No better time than Oscar week to post my annual list of new films made by Latinos. I hope reading about these cool flicks inspires you to seek and consume the stories you value outside the super exclusive corporate media. Before we get to the list, my 3.63 pesos on the #HollywoodSoWhite convo.
I appreciated Dennis Romero’s recent LA Weekly article called “Hollywood’s Diversity Emergency is not Black” in which he gives big ups to the Black community for doing the ‘heavy lifting’ in making the diversity conversation trend. Romero essentially calls on the Asian and Latino community to take part in the dialogue because we stand the most to gain in moving the dial considering the wider gap that exists between Asian and Latinos’ population and their respective media representation compared to African Americans’ numbers.
Using the framework of proportion, USC’s Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity reveals that across the 309 episodes and 109 films they covered, 15% were directed by women (50% population), and 13% were directed by underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (38% non-white).
Part of me gets it though, both artist and gatekeeper is faced with the obligation, pressure and responsibility to succeed in a business of mediated platforms. Unfortunately that usually means don’t stick your neck out, less risk. But what if we made it our goal to seize and create as many chances to allow ourselves to FAIL, at least as much as the rest get to, because that is how we get to the next level.
Okay enough rant! Here is my curated list of brand spanking new feature length fiction films written and directed by filmmakers in the US of A who have Mexican/Caribbean/Central/South American roots. Many of these films are in post-production but might be making their world premiere at a film festival or VOD later this year. As you can tell, some filmmakers clearly chose to tell a story from a specific Latino character/experience, while others drew from their culture in a more abstract, no less personal route. One thing is for sure though, each of these artists have been hustling their craft for years outside the studio system which is why you can see a distinct genre and aesthetic in their work. Make sure to check out the links to their previous work. It is one thing to say there we be underrepresented and quite another thing to be overlooked.
BETWEEN US written and directed by Rafael Palacio Illingworth
From Caviar Content, a multi media company that financed last year’s Diary of a Teenage Girl by Marielle Heller, comes this intense romance drama made by Mexico/Colombia raised AFI grad Rafael Palacio Illingworth. The film features two incredibly talented actors Olivia Thirlby (Juno) and Ben Feldman (Ginsberg in Mad Men!) as a couple navigating a tempestuous “post-honeymoon phase” while trying to hang on to the chemistry that first made them gravitate towards each other. Rafael starred in his own first film MACHO ( see here,) which like The Force, also tracked a relationship through the initial meet-cute high. Macho landed with IFC after premiering at the Raindance Film Festival in London in 2010. The film just announced its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
ANTIBIRTH written and directed by Danny Perez
Danny is two for two, his first and second films have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Raised in Virginia in a Cuban Catholic family, Danny cut his visual teeth while collaborating with avant garde music group, Animal Collective for years. His first film, Oddsac is in many ways a sensory album for the band. It screened in Sundance’s experimental New Frontier section in 2010. Taking his skills for phantasmagoric imagery and folding hyperreal narrative and social commentary Perez shot the wasteland USA set Antibirth which stars none other than the coolest indie queens, Natasha Lyonne and Chle Sevigny. The film got rave reviews, having premiered in the much talked about Midnight section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. A film that’s been called “a debauched progeny of Cronenberg’s classic, The Brood, it has without a doubt the wildest, most bat-shit crazy ending I have ever seen. Must-watch. Stay tuned to hear where it lands more fests and distribution.
HEARTS OF PALM written and directed by Monica Peña
Following her first feature, the experimental street docu-fiction film, Ectotherms, which drew comparisons to Harmony Korine’s work, Monica Peña is back with her second feature, Hearts of Palm. The fable like film follows a romance en route to decay between two sentient beings. Peña brings to life her distinct vision with her previous collaborators Brad Lovett aka Dim Past who stars and is behind the sonic pulse of the film, and Jorge Rubiera, cinematographer who beams an otherworldly yet unmistakable Miami vibe. The Cuban American filmmaker is a Sundance Institute/Knight Fellow. Watch Ectotherms here. Hearts of Palm is world premiering at the upcoming Miami International Film Festival.
LUPE UNDER THE SUN written and directed by Rodrigo Reyes
Since the debut of his 2012 highly acclaimed and visual border documentary, Purgatorio, Rodrigo Reyes has been developing a number of projects, including this evocative tale called Lupe Under the Sun. Originally planned to be a documentary set in Merced, his hometown, Northern California, Reyes let the story evolve into a hybrid film about an old Mexican man who has spent his entire life working in the California fields. When he attempts to get back in touch with the family and life he left behind, he finds out that his absence did not stop them from moving on. Shot by Justin Chin, his D.P. on Purgatorio, the film casts a neorealist, tinge of black humor aided by the real world surroundings of the agricultural desert suburb. Lupe Under the Sun was selected to participate in IFP Narrative Lab last year and is expected to finish the film in 2016.
MARIGOLD THE MATADOR, written and directed by Kenneth Castillo
The prolific independent LA born and raised Chicano filmmaker, Kenny Castillo is currently finishing his 7th feature. Known for his popular short form series, The Misadventures of Cholo Chaplin which he is currently developing into animation, Castillo has since successfully specialized in urban films led by multi dimensional characters. Marigold the Matador focuses on a single mother from the perspective of an 11 year old girl who deals with her feelings of loneliness and isolation by imagining herself as a Matador in the world of the Day of the Dead. Most of the story was shot unscripted and the result is a very authentic and emotionally engaging film. He is currently raising funds to finish the film. The true blue indie filmmaker entrepreneur he is, you can head over to his website and buy a cool Cholo Chaplin shirt, check out his complete body of work, and donate to his film.
FUGUE written and directed by Jorge Torres-Torres
I only recently discovered the work of this enigmatic filmmaker who’s been lurking along the coolest fringes of art genre. Among his previous films, 2014’s moody verite, Shadow Zombie won a prize for best “documentary-sh” film at the renowned Chicago Underground Film Festival. Sisters of the Plague starring Josephine Deckker screened at last year’s New Orleans Film Festival and Outfest. Back in 2011 Jorge was the cinematographer on Jonathan Caouette’s Cannes documentary, Walk Away Renee. Yes , he also directs music videos, including this neat Modest Mouse Strangers to Ourselves track. The Puerto Rican born filmmaker has also produced and shot a number of random videos you can find on his Tumblr. Upcoming films include a documentary about the Slacker esque Athens, Georgia music scene called A Peculiar Noise, premiering at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival, and Fugue, which follows a woman (Sophie Traub) who wanders around an island lost and out of place. Having binged on his work recently I can safely say that he casts spells of mad intrigue and strange dream-state feels. Definitely an indie auteur you should know.
THE GREEN GHOST directed by Michael Olmos
Michael Olmos goes family superhero action film in The Green Ghost, his 4th feature film. It is not surprising that Olmos is collaborating with Marco Zaror; back in 2006 Marko made noise in the Chilean street action thriller, Kiltro which premiered at LALIFF, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival headed by Michael’s father, Eddie Olmos. Michael’s underrated first film, Splinter in 2006 was shot on the streets of LA and displayed his stylish and gritty directing chops. Olmos went on to co-direct and produce the 2012 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition film Filly Brown which catapulted Gina Rodriguez pre-Jane the Virgin. Zaror has many fans around the world having carved out for himself a string of martial arts action flicks, many of which have played Fantastic Fest where incidentally he and Michael sneaked some footage of the Green Ghost last year. The film is about a man having to overcome his insecurities to transform into a superhero and defeat the dangerous bruja Lechusa who plans to bring back the wrath of Moctezuma. Currently in post.
DADDY’S BOY written and directed by Daniel Armando
Daniel’s first feature What it Was made the Latino/LGBT film festival run. The story about an actor coming to terms with a recent family loss and her marriage breakup returns to her home in Brooklyn where she runs into an old college girlfriend. The film has raw verite scenes interlaced with poetic close up cinematic imagery. He has not one but two films premiering at this year’s Cinequest Film Festival next month. He directed a film called When I’m With You, and wrote and directed an erotic swoon and slow dance film, Daddy’s Boy which indulges in its queer cinema throwback and music interludes as it follows four young men behind the closed doors of a burlesque studio, shedding more than just their clothes and inhibitions. Daniel has said that he likes films that wander throughout space. He’s been quoted as saying, “A lot of my favorite films don’t feature characters like this, and I feel I have a responsibility as an artist of color to tell everyday stories from a perspective rarely seen.”
DON’T KILL IT directed by Mike Mendez
From the director of Big Ass Spider which played at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, comes this supernatural action thriller, starring none other than 80s movies action icon, Dolph Lundgren. Mike Mendez, born to Salvadorean and Mexican family parents, born and raised in LA has been busy. After Big Ass Spider he did Lavalantula about giant lava spewing tarantulas. Last year he put together an anthology of scary shorts, Tales of Halloween directed by various filmmakers including Lucky McKee (2002’s May is one of my long time cult faves). Mendez doesn’t show any signs of slowing his roll which is a good thing for his loyal fans. His love for genre is evident in his filmmaking, and his action/horror genre is mixed with a pure sense of humor.
FROZEN PEAS written and directed by Alonso Mayo
A real bi-cultural American who spent his formative years in between Lima, Peru and Lawrence, Kansas, Alonso Mayo first moved to LA to attend AFI where he made his thesis short film, Wednesday Afternoon. In 2013, Gravitas Ventures picked up his first feature, The Story of Luke starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Seth Green, Cary Elwes and Kristin Bauer. His sophomore effort, Frozen Peas is a funny and honest film about a husband and father to three kids finds himself in the throes of a masculinity panic attack when pressured by his wife to consider vasectomy.
First Features Alert
To round up the list here are three special mentions of directorial debuts to watch coming soon; Bruising for Besos written and directed by Adelina Anthony, the queer chicana poet who wrote the story for one of my favorite short films, You’re Dead To Me. A critically acclaimed and beloved solo artist performer, she stars herself in Brusing as Yoli, a smooth talker whose game is put to the test in pursuit of romance. Varsity Punks written and directed by Anthony Solorzano is a high school comedy following a tight knit rambunctious cross country team shot in El Monte starring Efren Ramirez as the coach. H.O.M.E by Daniel Maldonado which is premiering a the Queens World Film Festival stars Jeremy Ray Valdez as a young man with Aspergers. See trailer for H.O.M.E. below.