5 Latina-Directed Feature Films Breaking out in 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 3.54.21 PMI am happy to see more people vocalize demand for Latina representation onscreen and the resurging interest in solving this messed up disparity issue  (Thank you Gina Rodriguez Golden Globes acceptance speech).   However, the representation issue I find ten times more urgent to address is the anguishing miniscule percentage of Latina CONTENT CREATORS in film and television.

I give you 5 bomb Latina DIRECTORS who are are at the helm of brand new feature films coming out this year, women who are striking through the hostile mass media industry to escape the rule of homogeneity (white male perspective).  Now that is something to celebrate.  It’s not surprising that three of these are documentaries.  The percentage of women directed films in documentaries is higher than in fiction.  Now I can’t say with total certainty these  2 Latina directed U.S. fiction feature length films are the only ones out there this year…actually yes I can…..until someone reaches out to correct me ….and I really do hope to be corrected because only two???????

LOS 33

Director: Patricia Riggen
Writers: Mikko Alanne, Michael John Bell, Craig Borten, Jose Rivera
Producers: Robert Katz, Edward McGurn, Mike Medavoy
Cinematographer: Checco Varese
Music: James Horner
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rodrigo Santoro, Antonio Banderas, Cote de Pablo, James Brolin, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips, Kate del Castillo, Tenoch Huerta
Social Media: @The33Pelicula

Logline: Based on the incredible real-life story of the 33 survivors of a copper-gold mine in Chile that collapsed and trapping them 700 meters underground for 69 days until their rescue.

Add Riggen to the exclusive ranks of women who fought for and have proved they got the chops to direct big action, Hollywood type genre movies like Katheryn Bigelow, Mimi Leder. The trailer for Los 33 that dropped last week reveals an epic dramatization of the intensely emotional struggle to survive the Chilean mine disaster. The English language film carries a sweeping score by none other than James Horner (and naturally you can hear Violetta Parra’s classic song, Gracias Por La Vida).  Add to that a big hero performance by Antonio Banderas who leads an ensemble cast of well known international actors (including hottie Mexican star of Güeros, Tenoch Huerta!!). Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara but moved to the states after graduating Columbia’s film school in NY,  made a splash with her 2007 film, Under the Same Moon starring a back-then-virtually-unknown-in-the-U.S. Eugenio Derbez, and Kate del Castillo. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival then was picked up by Pantelion, the studio she later worked with on the Eva Mendes starrer Girl in Progress.

Domestic distribution and release stateside is yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile Twentieth Century Fox will be releasing the film in Chile in August, marking the fifth anniversary of the incident, before rolling out the film throughout Latin America including Mexico. For an in-depth account of Los 33, check out current best-seller, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free” by Hector Tobar.

ENDGAME

Director: Carmen Marron
Writers: Hector Salinas, Carmen Marron
Producers: Sandra Avila, Carmen Marron
Executive Producers: Hector Salinas, Betty Sullivan
Associate Producer: Bonnie Emerson
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
Music: Brian Standefer
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rico Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Justina Machado, Jon Gries
Social Media: @GoForIt_Carmen
Facebook

ENDGAME SAN ANTONIO PaperLogline: Shot in Brownsville and inspired by true events, ENDGAME is a coming-of-age story about a young boy who joins the school chess team, and with the help of his coach, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, team spirit and the importance of family.

IMG_9959 copyAnother talented genre director (and fellow Chicana from Chicago, HEYYY) whose tenacity and talent make her primed to be our Latina Ava Duvernay success story (of course that depends on whether the public (and gatekeepers) support her to make the change to the system to demand her spot in the national mainstream).  I wrote about Carmen’s tireless spirit before, mentioning her first film which she shot, wrote, directed and produced in Chicago called Go For It (which incidentally was Gina Rodriguez’s first feature role). Her latest film is Endgame starring the precocious Manny from Modern Family, Rico Rodriguez, and Efren Ramirez from cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, Endgame is one of those irresistible competition, underdog, against-all-odds stories. Ramirez portrays the galvanizing Brownsville public elementary school teacher and chess afficionado, J.J. Guajardo, who in 1989, upon seeing his 6th grade class take an interest in his chess board, began to teach them on the regular. The class excelled and entered regional competitions, going on to enter and win state championships against schools with far more resources. Echoing the positives of disrupting a broke educational status quo with simply offering access to advanced mental cognition building tools, the film echoes another real life story and seminal Chicano film, Stand & Deliver.  Big difference; that movie was not directed by a Latino/a.

The film is world premiering at the Dallas International Film Festival April 12 &13. Distribution is yet to be confirmed for theatrical/VOD but stay tuned via the Facebook page.

NO MÁS BEBÉS

Directors/Producers: Renee Tajima-Peña, Virginia Espino
Associate Producer: Kate Trumbull-Valle
Executive Producers: Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettinger, Judith Helfland, Sally Jo Fiefer and Sandra Pedlow
U.S. Distributor: ITVS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cinematographer: Claudio Rocha
Music: Bronwen Jones, additional music by Quetzal
Cast: Antonia Hernandez, Gloria Molina, Dolores Madrigal, Jovita Rivera, Consuelo Hermosillo
Social Media: Facebook

 Logline: An investigation of the sterilization of Mexican-American women at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s

6. Maria Figueroa at courthouse

Sadly, there is an appalling history in the United States of laws and policies authorizing sterilizations of poor women without their knowledge or consent for the “benefit of society”; Buck v. Bell (low-income white women in Virginia), Relf v. Weinberger (young African-American women in Alabama), and female inmates in California. This film focuses on the case of Latinas of Mexican origin in California in Madrigal v. Quilligan.  Shedding light on this horrific human rights violation, the film includes interviews with women who suffered this terrible ordeal and locked the memory away, along with former medical staff and the incredible lawyer who filed this suit forty years ago, Antonia Hernandez. A  long-time coming, supremely valuable and eye opening contextualization of the Chicano rights movement from the late 60s/70s as well as the current reproductive justice movement.

Renee, a proud Asian American, is a sister in the struggle to document the Latino community, and Virginia Espino, is a Latina LA born-and-raised historian. This is one of those Latina stories that really needs to be known and remembered this year which marks the 40th anniversary of the lawsuit (June 19).  It is ready to be unveiled and seen by as wide an audience as possible. Stay tuned to hear when the film will have its world premiere before its broadcast on Independent Lens in the fall.

NOW EN ESPAÑOL

Director: Andrea Meller
Producers: Aaron Woolf, Andrea Meller
Music: Camara Kambon
Cinematographer: Charlie Gruet
U.S. Distributor: PBS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cast: Marabina Jaimes, Marcela Bordes, Gabriela Lopetegui, Ivette Gonzalez, Natasha Perez
Social Media: @NowenEspanol, website

Logline: Follows the trials and triumphs of the small group of Latina actresses who dub “Desperate Housewives” into Spanish.

Currently hitting the festival circuit in such reputable festivals as Santa Barbara, Chicago Latino Film Festival, CineFestival, ahead of its showing on PBS Voces, Now en Espanol is such an effective and distinct balance of humor, serious-ness and insider look by Chilean-American Andrea Meller.NowEnEspanol_Still1

Profiling Marcela Bordes, Ivette Gonzalez, Marabina Jaimes, Gabriela Lopetegui and Natasha Perez, the film is quite plainspoken and sympathetic about the struggle of the actor in Hollywood. Like the comedy fiction film (also directed by a woman!) In a World, by Lake Bell,  the film offers a rare behind the scenes and insight into the voice acting industry. Few actors make make careers out of this, others pick it up for income, but in the end it is a highly distinct skill to dub millions of shows.   It’s really fascinating perspective on the representation of Latinas onscreen and off. What I love most about this film on top of it being an important tool for dialogue and change, is that the filmmaker injects a whimsy tone (apropos Wisteria Lane) which makes sparking this conversation and call to action so much more effective.  You have no reason to miss this as it premieres on Friday, April 24, 2015, 10:00-11:00 p.m.  (check local listings) as part of VOCES, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series on PBS. To get a taste of the ladies’ charm and humor check out the trailer:

OVARIAN PSYCOS

Director: Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
Producers:Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
U.S. Distributor: ITVS (broadcast)
Cinematographer: Michael Raines
Music: Jimmy LaValle
Cast: Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade
Social Media: Facebook

04_Prod Still_Xela Mariachi PlazaLogline: Follows the story of an all woman of color bicycle brigade, the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade. Based in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in Eastside Los Angeles, the Ova’s are a collective of unapologetic, politicized, young Latina women who host monthly bike rides every full moon for women and women-identified riders.

jkmontage3Ever since I interviewed Kate during her film’s Kickstarter, I’ve been madly anticipating this, so I’m pleased to scoop that it will be ready late Fall thanks to ITVS coming in with finishing funds. Protegees of esteemed film ladies like Renee Tajima Peña and B. Ruby Rich, the ladies have spent more than two years riding with the Ovas for this documentary.  Says Joanna, “There are lots of bike groups in LA, but what’s unique about the Ova’s is each ride has a socio-political theme and ends with a group discussion. They dialogue about everything from violence against women to the gentrification of Boyle Heights”.

The Ova’s s leadership is run by the collective who work “To Serve, not to Self Serve.  Credited as founder is activist and music artist, Xela de la X who formed this rad collective in 2011 with the mission to cycle for the purpose of healing, reclaim neighborhoods, and create safer streets for women on the Eastside.  Currently being edited the film should be ready for the Fall if not early next year.

In case you are wondering Trumbull-LaValle is two generations apart from family in Northern Mexico.  Which I only add as proof that last names and color of skin are not indicators for knowing whether someone identifies as Latino/a or not.

Which leads me to reiterate, I really hope these 5 are not the only Latina directors with films coming out this year.   Calling out an A.P.B. to Latina directors with a feature length film (fiction especially) in production or post, holler at your girl chicanafromchicago@gmail.com!

Meet Edgar Muñiz: The Most Prolific Filmmaker You Don’t-but-should-definitely Know

Bio_Pic_photo_2“I’m a compulsive filmmaker,” admits Eddie Muñiz the 33 year old California native who has 12 films under his belt.
One of them is The Never Daunted, his 10th film. Not too long ago I saw it as a festival screener dvd and I vividly and immediately felt that rare exhilarating rush of discovery amid the dvd stacks of derivative story lines.   The film is about a  man who, unable to cope with his infertility and the monotony of a dead-end job, becomes withdrawn from his relationship and grows obsessed with a strange Western that comes on television late at night – which only he can see.   The film’s captivating sincerity and epic  male psyche exploration makes Muñiz not only a writer/director to follow, but one to actively support.  He’s one of those creative manic types who are actively pursuing their art of storytelling without frills, on the fly and for the love.  On the weekends and perhaps limited by budget but never held back by its raw, transcendent humanity.  In talking to him you can tell he is completely immersed in and relishes the craft.  So much he hasn’t had the bandwith to fully explore the mine of distribution outlets.  Thanks to our brave new world of Direct to Fan online distribution, we can finally check out some of his films, in particular the singular The Never Daunted.  Now available to stream on Seed & Spark.  Once you get hooked you’ll want to see more of his work, some of which is available on his website.   Read on, get to know this cool cat and get a  taste of his sensibility and work ethic and tell me if he’s not inspiring.
The_Never_Daunted-2Adjusted1. Putting together one film no matter how modest the budget requires a lot of collaboration, an insane amount of tenacity and organization.  What is it about your creative process and style that has allowed you to be so prolific?
 
You’re right.  Making a film does require a lot of collaboration, and I think there are either filmmakers who embrace this aspect of filmmaking or they don’t. I completely rely on it, but that’s also because I work with a lot of like-minded people and really talented, smart people. I think that the only real trick I have is that I won’t start with a script. The only reason I’m able to complete so many projects and get them done so quickly is because I’ll take care of the scheduling first, which I think is the hardest part, and then force myself to write something under pressure before the day I have to shoot. I never really start with an idea or theme in mind; I’ll start with a person I think is interesting or that I love being around. I know that sounds weird, but so many of the films I’ve done started from just hanging out with a friend or with new people. After hanging out and getting a sense of their personalities and of their views, I always think it’s interesting to take a version of that person and place him or her in different scenarios that I later come up with. This approach not only opens up several narrative possibilities for me, but it also makes it so that I can make the film and keep discovering new things as I’m going along. The part that I play in this is almost nonexistent. I just have to make sure to listen very carefully, work within my means, prepare for any setbacks or last-minute changes and finally remain objective enough to shape a film out of all of it. It is a compulsion in that filmmaking is a priority for me, and I’m constantly thinking about it. I never stop and it drives a lot of my friends and family crazy. I would always rather film than go to bars or to parties or to lunch or to dinner…unless I can film when I’m there!
 
2.  The dialogue feels so natural in your films.
There’ve only been a few times that I’ll have specific lines I want my actors to hit.  Sometimes I’ll be married to these lines because I overheard someone say it a certain way, but all of the credit here should really go to my actors. I’ll know the emotion I want from the scene, I’ll know the tone, and specific expository points, but that’s it, and that’s only the structure or the blueprint. They’ll improvise off my sides, and sometimes this will be a page with four or five lines on it – between two or three people – and what would’ve been a 1-minute scene on the page, they’ll turn into a 3 to 4 min. scene full of twists and turns, with sharp, understated, and insightful subtext, sometimes strange, sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious. But always unexpected, and that’s the point. 
_DSC22313.  In The Never Daunted, there is such a genuine vulnerability not often found in male driven films.  You said you were raised by your mom and aunts, do you think this helped you get in touch with this modern masculinity side?  You show such a profound and illuminating notion of the pitfalls of having to live up to a macho masculine, cowboy, protector and provider role, it really expands my perception and elicits my empathy for the male perspective.
That’s really cool of you to say!  Because my mom was always working, I’d spend a lot of my days with my aunts and my grandmother…. I have two uncles that I admire very much, but I don’t think I ever measured up to that Mexican macho male thing, nor did I ever really care to. For what it’s worth, I grew up with more of a feminine perspective – because of my aunts and my mothers – and this kind of allowed me to see how proud men can be, how delusional, overbearing, fearful, and how selfish we can be as well. And I do love to look at this in my films, and I’m often guilty of all of this male posturing too. Although I understand the culture of cool cinema and even appreciate some of those films – the cowboys, the gangsters, the hitmen movies- I can’t help but see that same macho bullshit from my childhood being perpetuated over and over again in our culture. It’s also a constant reminder that I’m none of those things and that maybe I should be feeling like I ought to be. I think men are much more interesting than that though, much more complex and multidimensional. But a variation in movies is great – don’t get me wrong. Nevertheless, if there’s a story about a bank robber being chased by the cops, and he’s forced to pull a man and his little boy out of their car, and speeds off, I’d rather see the story about the man having to explain to his boy what just happened.
 
The Never Daunted STILLS 384. You mentioned you’ve gotten feedback from Guy Maddin and Monte Hellman, have they inspired your approach and aesthetic?  Who else contemporary filmmakers do you draw from and connect?
Guy Maddin and Monte Hellman were the only two that took the time to respond, and they were also the two that I was desperately hoping would respond, so I did make more of an effort with them. I do love movies that are very postmodern and abstract and these two guys are still making very interesting and provocative work. Guy Maddin continues to find new ways to tell stories and I can’t passively watch any of his movies. They require my complete attention and that’s what cinema should be, I think. With Monte Hellman’s Road to Nowhere, I had the experience where I had to keep watching the movie over and over again so I can decide whether or not I liked it.  And Road to Nowhere was a movie about movies, which is something that still interests me, as indulgent as it might sound, and this meta-fictional element comes up in not only The Never Daunted, but in other movies I’ve completed since then. And I love all types of films and filmmakers, but as far as the ones that make me excited about not only watching their movies but going out and making more of my own, I’d say Hong Sang Soo, Carlos Reygadas, Lynne Ramsay, Agnes Varda, Gus Van Sant, Miranda July, Alfonso Cuaron, Bela Tarr, Tsai Ming-Liang, and Mary Harron are maybe my favorites right now. And obviously, this list is always changing .
 
IMG_7983
5.  Does is it get easier with each film you make?
Working with actors and non-actors has gotten easier for me. It’s a different language I use with both, but I’ve learned to appreciate this aspect of filmmaking more than any other. It’s the part where I get to work with them as people, but the discussions aren’t always about choices or behavior or the psychology of a character. A lot of times it’s them telling me personal stories and me sharing personal stories with them as well, which is why I feel that the friendships I’ve made through filmmaking have been so rewarding and amazing to me. There’s no chit-chat or formalities; there’s no time for that. So a person will go from being an acquaintance to a deep personal friend you feel you’ve known for a long time, and this will happen simply because they’re willing to bring their personal experiences and specific views to the table. As cheesy as it sounds, it can feel like the purest expression of the self and art. Learning that a lot of them are willing to do this, or maybe because they trust me, has given me much more confidence when directing a scene, so it feels much easier. All the other technical stuff is a pain in the ass, but I learn it because I have to and because I didn’t go to film school.
 
_DSC16696.  What do you personally get out of making a film from the creation and observation of the human condition? 
I guess it’s the same thing that I get out of teaching, but to be honest, teaching is much more rewarding. Both require a lot of self-reflection and discipline, but in teaching, the results are right there and you can actually see the light bulbs go on in front of you. With filmmaking, it can be very painful and I can think that I’m addressing several questions that are important to me, but once the film is done, I’m sometimes left with even more questions and concerns than before. The greatest pleasure that I derive from making a film is having connected with people in the process. At the end of a film or at the end of a screening, I often feel like a fraud and like I didn’t complete what I set out to do. I start wondering what I even want to gain from all of it, and I’ll just watch other people’s films and wonder, “Who the hell do I think I am, making my own movies, or assuming that people even care?”. But the one constant pleasure is my relationships with my friends. The fact that I built friendships in the process and that they trusted me and that we completed something together. Then, inevitably, I’ll get excited about another project and I’ll bury myself in another opportunity to work with them.
 
Haley_Project_STILL_137.  In your words, what is Haley, your latest film about?
The Haley Project has a couple of stories running parallel throughout, but at the center is the story about a girl named Haley, who we only see in the beginning of the film and in a flashback at the end. It’s loosely based on my friend Laura Benson, who actually plays Haley, but it’s also about other people in my life who I’m always in awe of. I have a few friends who are always telling me stories about these exotic places that they’ve visited and these crazy adventures that they’ve had.  My friend Nick Null, who plays Murray in The Never Daunted, has a lot of stories like this too. But I thought it would be interesting to look at this kind of person, but from the perspective of all the supporting characters in each of their stories. How are these supporting characters, who don’t get to float on from place to place, affected by having met someone with a seemingly more interesting life? So I had two guys, played by Seth Johansson and Brian Randles, become competitive and mean with each other over their love for Haley, without Haley even there anymore. And in the same movie I have a romantic Frenchman who arrives in LA, in hopes of finding love. And I love this idea because it’s usually the other way around: the starry-eyed, American Francophile visits Paris in search of love.
Check out the trailer for The Never Daunted below and click here to watch the film on Seed & Spark.