GOING HARD FOR IT – Carmen Marron and her upcoming new film(s)

Dreams (still) come true in Hollywood.  Although so few and way far in between, the against-all-odds fairytale dream of an unknown and bold voice getting a shot at the big time and the big screen remarkably still happens. Just ask Chi-town girl, Carmen Marron who didn’t let the fact she didn’t go to film school stop her from diving in and directing Go For It!  She got her movie into film festivals and sold it to Lions Gate who released it on 200 screens including all Home Entertainment ancillary.  But don’t get it twisted, this ain’t no lottery.  It’s a hell of a lot of work to get here. The story you tell has to come from deep within your core and show.  Only then will studios, agents, financiers come knocking on your door.  Take it from Carmen, you just got to do you.  You got to be in it for the art/humanities and it’s got to be something you would do for free.  If you had to, that is.

?????????????????????????????????????????????Go For It!  tells the story of a high school teen, whose passion and talent is hip hop dance, but pursuing this dream clashes with her humble immigrant working class family and stark reality of limited opportunities raised in the inner city streets of Chicago.   Carmen wrote it as a way to get through to the high school teens she met while a guidance counselor because she realized it was the only way to get their attention (through entertainment).  She never intended to direct the script until after five years of sending it around to directors including Ken Loach who told her she was the only person to direct it.  In 2009, Carmen rolled up her sleeves, crewed up and shot the film right where she grew up around Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Pilsen. She received a standing ovation at her sold out world premiere at the Dances With Films Festival in June of 2010.  Carmen has been mad busy since but surprisingly she gives off a calm, just checking things off her crazy full To Do list vibe.  I met up with her a few days before she was flying to Panama on behalf of the Fulbright Institute of International Education to talk to young kids about filmmaking.  Here is the scoop on her full slate of upcoming films. As you can tell, she is not only riding the momentum but is driving and steering it with a clear vision of the stories she wants to tell.  Check it.

Sounds like you had an amazing world premiere screening of Go For It!  How did you manage to sell out your first festival screening like that?  What kind of promotion did you do?

I’m a marketing freak and so I did a lot on Facebook.  I raffled off tickets.  I have a business degree so I took a lot of marketing classes.   I just think that to make it in this business you have to be marketing savvy.  If you are going to be an independent filmmaker, you have to have some knack for it.

They say it’s sometimes harder to make the second feature than the first.  How did it go for you?  At what point were you completely convinced that no matter what you were going to keep making films?

Before Dances with Films, I did a pre-screening at the Boston International Film Festival, not in competition. It was a rough cut and I just want to see how it played in a non-Latino city to get some honest, hardcore feedback.  The audience was 90% Caucasian and they were so moved by it.  Many approached me after the screening, crying!  That this Caucasian woman from Northern California can relate to a Latina from Chicago trying to follow her dreams – it was really surprising for me.  I knew I had a special story, and it was so much who I am. That’s when I thought, ‘I’m going to continue telling stories no matter what happens with this movie. I know now I have the ability to connect with the public.’

Once a film is finished there is so much more work to do to get it out there, at what point do you manage to find time to even think about the next project?

 It’s different with everybody but with me I was so focused on getting Go For It! in theaters.  I really wanted to affect as many kids and women as possible.  We got lucky winning audience awards at different film festivals.  I didn’t have a sales agent or representation.  Someone from Lionsgate came to the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival screening at the Mann theater. Lionsgate called me literally during the second added screening. I don’t even know how they got my number. From there it took the next six months to officially sell it.  The deal closed by January and we released it in May 2011.  After the movie came out, I was really exhausted.  I started getting offers.  I had an agent interested in me.  I was getting indie scripts to direct but I didn’t really feel any of them.  They were dark, Sundance-y stories, good scripts but not inspirational, not my type. Then out of the blue, I get contacted by an attorney on behalf of a writer client, who said they saw my movie.  They asked me to read and consider a script to direct. It was called Border Town back then and I didn’t like the title.  I didn’t get to reading it until a couple weeks later, in the middle of when I was writing my own script, a Latina comedy which I just finished. Anyway so I read this at night and I literally broke into tears, it was such a good script.  The writer and the producer flew out to LA to meet me and I got attached. It’s called Saving Esperanza. It’s an incredible true story about a woman who went to the border to do mission work with her child and then fell in love with a baby at an orphanage.  She tries to bring the baby to the US to provide critical medical care because the baby is dying but it is in the middle of Sept. 11.

ENDGAME SAN ANTONIOEndgame came about in the middle of working on that film.  The same producer I was working with told me about another script, also based on true events; an inspirational and empowering Latino story.  This was August of last year.  I read it, (Endgame) and it had so many good elements to it, but the script needed work so I said to her I would be willing to rewrite the script. The writer was also the producer and a wealthy immigration lawyer in Texas. I told him what I would want to do with it and he was totally receptive and he said we got a deal.  That was September.  I started rewriting it in October, I started flying out to Texas to do scouting and get local casting after the new year, we did prep in March and shot this past April.

Wow, so both projects came to you fully financed?

Endgame was, the other one we’re still trying to get the rest of the financing.  We hope to shoot that in the next six months.  I was really lucky because of my reputation with Go For It! These scripts came to me and they were good fits.  Its funny, it’s a lesson in this industry where you’re always looking for work, that if do what you love you will attract the right people at the right time. We are tying to get Endgame ready to submit for the Sundance deadline.

ENDGAME Med Poster 300ppiSo tell me more about Endgame

Endgame is inspired by this incredible success story that is happening right now in Brownsville Texas.  It’s the third poorest town in the U.S. It’s right on the border of Matamoros.  It’s 99% Latinos, straight from Mexico, and the drop out rate and poverty levels are really high.  About twenty years ago the school districts and the parents rallied together and started teaching competitive scholastic Chess in schools to try to improve kids’ cognitive skills, focus, agility, basically to keep them out of trouble.  It started with one teacher JJ Guajardo, who we got to be our chess consultant in the movie.  He literally took a group of delinquent kids who were always in detention and started teaching them Chess.  Sure enough the kids responded and he assembled a little team.  They went to regionals, then went on to state. Under his guidance they won State Championships seven years in a row, beating the rich prep kids in Dallas. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it, this is like true life!  The vice principal tells me some of these kids didn’t even have running water, and here is the community pitching in to get them bus tickets to go to Dallas to compete with kids who have had grand master coaches since they were five.  And these kids are beating the pants off them.  So now Brownsville is known around the country for their scholastic chess because they are realizing that is their way to make it.  Kids are growing up to go to Yale, Princeton, Harvard.  They are traveling all around the world to compete.  The film is based on education and Latinos, which is kind of what drives me, like in Go For It.   I was a guidance counselor so that resonates with me.  It was an honor to be there in Brownsville around all those giving, loving families with so much integrity.

RicoTell me about the cast

We have a real strong cast.  We got lucky.  Rico Rodriguez, Manny, the kid from Modern Family is the lead and he is amazing. He carries the movie.  He’s very charismatic, very humble, normal down to earth kid.  His parents have done an amazing job.  He’s Mexican from Texas, that’s why we were lucky to get him for this role.  We could have never afforded him.  This is low budget, I mean much higher than Go For It! but the actors that we got are incredible and we couldn’t really afford their rates.  Rico’s parents however, felt that this story represented their lives so they wanted their son to represent their family in such a positive way.  Justina Machado plays Rico’s mother, she is also from Chicago.  She is a phenomenal actress. Efren Ramirez from Napoleon Dynamite also stars.  The film is a mixture of both drama and humor, like Searching for Bobby Fisher, Stand & Deliver.  It’s a family film, PG 13.

Was there a conversation about whether it should be bi-lingual? English or Spanish?

In the original we had it that la abuela would speak Spanish and we would do English subtitles, but then Ivonne Cole who plays la abuela said, ‘I really think we should have her speak English with her accent so we can keep her more relatable and people can connect with her’.  And it worked better that way without the language barrier.  She has her own type of Spanglish.

Carmen Marron ENDGAME BehindTS stillI remember crossing through Brownsville in my childhood when my family and I used to drive from Chicago to San Luis Potosi.  It was like being in a different world, transients, predators and shadiness.  Do you touch on the seedy border town side as well as the politics that come with it?

We are telling a tremendous success story here, so yeah we touch on the social obstacles that the kids face.  We touch on Rico’s family and the immigration and border issues.  It was definitely important to the investor who is an immigration lawyer, to ask questions like, ‘If your child wasn’t born here, should your child be deported as well?’ The Dreamer angle plays into the story.  In general what I wanted to convey was that these students, even though they come from a poor, marginalized community, they are the most confident, down to earth, giving, honest, normal kids that you will ever meet.  It shocked the hell out of even me because I also had my own preconceived notions. I was also nervous about the safety since it was a border town.  But I was so blown away.  I remember seeing Rico Rodriguez, who is a millionaire kid, home schooled forever and around the most intelligent sophisticated adults all day long.  Here he is transplanted in Brownsville, hanging out with ten other real local kids and I couldn’t tell the difference between any of them.   I really couldn’t and I’m very perceptive of emotional behaviors.  After this experience I would live in Brownsville and raise my kids there and I know they’d be respectful and normal.  I wonder if a lot of that has to do with the chess program’s influence.  It’s been around now for twenty years.  It’s made a huge social impact.

So you got one film in the almost can, another about to shoot, you are also writing your own…tell me

I have written a musical I want to shoot in Chicago.  Even though I’m working on these really great projects, that’s my baby baby next.  My gift to society, to really show Latinos, you know.  It makes me feel really good to provide opportunities to new actors to let them shine, to open more doors so that the audience can demand more roles.

That’s right, you got “Introducing Gina Rodriguez” in Go For It!

Yes, Go For It! was her first feature.  I got her right out of NYU.  She had only done a short film and some commercials.  She moved out to LA right after Go For It.  Then there is Aimee Garcia who plays the lead in the film who has been in the industry for 20 years; She said to me it was her first leading role. I couldn’t believe it.  That resonated with me.  I think it’s our responsibility as Latinos to keep trying to push these types of films.  The films that we are making or choosing, like the scripts that I’m writing or the scripts that come to me.   I always think when I’m reading something, how can I make this lead a Latina? I figure it out how so I can pitch it.  You can’t just be like, ‘Oh I’m just going to do whatever they want me to do’.  I could’ve easily done that and probably would have made it faster.  It’s not what I got into this business for.  It’s so much a part of me to tell these stories.  I would do this for free.

For all my chi-town peeps, you can see Carmen speak at the Women in Film, Chicago event next Wednesday, July 10, 6:00pm – 8:00pm at Moe’s Cantina.  Event cost for non-members is $20.  More info here.

FILM REVIEW: THE CRUMBLES – viva punk rock soul – GO

Yo!  San Francisco, Chicago and NYC!  Trucking through their nationwide DIY theatrical release, the LA Echo Park set indie rock film, The Crumbles is heading to your cities! This Saturday at the Roxie in San Francisco, May 24 & 27 in Chicago as part of the Asian American Showcase at the Gene Siskel Theater, and June 8 at the Anthology Film Archives in New York.  I got a real soft spot for this multi-culti, genuinely captured milieu of working-class artist life in LA, and recommend it heartily.

398051_341154429228834_1543740511_nDarla is a 20something guitarist and songwriter who works at a local bookstore while trying to make moves to fulfill her rocker career aspirations.  Caught in a stagnant funk, as she starts getting melancholy, her wild child bestie, Elisa, who plays the keytar, storms back into town following a breakup of her band and boyfriend. Elisa’s effusive spirit is the yin to Darla’s cool chill vibe yang.  Both of them share the love of punk rock and in no time the two decide to form a band.  Once they audition a cute drummer friend, Dante, they start to jam and find their signature sound under their new name The Crumbles.  A couple successful gigs and the band is riding high on the recognition and excitement of being out there doing it.  But just as they start getting traction, Elisa’s unpredictability, a competing local band rising faster than them, and other life curveballs, stand in the way of The Crumbles ruling the world, unraveling the loosely held seams of their band’s future.

132968_187535281257417_180306_oSkipping the condescension or pretension that’s been typically associated with the Echo Park/Silver Lake hipster scene of late, The Crumbles is instead a damned earnest and sympathetic portrayal of the unwavering creative impulse of the modern struggling artist phenomenon on the eclectic East Side of LA.  It’s also like a timeless love letter to the rebellious come hell or high water punk ‘tude and its devotees.  It reminds me of Alice Bag’s autobiography, Violence Girl, in which she nostalgically reminisces of the late 70s, when everyone started bands, regardless if they were good or not, and everybody played in each others groups, sometimes changing instruments, and always reveling in the scrappy gigs they could find and promoting them with radical fliers.  That spirit echoes through UCLA grad filmmaker Akira Boch’s first feature film.

rockWhat it lacks in budget, because indeed this is was a friend-favors-and everyone-pooling-resources production, the film makes up in natural, irresistible youthful charm.  The roles are all comfortably inhabited.  Katie Hipol who plays Darla is a core member of the famous Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista and Elisa is played by Theresa Michelle Lee is a Second City Improv alumnus.  The entire cast is a beautiful spectrum of multicultural shades of brown reflecting the diversity more accurately than most films seen in this type of genre. The filmmaker’s genuine grip on the scene is drawn from his real life experience of being in and around a bunch of garage bands.  He grew up listening to girl rockers so it was a natural fit to make his lead a female he says in the Directors Notes of the press kit. Add to it a score and soundtrack composed and performed by Grammy winning Quetzal Flores and the film is unbearably original.

elisaThe Crumbles evokes a youthful spirit, never-quit energy and casualness to both the dream and harsh realities one navigates day to day in a city like Los Angeles.   It’s inspiring and empathetic to the highs and lows of that struggle.  With many films romanticizing the struggle of say the folk 60s,70s scene in the hills of Laurel Canyon (usually anglo), this is similarly felt like a unique artistic movement, but a far richer, diverse and uniquely up to the times record.  The film reminds me why I love living here.  Most of us pursuing creative endeavors don’t do it for the money but for the love.  It’s always a challenge to make moves towards achieving the dream though when you got to keep a day job to make rent, like Elisa caving in and getting a minimum wage job (sell my self for $8 hour!, she cries) or Darla’s friends shooting a film at night time guerilla style on a rooftop. Plus if you are entrenched with your artist peers who you most likely tend to gravitate towards in the eclectic, sprawling city of LA, there is always a friend to go support and celebrate with a few beers for doing  their  film/theater/art performance or production.  That support network is vital and if you are lucky reciprocal.   The Crumbles offers a glimpse into this way of life and the tribulations that go with it without getting overly tragic.  Surviving and flowering at the same time, Akira makes the struggling musician and filmmaker noble and elicits respect.  In the film Darla writes a song titled, “I’m an Everyday Girl”.   I like to think this introduces a shift from artists who get to develop their voice because they are privileged individuals with the luxury of indulging in creative expression, to the blue collar working class heroine who literally labors for the opportunity to express and share their creativity and hence makes it more relatable and raw.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 3.17.01 PMIn true bold punk style, the filmmakers are releasing their film on their own literally taking it on tour across the states.  Coming next to San Francisco, Chicago and New York.  Check the website for future screenings.  Be sure to like the Face and follow on twitter so we can help push a VOD/online release soon.  Watch trailer below:

En hora buena – Introducing The Mexican Film Festival of The Americas

Presented by Mexico City’s Secretary of Tourism and Casa de Chicago, the inaugural edition of The Mexican Film Festival of The Americas in Chicago opens Thursday, September 20th and goes until Friday, September 28.  Screenings will take place at the historic and handsomely re-fitted Art Deco Logan Theater inside a 180 seater.  The novel and ambitious festival’s mission is “dedicated to supporting and cultivating every aspect of Mexican Cinema, including emerging and cutting edge Mexican films with the emphasis on discovering new filmmakers from Mexico and abroad.”

 I couldn’t think of a better film to open this kind of festival than the nostalgic documentary La Perdida by Viviana Garcia Besne, a personal and revealing odyssey through Mexican Cinema’s cherished Golden Age of Cinema.  A programming slate of highly distinct genre and caliber, the 30 something film lineup includes Mexican Ariel Film winner, Dias de Gracia by Everardo Gout and Chicana coming of age Mosquita y Mari by Aurora Guerrero. Positioning themselves as a festival of discovery the Festival will unveil the world premiere of Mission Park by Bryan Ramirez and produced by Douglas Spain, an accomplished debut and cautionary tale about four childhood friends whose different paths cause them to cross and confront their loyalty.  The Festival will close with a very special headliner event honoring Academy Award actor nominee Demián Bichir, who is taking a time out from his crazy busy schedule to christen the baby festival.

A debate about when to have a debate – scene from El Ingeniero

Sure to be THE social event of the week, go rub elbows with big-wigs and talk politics with one of Mexico’s brightest political family dynasty members, the erudite and three time presidential candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano at the International premiere of  El Ingeniero by Alejandro Lubezki.  An incredible behind the scenes of the  2000 Mexican presidential campaign leading up to the last (and short-lived) time the PRI got booted out of office, the intimate access exposes the grueling campaign circus and mechanics, and ultimately shows  Cárdenas as an authentic, flawed and salt-of the-earth character.    Read my review from Guadalajara here.

So how did a festival score such high profile talent, gems and world premieres???  Festival Director’s Jesse Charbonier’s reputation, experience and contacts.  Charbonier served as Operations Manager and then Programming Director of the renowned Chicago International Film Festival for years, where he strengthed the Latino programming and bestowed a special award upon Bichir who broke out with three films in 1999 including Sexo Pudor y Lagrimas which the festival will screen (love). Jesse has also served as distribution consultant and producer to several films, in addition to establishing his singing career.  It was his desire to reach the large Mexican population of Chicago and present a more progressive, edgy cinema that triggered the start of this collaboration between sister cities, Chicago and Mexico City.   He curated the strong lineup from traveling and covering the Guadalajara Film Festival FICG27 and HBO’s NY Latino Film festival, as well as through recommendations from several colleagues.  His approach; “Every night is Opening Night.”  Each film has their own slot that will run without any competition.  Along with his distinctive taste in programming, this type of concscientious care, operation know-how, and connection to the Chicago audience, ensures the Festival has its best foot forward.

Chi-town style – comfy, plush theater

Thanks to not one but two airline sponsors (no small feat for a festival to arrange), All filmmakers who were available will be present for their screenings and Q&As and in some cases for the preceding reception.  Regular films are a reasonable $8 and the special event films are $15 which include a pre-screening reception with complimentary cocktails (tequila sponsor, EC Charro) and food!  Well worth a film, filmmaker convo and light dinner.

Theater dates back to 1915

Que envidia chicos, as a Chicana From Chicago living in LA I wish I were in my hometown to celebrate this momentous occassion.  You have been given a gift my Chi-town peeps.  Go hang out with these talented filmmakers, see their films and report back.  Help spread the word.  Check out the schedule, you can buy tickets on Brown Paper Tickets and like the festival on Face.

Sending lots of besos and suerte to the festival.