Finding and Championing our own voices – the next generation of independent Latino cinema.

I’m down here in beautiful, breezy and calientito Miami for Latino trendsetting event, Hispanicize.  It’s only day 2 of the conference so as take in panels, schmooze with fellow bloggers, meet cool peeps and do recon on “The State of Latino” I wanted to share this feature article I wrote commissioned by Latin Heat on the narrative fiction films at Hispanicize.  Let me know what you think!?

545485_504841082897212_587587615_nIn the movie Filly Brown, the titular rapper doesn’t come into her own and become Filly Brown until she writes her own words to narrate her reality. In a pivotal and emotional scene, she confronts her mother (Jenni Rivera) behind bars with some hard, bittersweet truth and heartfelt rhymes about what has transpired between them.  The trials and tribulations that came before were necessary to transform and fuel this culminating moment.

In a way, a new crop of Latino filmmakers is going through a similar odyssey.  It seems like we are seeing them embrace their unique voices and take creative risks without deference to what homogenized commercial mainstream dictates.  The manner in which we identify with and are inspired by our mixed cultural heritage is personal and varies greatly, making for countless contemporary storytelling possibilities. Crashing up on the waves of Miami, the films in the Hispanicize film program demonstrate filmmakers boldly turning to genre and carving out their own visual aesthetic.  Whether their stories address or defy traditional Latino cultural themes and convey our bicultural experience, or if they feel unbound and free to tell classic, commercial cinema anchored in their own reflection, it couldn’t be a more exciting time to support this newfound boldness.  Strong female characters is a fixture of the films Filly Brown, Blaze You Out, Gabi and Clara Como El Agua, and in the short film category five of the eight films are directed by women.  Every festival usually has an IT actor, a performer whose films demonstrate the artistic and meaningful films they are selecting to make. In the case of Hispanicize 2013 our IT man is Jeremy Ray Valdez who stars in the features Mission Park, Blaze You Out and Dreamer.

The 2012 Sundance Film Festival served as a successful launch pad for Filly Brown, written and directed by Michael Olmos and Youssef De Lara.  What’s fresh about this classic street rapper making it and fighting for his integrity is that this hustle has typically been represented and dominated by males on film (and in real life).  In a novel take, the filmmakers conceived of a female lead character, which was then fully ignited by Gina Rodriguez’s dynamic performance.  Beloved and established actors Lou Diamond Philips, Edward James Olmos and the late Jenni Rivera round out the high profile cast.  The film was one of 70 films picked up for distribution following its Sundance premiere.  After a precarious year in which the film showed at a dozen film festivals but then the original distributor went bankrupt, Pantelion stepped in to pick it up and on April 19 it will open on 200 screens.   That number is still less than other Pantelion releases.  For comparison, the Eva Mendez starrer, Girl in Progress was on 322 screens, the Will Ferrell comedy Casa de Mi Padre on 475 screens.  It’s worth recognizing where these numbers stack up among other theater releases. Hollywood blockbusters are released on anywhere from 3000-4000 screens.  Recent indie specialty releases like Beasts of the Southern Wild, at its peak amid its Oscar nomination buzz, was on 300 screens, while Spring Breakers went from 4 screens opening weekend to 1,000 plus screens because of the record breaking per theater average.  One of the lessons here is to connect and drive the public to see the film opening weekend if we want to see the traditional distribution model budge.

Blaze You Out Film
Veronica Diaz Carranza as Lupe

Another electrifying female lead character is Lupe in Blaze You Out, played by the vulnerable yet ferocious Veronica Diaz Carranza (Mamitas, Taco Shop).  Unlike the common systemic social ills and wayward people that attempt to keep Filly Brown down, Lupe must rival an elemental and ancient evil in this magic realism tale.  A modern and not-seen-before mythological darkness and manifestation of evil is captured in this thriller in which Lupe confronts the secret underworld to save her sister. Elizabeth Peña, who is deliciously wicked, and Raoul Trujillo duel in the inherently mystical and native rooted New Mexico, set alongside some ominous mestizo iconography. Brushed with a striking and otherworldly cinematic, the film paints this modern dance with Santa Muerte. An inventive take on the drug ‘sickness’ that rampages these marginalized communities and the secrets that keep them chained, Blaze You Out is the type of film that expands the metaphor. Fierce and unapologetic, the film also stars Q’orianka Kilcher (Pocahantas in The New World), Mark Adair Rios and Melissa Cordero, all who possess magnetic talent.

On another spectrum, with poetic realism, Dreamer, written and directed by young filmmaker Jesse Salmeron, is perhaps the most urgent mirror of the times we are living in with thousands of undocumented youth’s hopes hinging on the proposed Dream Act.  Eschewing obvious political commentary Salmeron compassionately individualizes a character that embodies young American-raised upwardly mobile members of society.  The film’s stylistic aesthetic evokes the painful reality and conveys the existentially horrible feeling of being invisible and disregarded in this country.  Above all, the transcending story is ultimately about the bonds and family we create, and the place we know in our heart as home.  Blood and roots do not always make for family and home. Both the perspective and envisioning of Dreamer makes for a distinguished and salient film.

Sometimes the consequences of forging your own path threatens the formative relationships of your past like in Mission Park written and directed by San Antonio native, Bryan Ramirez.  Echoing the gritty and seminal Chicano movie Bound by Honor (better known as Blood in Blood Out), and with explosive thriller genre swagger and craft, the street crime drama is about four childhood friends who grow apart and enter a web of deception on opposite sides of the law and morals.   The brave decision to go legit is a valuable lesson of breaking out of the cycle. The plot shows there are more possibilities than the only path we have been represented in and perpetuated of how to survive and succeed coming up from the hood.

There is no better place however, to witness the unbridled creative expression, and to track emerging talent than in the short film showcase.  The short film medium is the most inventive and freeing of compact cinema. Unchained by the traditional three act narrative structure, the short film is like a shape shifter in its ability to be anything from an evocative moment, expressionistic portrait, social comedic skit or potent fable.  Among the most groundbreaking artists working today are Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva of the Borscht Corporation.  Their video works that have been shown at MOMA and Guggenheim museums all over the world as well as several major international art galleries and collections. Their short films have screened at the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW, and more than two dozen other festivals and have become viral video sensations. Recently named two of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker magazine they run their own film audiovisual festival in Miami.  Their short film #Postmodem is the most wild and prescient genre mash about our digital legacy- and just outrageously fun and catchy.

If it’s rare to see representative female characters onscreen, than it is even rarer to see female characters written and directed by a woman.  Zoé Salicrup Junco’s short film Gabi is about a woman who finds herself tortured by the vestiges of Puerto Rican patriarchal morality and culture.  Gabi defies the cultural norms and perception of what she should be doing as a modern Latina woman.  The story refers to a Puerto Rican saying that haunts single women in their 30’s: “If such a woman is not married by this time, she must be a slut, a lesbian, or a prude.”  It’s so refreshing, empowering and revolutionary to see reflected a strong and confident woman who trusts her individuality against such embedded oppressed tradition.

Yolanda Cruz, a filmmaker from Oaxaca with a number of documentary features which have been celebrated internationally, makes her first foray into fiction with the comedy short, Echo Bear.  Set in LA’s Echo Park it follows a single gay Latino man traipsing the wild cyberspace of dating in his tight knit neighborhood.  Sweet and tender, authentically raw and gleeful, today’s tricky variant sexual relationship is amusingly portrayed in this underrepresented slice of life.

Inspired by the tragic reality of journalists being targeted and killed in Mexico by the violent drug wars, El Cocodrilo written and directed by Steve Acevedo keeps us at our edge of our seats. Dramatizing our triumphant spirit and primal instinct is what lies at the heart-tugged soul of this gritty story.  Jacob Vargas stars as a journalist on the lam in some undisclosed diner with his young son, waiting to be rescued from the hazard of his profession. The remarkable tone and portrayal of the docu-fiction is flipped upside down and makes for a suspenseful roller coaster. A terrifyingly gravity grips, in the sense of knowing it is an inspiration of real life journalists’ plight, and the risks they take to disseminate truth.

In talking about the diversity of stories from diverse multicultural filmmakers it becomes apparent that the emerging Latino filmmaker is at a critical crossroads.  This is just the beginning.  Let’s not forget filmmaking is a collaborative art. It’s our obligation to fully realize these films by being and nurturing their audience.  These films are but a small taste of what is being developed by new filmmaker voices. Contrary to what most Hollywood studio suits with blockbuster money believe, there are is a vast spectrum of American Latino filmmakers and big movie stars. What there is missing however is the audience. In the era of digital platforms, the audience has more power than ever to validate and demand more of the work they like.  Thanks to the magnitude of social media we can directly and tangibly help artists’ success.  Together we are taking control of enriching our narratives and changing the conversation of what Latino cinema means.  Hispanicize celebrates the social media platform influence to blaze and pierce through the dizzying ‘mestizo’ cultural American popular culture, and to finally claim our voices.

All eyes on Hispanicize – Film lineup announced

Hispanicize-2013-Launch-Image-1024x682Next week in Miami, hundreds of bloggers, marketers, corporate brand reps, music and film artists will be checking in at the Eden Roc Hotel to attend Hispanicize, a social media platform for today’s Latino innovators.  Now in its 4th year, the marketing, interactive, film and music conference was founded by Manny Ruiz, a PR businessman who adopted the term Hispanicize to signify the transformation and growing impact of Latino culture into traditional American mainstream, and who created this convergence to amplify the success of diverse voices in social media.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 9.50.35 AMIn part modeled after SXSW and Ted Talks, Hispanicize aims to be a digital multi-media launchpad and idea stimulating conference tailored towards Latinos.  The event’s journalistic DNA is confirmed by guest co-chair, Soledad O Brien, who just signed off on her morning CNN show capping off a decade of reporting for the news outlet.  For the second year the South Beach setting will host yacht parties, beachside receptions, breakfast and lunch networking, and 100 plus talks, featuring such entrepreneurs in social media like the Latina Mom Bloggers, panels like How Brands and Agencies are Engaging and Collaborating with Latino Bloggers and Getting on Corporate Boards.  The heavily sponsored event, (Procter & Gamble is the presenting sponsor) will include a Diversity Tech Leaders Summit presented by Sprint in which the lesser-known business stories of diverse tech and social media entrepreneurs who are making their marks in digital media will be highlighted.

I have to admit I knew nothing of Hispanicize up until a couple months ago.  Curious, I went on the website and I found the lingo a tad superfluous and hyperbolic.  Words like iconic and mighty are used to describe the relatively young event.  Then again, this kind of grandiose speak is typical in the field of Public Relations so it makes sense given it is a partnership with Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

I reached out to the founder Manny Ruiz to find out more about the mission of the event and found his enthusiasm and excitement for what he considers a pioneering movement infectious.  It’s hard to argue that this tech and entertainment crossroads gathering makes for an incredible networking opportunity.   Manny called it a “Uniting of these industries to create a symphony” and went on to note it is much more powerful for bloggers to converge at the same place with journalists, marketers, digital, music and film innovators then if you had them out there individually.  Before I knew it I was put in touch with with Roman Morales, the Film Showcase Organizer and I came onboard as Programmer for the film component.  A big reason I stepped in was because I was particularly attracted to presenting US independent Latino films to an audience heavy with social media influence and bloggers, to see if it would indeed create a higher level of buzz, publicity and exposure from the community.

Along with a special screening of Filly Brown days before its national theatrical release, this year Hispanicize will screen six features including the high profile grab of The Weinstein Company sneak preview, Aftershock, the horror comedy produced and starring Eli Roth, directed by Chilean filmmaker Nicolas Lopez.  Also, straight from SXSW the character driven music industry documentary Los Wild Ones about the Wild Records label and family of Mexican American rockabilly acts.  With the exception of Aftershock, all the films reflect a taste of the diaspora of unique, bi-cultural US narratives, and notably are all first features.  Three of the films, Blaze You Out, Filly Brown and Mission Park are being distributed by Lionsgate labels Pantelion and Grindstone. Meanwhile seeking distribution is Dreamer written and directed by the young Salvador-born Jesse Salmeron, which is a poignant and timely story starring and produced by Jeremy Ray Valdez about an upwardly mobile American whose paralyzed by the fear of being deported.  Los Wild Ones is also seeking distribution and should find considerable traction and fans inside the hard core music fan world.

I’m most excited however, my personal pride and joy has to be the shorts film showcase.  Portraying visionary quests for identity, love, truth and legacy and created by multicultural emergent voices from San Antonio, Miami, LA, NYC, Oaxaca and Puerto Rico. This is the medium in which to find the most provocative, daring and versatile young generation of fresh and uncompromising voices.  To name just a few, the short film filmmakers include Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva of the Borscht corporation, Zoé Salicrup Junco, the filmmaker of Gabi who workshopped her feature script of the short at San Antonio’s CineFestival’s Latino Screenwriters Project, Victor Hugo Duran, the Columbia MFA student whose short, Fireworks played at the LA Film Festival last year and is currently shooting his first feature in Mexico called La Victoria, and Steve Acevedo, the director of El Cocodrilo which is a powerful and urgent film about a journalist played by Jacob Vargas on the run from a narco, who participated in NBCU Directing Fellowship.

I’ll try not to go all Spring Breaker debauchery on Miami but immerse myself in the Hispanicize program to cover the dialogue and scrutinize the impact so stay tuned for my report.

See below to check out full film list and links.  Hispanicize will take place April 9 – 13.  For information on how to attend and the schedule click here.

2013 Film Festival PosterBLAZE YOU OUT
(USA, 2013, 90 min)
Writers/Directors: Mateo Frazier, Diego Joaquin Lopez
Cast: Veronica Diaz Carranza, Elizabeth Pena, Q’orianka Kilcher, Mark Adair Rios, Elizabeth Pena
Logline: An unyielding young woman ventures into the ruthless underworld of the town’s heroin trade in order to save her younger sister’s life.

DREAMER
(USA, 2013)
Writer/Director: Jesse Salmeron
Cast: Jeremy Ray Valdez, Isabella Hofmann, Cory Knauf
Logline: Joe Rodriguez is an All American young man.  He’s amiable, well educated and attractive.  He’s graduated from college and is working and excelling in his field.  He’s on his way to achieving the American Dream.  That is until his employer discovers his undocumented status and the life he’s worked so hard for begins to crumble around him.  He must face the possibility of losing his livelihood, his family and even himself.

MARLENE_5LOS WILD ONES
(USA, 2013, 95 min)
Director: Elise Salomon
 Writers: Ryan Brown, Elise Salomon
Featuring Luis Arriaga, Gizzelle, the Rhythm Shakers and more
Logline: Wild Records is an LA indie music label comprised of young Hispanic musicians, it is run by Irishman, Reb Kennedy. Wild is an unconventional family, reminiscent of the early days of Sun Records, all of its musicians write and perform 50s Rock ‘n Roll. If Wild is going to continue to grow and reach broader audiences, its current business model will cease to work.

ku-xlargeAFTERSHOCK
(USA, 2012, 90 min)
Director: Nicolás López
Writers: Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolás López and Eli Roth
Cast:  Andrea Osvart, Ariel Levy, Eli Roth
Logline: In Chile, a group of travelers who are in an underground nightclub when a massive earthquake hits quickly learn that reaching the surface is just the beginning of their nightmare.

bettermpposterMISSION PARK
(USA, 2013, 120 min)
Writer/Director: Bryan Ramirez
Cast:
Jeremy Ray Valdez, Walter Perez, Fenanda Romero, Joseph Julian Soria, William Rothaar, Jesse Borrego
Logline: Four friends from the rough side of town grow apart when two are consumed by a life of crime, and the other two become FBI agents sent deep undercover – to bring down those childhood friends.

SHORTS FILM SHOWCASE~

 postmodem#POSTMODEM
(USA, 2012, 13 mins)
Writers/Directors:   Lucas Leyva, Jillian Mayer
Cast:  Jillian Mayer, Kayla Delacerda, Amy Seimetz, Arly Montes, Jesse Miller, Shivers Thedog
Logline: 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.
@borschtcorp

FIREWORKS
(USA, 2012, 11 mins)
Director: Victor Hugo Duran
Writer: Kevin James McMuillin
Cast: Roger Cruz, Alberto Castañeda, Irene Sorto, Azucena Benitez, Edgar Vanegas, Julio Duran, Victor Hugo Duran, Kevin James McMullin
Logline: During the Fourth of July in South Los Angeles, a teenage boy and his brother scour the neighborhood for fireworks in order to win the admiration of a girl.
@victorhugoduran

clara-photo02-small CLARA COMO EL AGUA  
(USA, 2012 10 min)
Writer/Director: Fernanda Rossi
Cast:  Kathiria Bonilla León, Sixta Rivera, Rubén Andrés Medina, Alfonso Peña Ossoria, Stephanie Quiles Reyes, Eyra Aguero
Logline:  Clara is the only light-skinned and clear-eyed girl in an all-black neighborhood. Teased incessantly, the children claim her unknown father is actually a “gringo” tourist. However, Clara was told a different story, and to find out the truth, she will venture into the magical waters of the bioluminescent bay all on her own.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 12.21.44 AMECHO BEAR
(USA, 2012  6min)
Writer/director: Yolanda Cruz
Cast: Joe Nunez, Hugo Medina, Tzina Carmel, Donato López, Lobo Manet
Logline: Bear, a single gay Latino man in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, looks for love online. Fearing traffic, he searches locally, but soon discovers how geographic convenience can turn to heartache overnight.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 12.33.47 AMVINCENT VALDEZ: EXCERPTS FOR JOHN
(2012, USA, 12 min)
Directed by Mark and Angela Walley
Logline: Two years in the making, this beautifully shot and perfectly paced short documentary captures the creative process of painter Vincent Valdez, as the artist works on a series of pieces dedicated to a childhood friend John Holt Jr. an Army combat medic who died in 2009 after serving in Iraq.

MoviePoster_1EL COCODRILO
(2012, 15 min)
Director: Steve Acevedo
Writer: Alfredo Barrios, Jr.
Cast: Jacob Vargas Hugo Medina Shannon Lucio Manuel Uriza
Logline: A Mexican journalist and a cartel assassin collide in a diner, with tragic consequences for both.

REINALDO ARENASshark
(USA, 2012, 3:29min)
Writer/director Lucas Leyva
Shark: Alberto Ibarguen  
Man: Epifanio Leyva
Logline: Told from the point of view of a dying shark, ‘Reinaldo Arenas’ metaphorically captures the current state of the aging Cuban-American exile community, many of whom have still not come to terms with the Communist Revolution that changed their lives forever. The film culls from various Cuban films and works of literature to create not a singular voice, but a feeling of a particular moment in time

GABI
(2012, USA  20 min)
Writer/Director:  Zoe Junco
Cast: Marisé Alvarez , Dalia Davi , Roy Sanchez Vahamonde , Aris Mejias
Logline: A Puerto Rican saying haunts single women in their 30’s: “If such a woman is not married by this time, she must be a slut, a lesbian, or a prude.” This is the story of that woman…
@gabifilm

CineFestival 2013 recap – San Antonio’s West Side Joya

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Lou Diamond Philips, Patty Ortiz, directof of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Godfather Jesse Borrego and Gina Rodriguez pre-screening

The 35th CineFestival drew to a close Saturday night with a jam packed screening of Filly Brown attended by its filmmakers Amir de Lara, Michael D. Olmos and actors’,  Gina Rodriguez and Lou Diamond Philips.   At the Q&A, a charming Lou Diamond serenaded the audience with an impromptu rendition of La Bamba, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the seminal chicano rock film, and Gina aka Filly rocked the mike herself, demonstrating she’s got the rap skills down cold.  Afterwards, filmmakers, friends and staff walked across the street to la Casita,the festival’s lounge that is a cute house with a huge Ice House backyard with benches and fire pits, fully stocked free Indio beer, (a nice break from the usual fest sponsor Stella), delicious sausage in tortillas and a rockin girl DJ spinning classic vinyl.

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Mission Park boys – Julio Cesar Cedillo, Jesse Borrego, Will Rothhar, Bryan Ramirez, Douglas Spain, David Philips and Jeremy Ray Valdez
Photo courtesy of Cedillo

All in all, it was a fun week of meeting young emerging filmmakers and getting to know the relatively nascent San Antonio film scene.  It all started with Opening Night film, Mission Park, a film that was shot in San Antonio by native filmmaker Bryan Ramirez.  The people came out in droves to see this home grown film – so much that there was demand for a second screening.  It was a lovefest at the screening Q&A which was attended by the producers, Douglas Spain, Armando Montelongo (Flip this House real life real estate tycoon), and cast, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Will Rothhar, Julio Cesar Cedillo and David J. Phillips (also producer).  Bryan Ramirez spoke about meeting Douglas Spain at CineFestival a few years ago and giving him the script back then which is how the Star Maps actor came on board as producer.

After the film I tagged along with the crew to Brooklynite, a fancy chic parlor mixologist bar – the type you’d find in hipster Venice or WeHo.  There I met and  talked with Jesse Salmeron, a filmmaker from the bay area whose first feature, Dreamer is world premiering at CineQuest.  Jeremy Ray Valdez produces and star’s as the film’s lead, Joe Rodriguez, a well educated young man who is unable to get ahead in life because of the lingering fear that he might be deported.  Demonstrating a strong visual approach within a timely, compassionate story, I just added Jesse to my hot Latino writer/directors to watch out for.

ALAMO CITY FILMMAKERS & THE FILM SCENE

San Antonio Film CommissionAmong the bourgeoning SA filmmakers are Bryan Ramirez, Kerry Valderama, Bryan Ortiz (all three collaborated on the asylum anthology film Sanitarium with Malcolm McDowell), short filmmaker and beloved highschool film teacher, Sam Lerma, Steve Acevedo who directed the short film El Cocodrilo, a powerful story starring Jacob Vargas as a reporter on the run from narcos, Ralph Lopez, producer of Wolf which premiered at SXSW last year, Ray Santisteban, award winning documentarian who won Best doc short for the six minute Have You Seen Marie, a slice of celebrated Chicana author Sandra Cisneros’s new book.  And if there were to be a Godfather to this crew coming up it is San Antonio’s querido, artist/activist/actor, Jesse Borrego (Mi Vida Loca) who moved back to to his hometown last year after spending 15 years in LA.  I think he is the most generous, warm hearted and enthusiastic patron saint of the Guadalupe community.

So where my SA sisters at???  Well there are a lot more females working within the documentary medium.   Filmmakers like Laura Varela whose films rescue forgotten  American Latino heroes, Deborah S. Esquinazi, the director of The Recantation, a work in progress documentary about four Latina lesbians wrongfully accused of molestation, and Lindsey Villareal, whose short doc about a Mariachi family in East LA, Canto de Familia,was super moving in an enjoyable and Mexican pride way.  She is currently attending USC’s MFA Film Production program.  Another female documentarian I was impressed with is Angela Walley who with her husband Mark made this extraordinary doc profile short, Vincent Valdez, Excerpts for John.  Watch the full short here.  

Drew Mayer-Oakes, Director of the San Antonio Film Commission told me about the matching grant available to local filmmakers which launched just last year.  Blessed by Julian Castro, the $25,000 grant will support local filmmakers who have at least $25,000 in funding commitments in place for a feature-length motion picture.  Family movie Champion by Kevin Nations and Robin Nations, is the first to have been awarded the grant last year out of 8 applications. The program is funded and managed by the City of San Antonio Department for Culture & Creative Development (DCCD). The program is a collaboration with the San Antonio Film Commission, a division of the Convention & Visitors Bureau.  This is but just one of the programs and resources Drew is putting together to ignite the local filmmaking scene

THE NEXT GENERATION

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Winner of the highschool short film showcase, Nicolas Rodriguez for his film, The Exterminator.

The festival is instrumental in providing access, inspiration and platforms for aspiring filmmakers.  I had been looking forward to Monday’s Youth Film showcase,  a program of local highschool shorts, and it did not disappoint. Taking home two awards, Best Narrative and Emerging Filmmaker was Nicolas Rodriguez from Harlandale High, the director of the wacky and original comedy called The Exterminator.   Upon accepting his award, he mentioned he looked up to filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo del Toro.  I was also impressed with videographer/artist Daniela Riojas, who was working as the Festival’s official photographer and is a radical artist and performer who screened her music video Pop Physique in the shorts program.  Check out her work  here.  I also got to meet Efrain-Abran Gutierrez, son of  the pioneering filmmaker who made the very first Chicano film right here in San Antonio, Efrain Gutierrez (Please Don’t Bury Me Alive).  Efrain Junior founded his own production company, Landmine Entertainment where he does everything from discovering and shooting underground hip hop music artists to currently developing a couple documentaries on forgotten Chicano activists.

I haven’t talked about The Crumbles on this blog yet so I want to give it a shout now as its become one of my favorites pieces of fresh and microbudget fimmaking; The Echo Park set slacker film completely captures the multi-culti indie hipster artist hood in an affecting way by focusing on the young persistent indie rock movement and spirit, come hell or high water. I loved the Latina rocker lead played by El Teatro Campesino performer Katie Hipoland the music (soundtrack by Grammy winner Quetzal).  The director Akira Boch raised 10k on Kickstarter to take it out on the road himself and he’s out there doing it now.  Check here for a list of the film’s DIY screening engagements.

THE SUNDANCE SUPPORT

Wednesday kicked off the first ever CineFestival Latino Writers Project lab, a collaboration with Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program.  The four writers selected to participate met with filmmaker and creative advisors, Nancy Savoca (who made one of my all time favorite h.s. movies True Love), David Riker (The Girl) Cruz Angeles whas was the co-creator of the Latino Screenwriters Lab (Don’t Let me Drown), Mauricio Zacharias (co-writer of Keep the Lights On) and Hannah Weyer (Life Support, and novelist of upcoming book, On the Come Up).  I wish I had had  a chance to really talk with the screenwriters but they were too busy and immersed with their mentors.   I did hear that they found the workshop and advisors incredibly valuable, and their only wish was that they had more time with them.  It sounds like most of the advisors offered to stay in touch with them and make themselves available throughout their creative process ahead.  Out of the four writers only Miguel Alvarez is from around these parts.  Miguel is a well known filmmaker and trusty collaborator here in Austin whose fantastic project, La Perdida plays like an Eternal Sunshine meets Seven Monkeys set in Mexico City.

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Ilyse McKimmie, Cruz Angeles, David Riker, Nancy Savoca and Richard Guay

On Saturday morning the enlightening Sundance panel, Essential Elements: Making your Vision a Reality, was moderated by Ilyse McKimmie, an incredibly generous and erudite creative guru.   The conversations and questions ranged from, at what point does a writer share their working draft, to what is the next step after final draft, and a large discussion about how critical it is to find the right creative producer.

There were a number of interesting new filmmakers I had the pleasure of meeting like immigration lawyer and documentarian Sarah MacPherson whose Stable Life, a glimpse inside the undocumented immigrants who work and live in horse race tracks won the Documentary Prize.  It was also nice to hang with filmmakers I’ve met before like David Riker.  There was a good turnout for his film and a very affected audience afterwards at the Q&A. The Girl is being released by Brainstorm Media and The Film Collective, a new consulting company headed by Ruth Vitale, former head of Paramount Classics.  This exciting and new partnership previously theatrically released Todd Solondz last film, the Ted Hope produced, Dark Horse.  For a list of theater venues and times to see The Girl (LA/NY/Chicago/Phoenix/San Antonio and San Diego check here.

Like I reported here last year, CineFestival is such a rich and nuclear community festival that reflects the unique spectrum of its inhabitants and neighbors.  There is a high level of chicano consciousness alive and well that is inspiring this young generation to tell their stories.  San Antonio is becoming a really happening artist haven and this edition of CineFestival made important steps towards developing and tapping into this artistic filmic pulse.  I hope to continue collaborating with this festival in the future and I want to thank the formidable organization, Patty Ortiz, Executive Director of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Jim Mendiola, Festival Director, Yvonne Montoya, Program Director of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and Orlando Bolanos, Education Director.  Gracias por todo y hasta luego!

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!

Your NY Latino International Film Festival schedule

I’m sad to miss out on all the sexy, steamy fun that will be popping at the 13th New York International Latino Film Festival this week, starting with tonight’s official Opening Night screening of Filly Brown starring Miss Thang Gina Rodriguez.    However I’ve been invited to be on the shorts jury for the Monterrey Film Festival so I leave for Mexico mañana (look forward to my dispatch from el otro lado).  To all my NY Dominicanos, Cubanos, Boriquas and Chicanitas les mando mushos besos.  But not to worry, I wouldn’t leave you hanging without a quickie.   Let me give you the scoop on how to proceed amid NYILFF’s multi-culti flavorful spread of this year’s freshest new films.  I don’t include typical loglines as much as words that pop into my head to describe the visceral experience.  Click on the titles for synopsis and ticket info.

And now, here is my  top five CAN-NOT-MISS list at this year’s New York International Latino Film Festival.  Your welcome.

1.  The Girl is in Trouble, w/d –  Julius Onah (World Premiere)  A pulsating at times frenetic, breathless city adventure a la french new wave thriller  with a thugged out Valderrama who actually displays chops with an angelic and barbaric side to his swaggering performance.  This film is an explosive burst of energy, even when the pace takes a breather its story speed keeps trucking and keeps it cinematic by utilizing all the canons of visual play into a story that you get swept up in.  I couldn’t find a trailer online so just trust.  It’s fresh.

2. Love, Concord, w/d – Gustavo Guardado (World Premiere).  I profiled this charming high school rom com earlier this Spring so I’m especially excited that this baby is being delivered to the NYILFF audiences.   It succeeds where so many other films of this genre fail and that is portraying the MOMENT back in high school, and unbelievably its so goddamn charming and cute without the heavy and sweet empty calories.

3.  Los Chidos, w/d Omar Rodriguez Lopez.  The most  wildest, fierce and singular voice out there right now.  I love talking about this highly provocative and polarizing movie and all its unbridled uncouthness that underlines such themes like the male psyche/ego, exploitation, religion, stereotypes all under the guise of a TJ trip gone wrong.  This savage satire from my boy Omar has terrified some people since its premiere at SXSW.  I can’t wait to screen it in LA at the Downtown Independent.

4.  Waiting for the Beatles -Diego Graue, Raymundo Marmolejo.  I’m sorry to say bu the trailer below does not do the documentary justice.  Its even a much more  jubilant and uncanny tribute to hundreds of Beatle cover bands and Beatlemania in Mexico.  This one’s for bringing the whole fan.  Ever since it premiered at my favorite fest, The Morelia Film Festival last October I’ve had a special place in my heart for it.  I love the intro,  “In 1969 Mexico waited for the Beatles to come.  Nearly 30 years later they are still waiting”.

5. Elliot Loves, w/d – Gary Terracino  Yes, I know this bad boy has been getting around.  But its been getting down in the festival circuit for a reason y’all.  This simultaneous childhood and adult coming of ager of the eponymous incorrigible, hopeless in love but tough as nails Dominican in NY is utterly romantic and down and dirty real.  Never in my life have I seen gay cholos portrayed so candidly, raw and honest.  Never.  Breaking archetypes and flipping the script.

Other tips.  Something says Sold Out?  Try Stand-by line, I bet you get in.  None of these features grab you? You can never go wrong with a shorts program.  Lastly, if you got a steady job, invest in a festival badge and support the Festival.  $200 gets you access to any movie and the lounge and its the cheapest inclusive pass I’ve seen on the Festival block.

NALIP 2012 – Why Filly Brown is so Fly

Directors, Michael D. Olmos and Youssef DeLara with Filly aka Gina Rodriguez at the NALIP screening of Filly Brown

It was pretty rad to talk to co-director, Michael D. Olmos and his lead actress, Gina Rodriguez at NALIP.  Check out the interviews by linking on their names, where they talk about their movie Filly Brown (which will be released by Indomina Releasing), and the US Latino film community in general.

Khool-Aid Rios in the hot pink hair - Pocos pero locos!

And if you don’t know about Lisa “Khool-Aid” Rios, who plays herself as the DJ who puts Filly on the spot, and represents her flagship music stylings channel, Pocos Pero Locos, you should.  We are all dying to get our hands on the official soundtrack she is producing along with E-Dubb Rios which we can expect sometime in the fall.