#WTF is #Latino at SXSW Film Festival?

Perhaps the highest profile U.S. Latino film at SXSW this year is the dramatic feature about labor rights organizer Cesar Chavez.  Another film on Chavez, the documentary Cesar’s Last Fast, premiered at Sundance last month.  I’m thrilled to see two of the biggest U.S. Festivals supporting this story getting out there.   I’m also happy to see that the version directed by Diego Luna, starring Michael Peña as Cesar, is not the only US Latino offering at SXSW, the edgiest mainstream film festival in the U.S. of A.  I count 5 U.S. Latino writer/directors on this roster among many other artists and subjects.

chaveztweetBefore we dive in, my caveats:  First, this is at best, a prelim list.  I’m sure I will discover more US Latino talent once I get there and watch more films and meet the artists behind them.  

2.  My goal is to single out the U.S. Latino content creators, that is writer/directors because they are ridiculously under-represented.

3.  By U.S. Latino I mean people born or living in the U.S. who have roots from Mexico, Central & South America and the Caribbean.  

Back to this piece; I’m including actors, producers and cinematographers because they are critical to the making of the film, and subjects of documentaries as well as themes and perceptions of Latino culture because you don’t have to have Latino blood to “get it”.  That’s a sensibility you pickup because of where you live, or because of a best friend/neighbor, or a connection you feel when you experience a an artistic expression outside what your traditional ethnic culture dictates. 

sashaSorry for shutting out Spain and Brazil on this list.  They will be fine.  That said I’m looking forward to Open Windows by Spanish loco, Nacho Vigalondo where Elijah Wood is suppose to go on a date with Sasha Grey.  And there is the Brazilian film,  Wolf at the Door, feature length debut from Fernando Coimbra.

One Night in Old Mexico by Emilio Aragon bears mention. It is a Spanish (that means Spain people) production shot in Brownsville, Texas. Joaquin Cosio (Cochiloco!) is the only Mexican actor I notice in the credits.   Robert Duvall acts and produces in this old-timey South of the Border road trip. I will view with an open mind and hope that Tijuana brothel strippers and corrupt Narco cowboys are not just background to an Anglo, Father and (grand) Son story.  I do like the Julieta Venegas song for the film, “Aqui Sigo”.

Thanks to my SXSW peeps for their descriptions and help.  If I have anything to add, I do so in Italics.  If YOU have anything to add please feel free to COMMENT!

HEADLINERS

Chef-photo-Jon-FavreauChef
Director/Screenwriter: Jon Favreau
Chef is a rich and vibrant comedy – the story of Carl Casper (Favreau), who loses his chef job and cooks up a food truck business in hopes of reestablishing his artistic promise. At the same time, he tries to reconnect with his estranged family.
Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey, Jr., Emjay Anthony (World Premiere)

NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT

malkovichCESAR CHAVEZ
Director: Diego Luna
Screenwriter: Keir Pearson, Timothy J. Sexton
Chavez chronicles the birth of a modern American movement led by famed civil rights leader and labor organizer, Cesar Chavez. 
Cast: Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich, Michael Pena, America Ferrera, Gabriel Mann (North American Premiere)

Finally, a U.S. Latino story gets the orchestral score, epic, Hollywood blockbuster-gloss treatment it deserves.  And tomorrow evening, Cesar Chavez is having its World Premiere as a fancy Berlinale Special Gala.  Film is being rolled out in the U.S. starting on Cesar Chavez day, March 29.  John Malkovich, one of the producers of the film, also stars as Bogdanovitch, the grape crop owner and son of immigrants who wages battle against Chavez’s efforts to mobilize.  The filmmakers made the role a very smartly drawn character with dimension and Malkovich plays it with unexpected complexity and compassion.  Meanwhile America and Rosario elevate the contributions of Chavez’s partners, Helen, his wife, and Dolores Huerta, his work ally, respectively,  from background to the fore with their mighty performances.  An inspiring account of the sacrifices and failures necessary for triumph and success.  

Two Step


Director/Screenwriter: Alex R. Johnson
Two Step is a fast-paced Texas thriller in which the lives of James, a directionless college dropout, and Webb, a career criminal with his back against the wall, violently collide.
Cast: Beth Broderick, James Landry Hébert, Skyy Moore, Jason Douglas, Ashley Rae Spillers (World Premiere)

Austin-based Johnson, whose mom is from Ecuador,  is part of SXSW for the first time with his anticipated feature directorial debut, after directing several shorts, videos and producing documentaries.  Indiewirepreviously posted background on Two Step’s music (Andrew Kenny of All American Analog set did the score) and offbeat suspense elements along with clips of his work.  Check it. 

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

 The Immortalists
Directors: Jason Sussberg, David Alvarado
Two eccentric scientists struggle to create eternal youth in a world they call “blind to the tragedy of old age.” As they battle their own aging and suffer the losses of loved ones, their scientific journeys ultimately become personal. (World Premiere)

David was born in Dallas to a Mexican father, he went to grad school at Stanford and now lives in Brooklyn where he works on films exploring scientific breakthroughs and other fascinating biological radical-ness

Impossible Light
Director: Jeremy Ambers

impossibleImpossible Light reveals the drama and the daring of artist Leo Villareal and a small team of visionaries who battle seemingly impossible challenges to turn a dream of creating the world’s largest LED light sculpture into a glimmering reality. (World Premiere)

 Villareal grew up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso. Per this Times article, “He was the introverted son of a wealthy Mexican-American family, more interested in programming his Apple II than the provincial pursuits of football, rodeo and tequila”.

Mateo
Director: Aaron I. Naar
Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 4.08.28 PMMateo follows America’s most notorious white mariachi singer on his misadventures in Cuba.
(World Premiere)

Really interesting story, read the 2009 LA Times piece here and the Time Magazine piece here about this ginger haired white man who found his calling singing bolero music after getting out of Maximum Security Prison.

Print the Legendprintlegend

Directors: Luis Lopez, Clay Tweel

The 3D Printing revolution has begun. Who will make it? (World Premiere)

Lopez (from Tijuana) and Tweel were associate producers on 2007’s King of Kong and worked together on 201o’s LA Film Fest Best Documentary, Make Believe.

DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT

chapoThe Legend Of Shorty (UK)
Directors: Angus MacQueen, Guillermo Galdos
The Legend of Shorty is the story of a man and a myth. (World Premiere)

The sick but undeniably wild appeal of this ‘untouchable’ narco kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman puts this at the top of my Must-See list.  Not to mention the folks involved; Guillermo Galdos is a respected documentary reporter from Peru.  Submarine is co-repping the film for North America with Protagonist. Produced by Simon Chinn (Searching For Sugar Man, Man On Wire) and Andrew Mackenzie-Betty (Thriller In Manila).

VISIONS

Cumbres (Heights) (Mexico)

Director/Screenwriter: Gabriel Nuncio
Due a tragedy, two sisters abruptly escape from their hometown in Northern Mexico. Their journey creates a bittersweet relationship marked by pain, guilt and love.
Cast: Aglae Lingow, Ivanna Michel, Abdul Marcos, Sergio Quiñones, Ganzo Cepeda (U.S. Premiere)

Really happy about this film and impressed how Nuncio swooshes forward both the on-the-run stakes never leaving behind the actual sister relationship story behind. I’m looking forward to his next film, Los Herederos which Michel Franco (Despues de Lucia is producing).

The Dance of Reality (Chile / France)


Director/Screenwriter: Alejandro Jodorowsky
The Dance of Reality is a 2013 independent autobiographical film written, produced and directed by Alejandro Jodorowosky. 
Cast: Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Jeremias Herskovits, Cristobal Jodorowsky, Bastián Bodenhöfer, Alejandro Jodorowsky (U.S. Premiere)

Almost a year after its premiere in Cannes, the film finally gets its stateside premiere.  It’s like surfing on the neural synapses of an artist fully in tune with his twilight years intertwining nostalgia and fantasy.

EPISODIC – new section

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

Director/Screenwriter: Robert Rodriguez
The Gecko Brothers are back. Based on the thrill-ride film, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a supernatural crime saga from Creator, Director and EP Robert Rodriguez premiering March 11 on El Rey Network.
Cast: D.J. Cotrona, Zane Holtz, Eiza González, Jesse Garcia, Lane Garrison, and Wilmer Valderrama, and Don Johnson (World Premiere) 

Halt and Catch Fire
Director: Juan Jose Campanella, Screenwriters: Christopher Cantwell
Halt and Catch Firecaptures the rise of the PC era in the early 1980s, during which an unlikely trio – a visionary, an engineer and a prodigy – take personal and professional risks in the race to build a computer that will change the world as they know it. 
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Rio Davis, Kerry Bishe, Toby Huss, David Wilson Barnes (World Premiere)

Argentine Campanella has directed several episodes of House, Law & Order, 30 Rock and my ol fave, Strangers With Candy. Before that he got international acclaim with his first film, 2009’s The Secret in Her Eyes.

24 BEATS PER SECOND

Lupita-1 KopieQue Caramba es la Vida (Germany)
Director: Doris Dorrie
In the macho world of Mariachi music, very few women can hold their own. Just like the songs they play, this film is a snapshot of life, death and the things in between – seen from a bird’s-eye perspective. (World Premiere)

Rubber Soul

Director/Screenwriter: Jon Lefkovitz
Rubber Soul reconstructs portions of two historical interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono based on available transcripts and audio, juxtaposing them in order to explore the dynamic nature of Lennon’s identity over time. Cast: Joseph Bearor, Denice Lee, Dillon Porter, Andrew Perez (World Premiere)

perezAndrew is first generation Colombian American.  His next feature which he wrote and acts in is being edited by Rubber Soul director, Jon Lefkovitz, takes place in Colombia, called Bastards & Diablos.  He spent six years in my Chi-city, performed at the renowned Steppenwolf Theater with a production of Sonia Flew with Sandra Delgado and Sandra Marquez. 

 

SXGLOBAL

desertThe Desert (Argentina)

Director: Christoph Behl


The failed story of a love triangle in a post-apocalyptic world.
Cast: Victoria Almeida, William Prociuk, Lautaro Delgado (North American Premiere)

German filmmaker who works in Spanish language films.  The Desert has been validated at all the top international horror festivals, Sitges, London Fright Fest, Fantasy Festival among others.

MIDNIGHT

Exists
Director: Eduardo Sánchez, Screenwriter: Jamie Nash
Five friends on a camping weekend in the remote woods of East Texas struggle to survive against a legendary beast that is stronger, smarter, and more terrifying than they would have ever believed exists. Cast: Chris Osborn, Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis (World Premiere)

Cuban born Sanchez shot to cult indie horror kingpin over Blair Witch Project.  His short in the V/H/S 2 short is so bomb.  I can’t wait to see this take on Bigfoot.

latephasesLate Phases
Director: Adrián García Bogliano Screenwriter: Eric Stolze
When deadly attacks from the forests beset a secluded retirement community, it is up to a grizzled veteran to figure what the residents are hiding. Cast: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Erin Cummings, Tom Noonan, Lance Guest (World Premiere)

Adrián was born in Madrid, grew up in Argentina and now lives and works in Mexico City.  This is his first film in English.  He has over 20 credits, about half feature length and half shorts, including most recently the ABCs of Death (B is for Bigfoot, incidentally), and Here Comes The Devil.  I first experienced his suspenseful horror com romp with his 2004 Rooms for Tourists.

Home
Director/Screenwriter: Nicholas McCarthy
When a realtor is asked to sell a vacant home, she and her sister cross paths with its previous tenant: a teenage girl who sold her soul to the devil. Cast: Naya Rivera, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ashley Rickards, Wyatt Russell, Ava Acres (World Premiere)

Puerto Rican Naya Rivera (Glee) who recently was quoted in a Cosmo Latina interview it sucks that she has no one to speak Spanish to , and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace and Magic Magic) get top billing in this  midnight movie from The Pact director McCarthy

ANIMATED SHORTS

Yearbook

Director/Writer:  Bernardo Britto

A man is hired to compile the definitive history of human existence before the planet blows up.

BB is Brasilero from Rio, animated film is produced by the Cuban American Borscht Collective based in Miami.  Won Best Animated Film at Sundance.  I’m so moved by this.  It is so damn profound.

MIDNIGHT SHORTS

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 6.38.37 PMWawd Ahp

Directors: Steve Girard, Josh Chertoff
A man raps in the mirror, cuts his head off, and has sex with it. There is also a cartoon.

No seriously, that is the description and even that is not preparation for the deranged awesome-ness that is Wawd Ahp.  The cinematographer Alfredo Alcantara grew up in Mexico City.  Check out his work.

Violent Florence (Australia)
Director: Jaime Snyder
Florence rescues a stray cat from a gang of teenagers. After taking the feline to an isolated building, her true intentions emerge.

Cinematographer Benjamin Hidalgo De La Barrera is from Mexico City, another D.F. DP

TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SHORTS – The future is here!

Cliché
Directors: Joseph Alvarez, Eric Zelaya
Four teenagers on a mission to create the greatest student short film.

Just Skate
Directors: Alicia Tanguma, Brianna Garza
The boy loves to skate.

purplePurple
Directors: Ryker Allen, Isabella Cabello
A Super-8 esque shot, coming of age music video for the song “Purple” performed by San Antonio based band Islands and Tigers.

Check out the San Antonio multi-media artist Ryker’s impressive work on his website

Seawolf
Directors: Caila Pickett, Max Montoya
Seawolf follows a young girl as she travels to different worlds through magical boxes.

Now that I’ve had a chance to scour through the lineup, I can tell that Latino or not, there’s a whole mixed bag of unadulterated, head-blowing, pants-offing, mind-tripping sing and dancing in store to discover.   Get yourself out there for the film, stay for music if you dare.  SXSW

Docs due to break through: Top 5 American Latino Docs to watch out for in 2013

Last week I offered up my top 5 fiction films to look out for in 2013, and as promised, here is my non-fiction list of films coming down the pipeline, bound to make an impression and impact this year.  Two are profiles of influential iconic American activists whose work and spirit have left indelible marks on their generation. Hopefully  their reintroduction through the docs will serve to celebrate and carry on their positive influence as Latinos for many next generations.  The other films deal with redefining our perception of American identity, gender and human rights while wielding cinematic ingenuity and power.  As these films prove, docs can be just as striking in their characterization and cinematic form as their fiction counterparts, in addition to their intrinsic educational value.  Take note, all of these are seeking opportunities to engage with their audiences so again click on the links to follow and show your interest in their work so we can bring awareness and demand their exhibition.

MARTHAS_Daniella_2009     1.LAS MARTHAS by Cristina Ibarra, produced by Erin Ploss-Campoamor

In Laredo Texas, there exists a debutante ball held by the exclusive Society of Martha Washington that takes place every year celebrating George Washington’s birthday.  A 114 year-old tradition, the lavish affair presents members’ daughters- all of aristocratic pedigree and lineage dating back to the foundation of Texas, who dress up in grand, colonial gowns representing characters from the American Revolution.  Las Marthas follows a couple of high achieving, bi-literate and conscious young Mexican Americans going through the lengthy preparations as they enter this rite of passage that ends with a parade that draws huge crowds.  What’s especially remarkable about the whole patriotic event is that we are talking about a city that is 94% Latino.  Laredo became part of Texas in 1848, when everything north of the Rio Grande became the United States.  Many families who stayed, benefited off the oil boom and settled into an upper class aristocracy.  Many generations later these are still the most prominent Laredo citizens and proud bearers of this historic tradition.

I’m so proud of this Chicana sister for revealing this world.  She has intuitively seized on and explored this unique legacy, which clearly demonstrates the vibrant bi-culture of Texas and shows how aptly the founding father narrative belongs to Mexican Americans.   She is also working on a fiction feature titled Love and Monster Trucks about an 18-year-old Chicana artist named Impala Mata who can’t wait to escape her 4×4 truck-obsessed, Texas bordertown family.  Sounds so cool.  Need to track that one too.

Filmmakers website here

cesareats2.  CESAR’S LAST FAST by Richard Ray Perez, produced by Molly O’Brien

Back in the Spring on Chavez’s anniversary I wrote about this documentary in progress here on the site.  Cut to today and I’m happy to share it is just about ripe and ready for its premiere.  Wisely and effectively entering the vast legacy by angling on Chavez’s 1988 Fast for Life, the film focuses on conveying the private sacrifice and spiritual conviction behind Chavez’s struggle for the humane treatment of American farm workers.  With each and every day adding up that he refused to eat in protest of the rampant use and ill effects of growers spraying pesticides on farm workers, Chavez seriously risked his health and life and in turn inspired a nation.  It boasts never-before-seen footage in which artists and activists came to see him, endeared in solidarity by his fortitude, including the likes of Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Kennedy family, interviews with his son Paul Chavez, Chicano filmmaker Luis Valdez, activist veteran, Dolores Huerta and Martin Sheen, along with showing the press hoopla this man was able to attract back then. It’s taken years for the family to trust someone with his story so it’s telling that Rick has managed to gain their support.

Film contact  <CesarsLastFast@earthlink.net>

Website, Facebook

RUBEN-SALAZAR-PREVIEW
created by Ernesto Yerena. Click on the image to see his work.

3.  RUBEN SALAZAR:  MAN IN THE MIDDLE by Phillip Rodriguez, produced by City Projects

On August 29 1970, just as the Chicano Moratorium March, a protest denouncing the extremely high number of Chicano soldier casualties in Vietnam (front of the line browns), was winding down, a tear gas canister was suddenly thrown by LA County police into the old Silver Platter Cafe on Whittier Blvd, killing the pioneering civil rights journalist Ruben Salazar.  Set to broadcast on PBS in the Fall, this documentary is the first thorough investigation into the life and mysterious death of Salazar who was raised in El Paso and went on to become a brilliant reporter covering Vietnam, the Olympics and the Chicano movement for the LA Times and KMEX TV 34 television, making him the first Mexican American to cover news for mainstream outlets.  In that critical and turbulent moment in the Chicano rights movement, Salazar gave voice, rationale and dignity to Chicanos’ fight to demand equality.  An inquest was later regarding his untimely death made but murder charges were never brought.  Instead Los Angeles County paid $700,000 to the Salazar family to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Just last month, after two years of requests, Philip Rodriguez finally won the battle to uncover case details when MALDEF sued Sheriff Lee Baca for withholding unredacted records regarding the 42 year old case.  This new unearthed footage, photos and documents will appear in the film along with interviews with Salazar’s family, friends, colleagues as well as the deputy who threw the fatal tear gas missile, Tom Wilson.  So the story goes, there had been allegedly a tip that an armed man entered the bar (hence blindly throwing tear gas while folks were in there?).   For the first time we might get answers and insight surrounding the mysterious and suspicious circumstances of this leading Latino voice.  As quoted on KPCC, Phillip Rodriguez says, “I think this is one of the most important stories that has remained on the margins and that has been characterized as a regional or an ethnic story and it’s a fantastic American story”.

wildness14.  THE WILDNESS by Wu Tsang produced by Kathy Rivkin

Although this premiered at a few noteworthy film festivals in 2012, including Austin’s SXSW, Outfest in Los Angeles and MOMA in NYC last December, I’m thrilled to know there is still a long life ahead towards sharing this beautiful experience with the public so it definitely deserves to be on the Watch Out For list.  A dazzling requiem to the 7th & Alvarado corner bar joint, Silver Platter, specifically the transformation and haven as a Latin/LGBT/immigrant community spurred on by the introduction of performance parties known as Wildness, produced by a fiercely talented collective including Wu Tsang, the director of the film.  The intersection of stories and people borne out of that multi cultural, trans and cross-generational magic potion is fascinating and poignant to behold in this cinematic and audiovisual piece.  The cinematography captures the wonderful and tragic beauty, and by personifying the bar as a majestic hostess welcoming all wayward transients, the film pulses with heart.  Currently looking for distribution opportunities (repped by Cinetic).  Check out the trailer below and go to the Facebook for more info.

5.  WHO IS DAYANI CRYSTAL? by Marc Silver, produced by Canana and Pulse

I previously highlighted this unique docu-drama about the discovery of a migrant found dead in the border desert and the unfolding mystery of his identity with the parallel of a retracing of his journey, as part of my WTF is Latino at Sundance post.  The film will open the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival this Thursday and I will be onsite to cover the audience’s reaction (Don’t forget to follow me on twitter for my sporadic SFF coverage).  Not only is it a feat of ingenuity in the way the narrative is structured, it’s an extremely urgent topic deserving a larger audience to provoke more humanity and thought into the pressing immigration reform debate.  I guarantee this one will travel to many festivals in 2012 and get theatrical distribution, aided in no small part by its compassionate and driven producer and narrator, Gael Garcia Bernal.  Last year, Searching for Sugarman screened in the same Day One screening slot, was subsequently snapped up by Sony Pictures and as of last week officially nominated for an Academy Award.  Hmmmm.   Get updates by following their twitter @DayaniCristal

Film Contact:  < lucas@pulsefilms.co.uk>

Ojos! 5 Hot American Latino films to discover in 2013

Peep this and pay mind folks, especially Festival Programmers and Distributors.  Here’s my list of the most exciting American Latino independent fiction films coming through the pipeline ready to break out and make noise in 2013.

All are first features by wildly original voices who are remixing potent multi-cultural heritage and inventing their own unique brand of genre.   So much talent!  Makes this Chicanita proud.

Let’s start with numero uno:

1.  WATER & POWER – from Chicano wordsmith warrior and Culture Clash iconoclast, Richard J. Montoya, produced by Mark Roberts. This is the screen adaptation of Montoya’s 2006 play originally performed at the Mark Taper Forum.  Rife with the City of Angels’ legends, haunts and lore, the Chicano noir tale (how cool is that?) takes place over the course of one fateful night.  An intense story unravels centered on twin brothers nicknamed “Water” played by Enrique Murciano and “Power” played by Nicolas Gonzalez who were born and raised on the East Side streets playground – one grows up to be a senator and the other a high ranking cop.  The amazingly gifted musical artist and composer Gingger Shankar (Circumstance, Charlie Wilson’s War) has contributed music to the film.   The project participated in the 2007 Sundance Institute screenwriters & directors lab.  A madly prolific playwright (a regular Berkeley and Yale Repertory Theatre collaborator), I got a chance to see Montoya’s uproarious and thought provoking American history redux play, American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose last fall (read the LA Weekly feature review here).  An uncompromising artist with a thundering voice all over the pop culture pulse and map, Montoya’s first feature film tops my list of films to watch out for in 2013.  Can. Not. Wait.

Like the Facebook page to stay on top of future premiere announcements and here’s a pic on Mark Roberts website

Film contact: <mark@robertsdavid.com>

PARDON ScreenGrab 1
Hector Atreyu Ruiz as Saul Sanchez – stuck between a rock and hard place

2.  PARDON – written and directed by R.F. Rodriguez and produced by his production company BadMansSon.  A story that deals with a cholo ex-con who returns to his barrio ready to go on the straight and narrow but soon finds himself pulled by his old gang familia may sound familiar, but never has it been as emotionally excavated and depicted with such sensitivity and complexity.  Hector Atreyu Ruiz is Saul Sanchez whose driving motivation is the chance to reunite with his estranged daughter.  Guided by a sympathetic parole officer, played by Tracey Heggins (from the 2008 indie African-American gem Medicine for Melancholy), Saul tackles catch-22 circumstances towards his mission and confronts a growing uneasiness and threat from his vatos who continue to test if he’s still down.  At its core the film is an exploration about  fatherhood and coming home, and speaks to the social phenomenon of absentee fathers as the result of incarceration, an issue predominantly afflicting Latino families and communities.

PARDON ScreenGrab 3 Set in Highland Park, Rodriguez, a USC film school grad, shot the feature before graduating, having fleshed the story further out of the short film he made of the same name.  His project mentor, Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves) encouraged him to do more with it and this is the amazing result.   With earnest and raw performances, the moving and powerfully directed film marks this a sign of a true filmmaker talent discovery.

Website, Twitter

Film contact <contact@badmansson.com>

rbe_13. RECOMMENDED BY ENRIQUE written and directed by Daniel Garcia and Rania Attieh and produced by their NY based company En Passant Films.   Shot in border town Del Rio, Texas (the U.S. side of the Rio Grande) with an offbeat hipster cast of  young non-professionals plucked locally, the quirky, mystical tale is about an aspiring actress and an old cowboy who each arrive into town with respective plans and expectations, only to end up waiting for something to happen.  Forced to wait out their time,  they’ve nothing to do but explore the bewitching town and its people.  Lino Varela plays the Cowboy and Sarah Swinwood, a Canadian newcomer actress nails the airhead wannabe star.

This is the second feature film from Texas native Daniel Garcia and Lebanese born Rania.  Their first film, OK, ENOUGH, GOODBYE screened at San Francisco International Film Festival among other world wide festivals, and the duo were included in 2011’s Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film.  Undertones of a Twilight Zone type of dimension and the spellbinding pull of the dusty town are perfectly captured – as anyone who’s been in these strange little Texas towns can attest.  Unexpected and unpredictable, this definitely gets my recommendation.

rbe_2

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 1.08.25 AM
Luz!  played by Iliana Carter Ramirez

 

 

 

 

4.  VINCENT & LUZY (FKA On the Run) written and directed by Alberto Barboza and produced by Cinético Productions. A charming, hip and modern fairy tale love story between a soulful graffiti artist,Vincent, played by Miguel Angel Caballero, and sexy tattoo artist, Luzy played by Iliana Carter Ramirez.  The film captures and romanticizes the happening, multi-culti rockabilly/emo scene and counter culture of Boyle Heights and features lots of home grown talent and spots like Self Help Graphics, the community visual arts mission center.  The posters created by Vincent in the film are designed by rising street artist, El Mac (Miles MacGregor).  You’ll recognize some of his murals around LA like this one on Hollywood and Wilton, one of my favorites.  He just did the album cover for No Doubt.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 12.33.29 AM

An eclectic soundtrack featuring local Vallenato band, Very Be CarefulHermanos Herrera, Irene DiazDoghouse Lords and more.  The cast also includes ol’ G’, Sal Lopez (American Me) and Lupe Ontiveros in what may be her last film role before she passed away last year (she also has a small role in Water & Power).

Fresh, exuberant and inhabiting a distinct, heightened magical street reality, Vincent & Luzy might be the first film to truly reflect this young, vibrant artist subculture, making this one a hot flick to track.

mailFilm contact: info@CineticoProductions.com

Website

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 9.04.14 PM

5. BLAZE YOU OUT – written and directed by Mateo Frazier and Diego Joaquin Lopez and produced by Alicia J. Keyes.  Set in the rarely seen mystic world of New Mexico, this young female driven thriller is uniquely atmospheric.  Starring the rising young talent, Veronica Diaz Carranza (Mamitas) along with a terrific cast including Elizabeth Peña, Q’orianka Kilcher, Raoul Trujillo and Mark Adair Rios, all who ignite the screen. Diaz stars as Lupe, a DJ who is forced to venture into her town’s heroin trade underworld in order to save her younger sister Alicia’s life.  To do so she must confront mysterious occult figures and harness the power within her to connect with the divine that surrounds her.

Blaze You Out Film
Ms. DJ Diaz

I was thrilled to hear that Lionsgate picked up the film at AFM a couple months ago.  Lionsgate/Grindstone will release the film July 2013.   6 Sales is handling rights to rest of world.  Intense and wicked and unlike anything else this is a sizzling genre film to look forward to.  In the meantime, check out the press kit, pics and more on their site.

mailWebsite, Facebook

 

 

 

MUST MENTION

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 7.21.14 PMCHAVEZ –  written and directed by Diego Luna and produced by Canana Films, Mr. Mudd and backed by Participant Media.  Given it’s a biography of an iconic Chicano figure, labor rights activist Cesar Chavez, and Luna is an international name talent, this project has already attracted major press coverage ever since it was first announced so it doesn’t really fit my ‘Discovery’ profile.  That said, it is a highly anticipated and important film. I really hope the film opens wide and mainstream – although Participant will likely need a partner to make this happen in the U.S.  Michael Peña, the Puerto Rican actor catapulting towards leading man roles and already a regular in big Hollywood films (he’s in Gangster Squad opening this weekend), embodies a young Chavez.  It wasn’t quite ready for Sundance so it’s possible the film will bow at a high profile festival like Cannes or Toronto.  Although I’m hoping Stephanie Allain, director of Film Independent’s LA Film Festival will go hard after the film to wrangle what would be a fitting LA gala premiere.  Diego Luna proved his salt as the filmmaker of Abel, an eloquent and heart-stirring portrait of a little delusional boy who pretends to be the man of the house since his father left. Peña recently shared his approach was to be truthful to Cesar the MAN not necessarily the legend or myth generated by his colossal perseverance and labor rights feats.  All eyes will be on the representation of such a querido and influential figure.   My bet?  All in.  I trust the filmmakers and cast will deliver a resonant and accomplished cinematic film worthy of the inspiring civil rights story, and more importantly re-introduce Chavez to mobilize our millennial generation.

Do you have a hot independent American Latino film recommendation I should track?  Holler at your girl.  Email me at <chicanafromchicago@gmail.com>

Next up,  Non-Fiction American Latino films to track in 2013

Cesar Chavez – Todavia Se Puede!

E-card art by UFW supporters - click to see link

In honor of the social rights activist who would have been 85 today let’s take a look at not just one but both of the feature films about his life’s work in the pipeline.

One is a narrative being directed by Diego Luna and written by Keir Pearson (Hotel Rwanda), the other, a documentary by Richard Ray Perez, an established film and video documentarian which has been supported by Sundance Institute.  Both stand to give honor to the dogged labor rights organizer and activist in two distinct cinematic approaches.  The documentary which is called Cesar’s Last Fast is entering the last stages of editing and a rough cut is expected by mid-summer. While the narrative, only referred to as Chavez for now, has just begun shooting.

THE REAL (FOOTAGE) CESAR

Most  doc critics and enthusiasts would agree that a question worth asking when considering documentary cinema, is finding out the filmmaker’s connection to the subject/story.  That is, why is THIS given filmmaker the best person to tell THIS story. In Cesar’s Last Fast, its fascinating to hear.  Apparently it’s by inheritance that brought Rick Perez to the project.  A woman very close to Chavez collected years and years of documentation and upon her death willed that only one person could take on and carry the project to fruition and that was Rick Perez.  His venerable team includes Molly O’Brien, emmy award winning producer.  What’s the focus of the documentary?  As evident by the title, Cesar’s Last Fast, the documentary looks and is anchored by the specific 1988 act, the grueling 36 day fast Chavez undertook to protest pesticides, which exemplifies the man’s sheer strength and will.  The documentary looks to have a very spiritual and humanizing bent.  It includes very intimate, never before seen material from the family’s personal archive.  More importantly it ties a lot of the history of Union Farm Workers Union he founded in 1962, with what is going on today; asking what is the face of organizing today – critically placing a contemporary context to it.  No doubt the combination of these elements is what made this specific portrayal of Cesar Chavez so appealing to the Sundance Documentary Film Program which got involved early on with funding support.  Sundance typically supports contemporary social issues but perhaps recognizing the same issues loom just as pressing today, were drawn in by the relevance Rick Perez posits.  In addition to the money support, Sundance invited Rick to participate in the Sundance Producer’s Summit and a Works in Progress screening at the Hammer last year , a popular and overcrowded event which was accompanied by a panel with Edward James Olmos, Paul Chavez, Cesar’s son, along with current heads of the union.  And recently, the DFP had a lab down in Imperial Valley free to all, where they had another work in progress screening of Cesar’s Last Fast followed by a master class given by Rick about story structure.

CHAVEZ – BASED ON A TRUE STORY

Michael Pena as Chavez, Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta, America Ferrera as Chavez's wife, Helen and Diego Luna directing

Back in 2010, screenwriter Keir Pearson and producer Larry Meli optioned life rights to a Chavez biopic after working with the family for over a two year period in which they visited them, including Paul Chavez, and gained their trust.  Canana got involved by way of attaching Diego Luna to direct and adding Gael Garcia Bernal and Pablo Cruz as producing partners along with Larry Meli.  Also attached as producer is John Malkovich’s Mr. Mudd, and additional cast include popular Culture Clash founder, Richard Montoya. Diego Luna previously showed off his directing skills in Abel which premiered at Sundance 2010, a psychologically harrowing story about a kid who takes on the role of man in the house when his father isn’t around. His traveling documentary festival, Ambulante was recently awarded with WOLA’s Human Rights Award back in November.  Speaking for the Chavez film, over email Larry Meli was kind enough to email me back saying, “This is a terribly important story for all time and particularly in this moment in our history more so as we see manual workers being squeezed along with an entire middle class.  There were some successes and some failures but most important it shows that one person CAN make a difference.  For Mexican-American’s, it will be a great source of pride as Cesar stood up for the rights of others against the corporations and the system and won!!!”

I wasn’t able to find out what the screenplay’s take and focus is, whether it will be an epic period set retelling of Chavez’s personal lifestory, or if it will have a specific focus like the documentary, portraying his deeply personal struggles, and or pivotal marches and strikes as it relates to today. Considering Michael Peña has been cast as Chavez, and Rosario Dawson as his co-organizer, Dolores Huerta, I hope it means a considerable chunk will be about the early days, the beginning stages and HOW the literal first ever grassroots mobilization was accomplished, what later would go on to become the United Farm Worker’s Union.

SI SE PUDO?

Of the four library books I checked out on Chavez this week, Conquering Goliath by Fred Ross, which is all in Chavez’s words where he catches up with his buddy and mentor Fred Ross about the 6 year span in which he organized the Oxnard Community Service Organization, right before he moved to East LA to start the national movement,  was the most fascinating. For  one, the reader hears his inner doubts and insecurities (making him human and not on held up on a pedestal) and second how he learned to play ball with the growers, state and federal outfits, and interestingly how much it cost him to gain the trust of the workers.  All the strategizing he learned in these early days sets the stage for when he took on the bigger challenge of mobilizing a national union.  One is tempted to say, “The Rest is History”, but in this case, that history deserves to be analyzed and told and retold.

Arturo S. Rodriguez, current president of United Farm Workers and Chavez's son-in-law

I’m personally thrilled that we have two films in two totally different genres that will embody deal the life history of Chavez and his efforts to make Labor Law change. In addition to reflecting on the impact he has today, I hope clear historic nuts and bolts will be told that which we could refer to in order to comprehend government policies that stand in the way of tackling the issues Chavez took on including the dangers of exposing workers to pesticides, and crucially, immigration rights.  Chavez’s Si Se Puede (“Yes We Can”, hence, my post title, “We Still Can) is an inspirational chant used today.  But its in studying the sweaty losses  as much as his triumphs that we might fully understand the weight and responsibility that comes with that statement.  Many issues we face today about immigration reform harken back to the Bracero Program, the guest worker program in which Mexicans were imported to the US to work the lands, a people caught in between Chavez’s struggle to gain rights for ‘domestic workers’.  The more I read and begin to understand the political aspect, the program set the pattern and tone for the immigration rights battle we face today.  Although in 1964 Congress voted to end it, like an ugly ‘call it by another name’ phenomenon, it exists today. A factsheet from the Immigration Policy Center (pulled from this article) reports between 53% and 75% of the 2.5 million farm workers who work in the U.S. each year are undocumented. Collective bargaining does NOT help this population; the provisions of a union contract are only enforceable for documented workers.

It’s nice to render tribute through films and books the symbolic meaning of Chavez, but its our responsibility and the filmmakers tackling this story, to responsibly learn and apply the lessons learned from his life to truly honor his legacy.  And I trust both filmmaker teams will do just that.

Check out the Kickstarter trailer of Cesar’s Last Fast and the website here

Like it on Facebook

About Cesar Chavez Foundation