Films to watch at LALIFF’s Quinceañera

The Quinceañera edition of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival kicks off this Sunday, July 17 and will go through Monday July 24 at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.   I’ll be on the scene focusing on U.S. Latino films.  I’m looking forward to the Saturday July 23 free panel called New Modes and Old of Distribution for Latino Films, moderated by Sydney Levine of Indiewire’s Sydney’s Buzz.   Per the website, panelists include  Lionsgate’s new Latino division, Pantelion, Maya Entertainment (Sleepdealer, Dry Land) and Film Collaborative, an innovative non-profit distributor of niche films.  Let’s see if anyone has any breakthrough thoughts on how to reach the ubiquitious, ill-defined named “Hispanic” market.

Below is my list of films I’ve seen that I really like and highly recommend you come see at the Festival (* denotes first feature)  I definitely include Natalia Almada’s documentary, El Velador as a must see.  Check out my interview with her.  Click  here for film schedule.

Capsulas (Guatemala)  directed and written by Veronica Reidel – Flawed, but a powerful and fresh female voice sizzling with such unbridled intensity, about a mother and her son who live smack middle in the upper-class elite contending with the drug-fueled violence in Guatemala.

*Gun Hill Road directed and written by Rashaad Ernesto Green –  Silverfox oozing-machismo Esai Morales may take top billing but the explosive star wattage comes from super fierce newcomer Harmony Santana.

*A Tiro de Piedra  (Mexico) directed and written by young multi-talent, Sebastian Hiriart. A gorgeously shot and mystical odyssey that stands out from the usual border-crossing stories.

*Octubre (Peru)  directed and written by Daniel and Diego De La Vega.  Strikingly formal brushes inhabit this tale about an emotionally dry pawnbroker whose thrown for a loop with a surprise during a holy season known for miracles.

*All She Can directed by Amy Wendel and co-written with Daniel Meisel – Premiered at this year’s Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition under its former title Benavides Born.  A window into the interesting and rarely seen Texan -Mexican-American world, through the eyes of an empowered teen.

La Vida Util (Uruguay) directed and written by Federico Veiroj – second feature from the filmmaker of 2008’s AFI Grand Jury Prize winner Acne.  His follow up is in black and white and about an awkward soul who hides behind his job as a classic film archivist and programmer.  For hard core film geeks everywhere.

Chico y Rita (Spain) directed by Fernando Trueba – A crowd pleaser – an enormously satisfying and romantic animated romp about a Cuban jazz player featuring the best jazz music from the 40s through today, including endearing characterizations of jazz icons like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie among others.  One of my discoveries at last year’s Telluride.

TO HELL U RIDE – last day and final thoughts

Monday August 6 – day 4
I wake up on the last day of the Festival feeling rested for the first time since I got here. I catch the gondola at sunrise in order to see the 8:30am Mike Leigh film ANOTHER YEAR, before my day long shift begins. Just like I feel about Woody Allen movies (I enjoy all of them to various degrees), I tend to like all Mike Leigh’s films and this one is no exception but it certainly doesnt knock off my ultimate favorite Leigh film, Secrets & Lies. I’m rather surprised actually that there is not more depth to the perfect couple and son who every other character secretly envies. Jim Broadbent is just wonderful which reminds me that many films I’ve seen here boast acting so outstanding it elevates the respective film subject/premise. I’m so used to seeing the opposite screening blind submissions. After the film I have about 20 minutes to get food at the Labor Day Picnic which gives me no time schmooze. Back at the Palm, I’m irritated that the day’s TBA’s at the venue are all films with distribution I could wait to see at the multiplex. It’s with this sour attitude I reluctantly take the opportunity to go into BLACK SWAN. Darren apologizes to the audience beforehand….. and OMFG I am so damn glad I saw this and it cracked my face! I absolutely loved it! If you’re like me there arent too many movies you like to see over and over again. Well I can not wait to see it again and again. The sound and visuals kept me so utterly rapt and stimulated. I kept hearing before it was hyper real as if that were a bad thing. Its awesomely hyper real and uber sexual and yes totally dramatic as it should be. I pirouette like a mad woman out of the screening. Although I’m stuck at concessions for rest of day, its fun because my body is still shaking from the film and there’s not a cloud in the sky, the beauty is unsettling (plus apparently I’m getting 30% less oxygen from the altitude). In general this place makes me full of awe half of the time and the other half I fantasize this small secluded town must be a deceptive background setting to a twisted and sordid secret story or plot. Cue the theme of Twin Peaks.

We break down at 8pm and afterwards Rebecca and I head out to the outdoor screening of THE KINGS SPEECH which is the most formulaic, safe Oscar bait imaginable down to the last cut aways between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. A royal period bromance which I’ll admit gave me some chuckles – mostly due to the incomparable Geoffrey Rush. A few of us head to the staff party – 2 for 1 drinks, ahem, not free – where i realize i hang with a bunch of sundancers, Tim Nicholson, Ah-bey, Caitlin, Rebecca. I end the festival like I like to end all my festivals, in a Jacuzzi with a joint and a bottle of wine.

My number one favorite film of the Festival: OF GODS AND MEN
Followed by:
INCENDIES – I can’t say I like this as much as the others but it does stand out to me.

Movie I wish I saw because I heard so much good things about: LE QUATTRO VOLTE

I’m glad I went and experienced the festival but I don’t think I will return next year either as a volunteer or patron. It’s really expensive and I did not find anything specific to this festival that you can’t get at others. I suppose I thought that Telluride was the exception of all Festivals given the astounding hype that surrounds it. Obviously its main draw is the spectacular pristine mountainside enclave. I have to say the homogeneous bourgeouise community kind of turns me off. Yes they serve the role of patronizing the arts; each screening is sponsored by an individual or private family who have a resort home here, ostensibly where the films’ talent are entertained (as a benefit for their giving to the Festival). Just like anywhere else, people here wait in line 2 hours and a half for the bragging rights of having seen Black Swan before anyone else in the country, rather than attending screenings of films not available on dvd. It is not the utopia I envisioned where staff and audience can hang out with the filmmakers more freely than it naturally occurs at any other festival. Here the filmmakers seem to be extracted from the festival grounds and lavished upon by the rich folk who sponsor the festival. Lastly, its not a festival of discovery in the truest way. There weren’t any neophytes featured in the program. Even the shorts that played here have received wide acclaim at other Festivals.

I do not own a camera so i don’t have many pictures to share but these are some elements that evoke my experience

– Chico and Rita – the trailer of this special animated film I really enjoyed at the Festival
– You and Whose Army, the Radiohead track on the a powerful film I saw here, INCENDIES
– Because I hear it in the back of my head as I drink in this small town called Telluride

In the end what made my Telluride Film Festival experience most memorable may not have had anything to do with the Festival but the impressive natural landscape of the town. Every night walking home I would look up at the starry blanket sky and get dizzy as if I were on a conveyer belt, feeling the planet revolve under me. The only time I’ve felt this way was in 2000 when I was in a magical isolated pueblito in Mexico called Xilitla. But unlike Telluride where exclusively the well educated and wealthy eco-conscious pay a premium to enjoy the setting for their health; hiking or skiing, the people in the little Mexican village with their humble, traditional way of living off the land have a deeper connection to the land they inhabit you can feel …to circle it back to a number of the Telluride films’ themes, which are all the more apt because of the setting; I ponder of man’s relationship to mother nature and the unique nature of that co-existence. And my earth soul feels fed.