Reel Rasquache – the only REAL LATINO festival on the block

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Delusions of Grandeur after party

Latino Film Festivals have always lumped together international films and American films under the same Latino category.  As if the Latin prefix used to classify the totally different identities of South & Central America, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Spain was not already broad enough.  The few indie US narratives selected inside these programs look scrappy compared to the Spanish-language, art-house films which boast a higher production value due to their country’s government film subsidies.  It’s like  forcibly pressing two pieces of a puzzle together, when they clearly don’t fit.  These two kind of films do not lend themselves to the same audience.  Which is why I’ve always sensed the US Latino film in this platform is treated like an adopted stray.  Up until now, I had not heard of any sustaining film festival devoted entirely to American Latino (I’d love to be corrected.  If you know of any, give me a shout!). Enter the Reel Rasquache Art and Film Festival in East LA.  Leave it to the activist Chicano studies curriculum track at Cal State to oppose such a disparity of their representation and say, oh Hell no, by way of their actions.  They galvanized the community and wrestled a space for a showcase, led by the efforts of Dr. Richard T. Rodriguez and Dr. John Ramirez, who in 2004 christened the festival with the name Rasquache, derived from the Native American Nahuat people.

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The one of a kind Award trophies sculpted by Yolanda Gonzalez. click to go to her website

Sadly, I was not able to attend the entire jam-packed weekend festival that took place May 17-19, but I did manage to make it to the closing night and awards ceremony on Sunday.  I arrived to see Counterpunch, a film dramatizing the real life story of an undiagnosed, bi-polar boxer – the latest film by Kenneth Castillo who was bestowed with a Trailblazer Award.  Other Awardees of the evening; the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Carmen Zapata who was not able to attend but were assured by her friends accepting on her behalf she was fine and dandy in her 80 years young age. The Pioneer Award was bestowed on a colorful and lively Pepe Serna.

In the crowded, over-awarded Hollywood landscape, I’ve usually found awards, arbitrary or unwarranted, and just an excuse for a gala event driven by money and press.   And within the ‘Hispanic Hollywood’ circle, the awards tend to be given to the same artists over and over, celebrated BECAUSE they have (already) been recognized by the mainstream.  I’m not saying the breaking of barriers is not a triumph worth celebrating, but the days of Rita Moreno and Ricardo Montalban is long past (40 years).  In this day and age, we are bigger and stronger in numbers and we should be using our ‘purchasing power’, to demand our content and taking back our history.  It’s much more constructive to empower those who the mainstream forgets, dismisses and generally fails to acknowledge.  Those, who despite the lack of mainstream recognition, persistently continue to craft their art and who do not shy away from identifying as Chicano, Puerto Rican, whatever their bi-cultural origin may be. Although I’m embarrassed to admit, I share as proof to my argument:  Until Sunday night, I was not familiar with Kenneth Castillo – a genuinely independent working director who is about to shoot his seventh feature this summer. And worse yet if someone were to have mentioned to me Pepe Serna or Carmen Zapata –I would not have been able to place the two veteran American actors –  both of whom have forged incredible careers that span over six decades within both mainstream and indie theater and film.  Thanks to Reel Rasquache’s recognition of their talent I am now turned on to their work.   It allows me to connect the dots of the history of American Latino entertainers, who have been and continue to be so harshly forgotten and suppressed from mainstream history and therefore our collective psyche.

It was my first time at the new location of Casa 0101, the cultural center founded by writer Josefina Lopez. A comfortable 99 capacity seat theater is located at the end of a a long hall on which walls hangs an arresting series of artwork.  On Sunday it was the paintings of Juan Solis whose palette provided the signature theme of the festival this year. Kiki Melendez, a saucy comedienne and 96.3 Latino radio personality emceed the festivities.  Kiki straight up asked what I had wanted to ask but was too embarrassed to;  Just what the hell does Rasquache mean? (“Is it like scratching your ass?” she uncouthly asked).  The academic maestro Dr. John took the podium to illuminate us on how the word references the festival – it’s made of whatever scraps you can pool together to make the most out of the least.

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Kenneth Castillo, the Trailblazer

In his acceptance speech, Kenneth Castillo commented on the urban crime drama genre of his filmography (including such titles like Chronicles of a Drive by).  His earnest thoughts challenged me to re-think my resistance to American Latino writer/directors pouring out the same cholo gang hood films.  Clearly, there is a population heavily influenced by the gang crime genre (I’m no exception, I’m the biggest Goodfellas fan). It makes sense that the  young filmmakers who are fans of the genre, evoke it in their work.  If they are conscious about flipping the script and attacking the stereotype by developing deeper dimensions to the characters, then that IS a game changer.  Because what I’ve heard frequently is that these filmmakers KNOW these people.  They grew up around them. Kenneth reminds me, they are real people.  That the stories and characters continue to be stuck in the barrio is evidence of the  lower socioeconomic class that still plagues black and brown communities.

Pepe Serna
Maestro, Don, El Senor: Pepe Serna

I kept noticing an older man with rascal eyes wearing a loud green jacket and white pants in another row.  Turns out this was The Pepe Serna.  Serna has over 100 movie and television credits including Scarface, American Me, Caddyshack.  For years he has been performing his one-man show, Ruco Chuco, Cholo, Pachuco in which he punctuates Mother Goose a la barrio rhymes like, “In order to beat the gringo. At bingo. You gotta learn the lingo.”    Like a wise and sprightly elder (he’s a Cancer survivor) his vaudeville comedy sense of show and his Texas hospitality twanged voice utterly endeared me to him.  He charmed the audience some more when he treated us to an impromptu performance right then and there.  With exaggerated cholo swagger he first transforms into a young gangbanger who thinks he’s all that, only to then transform and be schooled by the Cholo’s older self, now called Ruco who espouses words of wisdom about the path he’s going down.  Serna also paints; his wild kaleidoscope Mona Risa series will be showing in Untitled Projects gallery on Beverly Blvd June 15th .  His next role is in the upcoming high comedy, A-GuroPhobia co-written and starring the gifted and pretty comic multi-hypenate, Jade Puga ( Kristen Wig watch out!).  It looks like an enjoyably, hilarious campy riot given the trailer they showed at the festival.

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artwork by Juan Solis

Continuing its winning streak of racking up Best Film Awards, Mission Park written and directed by Bryan Ramirez won, once again proving its connection with filmgoers.  It will next screen at the Las Vegas Film Festival.  A theatrical release September 6 is scheduled (self-financed by producer, Flip This House star and Real Estate magnate Armando Montelongo), and Lionsgate will put it out on VOD.  Producer Douglas Spain was on hand to accept the award and later we both marveled at the gorgeous copy of the Juan Solis print on the Best Film certificate.  He confided it was one most beautiful awards ever to be bestowed to the film.

Afterwards I got a chance to hang with the filmmaker of Delusions of Grandeur, my new homegirl Iris Almaraz and I did a sort of follow up to the interview I did with her a couple weeks ago.  Check it here.  Not only is she working the latest draft of her next film, La Puta, but she is already swirling around a concept for the next one which although unplanned might form a a novel trilogy about the contemporary female odyssey going through womanhood, motherhood, and a post motherhood sexual discovery.

At Reel Rasquache I discovered such a refreshing confidence and tuned-in conscious of identity, unfettered by what the mainstream is NOT doing for them.  Instead,  the spiritually resilient and tireless efforts are focused on making art for ourselves. I noticed in Dr. John’s Closing remarks he included the term ‘self-identifying Latinos’ when talking about who Rasquache is geared towards.   It was in stark contrast to what I usually run into; a desperate want to assimilate into the mainstream, or the commendable, yet generic and trite aim of telling ‘universal’ stories that transcend ethnicity, or the irksome thought that we should not ‘limit’ ourselves by identifying as Mexican American or Chicano (thanks Robert Rodriguez).  But don’t we all perform and write what we know?   In that sense sharing it with the people who will relate to it the most feels the most unifying and mutually satisfying.  We crave an audience to share our art with, that’s what keeps us going. Who better to show it to than someone who gets it.

Within the kingdom of Americans who have  a widely mixed variance of Latino descent, there exists a fierce genus called La Raza.  Unapologetic, raw, fiercely conscious of their people’s history, embracing of multi-cultural solidarity, they ain’t waiting around for opportunities but seizing them for themselves.  I admire this incredible sense of identity and believe that is what is worth celebrating and awarding. This confidence is the missing key to taking charge and writing our own narratives.  Not to mention, confidence is just más sexy.

Spring Film Festival fever – Muchos Festivales!

With no less than four reputable Latino Film Festivals and three mainstream festivals coming up this spring in the states, my dance card is filling up quick, and I’m excited to survey inside and outside the so-called niche of Latino film programming.

35cinefestivalFirst up, CineFestival (where yours truly is proud to be a Programmer).  Put on by San Antonio’s vibrant Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, it is notably the longest running Chicano and indigenous film festival (35 years).  Taking place from February 23 – Mar. 2, the festival’s Opening night film is Mission Park a suspenseful street crime drama about a group of childhood friends whose different paths pit them against each other, directed by Bryan Ramirez and produced by Douglas Spain. The closing night film is Filly Brown, still going strong since its Sundance premiere last year but now seeking a new distributor due to Indomina, which picked it up last year, closing up shop.   Both screenings will be accompanied by the filmmakers and cast.  In between there will be a whole week of shorts and docs including the lyrical and fierce LGBT performance club doc Wildness by Wu Tsang which hasn’t been seen much outside of Outfest and last year’s SXSW, Carlos Avila’s Tales of Masked Men, a look inside Lucha Libre, and my favorite local Texas highschool shorts showcase.  See the recently announced lineup here.  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates and look out for a couple exciting additional program announcements next week.

MIFF-30Right behind CineFestival in date and age is the Miami International Film Festival, celebrating its 30th anniversary this Mar. 1 – 10.  Produced and presented by Miami Dade College, it is the biggest and strongest film festival for Latino programming in the nation.  The word Latino is not included in their name, yet almost half of its programming is Latino (by my count 51/117 features). I love that.

Just a few of the gems from Central and South America the festival will be screening include 7 Boxes by Juan Carlos Maneglia & Tana Schémbori (Paraguay), Polvo by Julio Hernandez Cordon (Guatemala).  In the impressive Opera Prima competition there is Edificio Royal by Ivan Wild (Columbia/Venezuela), Molasses by Carlos Diaz Lechuga (Panama) and No Autumn, No Spring by Ivan Mora (Ecuador).

Among the brand new US Latino features world premiering; Eenie Meenie Miney Moe by Jokes Yanes, Calloused Hands by Jesse Quinones, Sanitarium, a horror tri-vignette by Bryan Ramirez, Kerry Valderrama and Bryan Ortiz, and The Boy who Smells like Fish, a first feature by Analeine Cal y Mayor.

By far, Miami leads the pack in programming such a diverse and fresh Latino presence. Miami is la bomba!

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San Diego Latino Film Festival which is celebrating its 20th anniversary takes place Mar. 8 -18, pretty much overlapping with the monstrous South by Southwest Film Mar 8-17.  I profiled SXSW Latino element here.  The feature film lineup for San Diego has also recently been announced.  Check this to see the list of classic and tribute narrative feature screenings (Almodovar, Rodriguez and Innaritu) along with recurring American Latino film fest favorites, Aqui y Alla, The Girl, Filly Brown, Mission Park, along with two films that clearly look and sound like “Hispanic marketed films”,  Tio Papi and Tony Tango.

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In April we got my hometown representing, The Chicago Latino Film Festival (April 11-25) which has historically been more of a showcase-y festival screening a number of films from South America. Although they have not announced, I’ll take it as a hint that Delusions of Grandeur is playing there as they uploaded the Chicago Latino Film Festival poster on their Facebook page.  I hope so because I really dig this quirky, set in San Francisco film written and directed by Iris Alamaraz and Gustavo Ramos about a frenzied young grunge Chicana’s journey to be independent.  The film made its world premiere at the NY International Latino Film Festival last summer.

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Back to Austin from April 16-21, the 16th Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, a really excellent year round programmed non-profit which screens at the ubiquitous Alamo Drafthouse, is thankfully there to pick up the slack in supporting the Latin roots and diversity in Texas country as well as the unique bi-culture shown in their highlighted program, Hecho en Tejas section.

And last but certainly not least we got the big apple, Tribeca Film Festival taking place April 17-28.  They usually announce in early March.  Babygirl and The Girl both screening at this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival premiered here last year.  Babygirl is a film by an Irish filmmaker, Macdara Varelly who tells quite the racy story of a mother and daughter after same guy.  The street cred is infused by the two leads who play the Nuyoricans in the Bronx. The single mother is played by Rosa Arredondo and precariously sexually blossoming teen played by unknown Yainis Ynoa who surprises in her very first acting role.  I don’t think it received half the attention it deserved.  Meanwhile, The Girl, directed by David Riiker (co-writer of Sleep Dealer) stars Abbie Cornish in a ‘subverse’ tale as an American woman who crosses the border going south to pursue her dreams.

I plan to cover as much as I can with an eye towards monitoring the tendencies and differences of the Latino Film Festival circuit versus mainstream.  Being familiar with most of the brand spanking new American Latino films out there looking for a home and audiences to connect with, I will be tracking closely throughout the year which festivals are committed to carving out a space for discovering American Latino filmmakers and stories.  All my recon will be shared here on my blog, so ojos people!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chi-town style – comfy, plush theater

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

Theater dates back to 1915

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

Sending lots of besos and suerte to the festival.

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.