip below of Johnny, there is a poignant sadness yet slight zeal and spirit, however low key and worn, that emanates from the towering rumble of his battered lifetime – unquestionably his refusal to be knocked out.

PURGATORIO directed by Rodrigo Reyes (Mexico) – An elegiac and cinematically shot poem filled with emotional narration and iconography, this border film is told by way of a tapestry of stories that culminates into a strong cry for human compassion. Imagining the border as if purgatory, where migrants must suffer in order to get through to the other side, the dangerous plight in crossing the US/Mexico border is viewed outside political context but rather a metaphysical prism.  This is the fourth film from Reyes, a talented young documentarian from Mexico.

INTERNATIONAL SHOWCASE

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 9.58.48 AMEUROPA REPORT directed by Sebastian Cordero and written by Philip Gelatt – From award winning Ecuador born filmmaker Sebastian Cordero (Rabia, Cronicas, Pescador) Europa Report marks his first film in English. Somewhat shrouded in mystery, the story is written by Philip Gelatt, an adult comic book author, and is set aboard the first manned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. The genre bending sounding sci-fi thriller was recently picked up by Magnolia’s Magnet division and will go straight to VOD on June 27 after its LA Film Festival premiere. Cordero, who is a UCLA grad, has a well-controlled gritty realism to his aesthetic, which might inhabit and distinguish this deep space thriller among the genre’s canon.

CRYSTAL FAIRY written and directed by Sebastian Silva (Chile) – From the crafty young Chilean filmmaker whose first first film, The Maid put him on the international map, this is one of two films he screened at Sundance this year.  A road trip of self-discovery featuring the charming free spirited Gaby Hoffman pitted against a smarmy American tourist Michael Cera in the long and vast Chilean coast side, the film explores their unusual and fluid character dynamic and opposing auras.

THE WOMEN AND THE PASSENGER directed by Valentina Mac-Pherson, Patricia Correra (Chile) – A 45 minute version of this screened at the prestigious documentary film festival in Amsterdam IDFA.  An unobtrusive camera follows four maids as they clean the rooms of one of those clandestine by-the-hour motels.  Amid the moans behind doors and bed aftermaths of torrid love affairs, the women reveal their own perspectives about life, love and sex in some kind of visual love letter to the special place.   I don’t believe the title is translated to interpret its full meaning, its more like, “The Transients’ women”.

SHORTS

I WAS BORN IN MEXICO BUT…. written and directed by Corey OHama – 12min (US) – Per the IMDB description, “using found footage to tell the story of an undocumented young woman who grew up thinking she was American, only to find out as a teenager that she didn’t have papers because she was brought to the U.S. as a young child. “  Sounds like the thousands of Dreamers plights whose stories are being suppressed.

MISTERIO written and directed by Chema Garcia Ibarra (Spain) 12min – So even though this is from Spain (not the Americas),  I mention it if because I’m a huge fan of Chema’s shorts, Protoparticles  and The Attack of the Robots from Nebula-5.   I have no doubt this will share that similar strange, whimsical vibe.

 AL LADO DE NORMA written and directed by Camila Luna, Gabriela Maturana 14min (Chile) – 49 year-old Jorge is a silent, tired man, whose life seems to revolve around Norma, his elderly mother who has Alzheimer’s. But Antonio, who rents a small room in their home, will provide him with the chance to examine himself and question his monotonous life, which might just make for a radical change.

PAPEL PICADO – written and directed by Javier Barboza – From a 2007 Cal Arts Alumnus, and independent animation teacher and filmmaker, this looks wild!  Check out his vimeo works here.

SAINT JOHN, THE LONGEST NIGHT, written and directed by Claudia Huaiquimilla (Chile) 18 min – The filmmaker is of the indigenous Mapuche tribe of Southern Chile.  Set amid the happy Saints celebration of June 24, a young boy must wrestle with the reappearance of his violent father.

TOO MUCH WATER (DEMASIADA AGUA) written and directed by Nicolas Botana, Gonzalo Torrens (Uruguay)  14 min – A young woman fills her backyard pool every night and finds it empty in the morning. Strange neighbors and even stranger circumstances stir her paranoia.

kid-cudiLastly, I have to mention dance beat rapper Kid Cudi’s feature film acting debut in GOODBYE WORLD directed by Denis Hennelly (Rock the Bells doc about Wu Tang Clan) and written by Sarah Adina Smith.   Essentially, the film is about a group of friends hanging out when some kind of apocalypse hits.  Hijinks ensue. (There’s a trend here after It’s A Disaster and the upcoming “look-we’re-so-cool-we-play-ourselves celeb cast partying of This is The End).  Although he’s one of seven players, including Adrian Grenier, Mark Webber and Gaby Hoffman, it is one a few films Kid Cudi is in that are coming through the pipeline.  Born Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi in Cleveland Ohio, he is a beautiful brown mestizo blend of African American on his mother’s side and Native/Mexican mix on his father’s side.

The LA Film Festival kicks off with Pedro Almodovar’s, I’m So Excited on June 13 and runs until the 23.  Tickets and info here.

Finding and Championing our own voices – the next generation of independent Latino cinema.

I’m down here in beautiful, breezy and calientito Miami for Latino trendsetting event, Hispanicize.  It’s only day 2 of the conference so as take in panels, schmooze with fellow bloggers, meet cool peeps and do recon on “The State of Latino” I wanted to share this feature article I wrote commissioned by Latin Heat on the narrative fiction films at Hispanicize.  Let me know what you think!?

545485_504841082897212_587587615_nIn the movie Filly Brown, the titular rapper doesn’t come into her own and become Filly Brown until she writes her own words to narrate her reality. In a pivotal and emotional scene, she confronts her mother (Jenni Rivera) behind bars with some hard, bittersweet truth and heartfelt rhymes about what has transpired between them.  The trials and tribulations that came before were necessary to transform and fuel this culminating moment.

In a way, a new crop of Latino filmmakers is going through a similar odyssey.  It seems like we are seeing them embrace their unique voices and take creative risks without deference to what homogenized commercial mainstream dictates.  The manner in which we identify with and are inspired by our mixed cultural heritage is personal and varies greatly, making for countless contemporary storytelling possibilities. Crashing up on the waves of Miami, the films in the Hispanicize film program demonstrate filmmakers boldly turning to genre and carving out their own visual aesthetic.  Whether their stories address or defy traditional Latino cultural themes and convey our bicultural experience, or if they feel unbound and free to tell classic, commercial cinema anchored in their own reflection, it couldn’t be a more exciting time to support this newfound boldness.  Strong female characters is a fixture of the films Filly Brown, Blaze You Out, Gabi and Clara Como El Agua, and in the short film category five of the eight films are directed by women.  Every festival usually has an IT actor, a performer whose films demonstrate the artistic and meaningful films they are selecting to make. In the case of Hispanicize 2013 our IT man is Jeremy Ray Valdez who stars in the features Mission Park, Blaze You Out and Dreamer.

The 2012 Sundance Film Festival served as a successful launch pad for Filly Brown, written and directed by Michael Olmos and Youssef De Lara.  What’s fresh about this classic street rapper making it and fighting for his integrity is that this hustle has typically been represented and dominated by males on film (and in real life).  In a novel take, the filmmakers conceived of a female lead character, which was then fully ignited by Gina Rodriguez’s dynamic performance.  Beloved and established actors Lou Diamond Philips, Edward James Olmos and the late Jenni Rivera round out the high profile cast.  The film was one of 70 films picked up for distribution following its Sundance premiere.  After a precarious year in which the film showed at a dozen film festivals but then the original distributor went bankrupt, Pantelion stepped in to pick it up and on April 19 it will open on 200 screens.   That number is still less than other Pantelion releases.  For comparison, the Eva Mendez starrer, Girl in Progress was on 322 screens, the Will Ferrell comedy Casa de Mi Padre on 475 screens.  It’s worth recognizing where these numbers stack up among other theater releases. Hollywood blockbusters are released on anywhere from 3000-4000 screens.  Recent indie specialty releases like Beasts of the Southern Wild, at its peak amid its Oscar nomination buzz, was on 300 screens, while Spring Breakers went from 4 screens opening weekend to 1,000 plus screens because of the record breaking per theater average.  One of the lessons here is to connect and drive the public to see the film opening weekend if we want to see the traditional distribution model budge.

Blaze You Out Film
Veronica Diaz Carranza as Lupe

Another electrifying female lead character is Lupe in Blaze You Out, played by the vulnerable yet ferocious Veronica Diaz Carranza (Mamitas, Taco Shop).  Unlike the common systemic social ills and wayward people that attempt to keep Filly Brown down, Lupe must rival an elemental and ancient evil in this magic realism tale.  A modern and not-seen-before mythological darkness and manifestation of evil is captured in this thriller in which Lupe confronts the secret underworld to save her sister. Elizabeth Peña, who is deliciously wicked, and Raoul Trujillo duel in the inherently mystical and native rooted New Mexico, set alongside some ominous mestizo iconography. Brushed with a striking and otherworldly cinematic, the film paints this modern dance with Santa Muerte. An inventive take on the drug ‘sickness’ that rampages these marginalized communities and the secrets that keep them chained, Blaze You Out is the type of film that expands the metaphor. Fierce and unapologetic, the film also stars Q’orianka Kilcher (Pocahantas in The New World), Mark Adair Rios and Melissa Cordero, all who possess magnetic talent.

On another spectrum, with poetic realism, Dreamer, written and directed by young filmmaker Jesse Salmeron, is perhaps the most urgent mirror of the times we are living in with thousands of undocumented youth’s hopes hinging on the proposed Dream Act.  Eschewing obvious political commentary Salmeron compassionately individualizes a character that embodies young American-raised upwardly mobile members of society.  The film’s stylistic aesthetic evokes the painful reality and conveys the existentially horrible feeling of being invisible and disregarded in this country.  Above all, the transcending story is ultimately about the bonds and family we create, and the place we know in our heart as home.  Blood and roots do not always make for family and home. Both the perspective and envisioning of Dreamer makes for a distinguished and salient film.

Sometimes the consequences of forging your own path threatens the formative relationships of your past like in Mission Park written and directed by San Antonio native, Bryan Ramirez.  Echoing the gritty and seminal Chicano movie Bound by Honor (better known as Blood in Blood Out), and with explosive thriller genre swagger and craft, the street crime drama is about four childhood friends who grow apart and enter a web of deception on opposite sides of the law and morals.   The brave decision to go legit is a valuable lesson of breaking out of the cycle. The plot shows there are more possibilities than the only path we have been represented in and perpetuated of how to survive and succeed coming up from the hood.

There is no better place however, to witness the unbridled creative expression, and to track emerging talent than in the short film showcase.  The short film medium is the most inventive and freeing of compact cinema. Unchained by the traditional three act narrative structure, the short film is like a shape shifter in its ability to be anything from an evocative moment, expressionistic portrait, social comedic skit or potent fable.  Among the most groundbreaking artists working today are Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva of the Borscht Corporation.  Their video works that have been shown at MOMA and Guggenheim museums all over the world as well as several major international art galleries and collections. Their short films have screened at the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW, and more than two dozen other festivals and have become viral video sensations. Recently named two of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker magazine they run their own film audiovisual festival in Miami.  Their short film #Postmodem is the most wild and prescient genre mash about our digital legacy- and just outrageously fun and catchy.

If it’s rare to see representative female characters onscreen, than it is even rarer to see female characters written and directed by a woman.  Zoé Salicrup Junco’s short film Gabi is about a woman who finds herself tortured by the vestiges of Puerto Rican patriarchal morality and culture.  Gabi defies the cultural norms and perception of what she should be doing as a modern Latina woman.  The story refers to a Puerto Rican saying that haunts single women in their 30’s: “If such a woman is not married by this time, she must be a slut, a lesbian, or a prude.”  It’s so refreshing, empowering and revolutionary to see reflected a strong and confident woman who trusts her individuality against such embedded oppressed tradition.

Yolanda Cruz, a filmmaker from Oaxaca with a number of documentary features which have been celebrated internationally, makes her first foray into fiction with the comedy short, Echo Bear.  Set in LA’s Echo Park it follows a single gay Latino man traipsing the wild cyberspace of dating in his tight knit neighborhood.  Sweet and tender, authentically raw and gleeful, today’s tricky variant sexual relationship is amusingly portrayed in this underrepresented slice of life.

Inspired by the tragic reality of journalists being targeted and killed in Mexico by the violent drug wars, El Cocodrilo written and directed by Steve Acevedo keeps us at our edge of our seats. Dramatizing our triumphant spirit and primal instinct is what lies at the heart-tugged soul of this gritty story.  Jacob Vargas stars as a journalist on the lam in some undisclosed diner with his young son, waiting to be rescued from the hazard of his profession. The remarkable tone and portrayal of the docu-fiction is flipped upside down and makes for a suspenseful roller coaster. A terrifyingly gravity grips, in the sense of knowing it is an inspiration of real life journalists’ plight, and the risks they take to disseminate truth.

In talking about the diversity of stories from diverse multicultural filmmakers it becomes apparent that the emerging Latino filmmaker is at a critical crossroads.  This is just the beginning.  Let’s not forget filmmaking is a collaborative art. It’s our obligation to fully realize these films by being and nurturing their audience.  These films are but a small taste of what is being developed by new filmmaker voices. Contrary to what most Hollywood studio suits with blockbuster money believe, there are is a vast spectrum of American Latino filmmakers and big movie stars. What there is missing however is the audience. In the era of digital platforms, the audience has more power than ever to validate and demand more of the work they like.  Thanks to the magnitude of social media we can directly and tangibly help artists’ success.  Together we are taking control of enriching our narratives and changing the conversation of what Latino cinema means.  Hispanicize celebrates the social media platform influence to blaze and pierce through the dizzying ‘mestizo’ cultural American popular culture, and to finally claim our voices.

All eyes on Hispanicize – Film lineup announced

Hispanicize-2013-Launch-Image-1024x682Next week in Miami, hundreds of bloggers, marketers, corporate brand reps, music and film artists will be checking in at the Eden Roc Hotel to attend Hispanicize, a social media platform for today’s Latino innovators.  Now in its 4th year, the marketing, interactive, film and music conference was founded by Manny Ruiz, a PR businessman who adopted the term Hispanicize to signify the transformation and growing impact of Latino culture into traditional American mainstream, and who created this convergence to amplify the success of diverse voices in social media.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 9.50.35 AMIn part modeled after SXSW and Ted Talks, Hispanicize aims to be a digital multi-media launchpad and idea stimulating conference tailored towards Latinos.  The event’s journalistic DNA is confirmed by guest co-chair, Soledad O Brien, who just signed off on her morning CNN show capping off a decade of reporting for the news outlet.  For the second year the South Beach setting will host yacht parties, beachside receptions, breakfast and lunch networking, and 100 plus talks, featuring such entrepreneurs in social media like the Latina Mom Bloggers, panels like How Brands and Agencies are Engaging and Collaborating with Latino Bloggers and Getting on Corporate Boards.  The heavily sponsored event, (Procter & Gamble is the presenting sponsor) will include a Diversity Tech Leaders Summit presented by Sprint in which the lesser-known business stories of diverse tech and social media entrepreneurs who are making their marks in digital media will be highlighted.

I have to admit I knew nothing of Hispanicize up until a couple months ago.  Curious, I went on the website and I found the lingo a tad superfluous and hyperbolic.  Words like iconic and mighty are used to describe the relatively young event.  Then again, this kind of grandiose speak is typical in the field of Public Relations so it makes sense given it is a partnership with Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

I reached out to the founder Manny Ruiz to find out more about the mission of the event and found his enthusiasm and excitement for what he considers a pioneering movement infectious.  It’s hard to argue that this tech and entertainment crossroads gathering makes for an incredible networking opportunity.   Manny called it a “Uniting of these industries to create a symphony” and went on to note it is much more powerful for bloggers to converge at the same place with journalists, marketers, digital, music and film innovators then if you had them out there individually.  Before I knew it I was put in touch with with Roman Morales, the Film Showcase Organizer and I came onboard as Programmer for the film component.  A big reason I stepped in was because I was particularly attracted to presenting US independent Latino films to an audience heavy with social media influence and bloggers, to see if it would indeed create a higher level of buzz, publicity and exposure from the community.

Along with a special screening of Filly Brown days before its national theatrical release, this year Hispanicize will screen six features including the high profile grab of The Weinstein Company sneak preview, Aftershock, the horror comedy produced and starring Eli Roth, directed by Chilean filmmaker Nicolas Lopez.  Also, straight from SXSW the character driven music industry documentary Los Wild Ones about the Wild Records label and family of Mexican American rockabilly acts.  With the exception of Aftershock, all the films reflect a taste of the diaspora of unique, bi-cultural US narratives, and notably are all first features.  Three of the films, Blaze You Out, Filly Brown and Mission Park are being distributed by Lionsgate labels Pantelion and Grindstone. Meanwhile seeking distribution is Dreamer written and directed by the young Salvador-born Jesse Salmeron, which is a poignant and timely story starring and produced by Jeremy Ray Valdez about an upwardly mobile American whose paralyzed by the fear of being deported.  Los Wild Ones is also seeking distribution and should find considerable traction and fans inside the hard core music fan world.

I’m most excited however, my personal pride and joy has to be the shorts film showcase.  Portraying visionary quests for identity, love, truth and legacy and created by multicultural emergent voices from San Antonio, Miami, LA, NYC, Oaxaca and Puerto Rico. This is the medium in which to find the most provocative, daring and versatile young generation of fresh and uncompromising voices.  To name just a few, the short film filmmakers include Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva of the Borscht corporation, Zoé Salicrup Junco, the filmmaker of Gabi who workshopped her feature script of the short at San Antonio’s CineFestival’s Latino Screenwriters Project, Victor Hugo Duran, the Columbia MFA student whose short, Fireworks played at the LA Film Festival last year and is currently shooting his first feature in Mexico called La Victoria, and Steve Acevedo, the director of El Cocodrilo which is a powerful and urgent film about a journalist played by Jacob Vargas on the run from a narco, who participated in NBCU Directing Fellowship.

I’ll try not to go all Spring Breaker debauchery on Miami but immerse myself in the Hispanicize program to cover the dialogue and scrutinize the impact so stay tuned for my report.

See below to check out full film list and links.  Hispanicize will take place April 9 – 13.  For information on how to attend and the schedule click here.

2013 Film Festival PosterBLAZE YOU OUT
(USA, 2013, 90 min)
Writers/Directors: Mateo Frazier, Diego Joaquin Lopez
Cast: Veronica Diaz Carranza, Elizabeth Pena, Q’orianka Kilcher, Mark Adair Rios, Elizabeth Pena
Logline: An unyielding young woman ventures into the ruthless underworld of the town’s heroin trade in order to save her younger sister’s life.

DREAMER
(USA, 2013)
Writer/Director: Jesse Salmeron
Cast: Jeremy Ray Valdez, Isabella Hofmann, Cory Knauf
Logline: Joe Rodriguez is an All American young man.  He’s amiable, well educated and attractive.  He’s graduated from college and is working and excelling in his field.  He’s on his way to achieving the American Dream.  That is until his employer discovers his undocumented status and the life he’s worked so hard for begins to crumble around him.  He must face the possibility of losing his livelihood, his family and even himself.

MARLENE_5LOS WILD ONES
(USA, 2013, 95 min)
Director: Elise Salomon
 Writers: Ryan Brown, Elise Salomon
Featuring Luis Arriaga, Gizzelle, the Rhythm Shakers and more
Logline: Wild Records is an LA indie music label comprised of young Hispanic musicians, it is run by Irishman, Reb Kennedy. Wild is an unconventional family, reminiscent of the early days of Sun Records, all of its musicians write and perform 50s Rock ‘n Roll. If Wild is going to continue to grow and reach broader audiences, its current business model will cease to work.

ku-xlargeAFTERSHOCK
(USA, 2012, 90 min)
Director: Nicolás López
Writers: Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolás López and Eli Roth
Cast:  Andrea Osvart, Ariel Levy, Eli Roth
Logline: In Chile, a group of travelers who are in an underground nightclub when a massive earthquake hits quickly learn that reaching the surface is just the beginning of their nightmare.

bettermpposterMISSION PARK
(USA, 2013, 120 min)
Writer/Director: Bryan Ramirez
Cast:
Jeremy Ray Valdez, Walter Perez, Fenanda Romero, Joseph Julian Soria, William Rothaar, Jesse Borrego
Logline: Four friends from the rough side of town grow apart when two are consumed by a life of crime, and the other two become FBI agents sent deep undercover – to bring down those childhood friends.

SHORTS FILM SHOWCASE~

 postmodem#POSTMODEM
(USA, 2012, 13 mins)
Writers/Directors:   Lucas Leyva, Jillian Mayer
Cast:  Jillian Mayer, Kayla Delacerda, Amy Seimetz, Arly Montes, Jesse Miller, Shivers Thedog
Logline: A comedic, satirical, sci-fi pop musical based on the theories of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists, #PostModem is the story of two Miami girls and how they deal with technological singularity, as told through a series of cinematic tweets.
@borschtcorp

FIREWORKS
(USA, 2012, 11 mins)
Director: Victor Hugo Duran
Writer: Kevin James McMuillin
Cast: Roger Cruz, Alberto Castañeda, Irene Sorto, Azucena Benitez, Edgar Vanegas, Julio Duran, Victor Hugo Duran, Kevin James McMullin
Logline: During the Fourth of July in South Los Angeles, a teenage boy and his brother scour the neighborhood for fireworks in order to win the admiration of a girl.
@victorhugoduran

clara-photo02-small CLARA COMO EL AGUA  
(USA, 2012 10 min)
Writer/Director: Fernanda Rossi
Cast:  Kathiria Bonilla León, Sixta Rivera, Rubén Andrés Medina, Alfonso Peña Ossoria, Stephanie Quiles Reyes, Eyra Aguero
Logline:  Clara is the only light-skinned and clear-eyed girl in an all-black neighborhood. Teased incessantly, the children claim her unknown father is actually a “gringo” tourist. However, Clara was told a different story, and to find out the truth, she will venture into the magical waters of the bioluminescent bay all on her own.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 12.21.44 AMECHO BEAR
(USA, 2012  6min)
Writer/director: Yolanda Cruz
Cast: Joe Nunez, Hugo Medina, Tzina Carmel, Donato López, Lobo Manet
Logline: Bear, a single gay Latino man in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, looks for love online. Fearing traffic, he searches locally, but soon discovers how geographic convenience can turn to heartache overnight.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 12.33.47 AMVINCENT VALDEZ: EXCERPTS FOR JOHN
(2012, USA, 12 min)
Directed by Mark and Angela Walley
Logline: Two years in the making, this beautifully shot and perfectly paced short documentary captures the creative process of painter Vincent Valdez, as the artist works on a series of pieces dedicated to a childhood friend John Holt Jr. an Army combat medic who died in 2009 after serving in Iraq.

MoviePoster_1EL COCODRILO
(2012, 15 min)
Director: Steve Acevedo
Writer: Alfredo Barrios, Jr.
Cast: Jacob Vargas Hugo Medina Shannon Lucio Manuel Uriza
Logline: A Mexican journalist and a cartel assassin collide in a diner, with tragic consequences for both.

REINALDO ARENASshark
(USA, 2012, 3:29min)
Writer/director Lucas Leyva
Shark: Alberto Ibarguen  
Man: Epifanio Leyva
Logline: Told from the point of view of a dying shark, ‘Reinaldo Arenas’ metaphorically captures the current state of the aging Cuban-American exile community, many of whom have still not come to terms with the Communist Revolution that changed their lives forever. The film culls from various Cuban films and works of literature to create not a singular voice, but a feeling of a particular moment in time

GABI
(2012, USA  20 min)
Writer/Director:  Zoe Junco
Cast: Marisé Alvarez , Dalia Davi , Roy Sanchez Vahamonde , Aris Mejias
Logline: A Puerto Rican saying haunts single women in their 30’s: “If such a woman is not married by this time, she must be a slut, a lesbian, or a prude.” This is the story of that woman…
@gabifilm

WTF is Latino at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival?

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 7.05.27 PMIf you’ve read my last two WTF is Latino posts on Sundance and SXSW, you know I do my best to embody a manic optimist and find a silver lining when it comes to magnifying the limited representation of Latino stories and writer/directors at mainstream film festivals.  I do that by expanding and deconstructing the broad term, hoping to educate myself and the masses on what ‘qualifies’ as Latino. However, the relative dearth of Latinos and Latin America at this year’s 2013 Tribeca Film Festival program has seriously challenged me to find a positive spin on this woeful slate of brown in the world’s most celluloid famous, multi-culti metropolis.  It is especially stupefying considering the number of electrifying premiere film submissions there are to choose from at this moment.

Ballad_Poster_Web_800X1200-1
The powerful investigation of the boy tragically killed by US border patrol was at the 2007 TFF.

I worked as an Industry Coordinator for the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival under Director of Programming David Kwok and Festival Director Nancy Schaefer.  Back then Latin America was not only well represented in the program but Tribeca was at the forefront of showing bourgeoning film renaissances taking place in countries such as Panama, Peru and Colombia. No doubt this sensibility and charge came from the legendary jet-setting of one such Peter Scarlet, the cognoscente Artistic Director beloved by many Latin American festivals.  At 8 years old, the Festival was fast outgrowing its post 9/11 birthmark and has since stubbornly and desperately struggled to position itself as a blank World Cinema festival.  This is a strategy I find puzzling, given it is way out of league and under the heavy shadow cast from uptown by the auteur and discovery art house Lincoln Film Society.  One would think it an ideal and very NY synergy thing to do would be to carve out your own identity in specializing in the kaleidoscopic, fertile microcosm of US immigrant odyssey found in every corner from Manhattan to the five boroughs.  Not only is there a lack of US Latino stories this year, nowhere to be found are films from Latin America.  Seriously. Click on the online film guide’s search by country scroll down menu and visibly absent are Chile, Mexico and Argentina – three of Latin America’s most renowned and heralded world cinema incubators. The closest we get is one feature from Brazil by veteran director, Bruno Baretto, and two shorts from Spain.  Its plain to see that the Festival’s new Artistic Director, Fredric Boyer (who headed bougie prestige fests, Cannes’ Directors Fortnight and then Locarno Film Festival) is seriously ‘Euro-cizing’ the Triangle Below Canal.

DCF 1.0
2007 Tribeca Film Festival film, Fiestapatria, a film from Chile by Luis Vera. One of my favorites that year

So, what’s my silver lining?  Well, its based on the Short Term 12 lesson I just experienced at SXSW.  I did not target the indie film as a Latino film but being familiar and a fan of Hawaiian filmmaker, Destin Daniel Cretton’s work, I went to see it and was immediately absorbed by the effortless kid-adult social psychological narrative.  A detail that resonated with me was that one of the main juvy instructors was a foster kid who was raised and adopted into a big loving home by Mexican parents. He’s as white as they come, yet he cooks a mean Mexican dish and expresses his emotions outwardly, attributes of Latino culture that informed his personhood.  Maybe that’s how subtle, relative yet impactful Latino culture is seeping into all of our lives.  Maybe my barely passing grade on the Latino at Tribeca diagnosis is premature having not seen all of the films.  Maybe where we least expect it, beyond cast and loglines, there are films buried in here with deeper social undertones of brown representation.  I’m willing to excavate.   All that big picture, rant stuff aside, I am quite excited about the six films (out of some 168) I highlight here which offer a diverse, albeit thin, slice of Latino to discover at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival – whether it’s the narrative’s themes, up and coming actors, or real life Americans many times removed from their Latin roots and how cool that looks like.

Without further ado, here it is; WTF is Latino at Tribeca Film Festival.

WORLD NARRATIVE COMPETITION

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors directed by Sam Fleischner and written by Rose Lichter-Marck, Micah Bloomberg

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 6.59.59 PMLogline: When autistic teen Ricky is scolded for skipping class, he escapes into the subway for a days-long odyssey among the subway’s disparate denizens. Meanwhile, his mother wages an escalating search effort above ground. Based on a true story and set in Far Rockaway, Queens, in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy, these parallel stories of mother and son take the viewer on a touching journey of community and connection in and below New York City.  Cast Andrea Suarez, Jesus Valez, Azul Rodriguez, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Marsha Stephanie Blake

Jesus Valez as Ricky
Jesus Valez as Ricky

Sam Fleischner’s first film, Wah Do Dem was about a broken hearted hipster who goes on a cruise and gets stuck in the dangerous wild of Jamaica – just as President Obama is being sworn into office for the first time.  The filmmaking felt so fresh, real, tense and engrossing.  Just like you were on the adventure with him.  Sam and his co-director Ben Chase won the $50,000 Target Filmmaker Award for Best Narrative at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.  I’m so happy he is premiering this NY based film which features a Latino cast including Tenoch Huerta (Dias de Gracia), and half of the film is spoken in Spanish.   No, Sam is not a Latino but a native New Yorker and I love his take and thematic weaving in this story. His statement and inspiration behind the film demonstrates his sensibility and vision, surpassing and waiving any requirement or notion that says you have to be Latino to tell authentic Latino stories.  This is what Sam was able to tell me over email:

“I am not Latino but this story is inspired by true events that happened to a Mexican family. I was attracted to the parallel between people on the autism spectrum and people living as illegal immigrants in the US.  Both instances are people wading through systems that aren’t designed for them, interesting to think about the term ‘alien’. “

NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT

The Pretty One, written and directed by Jenee LaMarque

large_the_pretty_one_1Logline:  Audrey has all of the qualities that her twin sister Laurel wishes she possessed: confidence, style, independence. When tragedy strikes, Laurel has the opportunity to reinvent herself. In a complex performance, Zoe Kazan poignantly captures Laurel’s complex mix of loss and awakening, especially as she begins a new relationship with her neighbor (Jake Johnson). Jenée LaMarque’s first feature film is a quirky, lovely tale of identity and the eternal bond between two sisters. Cast Zoe Kazan, Jake Johnson, John Carroll Lynch, Shae D’lyn, Frankie Shaw, Ron Livingston

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 6.47.32 PMI first met Jenee with her edgy girls short film Spoonful, a ridiculous real life scenario in which friends help out their lactating friend, which played the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.  She was also kind enough to email me amid the crunch of finishing her first feature for its world premiere.  I’m so grateful she responded because she truly personifies what I’m trying to convey about Latino identity (its American and expansive and our creativity relates to it vastly different ways).   She says, “As for my Latina origin: my dad is Mexican, born and raised in Chino, California.  His mother’s family is Mexican and has been in California for a long time.  His father’s family is from Mexico City and has a French last name (presumably because of the French who came to Mexico during the 19th century but I really don’t know anything about my French-Mexican origins).  My grandfather came to California during WWII with the Bracero program.   My Mom is Danish, Norwegian and French.  I do identify as Mexican, as Latina, but I also identify as American, and as white.  I really wish that I had more of a connection to my Mexican heritage but unfortunately, my dad didn’t speak Spanish to us growing up (even though he’s fluent) and he really identifies as American.  It’s funny, because I’m mixed, I don’t feel I’m fully one thing or another, I feel like my identity is sort of slippery because of it.  I think that my mixed heritage plays a central role in my voice as a storyteller; one of the themes of The Pretty One is identity (a struggle with identity) and I also find myself drawn to this theme again in again in my other work.   

DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT

The Motivation by Adam Bhala Lough

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Huston

Logline: Go inside the lives and training regimes of eight of the world’s gutsiest professional skateboarders. These fearless stars face unique obstacles on the way to the Street League Championship and the coveted title of best street skateboarder in the world. Adam Bhala Lough, creator of the independent hit Bomb the System (TFF 2003), directs this fresh, energetic documentary search for that elusive quality that separates winners from the pack.

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P-Rod

This skateboarding shred competish doc about the sheer intensity and will to defy the terror of cracked bones  features some of the youngest, most successfully branded and competitive skaters in the game like Nyjah Huston (Puerto Rican father), Paul Rodriguez known as P-Rod, and Chaz Ortiz.  I can’t wait to meet these guys and get to know them.  Adam is good like that.  His last film, The Carter, about autodidactic and auto-real voiced rapper Lil Wayne impressed me for its gloss and floss but also by its covert way of infiltrating the hyped up insular world and mind of a subculture pop king.  His flashy aesthetic and sneak transparency is bound to capture the badass jaw dropping leaps and outrageous rail tricks along with distilling the high intensity pressure and rush of winning in The Motivation.

MIDNIGHT
Frankenstein’s Army (Netherlands, Czech Republic) directed by Richard Raaphorst and written by Miguel Tejada Flores
Tejada Flores
Tejada Flores

Logline: In the waning days of World War II, a team of Russian soldiers finds itself on a mysterious mission to the lab of one Dr. Victor Frankenstein. They unearth a terrifying Nazi plan to resurrect fallen soldiers as an army of unstoppable freaks and are soon trapped in a veritable haunted house of cobbled-together monstrosities. Frankenstein’s Army is the wild steampunk Nazi found-footage zombie mad scientist film you’ve always wanted.

Veteran Hollywood screenwriter, Miguel Tejada Flores has written such horror reboots as Beyond Reanimator and family classics as The Lion King but notably this is the guy who gets story credit for Revenge of the Nerds back in ’84.  His next film is the upcoming I Brake for Gringos starring Camilla Belle directed by Mexican filmmaker Fernando Lebrija.  A frequent mentor over the years at  NALIP’s screenwriting and producing labs, it sounds like this guy is accessible and interested in nurturing the younger generation of Latino talent.  A California native, his family is from Bolivia.  Read his wordpress blog here.

V/H/S/2 – Eduardo Sanchez is one of the seven filmmakers of the second found footage horror anthology which has screened at Sundance, SXSW and now Tribeca (that might be a record)  and most famously director of Blair Witch Project.  Cuban born filmmaker.

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Kimberly Lora as Imani Cortes

SHORT FILM COMPETITION

Close Your Eyes written and directed by Sonia Malfa

Logline: Thirteen-year-old Imani Cortes is a gifted photographer longing to experience her first kiss. She has a crush on a quiet artist, Junito, with whom she has a natural connection, but she also faces an enormous challenge: she is slowly losing her sight to retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disease. Will Imani let her disease stop her or be the path to independence? Cast Kimberly Lora, Julian Fernandez-Kemp, Sara Contreras, Victor Cruz, Rhina Valentina, Mia Ysabel

I’m looking forward to seeing this short set in Spanish Harlem.  I don’t know much about the filmmaker except that she raised 10k off Kickstarter for this, her directorial debut. And she looks Boricua.  Check out her website which shows a number of her photos and videos that show off her ‘eye’.  

The Tribeca Film Festival starts April 17-28.  Ticket info here