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>

WTF is Latino at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival?

Glad you asked.  Now that the entire programming slate has been announced for the 2013 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, let’s take a look at the representation of Latinos in the broadest, most diverse sense, because that is what that ill-defined lump category encompasses.  {Full disclosure:  I work as a Programming Associate for the Festival.  These are not reviews but an insider breaking-it-down preview}

dayani
Gael Garcia Bernal in Who is Dayani Cristal?

At first glance the Latino representation may not seem obvious.  Nor may it seem as strong as the films and filmmakers from the African-American and LGBT community representing, or the record breaking number of female directors’ – each group highly visible by their nature.  We may not have a Mosquita y Mari or Filly Brown, two fiction films, which broke out of the festival this past year, but we do have two hugely relevant and urgent documentaries exploring the effects of a bi-cultural U.S. & Mexico social fabric, NARCO CULTURA which explores the phenomenal music and social culture being shaped and perpetuated by the influence of Mexico’s violent drug cartels, and WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? an innovative doc-fiction hybrid produced by Gael Garcia Bernal that will hopefully re-divert much needed attention back to the US/Mexico border.  By the way, Who is Dayani Cristal? screens in the high profile DAY ONE slot.

What’s Latino anyway?

I personally embrace the responsibility of changing the conversation as to what constitutes representing American Latinos.  First, by focusing on both the above-the- line-talent (filmmaker or actor) AND storyline/subject.  The second part is highlighting the second, third, fourth and so-on generations of filmmakers. What about the filmmakers in the festival like Kyle Patrick Alvarez (C.O.G),  Liz W. Garcia (The Lifeguard) and Eduardo Sanchez (S-VHS horror anthology and co-director of the infamous Blair Witch Project)? I don’t know these filmmakers personally so I can’t speak to how they might view their cultural identities and how it informs their work, if at all. But I do believe it is worth pointing out and feeling good about these last names being out there as part of the mainstream fabric.  It is similar to how Robert Rodriguez does not identify himself as a Mexican-American yet his last name has been key to driving the younger Latino generation in feeling a proud connection as an American and not just “dash” American.

Chile is still hot

There are three films from Chilean filmmakers.  In unprecedented fashion – because that’s how Sundance likes to roll- there is a repeat of last year with two in competition, EL FUTURO by Alicia Scherson (mostly taking place in Italy) and CRYSTAL FAIRY by Sebastian Silva, an alumnus who broke out in 2009 with LA NANA. In the section Spotlight aka “Movies we love and don’t care if they’ve traveled the festival circuit”, is Pablo Larrain’s NO starring Gael Garcia Bernal.  Chilean cinema is hot and king of engrossing character-driven fare.  What we are seeing is a boom on two fronts; an invigorating new generation of provocateurs (Marialy Rivas’s Young & Wild comes to mind) and a slightly older generation of equally exciting filmmakers who continue to sustain their careers with their distinct voice (like Pablo Larrain along with Andres Wood).

So now lets dive in and look at the list.  Loglines copied from official press release – BOLD ITALICS are my comments.

US DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Melonie Diaz
The lovely and talented Boricua actress Melonie Diaz

Fruitvale / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ryan Coogler) — The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.

Puerto-Rican Diaz delivers a fiercely moving performance embodying the girlfriend of Oscar Grant who was with him that fateful day.   Diaz is no stranger to the festival. She’s previously been at the festival with four films including seminal indie American Latino story, RAISING VICTOR VARGAS 2002 and comedies like HAMLET 2 20008.  Why homegirl hasn’t gotten more props for her mad acting skills I don’t know, but this girl is wildly talented and Fruitvale showcases her dramatic chops.

US DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

an image from Narco Cultura.  For more images check out: http://www.shaulschwarz.com
an image from Narco Cultura. For more arresting film stills check out: http://www.shaulschwarz.com

Narco Cultura / U.S.A. (Director: Shaul Schwarz) — An examination of Mexican drug cartels’ influence in pop culture on both sides of the border as experienced by an LA narcocorrido singer dreaming of stardom and a Juarez crime scene investigator on the front line of Mexico’s Drug War.

Absolutely arresting photography that works in giving weight to the violent images the public has become numb from seeing.  I predict some of my hard core brown and proud friends might focus and hence diminish this film based on the fact that this bi-cultural, Mexican-American subject is made by non-Latino filmmakers. It could be argued as a valid point.  When it comes to documentaries a legit question to make when evaluating is “What makes THIS person the right one to tackle THIS subject?   What is their connection?”  Let’s watch it to find out, then give consideration to what other docs are currently out there on this same timely topic made by Latinos, and without bias regard their depth and artistic merit.  

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

crystal_fairy
Michael Cera on the right in Sebastian’s latest, Crystal Fairy

Crystal Fairy / Chile (Director and screenwriter: Sebastián Silva) — Jamie invites a stranger to join a road trip to Chile. The woman’s free and esoteric nature clashes with Jamie’s acidic, self-absorbed personality as they head into the desert for a Mescaline-fueled psychedelic trip. Cast: Michael Cera, Gabby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

This marks Sebastian’s third appearance at the festival following LA NANA and GATOS VIEJOS. Remember what I said about character driven?  Silva excels at getting at spilling out the insides of his protagonists. 

elfuturo
Manuela Martelli in El Futuro

The Future / Chile, Germany, Italy, Spain (Director and screenwriter: Alicia Scherson) — When their parents die, Bianca starts to smoke and Tomas is still a virgin. The orphans explore the dangerous streets of adulthood until Bianca finds Maciste, a retired Mr. Universe, and enters his dark mansion in search of a future. Cast: Manuela Martelli, Rutger Hauer, Luigi Ciardo, Nicolas Vaporidis, Alessandro Giallocosta. World Premiere

Scherson’s last film, TURISTAS screened at various film festivals including the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2009.  Shot in another country and in a different language, The Future continues the filmmaker’s incisive capturing of the strong female led journey.

 

 WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Who is Dayani Cristal? / United Kingdom (Director: Marc Silver) — An anonymous body in the Arizona desert sparks the beginning of a real-life human drama. The search for its identity leads us across a continent to seek out the people left behind and the meaning of a mysterious tattoo. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

An extraordinary cinematic and symbolic approach to the border crossing genre, this meta reflexive journey retraced by none other than Gael Garcia Bernal imagines the grueling experience of a migrant and who he might have been.  Bernal has been lending his star power to the social justice causes that move him and you can tell its genuine.

NEW FRONTIER

From the eerie and haunting Mexican film, Halley
From the eerie and haunting Mexican film, Halley

Halley / Mexico (Director: Sebastian Hofmann, Screenwriters: Sebastian Hofmann, Julio Chavezmontes) — Alberto is dead and can no longer hide it. Before surrendering to his living death, he forms an unusual friendship with Luly, the manager of the 24-hour gym where he works as a night guard. Cast: Alberto Trujillo, Lourdes Trueba, Hugo Albores

As unsettling it is watch, it is as deep to ponder, this incredibly-shot first feature had its world premiere at the Morelia Film Festival and its inclusion in the most daring section of the festival speaks to the highly diverse and radical new cinema coming from Mexico.

SPOTLIGHT

No / Chile, U.S.A. (Director: Pablo Larraín, Screenwriter: Pedro Peirano) — When Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet calls for a referendum to decide his permanence in power, the opposition persuades a young advertising executive to head its campaign. With limited resources and under scrutiny, he conceives a plan to win the election. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Luis Gnecco, Marcial Tagle, Néstor Cantillana.

There have been many films about the Pinochet regime and its wide-reaching after effects.  But none have had as unique an entry point as NO. Trust.

MIDNIGHT

wearewhatweareWe Are What We Are / U.S.A. (Director: Jim Mickle, Screenwriters: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle) — A devastating storm washes up clues that lead authorities closer and closer to the cannibalistic Parker family. Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks, Wyatt Russell, Kelly McGillis.

Okay, I only include this because this is based on the Mexican cult hit, Somos Lo que Hay by Jorge Michel Grau.  Jim Mickle of Stakeland has promised to “Not Fuck it Up” per Twitch interview

To cap off the features;  Stalwart Spanish actor Alfred Molina is in Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes by Francesca Gregorini in US Dramatic Competition, and we have a strong acting splash by Marcus DeAnda, a co-lead in PIT STOP directed by Yen Tan and co-written by David Lowery.  The film about two gay working class lovers in small town Texas is in the Next section.

And lets not forget about shorts!

SHORT FILM COMPETITION

Broken Night / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Guillermo Arriaga) — A young woman and her four-year-old daughter drive across desolated hills. Everything looks fine and they seem to enjoy the ride, until an accident sends them into the nightmare of darkness.

Ever since writing and directing team Arriga and Innaritu broke up (Amores Perros, Babel) Arriaga has been trying to make his stamp directing his own material.

The Companion / Peru (Director and screenwriter: Alvaro Delgado-Aparicio) — On the outskirts of Lima, a young prostitute tends to his father, a fallen-from-grace artisan. However, the young man feels that his efforts are never enough. He tries to break free, but his father’s dependence is stronger than his son’s will.

Intriguing and highly atmospheric gem from Peru!

paradiseParaíso / U.S.A. (Director: Nadav Kurtz) — Three immigrant window cleaners risk their lives every day rappelling down some of Chicago’s tallest skyscrapers. Paraíso reveals the danger of their job and what they see on the way down

Chicago? Check.  Mexicans check!  No, but really this intimate glimpse is poetic and moving.

A Story for the Modlins / Spain (Director: Sergio Oksman, Screenwriter: Sergio Oksman) —The tale of Elmer Modlin, who, after appearing in Rosemary’s Baby, fled with his family to a far-off country and shut himself away in a dark apartment for 30 years.

Must see.  Fascinating and inventive ‘Found family photos’  yarn.  

postmodem#PostModem / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Jillian Mayer, Lucas Leyva) — A comedic, satirical, sci-fi pop musical based on the theories of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists, #PostModem is the story of two Miami girls and how they deal with technological singularity, as told through a series of cinematic tweets.

My favorite locos from Miami.  After making the rounds with Life & Freaky Times of Uncle Luke, which played last year, these rump-shakers have been busy with their work in and out of their funky audiovisual collective Borscht Corp.

{check my addendum to this post here}

See you on the mountain!

Morelia Film Festival celebrates a decade of discovery – A conversation with Festival Director, Daniela Michel

Since 2003, the Morelia Film Festival has been nurturing filmmakers and audiences, and has rooted its niche as a discovery festival of up and coming Mexican filmmakers.  At the same time it’s earned a prestigious reputation for its expertly curated sidebars that would make the most hard core cinephile drool, and for the Festival’s unparalleled attention and hospitality to their guests, Invitados.  Each year the Festival invites renowned international cineastes to participate in showing their films for the first time in Mexico, in turn enticing them to experience the vibrant scene of Mexican Cinema in the most charming historic city of Morelia, Michoacán.

To celebrate its 10th year anniversary the powerhouse boutique festival has put together an epic program consisting of over 2oo hand picked films as part of special screenings, tributes and homages to compliment its more solid than ever Mexican Competition made up of 25 documentaries, 45 shorts, 9 narrative features, along with 12 films from the hosting state of Michoacán.  Among the special guests this year, English filmmaker Sally Potter, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, and Chicano filmmaker Gregory Nava.

I thank the tirelessly dynamic Director of the Festival, Daniela Michel for talking with me about the Festival’s programming then and now. {redacted and translated}

Daniela Michel, Festival Director, Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia (FICM)

C:  From the return of Regyadas with his highly anticipated Post-Tenebras Lux, who was one of three Mexican directors awarded a prize at Cannes (along with Fogo by documentary and fiction director, Yulene Olaizola, and Después de Lucía by Michel Franco which is Mexico’s foreign language Oscar entry), to  Locarno Film Festival’s Carte Blanche spotlight of Mexican works in progress, 2012 has been a stellar year for Mexican films.  The Festival is showing nine narrative features in competition, seven of them world premieres by first time filmmakers, reflecting this building breakthrough momentum…

D: Yes, we’re thrilled that Cannes was a big year for Mexican film.  We were honored to have Artistic director, Thierry Frémaux as a guest at the Festival last year.  He’s truly been supportive of Mexican films and we are profoundly thankful.  When we first started the festival there just weren’t enough features films to warrant a solid competition program.   Our mission was to build a program made up of the next generation of filmmakers and support them.  We weren’t interested in showing already established Mexican filmmakers.  In 2007 we had our first narrative feature length competition and we were grateful for having such a prominent jury comprised of Trevor Groth, Director of Programming at Sundance Film Festival, Peter Scarlet, at that time Artistic Director of Tribeca Film Festival and Cecilia Suarez, a talented Mexican actress.  They bestowed the Best Film award to Nicolás Pereda’s first film, Where are their Stories.  Pereda has gone on to be a prolific and singular talent.   We are screening his 7th film out of competition, The Greatest Hits.   

C: Documentaries are an integral part of the festival, this year the festival is showing a record breaking 25 documentaries in competition.  Typically the Mexican documentary genre has generally fit into the ethnographic study type. How has this changed over the years?

D: We are seeing more intimate and personal journey type of stories that are breaking with that notion that there is only that kind of Mexican documentary.  There are looks of forgotten history like Flor en Otomi by Luisa Riley about a young female guerilla fighter who disappeared following a violent raid, or Convict Patient by Alejandro Solar Luna about a man who attempted to assassinate the president in 1970 and is now homeless and mentally unstable.  There are more experimental films, more personal portraits like Carriere, 250 Meters by Juan Carlos Rulfo and Natalia Gil about the inspiring writer and Bunuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere,  Diario a Tres Voces by Otilia Portillo Padua, a compelling multigenerational look of three women in relationship to their age, Miradas Multiples (La Maquina Loca) by Emilio Maille which is about the great cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa.  Definitely, Mexican documentary is expanding its horizons.

C: Last year you had Luis Valdez as an honored guest and screened his seminal Chicano film, Zoot Suit.  This year you are honoring Gregory Nava with a screening of El Norte and Mi Familia.  What prompted this recognition of Chicano filmmakers at the festival?

Luis Valdez at FICM 2011

D: We’ve always had a section called Cine Sin Fronteras (Cinema without Borders) curated by Jesse Lerner an academic expert on border films.  While we had not, up until last year, recognized such well known chicano figures like Luis Valdez we’ve shown the work of lesser known, independent filmmakers.  We felt it was overdue and important to introduce chicano films to mexico.  Not necessarily a border crossing story but the perspective of Mexicans living in the United States.  Certainly Luis Valdez deserved a homage here in Mexico. Unfortunately chicano cinema is not well known in Mexico.  We are very happy that Gregory Nava who we highly respect, will be joining us this year. 

C: The Michoacán section.  The festival recognizes the talent of filmmakers from the hosting state with its separate competition section.  How do you make sure this section does not fly under the radar or get lost in the shuffle since it competes with high profile national and international films.

D: Well, first of all the caliber has to be there and I think that since the festival’s inception, the filmmaking scene in Michoacán has been greatly stimulated as there’s been more production, filmmaking has become more accessible and over the past ten years we’ve seen the production value and quality  getting better and better.  Not only indigenous filmmakers which was very important to us like Dante Cerano and Pavel Rodriguez but filmmakers who were born and raised there and may live elsewhere.  We make an effort to give these films the highest visibility by giving them the best time slots so that the public can easily find and discover.

C: Given the Festival’s success, there must be a desire and pressure to continue to expand and grow.   How do you navigate the appeal of complimenting the festival with an increasing number of programs yet work to keep the mission’s integrity?

D: Interest in participating in the festival has certainly grown but we can’t lose focus that our main goal is to support the young mexican filmmakers so we select only the best work out there, always.  Its important not to have any kind of institutional or political ties that might compromise that mission.  One of the sections I most love which we created in 2008, based on the invaluable recommendation of Bertrand Tavernier who has an impressive knowledge of film, is called Imaginary Mexico.  This section showcases work connected to Mexico imagined by foreign filmmakers abroad, revealing their perception of Mexico.  It’s a rich, eye opening trove.  For instance Mexico as seen by Hollywood.  This year we are showing a number of Sam Peckinpah’s films (The Wild Bunch, among others). Two years ago we had the extraordinary gift of having Quentin Tarantino present Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti westerns about the Mexican Revolution.  These films had been previously banned in Mexico for its scathing portrayal of the revolution….

It’s a rich diaspora.  The Festival supports the future of Mexican Cinema with the best work by the next generation of filmmakers just starting out.  It celebrates Mexico of the past, through classics and retrospectives like this year’s homage to cinematographer Jose Ortiz Ramos born in the state of Michoacan, and the other, films about Mexico from outside of Mexico.   We attack it on all fronts.  This intersection of  borders, indigenous films made by indigenous filmmakers who have a permanent space in our festival, film students and history.  

C: About the Morelia audience

Carlos Reygadas and Bela Tarr, BFFs

There is a big population of university students which combined with the city’s strong tradition of historical culture, we felt there was potential there.  It wasn’t easy at first.  I remember programming a Woody Allen film against a block of unknown shorts.  We realized that once the tickets for the Woody Allen movie sold out, people who weren’t able to get in, naturally found their way into the shorts program.  We are indeed grateful for that audience.  Obviously showing Bela Tarr’s epic eight hour Satantango last year would not have worked had we programmed it the first year.  We owe a lot of this audience development to our extraordinary colleague and dear friend Joaquin Rodriguez (founding programmer who passed away earlier this year).  He worked year round developing that audience.  His  film appreciation classes there would have space for twenty, and five times the amount of people would show up.  This edition is dedicated to him for his consummate professionalism, passion and brilliance.   

C: We are a few days away from the 10th edition.  How are you feeling now and do you remember how you felt ten years ago at this point?

D: It was one of the most stressful moments in my life because I had no idea how it was going to work.   It was terrifying.  Today I feel very blessed to have this incredible team because the work is put in by all of us and it would be impossible without the dedicated group assembled  who I admire and respect very much. …Every year there is stress.  But like they say “If you stop feeling the nerves then quit”.  I’m a huge cinephile so I love sharing this gift of film with new audiences.   Its endless, there is an endless vault of films to be re-discovered and that’s what I love best that these films return to life.  You learn a lot about life seeing film.  

Follow the Festival @FICM.  To see the competition lineup click here, and to download this year’s catalogue click here.

Shades of Brown – Black, Latino and US Latino Cinema panels at LA Film Fest

I took in a few panels over the weekend down here at LA Film Fest that I really appreciated for sparking some provocative dialogue I am eager to continue throughout the Festival. I found it especially interesting how different the US Latino and Black film communities are responding to their storytelling plight in talking about their respective representation in media. Meanwhile the lively Latino panel, which was perhaps the broadest in scope, was eloquent and skillfully led by LA Times’ Reed Johnson who brought a high level of articulation in his profesh moderating.  As panel junkies know, a good moderator is key to an engaging panel and essential to keep it on point.  Here are my takeaways on the three panels:

Elvis Mitchell, Shari Frilot, Ava DuVernay, Roya Rastegar and Bradford Young

Moderated by Film Independent’s LACMA film curator and go-to festival moderator, Elvis Mitchell, I was particularly impressed at the messaging clarity and solidarity of the black film community’s efforts and goals for equal representation.  The panelists were very tuned-in with monitoring their talent behind and in front of the camera, and in this case stressing the importance of  festival curators, which was identified as one of three instrumental factors to enable their films getting out there.

Shari Frilot, Senior Programmer, Sundance Film Festival:  There was much (due) love and props given to Frilot for her ardent and tireless championing of films of color at Sundance.  She pointed out how after Lee Daniel’s breakout hit, Precious which premiered at 2009 Sundance and went on to win a couple Academy Awards, the next couple years it was the black films that were the first to be sold off the mountain including the dazzling lesbian coming of age film, Pariah.  She questioned why this achievement was not picked up or lauded in the mainstream media.  Its indeed curious and perhaps a telling point on the cultural gatekeeper front – (shortage of black critics and journalists?)  Having witnessed Shari’s highly charged and articulate arguing for gloriously imperfect, fresh and raw films I respect how she truly changes the way the film programming conversation takes place by discussing films’ drive, potential and power. I aspire to “bring it” like she does in my own programming career.  Acknowledging the personal efforts she puts in to make the festival seem accessible to filmmakers of color who may not bother putting Sundance on their radar, the idea of doing a black college tour came up.

Ava DuVernay, filmmaker (Middle of Nowhere) and founder of AFFRM:  DuVernay’s emotion for the topic at hand along with her experience from her publicist days and current roles as filmmaker and distributor made her a stirring contributor to the conversation.   Ava thanked LA Film Festival Director Stephanie Allain for programming Middle of Nowhere as a gala screening which elevates her film with a high profile slot within the festival.  A packed house at Wednesday’s gala screening will be quite significant to the black filmmaking community given the massive 800 seat theater and checking the LA Film Fest website it’s at Rush which will make for an exciting milestone!  The winner of the Best Director Award at Sundance Film Festival shared her personal observations like being stunned to see empty seats at the black film screenings at Sundance which is unheard of in the notoriously hard-to-get tickets Festival.  She mentioned that while she is frequently featured on Shadow and Act, the African Diaspora blog on the Indiewire network, she has never been on Indiewire’s main page.  DuVernay expressed her desire to see more films that move and operate beyond ‘black bodies’.

There was mention of films touted as successful black films when they happen to be by non-black filmmakers.  I can’t help but think the room was thinking about Gimme the Loot written and directed by Adam Leon and Beasts of the Southern Wild written and directed by Benh Zeitlin.  Both films have been praised and celebrated for their poignant storytelling and vivid portrayal of their black protagonists’ lifestyles – and the filmmakers happen to be white Jewish New Yorkers.  And both films were quickly picked up for distribution at their respective festival premieres. I have to admit that if we are talking about presenting positive representation in films my belief is that individually, these two films offer a lot as far as image conversion for eschewing mis-representation by avoiding stereotypes about black folks.  There’s nobody smoking crack or perpetuating violent crime in Gimme the Loot, and in Beasts the poetic punch of self-sufficient little Hushpuppy in the die-hard persevering displaced fictional community  that alludes to the forgotten 9th Ward post-Katrina, shows a triumph of spirit against the government and society’s response efforts following the devastating natural catastrophe in the dominantly affected marginalized population.

Bradford Young, cinematographer (Middle of Nowhere, Pariah, Restless City): A Howard University alumus, the in-demand cinematographer more gently echoed Ava’s sentiment about the limited accessibility and representation of black filmmakers but I feel he gave a bit more benefit of the doubt to black films by non-black filmmakers by his eloquent word of choice to weigh the debate; “Intention”.  The way he talks about his own cinematic approach is greatly influenced by the intention of the story and point of view.  A NY Times article recently featured the cinematographer and made note of his full frame and close up shots in Middle of Nowhere.  Indeed the luscious and texture he brings to shooting skincolor sticks out in my mind having seen it at Sundance.  Bradford is one cool cat with lots of soul.  All panelists agreed and were especially thankful for his eyes.

Roya Rastegar, Ph.D, Festival Programmer:  Inventive cinematography, curation by more females and people of color and innovative distribution were three ways Rastegar outlined to help minority filmmakers distinguish their work and get seen by the public.    I would love to get my hands on her dissertation, History of Concsiousness (here’s a taste) in which she investigates the role of festivals in shaping marginalized culture.  Armed with such interesting facts on the history of film festivals, (did you know Stalin created the first film festival?) Rastegar added a lot of context to the origins and current state of film festivals.  She also shared the behind the scenes conversations of film programmers when talking about films of color and the rueful tendency to dismiss these films because they aren’t so called ‘good enough’.   She made no hesitation in pointing out that Tribeca Film Festival did not have one single black film in competition this year.

US Latino Cinema: Welcome to the Bi-Literate Future –  Presented by San Antonio Film Commission and AFCI (Association of Film Commissions International)

Luis Reyes, Moi, Doug Spain, Gabriela Tagliavini, Ralph Lopez

I had the privilege of participating on this panel which was prefaced by a Univision spot highlighting their new campaign efforts of reaching a bi-lingual audience.  In it, an old woman recalls being prevented from speaking her language as a child in school and then we cut to today’s young US Latino man who flips from Spanish to English talking about his liking alternative band, The Strokes as much as Spanish-language pop rock band, Juanes.

What it was about:  Our Latino population in the US is now more than ever embracing a bi-lingual, or more importantly, a bi-literate culture.  Will films reflect the changing demographic of the US as a bi-literate (a Spanish and English language culture) be commercially successful and be able to find an audience?  And perhaps more importantly, will the studio system be able to adapt to the successful strategies many in the independent world are using to create commercially viable content?

Douglas Spain (Star Maps, Walkout, Band of Brothers) is used to wearing multiple hats and so acted as both panelist and moderator.  Spain offered up his experience as an actor/producer/director as a gay latino filmmaker who has successfully worked in independent film and studio and television mediums.  His quest for staying true to himself with the roles and films he is making rang resonant to all.

Ralph Lopez, San Antonio filmmaker: The producer of Wolf which premiered at this year’s SXSW talked about his  aim is to create and tell stories that transcend color.  Like his provocative film about the complexities faced by the victim of a bishop’s inappropriate behavior, his collaborations with director black filmmaker Ya Ke Smith comes first and foremost from a place of telling moving stories.

Gabriela Tagliavini, filmmaker (Ladies Night, Without Men, The Mule: Having had big success with Spanish language film Ladies Night in 2006, Gabriela switched languages and directed Eva Longoria in the English language film, Without Men which sold to many international territories given Longoria’s international brand name.  With her upcoming film, The Mule she is looking to take advantage of the crime action genre and star Sharon Stone to offer real commentary on immigration and the dangerous toll of the US Mexico border.

Luis Reyes, historian and author of  the comprehensive book, Hispanics in Hollywood: The old school gent on our panel made some slightly more conventional suggestions on how to make a successful bi-literate film like “know your audience” and attaching a well known actor to your film so you can market it.

I added my two cents and in retrospect I think my thoughts coincided with Rastegar’s in the proactive vein of here’s what we can-do positive approach of encouraging budding filmmakers to utilize genre (horror and gay US Latino films stand out from the stack and are sought after by festival programs).  I also asked my fellow panelists if they found the US Latino filmmaking community as fragmented as I see it.  Unlike Black or LGBT film organizations I feel the US Latino community has much more work in becoming inclusive within our distinct bi-lingual backgrounds in order to successfully empower and advocate for our films. Organizations like NALIP and LALIFF were mentioned in answer.  But in my opinion and with all respect, I find NALIP a bit cliquesh and lacking a younger pulse and generation of organizers, and LALIFF is too inconsistent to make fundamental cultural change.  Although we touched on the question of the challenges our community faces working in Spanish versus English I’m not sure we fully stayed on point in attempting to answer the ambitious subject and interesting talking points raised.  But the audience seemed more the type of wanting basic advice on how to break into filmmaking so most questions and conversations was directed to the filmmakers on the panels and in that regard it was a successful exchange.

Café Latino presented by HBO and supported by University of Guadalajara Foundation

credit: Juan Tallo

Made evident by the participating film clips that were shown before the panel there is much genre and story diversity in the Latino films at LA Film Fest this year.  I’m especially happy the Festival recognizes the growing influence of the Mexican documentary by having selected Reportero by Bernardo Ruiz, Canicula by Jose Alvarez and Drought by Everardo Gonzalez.  The panel was ostensibly about the Festival’s Latin American filmmakers and how they explore their roles as storytellers in an increasingly global world.  With such a high number of panelists and so many interesting topics broached however, it left one wanting more time to engage with the personable talents onstage.

Alejandro Brugues, director of Juan of the Dead (credit: Juan Tallo)

Reed Johnson encouraged the panelists to chime in at will which Alejandro Brugues, director of Cuban Zombie film, Juan of the Dead took full advantage of to defend big hollywood films like The Avengers, which Gonzalez  initially brought up if only to point out the David and Goliath challenge filmmakers in Mexico face having to compete for screens against these big money backed blockbusters.  Brugues set himself apart from the group by defending his love for the blockbuster which inspired him to direct films. Unlike his peers’ ‘artful’ films he considers his film strictly for public entertainment (he joked that his film is actually a documentary).  Yet at the same time he admits he took advantage of the Zombie genre a la Romero to infuse it with his personal observations of contemporary Cuban society – which he would not have been able to shoot in Cuba otherwise.

Reed Johnson, Everardo Gonzalez, Dominga Sotomayor, Arturo Pons, Alejandro Brugues, Jose Alvarez, Bernardo Ruiz
(credit: Juan Tallo)

Meanwhile Arturo Pons who was born in Mexico but has lived and worked in Spain for the past ten years described his conception for his surreal satire, The Compass is Carried by the Dead Man not necessarily about immigration but a visual canvas with which to paint the total disorientation that confronts Mexico. Ruiz talked about seeing himself as a ‘translator’ or vessel to tell stories.  Alvarez talked about how he does not think of his audience as he makes his films however he does aspire to showcase Mexico Profundo in showing the vast and vibrant indigenous artistry and folklore and deliberately resisting the the media’s monopolized perpetuation of the drug violence and corruption.  Lastly, Dominga Sotomayor, the 27 year old director of Thursday till Sunday whose next film Tarde Para Morir was selected to the first ever Sundance Mahindra Screenwriters Lab, added that like Mexico, in Chile there is a growing number of filmmakers but no real venues to find their audience.

LA Film Festival is going on through Sunday and a bunch of added screenings have been slotted.  Check out film guide and buy tickets here.

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

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About Cesar Chavez Foundation

MEX DOC WORLD PREMIERE: El Ingeniero by Alejandro Lubezki – Fear and Loathing on the Campaña ‘00

Alejandro Lubezki (right) with Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, or The Engineer as he is reverentially called, is a stalwart modern day politician, whose distinguished family (Think Kennedys) includes his father, Lazaro Cárdenas (President of Mexico, 1934-1940), and son Lázaro Cárdenas Batel, former governor of Michoacan.  Cárdenas Solórzano is a three time presidential candidate and beloved PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) moral leader who in this electoral year is a big supporter of the party’s candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Obrador’s second presidential bid following the highly disputed 2006 election in which supposedly a .56% margin marked his defeat against Felipe Calderón ).

In El Ingeniero, filmmaker Alejandro Lubezki shares the unprecedented access granted him and gives us an intimate, fly on the wall doc, shot during Cárdenas infamously last, arduously fought attempt in 1999 to wrangle power from the dominant PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) in the 2000 election year.  It is well known that in his previous 1988 run, blatant fraud prevented Cárdenas from rightfully taking presidency.  We also know how it ended in 2000; According to most sources (with TV Azteca giving the highest, 9 point margin), only a few points separated PANista Vicente Fox Quesada and Cárdenas.  Fox emerged the winner, even though in the public perception it seemed he had all but squandered his early gains in the polls.

The idea to follow Cárdenas was instigated in part by Alejandro’s older brother Emmanuel Lubezki (Oscar nominated cinematographer of Tree of Life) who had not lived in Mexico for years.  Surprised that nobody was making a film about Cárdenas, Alejandro himself asked for a meeting, proposed the documentary directly with The Engineer, and a handshake and few days later, was authorized the incredible access and began rolling.  As heard at the Q&A of the world premiere at Ficg27, Alejandro took approximately 300 hours of footage, which then took him about that much time to edit into the story onscreen – notwithstanding the twelve years from since it was shot.

The camera literally squeezes into the political strategy and image-making sessions that shows Cárdenas’ ardent camp of intense and genuinely, frank political advisors agree and disagree on how to make a president, bearing witness to the sweaty behind the scenes process. Securing the right PR agency, approving photos (“Not that photo Ingeniero, you look like Subcomandante Marcos”), and the exhausting efforts of intervening the media’s powerful influence, forms the first part of the film. Traveling day and night to beautifully Nahuatl named towns hardly heard from, Cárdenas appears to be a man of the people. Although at first Cárdenas seems somewhat rigid if not overly stoic.  Soon however, what we learn is his characteristically quick-witted humor emerges.  When we finally get to see him mad, we agree with his wife who points it out plainly; he asserts a stronger presence.  Indeed it’s not until then we see him verbally swing back against Fox that he appears to gain upward traction.  In a memorable sequence that testifies to the most surreal only-in-politics world, we watch the three political candidates debate about when to have a debate.  Fox’s asinine ability of not yielding to rationale turns him into a four year old as he throws a public tantrum that the debate must take place that very same day – Cárdenas hitting his stride, chimes in; ”Don’t worry I trust you won’t forget what you prepared for today by Friday”.  That’s not to say Fox is ostracized entirely in the film.  We also witness his sense of humor (it’s a big Mexican thing), and hear him give credit and thank his worthy opponent more than once. After all both parties sought to defeat el PRI, so the win to a certain extent was shared.

Lubezki’s Director statement says the film’s intent was not to show nor cater to the public’s desire to see the scandal and corruption inherent in the treacherous political machine, but to show the arduous campaign process and the authentic character of Cárdenas.  And so, by eschewing the cynicism and distrust surrounding politics that we ourselves tend to perpetuate, he astutely, perhaps subversively infers a positive and encouraging tone, very timely given this election year.  As long as there are political leaders like El Ingeniero, it’s crucial to not fall defeatist and avoid the ‘My vote doesn’t count’ stance.

Now I’m not that well informed on Mexico’s political landscape so I imagine there must be content here that goes over my head, and that invested people might get more political juice out of it. I’ll leave that to the pundits and experts to glean.   What’s not lost on me however, and what points to the film’s ability to transcend its specific political reference and country, is the damn herculean strength, passion and tenacity required to run for office, the epic scale of mobilizing a presidential campaign, and most interestingly, the ongoing wage of power between today’s grassroots triumphs and losses over big money controlled political interests.

At the end of the film we see “the moment”  has arrived.  The campaign team which has exausted blood, sweat and tears, watches in agony as the omnipotent media makes its suspect exit polls and projections showing Fox celebrating his win ahead of the official confirmation.  It is nothing short of infuriating and profound disappointment. Yet as testament that leadership is in his DNA, Cárdenas eloquently turns the energy around by standing up and shaking everyone’s hands to thank them for their trust and support.  As he makes the rounds, a strong applause swells.  The clapping does not die down but only gets louder as he continues to work the room, warmly showing his gratitude and promising all of us that “La Lucha is far from over.

A definite highlight of the Mexican Documentary Competition in this year’s Guadalajara Film Festival, I hope El Ingeniero travels far and wide this year.  For more information and to read the Director’s statement click  here (yes, its in Spanish).

Ambulante – Breaking Borders and a Model of Transmedia

The 7th Ambulante Film Festival, which was recently bestowed with Washington’s (WOLA) Human Rights Award for using documentary as a tool for change, launched its spring tour by debuting in Mexico City February 19 and will go on until the 23, before it continues its celebrated pilgrimage to Guerrero, Veracruz, Puebla and a dozen other Mexican cities.  The 2012 edition of the passionately led, itinerant film organization will screen 81 titles from 24 countries, and will have visited over 28 cities and towns by end of the year. Born during the 2005 Morelia International Film Festival by Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Pablo Cruz, lead by Executive Director, Elena Fortes, and Programming Director Ricardo Giraldo, the pioneering non-profit which also brings and produces film workshops as part of its community outreach program, has already expanded and announced more plans to further its mission abroad and within the U.S.

Just this past week Ambulante capped off a successful partnership with Cinema Tropical on MOMA’s documentary fortnight in New York.  Ambulante will also have a presence at the upcoming Tucson Cine Mexico, showing four documentaries by female directors.   And in October, Ambulante will be hosting a screenings’ series here in Los Angeles (stay tuned for more details).  Ambulante has previously partnered with LA film organizations before, notably Film Independent’s Los Angeles Film Festival, which in 2009 offered an Ambulante spotlight.  Ambulante’s expansion is testament to its success at presenting an intervention type of programming focus, and screening international documentaries in regions where it would otherwise never be shown, and in this latest edition, spearheading forums in which to address Mexico’s social issues such as the persecution of journalists, migration, drug and arms trafficking.

Showing his support at the premiere of De Panzazo!, a documentary about Mexico’s public school system, Gael Garcia Bernal expressed his deep belief of using film as a tool for social responsibility.

Below are just a few of the highlights of this tour:

VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS by Vincent Kossakovsky  a quirky documentary that compares four pairs of locations on exactly opposite sides of the globe- Catch this at the upcoming SXSW festival!

REPORTERO – World premiere from Bernardo Ruiz, a Sundance Institute and Cinereach supported documentary profiling the fearless Tijuana weekly, Zeta.  It will be broadcast on POV in the fall.

UTOPIA IN 4 MOVEMENTS by Sam Green and Dave Cerf – the incredibly unique and live musical accompaniment documentary experience.

PINA in 3D by Wim Wenders, the Oscar nominated documentary about legendary dancer, Pina Bausch

The People Vs. George Lucas by Alexandre O. Philippe – the festival favorite documentary where the public who made the blockbuster franchise what it is today, get their say and take the series into their own creative hands.

Go to Ambulante’s website to see more info on films, interviews and photos.

Follow Ambulante on Twitter