WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival is officially underway, and its a special one for me because it marks my 10th year with the not for profit.  I started working for the institute in 2007 and ever since, every year from from August to November, I screen submissions as a Programming Associate, primarily Latin American and Latino films.  More than ever, I feel priviledged to watch such a volume and diverse array of perspectives.
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As for my personal mission on this blog,  I choose to talk about Latino representation in a laser focused way:  highlighting the writers and directors who are out there telling the stories they want to tell the way they want to tell it, and emphasizing the U.S. context.  As much as I love to talk about international films, the real void in the U.S. media and therefore urgent need to support, are stories created by first, second, third, multicultural generation Americans.

Overview:  Boricuas dominating. Puerto Rico most definitely repping.  Also, we got a healthy presence in Digital and Virtual Reality which makes sense beause it (WE) are the future.   Without further ado, a rundown of WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
In the U.S. Documentary Competition

DOLORES AKA Woman in Motion directed by Peter Bratt

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Executive produced by none other than Carlos Santana and supported by the San Francisco Film Society’s Documentary Fund, this long overdue celebration of Dolores Huerta’s achievements over the course of her 60something years in civil rights is reverent, timely and galvanizing. Peter Bratt is an alumni of the festival.  He wrote and directed the San Francisco set, gay coming of age La Mission which played in the 2009 festival. Armed with a rich archive of footage, banging soundtrack and one-on-ones with Dolores herself, the film chronicles one woman’s boldness in tackling the obstacles she faced on the sociopolitical battlefield along with the personal challenges of being an absentee mother.  It encourages all women to seize claim to their often overlooked contributions to society.

Also in the U.S. Documentary Competition

DINA directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles

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screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-1-08-25-pmNew to the festival, Puerto Rican Antonio Santini’s first documentary feature co-directed with Dan Sickles, MALA MALA about the trans sex worker community in Puerto Rico, premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.  Like the intimate access of that film, Dina also has a striking sense of intimacy, unpresumptiousness and ultimately delivers an unexpected and very honest connection to someone as authentically unique as Dina.
In the high profile out of competition Premieres section

BEATRIZ AT DINNER directed by Miguel Arteta

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31343311256_1f1f040a94_zThe Sundance Film Festival showed Arteta’s very first film, Star Maps back in 1997. Ever since he’s made a career of crafting indelible characters across film and television.  He reteams with Mike White (Chuck and Buck, GoodGirl) on this deliciously wicked tale of a fateful dinner encounter between a humble holistic healer and a mega brazen successful business developer.  The two opposing forces are embodied by the superb Salma Hayek and immense John Lithgow.  Thought provoking, unpredictable and utterly engrossing, the dark comedy is produced by Killer Films. Watch an exclusive clip here.

In the bold Next section

LEMON written and directed by Janicza Bravo

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Co-written with her star and partner in crime, Brett Gelman, Janicza’s striking  feature length debut boasts an insanely big and comedically gifted cast including Michael Cera, Judy Greer, Gillian Jacobs, Martin Starr.  Along with a background in design, Bravo has a knack for capturing characters lost in flight with a tragic humor and heart. An alumni of the festival, Gregory Go Boom with Michael Cera and last year’s Woman in Deep with Alison Pill, Bravo is a busy woman.  Last May she debuted a Virtual Reality experience at Tribeca Film Festival, called A Hard World for Small Things about a day in the life of South Central, and also directed an episode of the Golden Globe winning show, Atlanta.

In the Shorts Competition

KAIJU BUNRAKU directed by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva

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Marking their 12th project (features and shorts) at the festival in 7 years, multimedia mischievous artists, Jillian and Lucas bring a japanese inspired marionette short this year which like all of their work is eye-grabbing, provocative and is about more than meets the eye.  The Miami full time Borsht Corp is a nonprofit which supports Miami filmmakers, they recently supported 28 filmmakers with cold hard cash all of which are poised to premiere at their festival which has been listed on Moviemakers 25 Coolest Festivals in the world.  For more info on this February’s event click here.

GOOD CRAZY written and directed by Rosa Salazar

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Making her directorial debut, actor Rosa Salazar stars in this short shot around the hipster rising area in LA named Frogtown. The logline: A complex chick deals with a vanilla beau, a shitty brunch, and a dead coyote all in a Los Angeles day. Heart.  Excited to see more of her writing and directing.

In the newly minted, Short Form Episodic

GENTIFIED written and directed by Marvin Lemus

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Marvin Lemus who made a short film with Project Involve called Vamonos which I loved (you can watch it on PBS online) will be premiering 3 episodes of this series that takes place in Boyle Heights.  Each episode features a resident trying to pursue their living/art. Lemus hits a chord/funny bone here as most of the tension and strife is intergenerational; old school mexican generation clashing with millenials.  The series is backed by Mr. Charles King and his company Macro.  Lemus is in good company.  Macro also produced Denzel Washington’s Fences, and at the festival Dee Ree’s WW2 period Mudbound.
In the animation spotlight

VICTOR Y ISOLINA by William Caballero

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screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-11-43-57-amIts only three years ago that William popped up on the radar with his animated series Gran’pa Knows Best, a really funny and sweet series in which he used 3-D printed miniatures of his Puerto Rican grandfather over real voicemails that his grandfather from would leave for him. Initially an independent short, it was quickly snapped up with HBO.  Victor y Isolina introduces his grandma to the mix, who is the perfect foil to his unapologetic grandpa.  Produced by Elaine Del Valle who produced her own webseries, Reasons y I’m Single.  Check out his website for more info.

In the New Frontier (the future) section

NEUROSPECULATIVE AFROFEMINISM

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screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-9-47-55-amI don’t know much about this one but the description sounds super fascinating; a beauty salon of the future’. Fingers crossed I get an opportunity to experience it while I’m here.   Also I’m dying to meet one of the artist/engineers, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge who founded Hypen-Lab, an international team of women of color working at the intersection of tech, art, science and narrative.

IF NOT LOVE by Rose Troche

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I been crushing hard on Rose Troche for as far back as I can remember.  Go Fish changed my life.  No joke.  She was a producer on Concussion, and has since come back to the festival in the New Frontier program with a series called Perspectives, which puts you in the shoes of a person caught in a situation a result which shatters any idea of black and white and makes you swim in the gray.  Per the description:  IF NOT LOVE challenges the viewer to contemplate another difficult subject—a mass shooting at a nightclub, but this time with the question posited: is another outcome possible?

OUT OF EXILE: DANIEL’S STORY by Nonny de la Peña

I mean, she’s been called the Godmother of Virtual Reality.  Nonny de la Peña also returns to New Frontier with this piece that recreates Daniel Ashley Pierce’s coming out video that went viral.  If you don’t know the heartbreaking and inspirational story read here This experience puts your body into the middle of the action around audio that Daniel recording during that encounter.

For deeper coverage on Latino and Latin American talent at the festival check out REMEZCLA.  For a closer look at all documentaries at the festival head over to What (not) to Doc.   Livestream the festival’s panels and watch select shorts from home. And follow my BTS on Twitter @IndieFindsLA and insta ChicanafromChicago.

Here we go! Kickstarting the Ambulante USA movement

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

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

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

#AllOrNothing

#DoubleDown

 

 

 

Ambulante California – unveiled at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, co-founders of the traveling documentary film festival, talk about the inception of Ambulante, the power of cinema, and the upcoming launch of Ambulante California. Coming soon September 21 – October 4

@AmbulanteCA

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

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

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

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

Screening info and how to join here.

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

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

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

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

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#LAFF2013 – Floored by the vision of Grace Lee Boggs

Watch the amazing Grace at the premiere of her documentary American Revolutionary talking about our responsibility to converse, reflect and self transform so we may continue to evolve as a human race and galvanize the revolution beyond us.

I’ve no doubt that yesterday at the full-house world premiere of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, we were in the presence of arguably the greatest living American sage.   Yet as much of an impact Grace Lee Boggs’ 80 something years of activist endeavors have made to those directly involved or already familiar with the African American civil rights movement, now thanks to director Grace Lee and producer Caroline Libresco, who gloriously bring onscreen her philosophical voice, her legacy will illuminate and inspire the rest of us who had no idea of this woman’s accomplishments.  The documentary serves as a re-introduction to a whole new generation and as such, offers a significant tool of social activism within itself.  Like it did in me, I trust it will spark a call to spiritual arms for everyone towards fulfilling the visionary quest Grace Lee Boggs dares to predict for human kind.

To say Grace Lee Boggs is a highly thought provoking and profound human being would be an understatement.  I was absolutely floored by her wisdom and transcendent way of thinking.  Throughout the screening a low murmur of ‘Mmmhmm’s could be heard.

Grace Lee Boggs received her Ph.D in Philosophy in 1940.  While translating the works of Karl Marx she became attracted to the socialism beliefs which subsequently and naturally drew her to Detroit, where the catapulting industrialization of the automobile industry provided the most fitting stage to adopt into practice the socialist workers’ theories.  She has stayed in Detroit ever since, becoming a beloved and iconic figure in the community.   “This is how giants fall”, Grace says at the beginning of the film as she ambles past the old abandoned factory plants of Detroit with her walking aid.  The director, Grace Lee has been documenting her for 12 years, and in that time span she has not only created a close bond with her but has also accrued some fascinating archival moving picture and sound footage.  The camera fluidly pans through stills and at one point I wasn’t sure if it was animating a still or it was real film, the images are rendered so lively.  There is a playful score and humorous graphic sequences here and there informing us of the scholars and philosophers, Grace Lee Boggs tends to reference quite a bit, i.e. “Hegel in 30 seconds”.  When she married Jimmy Boggs, a through and through man from Alabama whose deep country accent belied his innovative revolutionary expression, the two became a force, writing pamphlets, books, holding community meetings and organizing marches.  In describing one of their very first encounters Grace noticed Jimmy’s ‘unpleasantness’, a trait that you can tell oddly attracted her in some sense.  He asked her to marry her right then and there that same night, crystalizing their soul mate debate dynamic they had throughout their forty years of marriage in which they discussed everything around them in the world except the personal.  Although the two tried to keep a low profile, as described by the FBI reports, they were a dangerous anomaly and the file they kept on Grace Lee Boggs grew thicker and thicker.

The film doesn’t shy away from questioning her identity as a non-African American member of the community and then much later in life when she reawakens her consciousness of  her ethnicity as a Chinese American.  More delicately the question of where she fell between the non-violence approach of Dr. MLK or the extreme aggression Malcolm X preached within the civil rights movement is broached.  Her authenticity is also challenged by none other than the director Grace Lee, who expresses her frustration directly.   How is it that she is so positive, never shares doubt and deflects any personal questions of making mistakes or regrets especially considering acknowledgement of such is necessary for the transformative growth she frequently talks about to take place.  Sure enough, as proof Grace Lee Boggs exercises the beliefs she preaches, she listens to Grace carefully and then tells her that it is something she will reflect on. Adding, “I’m really good at that”.

As much as American Revolutionary is a remarkably engaging U.S. biographical and historical portrait, this is also as big picture of a point of view on the human race and where it is going, I’ve ever seen in a documentary.  Somehow, Grace Lee Boggs has become more lucid with age.  Time is a funny thing we hear her say, and its almost as if she’s figured out how to contract time itself.  Conversation is how she is an activist these days and as you can see above she continues to articulate the questions we should be asking of ourselves and challenging us to expand our imagination. Looking ahead, she reminds us that the question of what a revolution means today is critical to think about and address.  The conversation could not be more timely.

The film has a second screening at the LA Film Festival tonight at 7:20.   East coast, it will screen at AFI Docs June 21 and 23 in D.C..    For all you Motor City peeps, in celebration of Grace Lee Boggs 98th birthday (!) there will be a screening on June 29 in Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  The film will be broadcast on POV next year.  Follow the film and Grace on Twitter and Facebook.

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

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

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

#HotSec Fridays – MEXICAN FRIED CHICKEN, a short film by Ivete Lucas

Continuing my Friday short film series on underrepresented American bi-cultural walks of life, I’m so happy to share this documentary short film, Mexican Fried Chicken by Ivete Lucas and Otis Ike.  It’s a glimpse into the laborious life and overloaded pressures of Moises, a 14 year old teenager who in between his job at Popeyes, working at his father’s shop, and as the oldest having to babysit his siblings and other endless house chores, struggles to find time to enjoy being a teen in the United States. Like Moises, genuine and transparent, the film captures what is culturally specific of the sacrifices and work ethic of first generation Mexican Americans.  The unquestioned acceptance that we have to work harder and longer hours than anyone else in order to carve out a spot for our families. In just 13 minutes we get a real sense of Moises and his disarming good-nature, ambition and his radically unique hybrid brand of  American culture is charming. Overhearing the family’s shouting and playing throughout the house sliding back and forth from English to Spanish, all of this makes me cringe with empathy and I get a pang of childhood nostalgia even.  I never see this experience reflected save for in my own memories.  Back in Chicago, when my dad got the pink slip from Boeing after 15 years of work, my parents decided to open up a restaurant with the savings.  Naturally it was a family affair and so I had no choice in the matter but to help. I vividly remember a creeping resentment and alienation knowing that my friends were hanging at the mall, carefree while I had to work right after school, and on weekends full 12 hour days.  Yet I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the world.  Making the homemade salsas and preparing the chile rellenos as the Nortena music blasted on the radio, we cultivated a loyal clientele with an appetite and appreciation for our authentic food, which in turn gave me a special feeling and bi-cultural pride.

I reached out to filmmaker Ivete Lucas who was born in Brazil, grew up in Monterrey, Mexico and moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas. She made this short as part of her MFA in Film studies. First watch the short and read on for a quickie Q&A I did with her over email.

How did you find and get to know and gain this family’s trust? 

My producer, and now husband, Otis Ike initially met the Macedos through his aunt in Austin, TX. They live next to her and partied every weekend, blasting Mexican music. He made friends with the kids a few years before, and introduced me to them in 2009. Since I am Mexican, I could speak with them in Spanish. And although the kids speak perfect English, their parents don’t, so I helped them communicate with the neighbors. Moises was 13 at the time and he was about to start High School. He is an intelligent young man and was accepted into a very good school. His mom explained to me that he got good grades while working two jobs. I was very impressed by Moises, so hard working at such a young age, and I was extremely sad when he told me that he didn’t know if he could go to college because he didn’t have the right papers. So I asked them if I could make a movie about them. From that day on, I spent many afternoons at their house with a camera in my hands. They eventually got used to the camera and my presence. They knew they could talk to me in English or Spanish, that they could ignore me or engage me if they wanted to. I did everything I could to make them feel comfortable. They allowed me to be part of their world, and Moises made me his confidant.

How much footage did you shoot and over how long a period of time?

It was about two months of hanging out with Moises’ family two or three times a week. It must have been about 30 hours of footage.

Was there anything that surprised you during the shoot of the film?  Some revelation or insight you had from meeting this family and bringing this story to light?

I edited this film in a way that allows audience to experience the same surprises I had. Latinos have this will of gold. Life can hit us hard, but we are tough and we usually make it through. Sometimes it really hurts, but we always find the way to laugh and enjoy what we have. I’ve seen a lot of films made about Latinos facing hardships and they are usually bleak or angry. As a Latina, I wanted to make a film that reflected how we really deal with pain. Yes, we cry and get angry, but then we invite our friends over for carne asada and we dance, knowing that we’ll have to put up a fight tomorrow.

Ivette says that Moises is currently exploring college and is interested in applying to Texas State. Best of luck to Moises, and thanks Ivete for the q&a.  Looking forward to seeing more of your work!  Ivete is currently finishing up a documentary about Vietnam war reenactors, and just completed a new short shot in Mexico and with the collaboration of the Huichol tribe.  It’s called Ex-Votos.  Check it out here: