Borscht Diez – the festival at sea level that’s Next Level

diezlogo_ez_transparentOn Wednesday February 22, a vortex took shape in Miami known as Borscht Diez, the 10th edition of Borscht Film Festival, which created ripples around the world. It started with the end.  A  funeral pyre where Borscht’s 13 years of past work (via hard drives) was eulogized and then promptly lit and burnt to ashes. The festival closed on Sunday, February 26 with a major phoenix rising boom for Borscht  – whose mission is to put authentic Miami narratives on the map -when locals at the African Cultural Heritage Center watched in exhilaration as hometown set and filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ film Moonlight took home three Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, Best Adapted Screenplay, and major key win: Best Picture.

For those who don’t know  – Borscht Corp is a non profit and artist collective I talk about frequently on my blog because since 2011 their films have been selected at the top festivals around the world. The organism spawned around 2004 and has multiplied into a rising number of unique and unapologetic artists who collaborate across platforms in film, digital and art projects. Borscht’s Day One funder and to this day is The Knight foundation. Borscht represents a wild, pop and savvy storytelling community who sneak relevant cultural perspectives and social/geo/political/tech-driven commentary.  When it comes to American Latino representation at festivals – something I talk about a lot on this blog, Borscht nearly always appears in my WTF is Latino at xyz festival and they found that last year at a major film festival, 50% of US fiction shorts by Latinos were Borscht commissions.

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Borscht

Two of the chief architects of this nuclear reactor, Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, recently gained the support of Time Warner’s One Fifty which invests in creators, with the goal of creating a pipeline into the entertainment divisions who recognize the need for fresh content in order to stay relevant and reach younger socially connected audiences. Mayer and Leyva have collaborated on many projects as writers/directors/producers and with One Fifty are working on a few exciting things TBA.  Their most recent short Kaiju Bunkaru premiered at Sundance, and they are actively developing their first feature set in Cuba as writers/directors.  The partners in crime have also used Time Warner’s support to continue to spearhead their work of promoting and supporting other up and coming Miami artists.  A few of these include the Meza brothers, Bernardo Britto, Alexa Haas, Monica Peña, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Amy Seimetz, Ahol Sniffs Glue, Jonathan David Kane, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, and Giancarlo Loffredo.

A typical film festival is usually evaluated by the strength of its film selection, but this ain’t no typical film festival – its a whole experience, and one that is curated off the cuff yet quite tight.  The 70 something odd number of features, shorts and videos comprising the program is driven by Borscht made films, Miami related stories, and  natives.  Its audacious vision is pretty organically glued with near future narratives and primal and cosmic evocations –  always with a daring, and often underrepresented point of view.

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Waterworld. photo by Marilyn Loddi

Screenings were held at three main theater venues; The Miami Beach Cinematheque, New World Center, Olympia Theater – which when taken over by Borscht surely broadened those institutions’ reach and seemed to take on a new feel. Outside these established venues, screens were also popped up, intervening public spaces; on the water, in the streets, off a beaten path of an island, on walls inside and outside.  Just like screens were

unleashed, so were stories unconfined to said screens by weaving thematic narratives around each screening event. Like being handed a cacti to accompany you to a film about a conquistador and being told that the questions will be taken strictly from the cacti.  Or the animation bookends at the main film event where sea anemones from the future (fake/future news reel tells us that sea level rise has buried Miami underwater) presented the program while making fun of the blip that was humans and the rubble we left behind that we called “art”.  And then there are the personal experiences in participating that creates yet another story – like the time I kayaked by myself at night a mile out to an undisclosed island location for a screening, thinking that if I flipped over into the lukewarm sea the temperature would be nice but rubbing up on something would give probably stop my heart.

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Cosmic and coral sex inside New World Center

Other big events included Coral Orgy, an immersive psychedelic  projection by local marine biologists/artists Coral Morphologic with a live score performed by Animal Collective,  a vogue ball by Catwalk Miami that was EVERYTHING, an amusing opera piece by Joseph Keckler, performances by Hyperbody, Poor Girrrl and Miami’s very own bad bitch no-nanna-hoe Trina  – and that’s just what I witnessed firsthand.  Of the VR stuff I flexed my empathy muscles being that I embodied Dubya’s body –  naked in a tub, happily painting- thanks to an installation by Tenderclaws.

I moderated a panel called Warn a Brother with Terence Nance about how independent artist like him can preserve their voice while transitioning from independent to working with studios. Like MayerLeyva, Terence is working with One Fifty who made it possible for him to shoot his pilot Random Acts of Flyness for HBO. ‘Mobilize don’t Satiriz’e was one of a few gems that I heard Terence say about his self-expression.  Tamir Muhammad, the artist development engineer responsible for bringing them in is also working with creators like Young Guru, Lemon Anderson and  Melonie Diaz. Tamir moderated another panel called Code Switching your way to the top which included my homegirl, Dilcia Barrera, LACMA Film Curator and Sundance shorts programmer, and Walter Newman from Adult Swim. The convo was about how these cats succeed in an industry dominated by wealthy straight white men.

FILMS:  A few highlights.  For the full list of cool crazy films that played go here

OPUNTAI

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Miami native David Fenster’s Opuntia is an experimental film inspired by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación. And is narrated by a cactus. The film explores spiritual transformation by way of the fascinating and little known Spanish conquistador turned

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Cabeza de Vaca is inside this cactus

shaman during his 8 year expedition on which he lost hundreds of men, was stripped of everything he had, wandered around naked and miraculously survived –  in part by eating the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Fenster visits the spots Cabeza de Vaca supposedly journeyed from St. Petersburg, Florida to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and weaves in a psychic medium’s point of view as well as his own personal narrative by including his father and his battle with his health.  A profound and existential adventure this was a work in progress screening.  Watch out for it.

Manila Death Squad by Dean C. Marcial

A young tenacious reporter insists on a sit-down and plays Kings with the temperamental leader of a brutal assassin group in this kitschy Filipino action film. Dean is currently working on a digital series called Midnight Service with his Calavera co-horts regular Borscht producer Brett Potter. They previously made a short film called Sea Devil  – a total masterpiece. Watch here.

[Cries in Spanish] By Giancarlo Loffredo

A young girl sings a song in a Latin cafe.  The vibes and jaw dropping twist on this one. From the dude that brought us Stripper Wars.

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Body Heals by Annelise Ogaard

A dispatch from a plastic surgery vacation, reflecting on beauty in the moment of metamorphosis after the knife goes in, but before the bandages come off. Remarkably transparent and unusual in that usually people hide themselves during their cocoon cosmetic post surgery phase. Brooklyn based creator and Vice contributor Annelise’s pov is about flaunting one’s regeneration.

Great Choice by Robin Comisar

A Borscht commissioned short film about a woman who gets stuck in a red lobster commerial.  The wacky premise anchored by an insanely real problem comes from Ghost Robot director Comisar who has fun doing stuff with Waverly Films.

One Doggone Summer by Julian Yuri Rodriguez

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Niño bueno and MTV no seasons star Julian, channels his dog lover and sentimental side with this sweet, imaginative story about a boy wants to make sure his doggy goes to heaven.

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-10-02-17-pmAgua Viva by Alexa Haas

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-07-44-pmAlexa co-directed the short film, The Glove with Bernardo Britto that debuted last year and is still making the rounds.  Her solo effort is about a manicurist in Miami expressing her inner desires, feelings, and daydreams through a language she cannot speak.

My experience with #BorschtDiez was seriously a portal of senses and provocation. It sparked dialogue around sex and gender, and somehow made time, space and matter truly feel relative.  If you missed it, well you missed out –  this time around. It always comes back around. Til then tune in and follow Borscht’s unique transmission from the 305; Follow @borschtcorp on the socials and head to their website.  Shout out to Marilyn Loddi for the on-the-scene photos.

VIVA BORSCHT

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Fresh from the web! Drea Clark’s indie snacks @LAFilmFest

LA Film Fest is breaking ground on many fronts (greater diversity behind the camera, more world premieres than before), and now, get ready for the Launch.  The freshest and tightest stories out there (literally, most webisodes are around the 3 min mark) are part of the Indie Series from the Web screening this Thursday 7pm, June 11 which features a round up of 13 webisodes representing a multitude of innovative, hilarious, genre and character-driven serials.

From the down-home slices of besties and roomies, I Love Lucy and Bekka, co-starring Gina Rodriguez by Rachael Holder, to The Impossibilities by Anna Kerrigan, an impressively produced and sympathetic series about a Lesbian Yogi, to deadpan and quirky The Incredible Life of Darrell by Darrell Lake, and the bust-a-gut laughs of The Oversharer by Ali Le Roi, this program is a high octane zone of bold talent and content.  Who’s behind this #HotNow program?  None other than Programmer/Curator Drea Clark who went internet surfing like a Pro to bring us a wild snackable program.  In addition to being a Programmer on the features and shorts committees, Drea curates the music videos, this new Launch program that includes the Interactive Storytelling: Indiecade Gaming Favorites  – which pass holders can experience at the Festival Lounge.  Oh, she also programs for Slamdance.  Oh, she is also a Producer (Lake Los Angeles, The Last Time you had Fun).  After my own heart that one.  From an undisclosed remote location during the annual LA Film Fest Filmmaker retreat, Drea answered a few of my q’s  about programming this exciting new program.

  Sifting through the world wide web for quality series sounds daunting.  What’s your approach?  Where did you find them?

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Mad props to Ms. Clark for her curatorial drive, insanely good eye for talent and story, and incomparable wit @TheDreaClark.

Totally daunting, but there’s actually a lot more really well-crafted work out there than I thought there was going to be when I started. We got a number of the webseries through our general submissions when we added it as a new category this year, and for almost all of the submissions that I liked I would also find them online and watch all of their episodes in case there was one that would play better at the Festival, or improved upon something I dug in the submitted piece. And as anyone who has ever spent quality time on the internet knows, it’s VERY easy to start to wormhole and lose hours watching more and more content. I was following a ton of random links that YouTube was auto-generating based on what I was already watching, that sort of thing. I also went through and read pretty much every “Best of the Web” wrap up I could find, and had some discoveries that way as well.


Is it your curation, or do you find that there are more female, comedy, multi-culti voices exploring and having fun on the new digital platform?
It was definitely a goal of mine to have a webseries line-up with a lot of different authorial voices. I basically approached it like programming my own TV network, and since a lot of my own complaints (and the industry’s in general) are how underrepresented certain voices are, I wanted to prove how many great stories were actually out there and being told from a wide variety of perspectives. The good news is, there is a LOT to choose from, and I do think it makes sense that people who have traditionally felt ignored or pigeon-holed by mainstream television would just make their own damn show on the web. That’s the beauty of the internet, and what balances out all the ugly comment threads and nightmare garbage people – it’s a place where anyone can be heard. If you’re an artist with an idea and a work ethic, you can put something out there… I was lucky that so much of what was being created was also really smart and enjoyable.

What’s exciting to you about this new medium?  More risks?  More voices?
What I love, in addition to the access to so many different perspectives and their subsequent various takes on these mini-shows, is how each creator is also defining what it MEANS to be a webseries. Some of the pieces I selected for the program reminded me of old Saturday Night Live or Kids in the Hall character bits, where there was an entire sketch built around one super eccentric character. And then some of them had entire ensembles of characters, or really unique tones, or really hilarious moments, or combinations of all those things. It does come down to risk, that they are already leaping without a net but there are also not terrible consequences if they fail – so people can push boundaries, or try something ridiculous, in a way that they couldn’t with “regular” television. As someone whose background is programming film festivals, the other element that makes webseries so special is that they really are episodic, they’re built to be watched one after another, and the stories and characters grow as you go. These aren’t short films, they’re moments of a larger whole that can still be enjoyed piecemeal. I think they’re really impressive.
To buy tickets to the showcase (and a chance to meet these talented creators) click here.  Or watch right now.  Click on the titles of the whole lineup below.

Charged
Dir. Ndosi Anyabwile
In the wake of a viral epidemic, a novice fighter struggles to survive illegal experimentation in order to escape from the company that imprisoned him.

Croissant Man
Dir. Tulica Singh
A depressed croissant trying to find meaning in the superficial world of Bourgeois pastries.

Downtown Girls
Dir. Emebeit Beyene, Chandra Russell
Four recent college grads decide to call their own shots, raising money to launch their own business by turning their NYC apartment into a lucrative nightclub.

The Genderton Project (World Premiere)
Dir. Anna Martemucci, Victor Quinaz
A modern group of young gay men head to Palm Springs for a gay wedding weekend, when their story is interrupted by the tale of a 1960’s Pasadena housewife whose life is anything but a piece of cake in this gender-swapped comedy.

Happy And You Know It
Created, written and directed by Kira Hesser, Jeremy Howe and Ramsey Robinson
Having just moved to Los Angeles to take care of her grandmother, an aimless girl meets a small-time drug dealer who is similarly searching for purpose.

I Love Lucy & Bekka
Dir. Rachael Holder
Lucy & Bekka have been roommates and best friends since the beginning of their twenties. They are so close that they finish each other’s sandwiches.

The Impossibilities
Dir. Anna Kerrigan
The unexpected connections of Harry, a jaded children’s party magician and Willa, a daffy, lesbian yogi.

The Incredible Life of Darrell
Dir. Darrell Lake
The spectacularly mundane adventures of an incredible average Joe in small town
Wakooki, Arizona.

Jon and Jen Are Married
Dir. Gregory Fitzsimmons
Jon and Jen are married, they’re expecting a child, and they take absurd measures to influence their fetus.

The Oversharer
Dir. Ali Le Roi
A friendly woman embodies the phrase “too much information”.

Toybox Theater: Sad Little People
Dir. Marty Schousboe / Creator Barry Hite
Stan is a Minotaur managing a midlife crisis while working at the hottest ad agency in town.

Trip Advisor
Dir. Melinda Cohen, Adam Roa
A man whose sole skill in life is his mastery of drugs begins offering his services to the public, providing guided ‘trips’ to a variety of eccentric characters.

Unusual Targets
Dir. Tom Huang
A hit man specializing in supernatural beings tries to learn on the job while taking down monsters that live and hide among the people of Los Angeles.

What Women (Film Festival Programmers) Want

I went to support my esteemed Programmer friends participating in the Master Class that Women in Film put on last night called “What Film Festivals Want.” Representing the top festivals in Los Angeles was Kim Yutani, Senior Programmer at Sundance Film Festival, Roya Rastegar, Director of Programming at LA Film Fest, Jacqueline Lyanga, Director of AFI Fest, and Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Director of Programming at Outfest.  Executive Director of WIF Kirsten Schaffer, formerly director of Outfest, was perfect to moderate the panel, keeping it new filmmaker friendly and full of insight.  Since I have the pleasure of knowing and/or working alongside all the ladies on the panel, I knew it wasn’t going to be another diluted, unproductive, bland conversation on Film Festival Tips. There were about 50 people there ($20 admission for non-WIF members), and it was by and large women filmmakers, across all colors and ages, from my friend, young dancer/actress Carmen Corral who just wrote and directed her first short film, to an audience member who shared she has just finished her first film at 67 years young.  The difference in practices and opinions heard is proof that each festival and each film festival Programmer has their own brand of curatorial focus, taste and sensibility.  As Kirsten summed it up, its worthwhile to listen to each of their takes, but do not forget that ultimately you have to follow your own instinct. Real Film Programmers Briefly each festival’s mandate: AFI Fest takes place in November so they screen LA premieres of the most acclaimed as well as under the radar international gems of the year. A big chunk is curated from other festivals, however they do have a Breakthrough section which they cull mostly from submissions. Also it offers its program for FREE!  Outfest seeks to obviously show films from the LGBTQ community.  However, Lucy noted more and more the programming has matured to one where LGBTQ is not the drive of the storyline but rather a perspective through which to explore different genres.  LA Film Fest has gone through a programming shift this year and it is more closely aligning itself with parent nonprofit Film Independent’s mission to “support artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision”. This year the festival has an unprecedented 39 world premieres and nearly half of the program is made by women and people of color. Sundance Film Festival – what can we say about the original rebel.  U.S. Competition, Next, New Frontier and Midnight is the discovery zone heard around the world for breaking innovative stories and talented storytellers.  Sundance’s submissions increases each year.  It received more than 12,000 submissions for the 2015 festival. Around 8,000 of them are shorts – of which they show 60-70.  Yep, that’s less than 1%

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Jacqueline Lyanga, Director of AFI Fest since 2009 before that as Programmer. Worked in independent film distribution and producing. Art History and Cinema Major.

On the topic of WHY IS MY FILM (S) NOT ACCEPTED. I can see why deciphering the festival code; “It is not a right fit” can be frustrating for filmmakers to hear.  It is a catch-all of saying a possibility of things.  First thing to remember however is that just because you don’t get into a festival it does not mean your film does not have artistic merit or deserve a platform.  You are talking about 3-4 people at one festival who watched it but did not respond ENOUGH to champion or select it in the festival (My own personal note as Programmer; you have to kill your darlings and pick your battles in the room).  A lot of times the reason your film may not get in is simply mathematical.  There are not enough slots at a festival to select all the films the Programmers like.  Sundance can theoretically program another entire (just as solid) festival program after locking their lineup.  Maybe your film does not get in because that particular festival does not offer the section, or cater to that particular focus/niche your film covers.  And yet another reason might be your film may be one of several films that tackles very similar issues or has a very similar storyline to other films Programmers see that year.

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Roya Rastegar,  Associate Director of  Programming at LA Film Fest. Published writer, produced and wrote film, Wildness. Previously at Tribeca and Sundance. PhD in the History of Consciousness from UC Santa Cruz. Studied mathematics and economics at Wellesley College

WHAT CAN I DO TO RAISE MY CHANCES? Sounds like common sense but follow submission instructions is number one tip (seriously not following instructions is a number one Programmer pet peeve).  Not all festivals are the same.  Some want press kits with film submissions.  Some of the panelists encouraged the audience to write cover letters while others admitted they never read them. (Personal note: If you have something relevant about your background that you think informs your vision then by all means write up a paragraph).  Roya made the point that if you had a crowdfunding campaign, or have a cast member who has over 2 million subscribers on Youtube that usually indicates you already are building an audience that is invested in your film, it doesn’t hurt for the festival to know given their concern is selling tickets to sustain the usually nonprofit’s activity. It is definitely vital to communicate these things once you have been selected so that the festival can disseminate the distinct and soundbyte aspects of your film to ‘pitch it’ (first film shot in Cuba since 1959, first indie film shot in Little Armenia).

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Kim Yutani, Programmer at Sundance Film Festival since 2006, first on shorts and then features. Former Artistic Director and previous Programmer for Outfest. Worked on Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation. Cat person.

CRITERIA:  Screeners are asked to submit a detailed synopsis of the films they watch and  rate technical proficiency, character and story development.  But inspired (and ripped off) by Sundance’s evaluation forms, most festivals want to frame it around ORIGINALITY OF VOICE/EMOTIONAL IMPACT. Roya mentioned that she tends to be  more forgiving of production value if she recognizes there is a strong, rarely heard voice driving the story.  Lucy mentioned she enjoyed abiding by this guiding principle during LA Film Festival’s programming process.  Knowing that films made by women/people of color tend to be the least funded and least commercial having this awareness is key, and underlines the bottom line criteria of a Programmer or anyone for that matter, wanting to find that film that can MOVE people above all.

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Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Outfest Director of Programming. Producer credits include Jack of the Red Hearts and Cake. Worked as Development Executive and producer for Warner Bros, Lionsgate, Lifetime, Sony Pictures Television. Previously Assistant editor for Harlequin Mills books. English Lit and Film Major.

HOW DO I KNOW WHICH FESTIVAL IS RIGHT FOR MY FILM?  You can do your homework and check out the archives of the films that a festival has played to see if there is some alignment, said Jacqueline.  But take it with a grain of salt.  As mentioned by Roya there is a tendency of folks to carbon copy what they think is a festival film, and making a film driven by the desire to get into a festival tends to backfire.  Look into international festivals, smaller niche festivals.  Lucy, who is also a filmmaker, recalled being rejected by all the major festivals until they submitted randomly to new Arkansas festival, Bentonville where they ended up taking best prize.  (Note: Sign up to Withoutabox. You’ll have to do some digging but you can do a search by region, niche, specialty to find the most suitable festival.) GETTING THE MOST OF YOUR FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE. Squeeze your Programmers for advice. If you are wondering whether you should contract a publicist or a sales agent ask us for recommendations, encouraged Kim.  They have the relationships and know the sensibilities of all the established and emerging industry.  In many ways this is Programmers’ second job after locking.  Adopting film teams leading up to the festival who they can shepherd up the mountain.

DO YOU REALLY WATCH EACH FILM?  Why do people LOVE to ask if a Programmer ‘really’ watches a film from beginning to end??  That is our job!  First of all we get paid to do it.  Second, as Kim mentioned, the worst thing for a Programmer is to have ‘missed’ a film.  Make no mistake, if a film does really well at a festival or comes out somewhere else, and you don’t recall seeing it, you go back to your database to make sure it was fully considered by someone on your team (and see who the hell may have passed on it).  Senior Programmers do their due diligence and review screeners’ coverage, ratings, and exports lists whether it be by region or filmmaker background. Especially nearing the end of progamming lock, they sweat over making sure they saw everything they should, and some actually dig deep into the lower ratings like films that got a 1 out of 5, just in case the screener was turned off by the premise. That strong negative reaction could very well mean a film is polemic and possibly brilliant because of it.

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New Executive Director for Women in Film. Spent 14 years as Deputy Director and head of Programming at Outfest. Previously Co-Executive Director of the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Managed a law office that specialized in American Indian and Family law. BA Liberal Arts, cultural studies and communications

WHAT IF I DON’T GET IN?  If you know your film has an audience, who cares if your film doesn’t get into festivals.   Get a network of filmmaker and programmer friends.  Get feedback. Festivals can’t supply feedback as a rule because of the volume but if you have a Programmer friend or trusted industry acquaintance ask them for input.  The dangers of asking friends and families for feedback on your film is that it usually won’t be critical.  As Lucy pointed out and I think everyone was in agreement;  We (read: good Programmers) understand that filmmakers set out to make a good movie. The ultimate criteria is asking ourselves “What was the filmmaker trying to achieve and how close did she/he get to it in the execution?”

Last words from the panelists: Lucy:  Keep making films Jacqueline:  Be bolder and louder. Kim:  Support other female filmmakers Sundance opens submissions in July.  In August, Sundance’s Next Fest will unspool a few film and music experiences at the Ace Hotel. Outfest will be announcing their program soon and will take place July 9-19.  Coming up soon is LA Film Festival, June 10-18.    AFI is currently accepting submissions until July 24 for its November festival.  Women in Film is accepting submissions until June 16 for their Finishing Films Fund.  Shorts and feature length films that are 90% complete are eligible.  Grants range from $1,000 – $25,000.

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

@ScarfaceREDUX directed by YOU – make a 15 sec video clip for @BorschtCorp screening party IN MIAMI!

unnamedI been out of touch on here for a while but I had to stop to pop this post up because my crazy vatos in Miami are prepping their sick @BorschtCorp Festival (Dec. 17-21) and YOU CAN BE A PART OF IT by participating in this insanely rad crowdsourced project remaking the iconic film #Scarface.

How does it work?  Go HERE pick out a 15 second clip, then remake the scene however you want, with sockpuppets, animation, children, cats or good ol live action on your iPhone, GoPRo or whatever you got around. Send it to Borscht, they’ll upload to their social media people will vote and you’ll get a piece of cred when your clip ends up in the final re-imagining of Brian DePalma’s classic AND based on how many votes you clock, you just might win 2 tickets to party in Miami.  More info on the site: scarfaceredux.com. Read more about the balls to the wall festival here.  So whatever your doing this weekend PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT. Because its Due Monday December 8th at 11:59pm. I already picked out the clips I’m doing (ice cold Michelle Pfeiffer)!

Ojos! Brooklyn Film Festival announces lineup including Gina Rodriguez new comedy, Sleeping with the Fishes

BFF-logo-2010I’ve never been to the Brooklyn Film Festival but based on their newly announced program, me likey!  The lineup is a healthy skim sized 100 films, consisting of 13 narrative features, 5 documentary features and a diverse range of short and medium length films to screen over 10 days.  The festival put on by the Brooklyn Film Society, takes place May 31 – June 9 at two venues, Windmill Studios and indieScreen, the latter owned by Festival Directors, Marco Ursino and Susan Mackell who started the festival in 1998 (pka Brooklyn International Film Festival).  The selection is programmed by Nate Dorr, short and experimental film programmer, and  Nathan Kensinger, Programming Director and Brooklyn’s curious trespassing urban anthro-photographer (love his Camera Obscura pieces for Curbed NY).  Recently listed in the top 25 of MovieMaker’s Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, BFF will award competition prizes totaling over $50,000 in film services and products, including a seven-day theatrical release at indieScreen for both the Best Feature and Best Documentary award winners.

The program has a range of down and dirty sexy indie genre. For you grind house fans, there’s the badass Dutch film which previously screened at Austin’s Fantastic Fest, Blackout, a breakneck speed, black comedy Snatch-y crime thriller with an underbelly crime ensemble featuring a delightfully deplorable mob boss who is a ballet dancer and ever cordial switch turn menacing Russian.

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Kaya Scodelario as Emanuel

There is the darling and dazzling EMANUEL AND THE TRUTH ABOUT FISHES, from this year’s Sundance US Dramatic Competition, written and directed by Francesca Gregorini (Tanner Hall). It’s a fantastically rendered tale about a raised-by- her-single-dad teen played enigmatically by Kaya Scodelario.  Our french new wave heroine with unbridled imagination, self-deprecating and biting wit, willfully carries the haunting burden of having killed her mom in childbirth, which opens the door to an unexpected journey of discovery when a new neighbor who looks like her dead mother embraces her.  Then, there is the world premiere of HAIRBRAINED which I have not seen but I’m looking forward to watch.  Written and directed by Billy Kent in collaboration with his Love Lane Pictures crew (The Oh in Ohio) it’s about Ivy League rejects who mobilize their underdog school Master Mind team to launch a championship coup against Harvard.  The young cast is led by newcomer Alex Wolff as Eli Pettifog, Brendan Fraser is Eli, his 41 year old roommate, and Eli’s mother is played by permanently throned Indie royalty, Parker Posey.  If documentaries are your jam, I recommend the affecting FUREVER by Amy Finkel which examines the irrevocable bond between a pet owner and their pet, and the absolutely staggering cinematic ETERNAL AMAZON.

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Gina R as Alexis Fish, trying to get her groove back

The headline however, is that to my absolute delight, the American Latino film SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES, written and directed by Nicole Gomez Fisher will be having its world premiere at the Brooklyn Film Festival.  The comedy is the directorial debut of an emerging filmmaker, actor/writer Nicole Gomez Fisher and is produced by Courtney Andrialis.  With Gina Rodriguez’s starmeter rising on the heels of Filly Brown’s success, it should help veer the discovery of this charismatic indie gem.  It’s so awesome to see the rare female written and character driven comedy unapologetically rooted in variable measures of raw, fierce, sweet and vulnerable feminine nature, especially as seen from the under-represented multi-cultural perspective. Gina plays 30 something Puerto Rican/Jewish Alexis Fish as she undergoes a trying but necessary unhinging following a terrible life ordeal.  On a return visit to her old hood, she must bear the humiliation and misperception of her parents’ version of her reality while being constantly reminded of her unmet potential, before she can begin to freshly kickstart a new independent life focusing on herself this time around.  Gina is a versatile and exuberant actor and Gomez Fisher gives her a role with lots of legroom to show off her comedy chops.  You lucky New Yorkers have the chance to be the first to see this hilarious and heartwarming debut by a talented young female filmmaker.  Check out the film’s website, and like on Face to show the love and keep up with future screening announcements.

Also noteworthy in the program is a movie from Cuba.  GIRAFFES written and directed by Enrique (Kiki) Alvarez about two young lovers and squatters living invisibly in the middle of Habana’s hustle and bustle.  The film premiered earlier this year at Rotterdam yet I can’t find a single review of it (?)  I’m dying to watch it.  Looks like a daring commentary on Cuba as provocative as the sensual young bodies.  Miralo.

Lastly but never least, in shorts, I spy a short called OJALA by Ryan Velasquez about a young Guatemalan pregnant woman who recalls her mother’s journey from Guatemala to LA as she makes her way home, and two shorts from Mexico, CHAOS and THE PHANTOM PAIN.

So there’s your heads up East Coast.  Save the date (May 31-June 9) and head to our beloved B-Boy MCA’s hood to scope out these films.  Take advantage of the early bird reasonably priced $100 Festival Pass that gives you access to all films and parties.

SXSW 2013 Raves, Reviews and Rants (Recap Pt. 2)

Read Pt.1 of my recap here!

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2fer winners of Jury and Audience – narrative competition film, Short Term 12 at Closing Night from left, LaKeith Stanfield, Brie Larson, Destin Cretton

PARTIES & SHENANIGANS
Any festival in which I don’t lose my phone, coat, hoop earring etc. is a success.  I have to say I was relatively well behaved this SXSW edition. Spreading out my drinking and cavorting throughout the day in between screenings at the Intercontinental Hotel’s Stephen F’s Happy Hour rather than staying downtown late nights.  I missed out on the Converse party which was the most debauchery I partook in last year .  My biggest party night was probably the Closing Film party.  I blame it on the mezcal I had earlier that day.  I made my way over to the RVIP Lounge, a tricked out RV with karaoke and free booze, always the illest and loudest after after spot when it makes the rounds at SXSW, Sundance and LA Film Festival.  I was having a blast until I thought I lost my laptop bag and freaked out.  Somehow my ass got into a taxi and made it home safe and sound. Again, thanks to the Party Gods er in this case Kestrin and the rest of the RVIP folks.

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Party on wheels! If there was one night I got tipsy, it was on this bad boy. Luckily they take care of you. Photo by Lauren Lemon

The Branson doc party at Malverde was a great Modern Mexican restaurant and bar which I discovered made delicious Palomas, my drink of choice.  From there a girlfriend and I took the preferred and popular SXSW mode of transportation to the next party, hopping into a pedicab, in this case motored by a real hunk (her word not mine). I fell in love with the Ranchero music he had on blast as we headed to the East side to Cheer Up Charlie’s which was hosting a bunch of parties including Short Term 12 and the launch of Elevision, an online visionary short film distribution platform, which founder Malcolm Pullinger reminded me was still in Beta beta beta.  The Sundance reception on Sunday at Clive’s Bar, a good ol whisky joint was happening and far better than last year’s rendezvous. I mostly hung out with Loves Her Gun posse including rising Mexican actor, Francisco Barreiro who Indiewire highlighted as hot talent to watch.  I also caught up with Charlie Reff, the newest Programmer at Sundance, who is keeping the slate hip and fresh.  We talked about the recent Sundance announcement of the Next Weekend film festival program in LA this summer.  This is an invite only selection of films, something the press release did not clarify which caused a flood of people to get excited about submitting for a Summer Sundance.  The scoop is the program will consist of four of the Next films which screened in this year’s 2013 Festival, a couple from other festivals (like maybe SXSW) and two other world premieres for a total of 8 features.  Along with the annual Shorts Lab, the weekend (Aug 8-11) will be a significant and exciting extension of the annual Park City festival.  Save the date!

LATINOS DON’T GO TO SXSW FILM
Flipping on the amorphous Latino lens; First, I’d be lying if I said I’m not disappointed about the handful of exciting new Latino writer/director films I thought were suitably edgy and commercial for SXSW that were passed on.  Why such resistance?  Once a festival has established itself a can’t miss cache and brand trust, the programming has even more freedom to build on their tastemaker rep and bigger responsibility to films that need the exposure.  It’s a lot of pressure for LA Film Festival as the next one on the calendar year to offer a high profile festival platform for these films (look out for my WTF Tribeca piece) – especially since Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival has left a gaping hole.  I believe the films would have been embraced here because I feel the Latino impact and culture all around.  I get the sense it is deeply underlined in the way of life, rather than traditional heritage, as evident by the food, drink and style of Austin.

ht_spring_breakers_nt_130208_vblogThat’s why I want to use the term Latino as a starting place on this blog.  It’s expansive.  I won’t mind the re-appropriation of Latino culture as long as there is parity with writers, directors, producers, and execs who actually walk that bicultural narrative to get their shot at putting out the story.  I certainly appreciate the influence of Latinos onscreen as much as behind the camera – in that sense SXSW totally represented.   I whole heartedly understand the mainstream popularity Latinos have when they aren’t sidelined for the Latino label, like the young Selena Gomez who stars as the cross necklace wearing, bikini clad, good girl gone bad, Faith in Spring Breakers.  She embodies one of the more memorable roles of Harmony Korine’s film, and one that reflects Latino Catholics’ tempestuous relationship with God, sin and guilt. Its important to recognize and respect the mass scale impact she has on young Latinos. She is an American star who looks like us and has the same last name.   I highlighted her in my WTF is Latino at SXSW – (btw I missed Gimme the Power, an awesome tribute doc to the Mexican punk band Molotov, for all you frijolero lovers out there).

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 9.36.55 PMOver at Interactive, there were panels like the eerie wolf hunting sounding Latinos y Silver Mobile Bullet, and blatant corporate brand chasing Why Hispanics Love Toyota.  These panels were by and for marketing and media entrepreneurs looking to get that stack of paper from Latinos’ trillion dollar purchasing power market.   Boring old pies, graphs, stockpiles of data research were shared, all to figure out consumer habits, manipulate cultural customs and find ways to exploit and capitalize in reaching the elusive Latino market – reminded me of a laboratory with white coats searching for the formula.  Corporations are practically salivating at this young-skewing, smart phone mobile going, disposable income population (disposable if only because the income is not going towards accessible medical/insurance etc).  My immediate reaction is to question the sample data and how they are identifying Latino?  The census reports 53 million and Pew data further breaks down foreign and native born’s online presence.  What about the rising population of Latinos who are checking other on that outdated race and ethnicity form? It’s all convoluted to say the least.  The data might get all sophisticated and from a million different entry points, but the biggest flaw in the foundation is the label.  That said some of the more savvy marketing media are slowly coming around to acknowledging “Hispanics” are not a monolithic block.

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 9.51.02 PMToyota did exactly that with their mega successful 2010 ad campaign, Somos Muchos Latinos, Somos Muchos Toyotas, a now much lauded case study in which they took advantage of our loud and proud ties to our ancestors’ roots i.e, “We are Many Mexicans, We are Many Toyotas”.  They made the template and attracted Latino consumers to go online and order personalized decals according to their family’s origin. Going back to film  – I think  the missing ingredient in all of this research into figuring out who we are is supporting independent Latino films because they represent the authentic American mestizo culture.

I dropped by “The” Latino event at SXSW, The Social Revolución party, a Latino social media awards party.  The best part of it was the complimentary anejo mezcal.  The food was a joke and I wouldnt even mention it if the expectations had not been set high from the invites. Nopalitos (cactus) tostadas, chips and stuffed mushrooms – come on. I found out the real comida was in the VIP room.  Yes, there was a VIP room  – against everything that SXSW stands for.  I’m not trying to commit brown on brown hate, and really I don’t care that I wasn’t voted best Latina blogger 😉 But I have noticed in going to more of these strictly Latino affairs the tendency to over-celebrate everything and anything, takes precedent over  a strategic how to discussion of ways to develop our voices and agenda. I expected this kind of exchange here given its tagline.

I’m happy to have talked shop with some of my most esteemed professional amigas like Cristina Garza, the head of acquisitions of Canana and newly launched international sales company, Mundial.  Partnering up with IM Global, they will pick up 8-10 Latin American commercial movies.  Key word= commercial.  All anybody thinks of when it comes to Latin American films are the gorgeously shot art house slow burn dramas  – and there is an extraordinary canon of them, but there is a wave of emerging filmmakers who are making artful, resonant and more accessible films.  Mundial will represent Paraiso, the next film by Mariana Chenillo who became the first female to win Best Director at the Ariel Awards for her opera prima Five Days Without Nora.   I also caught up with Tonantzin Esparza who headed up acquisitions at her father’s company Maya Entertaiment for years before she moved to New York.  She is currently finishing  up her Masters at NYU and planning to get back into the game, in the film packaging agenting world so recruiters take note and holler at my girl.

ritz n bootsDEEP THOUGHTS
Going in I was going to write up a daily Festival dispatch but this kind of an immersive marathon makes it extremely difficult to stay sane, sober and fresh.  The advantage of looking back over the week, catching up with emails and looking at the biz cards I collected is making thematic connections.  Film is not an isolated medium, so much is a fluid, biochemical reaction and reflection of the world around us.

The only criticism I would give the fine folks of SXSW Film was a reverberating observation I made at the screenings.   I know as moderators we are suppose to stay within the time allotted for Q&As.  I do my best to defer to the theater managers so their team has time to turn over and make sure the next movie starts in time.   But I also know that I’ll risk their wrath if the audience is so enthralled with hearing the filmmaker confess his creative process, we are going to run a few minutes late for the next show.  I liked the programmers keeping the intros short and sweet to get the movie started right away.  If they said anything at all it was to remind us of the high volume of submissions they received so therefore this film was special for its inclusion.  I found the emphasizing on this unnecessary.  For comparison this year SXSW received 2,096 features – of that 1,482 US, and Sundance counted 4,044 features, of that 2,070 US.  When it wasn’t a core programmer introducing and moderating, the festival invited alumni filmmakers to do the honors which didn’t always work.  There is nothing better than someone on the programming team who has a connection to the film and filmmaker.  Obviously it is impossible for the small group of programmers to do all the presentations.  What about the screeners?  Chances are they would die for the chance to feel like a bigger part of the festivals.

That said, in the grand scheme of things this is minor stuff but I wouldn’t be real if I had nothing but good things to say about a festival which is a living and breathing organism that can always be optimized.

Thanks for the memories South by Southwest.    To cap it all off, I’d like to quote from the hedonistic, blazing, neon flash, glorified American wet dream by Harmony Korine who brought another kind of D2F (not Direct 2 Fan) to SXSW with the US premiere of Spring Breakers.

“We came down here to find ourselves….. Spring Break for eva bitches!”

Spring break 4-EVA.