WTF is Latino at Sundance 2015? – A closer look

We are only a week away from the avalanche of discovery that will unfurl at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so let me give you a heads up on everything Latino.

First, a slew of qualifications, caveats and disclaimers; I like to differentiate between U.S. born artists of Latino heritage and international artists. Second, keep in mind “Latino sounding last names” does not indicate who is Latino behind a film (and a Latino sounding last name does not necessarily indicate that person identifies as Latino and or tells Latino stories). I mention this to emphasize Latino identity is often subjective and always complex.  Lastly, these are not reviews or spoilers but a quick reference for those interested in tracking emerging Latino talent and topics.

Left Tony Revolri is of Guatemalan descent
Left Tony Revolori is of Guatemalan descent

Perhaps more ubiquitous to spot are the Latinos in front of the camera; J-Lo plays Lila opposite queen bee Viola Davis in Lila and Eve. John Leguizamo has a role in The Experimenter, the late Elizabeth Peña has a wicked cameo in Grandma opposite Lily Tomlin. Tony Revolori (Grand Budapest Hotel) plays the Latino kid in Dope. Scott Mescudi is Christopher Abbot’s friend in James White.

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Robert “Beef” Lorie

Exciting acting debuts to watch out for include Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Sean Baker’s pulsing Tangerine and Robert Lorrie in The Strongest Man by Kenny Riches, both in the indie gem Next section.

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Cartel land

There are eight films that have Latino subjects. Two films in U.S. Documentary Competition are about the U.S./Mexico border, which makes me very happy (not the anguishing realities portrayed in the films but the fact that Sundance recognizes the urgency of the conversation and supports these filmmakers novel perspectives in tackling the complexities of the ongoing drugwar.

U.S. WRITERS/DIRECTORS

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in the U.S. Dramatic Competition with Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. This successful television writer has been quoted  about his bordertown childhood; “Laredo is in my DNA, as much as Nuevo Laredo (Mexican state across the border) is in my DNA”.

Kyle Alvarez who has Cuban roots, is at the festival with his third feature, The Stanford Prison Experiment.

Daniel Garcia who recently was named “Filmmaker to Watch” at the Independent Spirit Awards co-directed the enigmatic film, H. in Next. He is from Texas and has family from Mexico.  Check out the trailer:

10891650_10153504452223761_1003665519324158567_nIn the shorts program we got Reinaldo Green with the powerful Stop, Ryan Gillis with animated short film Palm Rot and Ronnie Rivera and Bernardo Britto are the co-directors of The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.

If we are including writers/directors born and raised in another country but based in the U.S. let’s add:

Rodrigo Garcia – The Colombian born Mexican long time LA resident is back in Premieres with Last Days in the Desert shot by Mexican Oscar winner DP Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity).

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Kristen Wiig and Sebastian Silva

Sebastian Silva from Chile based in NY returns with Nasty Baby featuring another juicy dramatic performance from Kristen Wiig following last year’s Skeleton Twins.

And two international filmmakers who are making their English language debuts:

Claudia Llosa from Peru wrote and directed Aloft starring Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy which premiered at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

J.M Cravioto makes his English language and fiction narrative debut with horror midnight movie, Reversal.

It’s worth noting not one of these films feature Latino actors with the exception of Silva who stars in his film, and Reinaldo Green’s Stop. And I will take a step further to comment those films do not have a storyline that reflects a Latino experience (I know, we can debate what qualifies as a Latino experience).

PRODUCERS AND MORE

Mimi Valdes – the former editor of Latina and Vibe Magazine and now creative director of Pharell Williams’ multi-media company is a co-producer on Dope with Nina Yang and Forest Whitaker (Fruitvale).

Felipe Marino of Occupant Entertainment produced creature feature, The Hallow. Named “Producer to Watch’ by Variety, the U.S. born of Colombia descent producer previously brought The Wackness to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

The Borscht Corp powerhouse are behind shorts Papa Machete shot in Haiti and the previously mentioned, The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.

Nicolas Lopez (Aftershock) co-wrote Eli Roth’s Knock Knock starring Keanu Reeves showing in Midnight.

Mexican cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman shot Rick Alverson’s Entertainment.

SUBJECT/THEMES

Cartel Land by Matthew Heineman. Senior Programmer David Courier’s description is on point; “Brilliant, dangerous, and provocative, Cartel Land is a chilling meditation on the breakdown of order and the borderline where life trumps law.” Here’s an interview with the filmmaker that includes clips of the movie:

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Western

Western by Alex and Turner Ross. If you saw their previous film, Tchoupitoulas you are familiar with their beautiful, observational and visceral style.  Motivated by finding the real iconic cowboys of the dusty old frontier, these two consider this part of their American trilogy.

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The Angulo Brothers of The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack by Crystal Moselle – Its best if you know nothing going in and I will wager that this one will be one of the most talked about films at the festival. I will only mention the pack are the children of a Peruvian man.

The Strongest Man –The lead character’s thoughts and voiceover is uttered in Spanish throughout the film.

Royal Road by Jenni Olson talks about the Mexican land before it became the United States.

Fresh Dressed by Sacha Jenkins– documents the shift from when cats started settling beefs on the dance floor and on the mike instead of violence. Fashion and hip hop style created by urban (read: blacks and Latinos)

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Venus Extravaganza in Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning by Jennie Livingston –celebrating its 15th anniversary a special Collection screening of the film will take place on January 26 at 3pm at the Egyptian. Love love love this film. The House of Extravaganza was one of the first Latino/a Harlem balls. RIP Angie and Venus.

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Making it in America

Making it in America by Joris Debeij is a short film about a Salvadoran immigrant in Los Angeles.

And now for straight up INTERNATIONAL FILMS:

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Paulina Davila in LiveForever

From Mexico/Colombia in New Frontier is Live Forever or QUE VIVA LA MUSICA! by Sundance alum Carlos Moreno (Dog Eat Dog, All Your Dead Ones), a sexy, music driven film starring a magnetic new Colombian actress Paulina Davila

Short film, Spring from Mexico which played at the Morelia Film Festival by Tania Claudia Castillo.

Wild Tales from Argentina/Spain by Damián Szifrón

The Second Mother by well-known Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert

The Games Maker by Juan Pablo Buscarini in the Sundance Kids section is from Argentina.

And a MUST-EXPERIENCE at the New Frontier is virtual reality film Assent by Oscar Raby a Chilean who lives in Australia. Description: In 1973 my father witnessed the execution of a group of prisoners captured by the military regime in Chile, the same Army that he was part of. Assent puts the user in my father’s boots as we walk to the place where that happened.

And lastly, presenting short films in the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are alumni Marialy Rivas, the hip director from Chile of Young and Wild, and actor/filmmaker Diego Luna.

To check out the entire lineup of films, screening times and descriptions go here.  To meet the directors, check out Sundance YouTube Meet The Filmmakers series here.  And lastly follow all the haps as it haps @sundancefestnow

Ojos! 5 Hot American Latino films to discover in 2013

Peep this and pay mind folks, especially Festival Programmers and Distributors.  Here’s my list of the most exciting American Latino independent fiction films coming through the pipeline ready to break out and make noise in 2013.

All are first features by wildly original voices who are remixing potent multi-cultural heritage and inventing their own unique brand of genre.   So much talent!  Makes this Chicanita proud.

Let’s start with numero uno:

1.  WATER & POWER – from Chicano wordsmith warrior and Culture Clash iconoclast, Richard J. Montoya, produced by Mark Roberts. This is the screen adaptation of Montoya’s 2006 play originally performed at the Mark Taper Forum.  Rife with the City of Angels’ legends, haunts and lore, the Chicano noir tale (how cool is that?) takes place over the course of one fateful night.  An intense story unravels centered on twin brothers nicknamed “Water” played by Enrique Murciano and “Power” played by Nicolas Gonzalez who were born and raised on the East Side streets playground – one grows up to be a senator and the other a high ranking cop.  The amazingly gifted musical artist and composer Gingger Shankar (Circumstance, Charlie Wilson’s War) has contributed music to the film.   The project participated in the 2007 Sundance Institute screenwriters & directors lab.  A madly prolific playwright (a regular Berkeley and Yale Repertory Theatre collaborator), I got a chance to see Montoya’s uproarious and thought provoking American history redux play, American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose last fall (read the LA Weekly feature review here).  An uncompromising artist with a thundering voice all over the pop culture pulse and map, Montoya’s first feature film tops my list of films to watch out for in 2013.  Can. Not. Wait.

Like the Facebook page to stay on top of future premiere announcements and here’s a pic on Mark Roberts website

Film contact: <mark@robertsdavid.com>

PARDON ScreenGrab 1
Hector Atreyu Ruiz as Saul Sanchez – stuck between a rock and hard place

2.  PARDON – written and directed by R.F. Rodriguez and produced by his production company BadMansSon.  A story that deals with a cholo ex-con who returns to his barrio ready to go on the straight and narrow but soon finds himself pulled by his old gang familia may sound familiar, but never has it been as emotionally excavated and depicted with such sensitivity and complexity.  Hector Atreyu Ruiz is Saul Sanchez whose driving motivation is the chance to reunite with his estranged daughter.  Guided by a sympathetic parole officer, played by Tracey Heggins (from the 2008 indie African-American gem Medicine for Melancholy), Saul tackles catch-22 circumstances towards his mission and confronts a growing uneasiness and threat from his vatos who continue to test if he’s still down.  At its core the film is an exploration about  fatherhood and coming home, and speaks to the social phenomenon of absentee fathers as the result of incarceration, an issue predominantly afflicting Latino families and communities.

PARDON ScreenGrab 3 Set in Highland Park, Rodriguez, a USC film school grad, shot the feature before graduating, having fleshed the story further out of the short film he made of the same name.  His project mentor, Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves) encouraged him to do more with it and this is the amazing result.   With earnest and raw performances, the moving and powerfully directed film marks this a sign of a true filmmaker talent discovery.

Website, Twitter

Film contact <contact@badmansson.com>

rbe_13. RECOMMENDED BY ENRIQUE written and directed by Daniel Garcia and Rania Attieh and produced by their NY based company En Passant Films.   Shot in border town Del Rio, Texas (the U.S. side of the Rio Grande) with an offbeat hipster cast of  young non-professionals plucked locally, the quirky, mystical tale is about an aspiring actress and an old cowboy who each arrive into town with respective plans and expectations, only to end up waiting for something to happen.  Forced to wait out their time,  they’ve nothing to do but explore the bewitching town and its people.  Lino Varela plays the Cowboy and Sarah Swinwood, a Canadian newcomer actress nails the airhead wannabe star.

This is the second feature film from Texas native Daniel Garcia and Lebanese born Rania.  Their first film, OK, ENOUGH, GOODBYE screened at San Francisco International Film Festival among other world wide festivals, and the duo were included in 2011’s Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film.  Undertones of a Twilight Zone type of dimension and the spellbinding pull of the dusty town are perfectly captured – as anyone who’s been in these strange little Texas towns can attest.  Unexpected and unpredictable, this definitely gets my recommendation.

rbe_2

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Luz!  played by Iliana Carter Ramirez

 

 

 

 

4.  VINCENT & LUZY (FKA On the Run) written and directed by Alberto Barboza and produced by Cinético Productions. A charming, hip and modern fairy tale love story between a soulful graffiti artist,Vincent, played by Miguel Angel Caballero, and sexy tattoo artist, Luzy played by Iliana Carter Ramirez.  The film captures and romanticizes the happening, multi-culti rockabilly/emo scene and counter culture of Boyle Heights and features lots of home grown talent and spots like Self Help Graphics, the community visual arts mission center.  The posters created by Vincent in the film are designed by rising street artist, El Mac (Miles MacGregor).  You’ll recognize some of his murals around LA like this one on Hollywood and Wilton, one of my favorites.  He just did the album cover for No Doubt.

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An eclectic soundtrack featuring local Vallenato band, Very Be CarefulHermanos Herrera, Irene DiazDoghouse Lords and more.  The cast also includes ol’ G’, Sal Lopez (American Me) and Lupe Ontiveros in what may be her last film role before she passed away last year (she also has a small role in Water & Power).

Fresh, exuberant and inhabiting a distinct, heightened magical street reality, Vincent & Luzy might be the first film to truly reflect this young, vibrant artist subculture, making this one a hot flick to track.

mailFilm contact: info@CineticoProductions.com

Website

 

 

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5. BLAZE YOU OUT – written and directed by Mateo Frazier and Diego Joaquin Lopez and produced by Alicia J. Keyes.  Set in the rarely seen mystic world of New Mexico, this young female driven thriller is uniquely atmospheric.  Starring the rising young talent, Veronica Diaz Carranza (Mamitas) along with a terrific cast including Elizabeth Peña, Q’orianka Kilcher, Raoul Trujillo and Mark Adair Rios, all who ignite the screen. Diaz stars as Lupe, a DJ who is forced to venture into her town’s heroin trade underworld in order to save her younger sister Alicia’s life.  To do so she must confront mysterious occult figures and harness the power within her to connect with the divine that surrounds her.

Blaze You Out Film
Ms. DJ Diaz

I was thrilled to hear that Lionsgate picked up the film at AFM a couple months ago.  Lionsgate/Grindstone will release the film July 2013.   6 Sales is handling rights to rest of world.  Intense and wicked and unlike anything else this is a sizzling genre film to look forward to.  In the meantime, check out the press kit, pics and more on their site.

mailWebsite, Facebook

 

 

 

MUST MENTION

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 7.21.14 PMCHAVEZ –  written and directed by Diego Luna and produced by Canana Films, Mr. Mudd and backed by Participant Media.  Given it’s a biography of an iconic Chicano figure, labor rights activist Cesar Chavez, and Luna is an international name talent, this project has already attracted major press coverage ever since it was first announced so it doesn’t really fit my ‘Discovery’ profile.  That said, it is a highly anticipated and important film. I really hope the film opens wide and mainstream – although Participant will likely need a partner to make this happen in the U.S.  Michael Peña, the Puerto Rican actor catapulting towards leading man roles and already a regular in big Hollywood films (he’s in Gangster Squad opening this weekend), embodies a young Chavez.  It wasn’t quite ready for Sundance so it’s possible the film will bow at a high profile festival like Cannes or Toronto.  Although I’m hoping Stephanie Allain, director of Film Independent’s LA Film Festival will go hard after the film to wrangle what would be a fitting LA gala premiere.  Diego Luna proved his salt as the filmmaker of Abel, an eloquent and heart-stirring portrait of a little delusional boy who pretends to be the man of the house since his father left. Peña recently shared his approach was to be truthful to Cesar the MAN not necessarily the legend or myth generated by his colossal perseverance and labor rights feats.  All eyes will be on the representation of such a querido and influential figure.   My bet?  All in.  I trust the filmmakers and cast will deliver a resonant and accomplished cinematic film worthy of the inspiring civil rights story, and more importantly re-introduce Chavez to mobilize our millennial generation.

Do you have a hot independent American Latino film recommendation I should track?  Holler at your girl.  Email me at <chicanafromchicago@gmail.com>

Next up,  Non-Fiction American Latino films to track in 2013