Quick answer: Not much. But it’s too easy, not to mention unproductive, to bemoan and criticize awards shows for their lack of recognition when it comes to Latino writers/directors. Unfortunately there isn’t much of an eligible pool for these big awards shows to consider (why that is -for another post). Also, for those new to my blog; I define Latino strictly in the American generation/context, not international, and I focus on creators (writers and directors). Now lets celebrate who we do got because it’s pretty cool that of these few American Latino writers/directors in the Golden Globes mix, they happen to be all WOMEN!
Although it is the showrunner/producers who accept the Best TV categories, the writers and directors of the nominated shows obviously are part of what makes the show stand out. To that end, lets give props to the ladies that contributed to the critical success of these nominated series:
In the Best TV Drama series category, there is Jessie Nickson Lopez, staff writer on Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS. The young Columbia University grad was raised between Canada and the U.S. and has Venezuelan roots. After a brief stint at ICM followed by being staffed on A&E’s short lived The Returned, she worked as assistant to Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad EP/writer) on STARZ ballet drama, Flesh and Bone which was nominated for a Golden Globe last year in the Best Television Limited Series category. Stranger Things debuted this summer to much acclaim and hype with eight episodes. She wrote episode 6: The Monster. The show will be back for season 2.
In the Best TV Comedy series category, Mexican-American Linda Mendoza has directed 4 episodes over the course of the 3 year old series BLACKISH from ABC. Mendoza has been directing hit television show episodes on the regular ever since The Chris Rock show on which she directed 13 episodes during 97-98 season. Except for her 2003 feature Chasing Papi for Pantelion, she has stayed entrenched in the television business.
WINNER ********Also in the Best TV Comedy series, Panamanian Janizca Bravo directed an episode of another new show that came in hot this year, ATLANTA. Her episode was Junteenth. Bravo has a great eye and very soulfully brings a dark comedy to her work. She has directed a number of short films as well as a virtual reality project about police brutality that was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival. She is about to premiere her feature debut, Lemon at this month’s Sundance Film Festival, so you’ll be hearing a lot more of her in the next few weeks.
As mentioned, award shows can only be as representative as the eligible pool so to be fair, what features and television shows were eligible and were snubbed THIS YEAR? I regret to say I lack hard data and to be honest I’m not as well versed in the television landscape as I am in the indie film world (new years resolution!). A few I do know who we’re technically elegible bear mentioning; Danielle Sanchez-Witzel who is the showrunner on The Carmichael Show on NBC didnt get any GG love. Empire which was nominated last year has a writing room that includes Carlito Rodriguez who is also co-producer. He previously wrote on the first season of HBO’s The Leftovers. Orange is the New Black which boasts a killer Latina cast who didn’t get recognized- includes Marco Ramirez as writer. The Get Down includes Jacqueline Rivera as staff writer who also directed an episode. While Gina Rodriguez gets her third nomination (and sole Latina acting nominee) for her acting on Jane the Virgin the show didn’t get any love this year (It was last nominated in 2015 the year of its debut). The show consistently engages Latina scribes, Emmylou Diaz and Valentina Garza, and director Zetna Fuentes. In previous years Hulu’s hit show East Los High received a number of daytime Emmy Awards but the Globes never recognized the show which was created by Carlos Portugal and included a robust number of Latino writers. NBC’s Shades of Blue wasn’t nominated which includes writer Benjamin Lobato who also wrote on USA’s Queen of the South another show that premiered this year. Peter Murrieta wrote on TV Land’s Lopez show. Just recently premiered, so not part of this year’s submissions, Netflix’s One Day at a Time counts Murrieta as a writer and notably Gloria Calderon as showrunner (next year?)
Last year we had Ricky Gervais prophetically introduce Eva Longoria and America Ferrara as folks our future president wants to deport. Conceptually (painfully) funny to prove a point/Brit rub it in move, except both are American citizens. The ladies proceeded to do a bit on people mistaking them for other famous Latinas. Among this year’s presenters, Zoe Saldana who plays Ben Afflecks love interest in his period gang drama Live by Night is the only American Latina on deck. The Dominican American is known to speak flawless Español. Her body of work is fascinating in that she’s managed to play Black, Latina and now simply blockbuster actor (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar). Saldana has a production company Cinestar which she runs with her sisters and has a first-look deal with South Shore Television and Pantelion Films, the U.S. joint ventures of Grupo Televisa and Lionsgate. Hopefully they manage to bring up and work with some talented Latino creators.
In the Best Original Song category, musical star Lin Manuel-Miranda was nominated for his work on How Far I’ll Go with Mark Mancini and Opetaia Foa’i.
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?
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.
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.
Dir. Tulica Singh
A depressed croissant trying to find meaning in the superficial world of Bourgeois pastries.
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.
Dir. Anna Kerrigan
The unexpected connections of Harry, a jaded children’s party magician and Willa, a daffy, lesbian yogi.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My header above; “People Like Us” comes to mind and becomes a play on words at the same time. At a couple LA Film Festival panels I heard both actor Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown) and filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale), hit on the personal impact of seeing stories embodied by and created by ‘people like us’ as being their driving creative force. Ryan did not personally know Oscar Grant, the Black 22 year old who was ‘accidentally’ killed by an incompetent Oakland police officer on the Eve of 2009, but says that he was ‘like him’. The frightening thought that this incident could have happened to him is what compelled him to make his first film about this tragic and unnecessary death.
The other way I might mean “People like us” is using ‘like’ as the verb. As humans we have the remarkable ability of feeling compassion and human connection to someone’s narrative regardless of whether we share a common culture. There should not be any fear that if you are too specific i.e. too Chicana, too Puerto Rican, other people (audience) won’t like us or our stories. As Ryan points out in the clip, just because a film is about all about a Puerto Rican family in the South Bronx, referring to The House that Jack Built, it doesn’t mean that a non-Latino would not enjoy it, or identify with the pains of a dysfunctional family and a nostalgia for one’s childhood. The clip is from The Blackhouse Foundation series of ” Diversity Speaks panel that took place last Saturday. Joining Ryan Coogler on this “New American” Independent panel were filmmakers Grace Lee, director of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (who was quick to point out that the Black community has it so good compared to Asian-Americans in media representation), Henry Barrial (The House that Jack Built), Ava Duvernay (Middle of Nowhere) and the gracious moderator and producer Effie Brown. I’m always trying to take note and learn from the LGBT and Black community with regards to how they address their representation in the media. I find that both communities share a stronger solidarity. Perhaps that’s because for some time now, they’ve moved past dwelling over lack of their lot and instead, collaborating with each other, which in turn, better improves their lot.
The signature LA Film Fest panels, Coffee Talks are general conversations about the craft and opportunity to hear from successful artists in their respective fields. I stepped into the Actors one which consisted of Garcelle Beauvais (White House Down, Flight), Joe Manganiello (True Blood,Magic Mike), Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown, Snap) and Andre Royo (The Spectacular Now, The Wire). Even without the “diversity’ header, hearing their different trials of pursuing their art, highlighted the disparity for people of color. As members of a ‘minority’, artists must chip away every damn day at the resistance of a media in which white men continue to dominate opportunity. When asked how they choose their roles, Joe Manganiello, the insanely rugged handsome man’s man, said that for him the most important decision factor is the director. Now of course, that sounds like a valid answer for many reasons. It’s in some way a privilege to be afforded that choice. But for the other brown and black folk on the panel they commented it was far less a choice for them because for one, they do not get offered roles as much. And two, when they do, they must grapple with the trying decision of whether to keep accepting the few roles that come their way which perpetuate the same degrading stereotypes. All actors probably struggle with finding work that does not sacrifice their individual integrity, but this is such an added pressure and obstacle. As Andre Royo said, most roles he’s been in are either where he’s in jail, coming out of jail, or going into jail. If his character is not high, he’s happy. Listen to what Gina says:
The theme of this year’s NALIP 2013 conference was “Spotlight on the Trillion $ Latino Market”, but it seems the only tangible currency the Latino community shares is the ‘trillion’ perspectives on the subject. Pushed to pierce through the brown and loud cacophony overheard this weekend, I’ve come up with; On one side there is a tedious concern of defining our hybrid identity and segmented Latin descent/US geography, which plays into the subsequent frustration over tackling our representation within the commercial mainstream marketplace. On the other side, there exists a newer generation of transcultural artists asserting a very specific identity that informs their work, and their greater concern is building awareness and access to an audience within and outside the specialized outlets and innovative digital distribution platforms available. Of course there were a lot more thoughts vocalized and an opposing range of game plans and visions for the future put forth, but the following is what I absorbed and takeaway from this weekend. Before I launch into it though, it is necessary to acknowledge and appreciate the herculean efforts of NALIP, the non-profit organization of volunteers, staff, operations, board members, partners and participants who produced this year’s conference. If nothing else, the community is unified by the love and passion of the arts.
OPENING AND CLOSING PLENARY
The Opening and Closing plenaries offered proof the conversation is at least moving forward in spite of the generalized and misleading titles of the sessions. The reason being is the caliber of forward-thinking speakers and artists who question the implications and who tended to offer a different perception and context to the subject.
At the “Overview of Media Trends and the Trillion $ Latino Market”, the panelists were David Chitel, New Generation Latino Consortium; Steven Benanav, Flama; Alex Fumero, ABC / Univision’s Fusion and Margie Moreno, Mun2. The very first thing they all said was that this was an extremely complicated market. Their job is to figure out how to break down what part of this trillion-dollar market can realistically build an audience. “We are using a misconception to our advantage. Especially when it comes to content”, Alex Fumero said. Even though its kind of corny how these targeted outlets wrestle with coining a demo moniker (YLA, BCA, NGL, Urbano, Hispanic Millenial), it is indicative of how desperate they are to reach out to the young Latino (18-34) audience in a fresh way. They are adopting a doors-wide-open, you-dictate-us approach with their programming. Most importantly, they do not pander nor underestimate their audience. Fumero invited anyone with programming pitches to email him for the network that will launch late this year (____). On one condition: He insisted that they must send a trailer, or some kind of video clip that demonstrates the type of content they aim to make. “There’s no reason you can’t go out and shoot something on your phone”, he said. Margie Moreno from Mun2, Telemundo’s younger sister which started 8 years ago, said, “We don’t let language dictate our content”, a sign of how much more embracing they are of a fluid bi-cultural identity than any other traditional outlet. Flama, is a new digital platform from Univision launching this fall. They have an open submissions call for all kinds of content. Submit your web series and projects at FindYourFlama.com Already in the works is a scripted show called Salseras about two childhood best friends who become fierce rivals in their college campus salsa dancing competition. And then there is NGL, which instead of taking up one kind of channel space, is positioning itself as an aggregator and source of all the “New Generation Latino” content out there on the net. You can submit your web series to get featured on their site and gain some of the ad share they generate by integrating and offering categorical content to brands and advertising companies.
When it came time to take questions from the audience – (which inevitably usually come in the form of comments rather than questions), I can’t help feel that Dennis Leoni, NALIP Founding Trustee and television writer (Resurrection Blvd) invalidated these innovative and exciting ventures when he said that while it is great that these specialized outlets exist, “I want to play in the big leagues”. Where is NBC, ABC, CBS, he asked? The panelists addressed his frustration by reminding all of us about the nature of the beast; studios and networks do everything in their power to hit the biggest number possible. Even if they find a voice as exciting as John Leguizamo who most definitely has an established fan-base, (and who apparently had three pilots none of which were picked up this season), if they don’t see it play broad (safe), they see it as a risk.
The Closing Plenary’s generic topic “Latinos and Media Stereotypes” was likewise immediately called into question by the panelists themselves, starting with Natalia Almada, this year’s NALIP conference Co-Chair and filmmaker. She mentioned that this concern with a type of representation is problematic and baffling to her since as an artist she is drawn to the complexity and difficult… and wants to look at the things that aren’t clear. Richard Montoya echoed the sentiment by saying he is not concerned and is actually unapologetic with whether his characters offer a positive portrayal of Latinos. “I don’t want to have that conversation.. I just want to drag you into the world and to tell stories best I can…Because it has an authenticity to it, a cultural specificity that rings true to the world but seldom gets underneath”. Meanwhile, Yancey Arias, an actor and producer, demonstrated how, by expanding the genre in which you are working with, where it doesn’t matter where a character comes from but the story and world, it is yet another way to subvert and challenge representation. The short film he stars in and produced, The Shooting Star Salesman, is a whimsical tale about a door to door salesman wearing a top hat and three piece suit who sells shooting stars. It will become available on iTunes in August. The filmmaker Kico Velarde is currently adapting it into a feature.
Reading from his laptop on stage, Richard Peña delivered a serious and illuminating context on the history of world cinema, festivals, and shared his personal connection to his Spanish/Puerto Rican identity as it informed his programming career. He’s always been attracted to films outside the purview, the margins. He struck the parallel that US Latinos are the new Jews of the United States, enjoying an insider/outsiders status which vantage and unique perspective could make for astonishing and novel discoveries about our world. The dilemma facing you he said, “Will you erase that sense of difference to an absolute minimum to cross over in to an even bigger market?”
While Richard’s discourse was introspective and left the room in thought , the second keynote on Saturday by Glenn Llopis played like a corporate motivational speech designed to pump up the audience full of Hispanic pride. Yes, he used that 70’s term, “Hispanic”. The author of a best-seller book titled, Earning Serendipity, he is the founder of Center for Hispanic Leadership. He’s basically carved himself out the role of the guy who corporations bring in to figure out how to reach the largest unidentifiable profit center. Overly enthusiastic, bright eyed and bouncy on stage, he showed us a flashy reel touting our numbers and potential power. It literally felt like he was holding up a mirror to us and saying,’Look how awesome and American, we Hispanics are!” Repeating phrases as if mantra’s like “Value your brand”, “Embrace your cultural promise”, “End of the niche,” I found the delivery patronizing, lip-service schtick and inappropriate. Now, in no way do I mean to diminish this man’s considerable accomplishments. He was the youngest business executive at Sunkist, he is a best selling author and a successful entrepreneur with a positive message. We can all relate to his Cuban father’s story because all of our parents’ experiences are character-building for the battles they waged as first generation, back in the day. His positive reinforcement of the immigrant mentality is noble, but so what. He speaks in general, self help, 12 step like morale boosting phrases, instead of offering practical strategy. He threw so much out there that something finally did in fact stick with me; “To change the conversation, you must lead the conversation and be consistent.” I can totally get behind that – but isn’t that like totally obvio?
THE PEN IS MIGHTER THAN THE SWORD
Wordsmith warrior, Richard Montoya is our de-facto leader charged with rescuing Latinos’ non-existent record in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (and across this great nation). Last Friday night’s private screening of his film debut, Water & Power was jam-packed inside the 400 seat theater at the AMC Citywalk. Howard Rodman, the screenwriter and one of Montoya’s Sundance lab advisors gifted the audience with a referential prologue of how classic LA noir has traditionally resisted filling in non-white characters, completely disregarding the makeup of this city – until now. Water & Power has a groundbreaking breadth of modern mestizo and mystical essence enhanced by Gingger Shankhar’s score and a soundtrack that includes Zack de la Rocha and Chicano Batman. The film’s transmission is undeniably enriched if one has an understanding of context/consciousness of LA and Chicano history. But even if you are unfamiliar with named identifiers like Pelican Bay, Lords of Dogtown, La Onda, Sureños, Frogtown muscle, there is some classic symbolism and brilliant metaphors to appreciate in this tale about two brothers locked in each other’s foreshadowed cataclysmic fate, all which takes place over the course of one night. In film, what is not shown onscreen is just as important as what is onscreen. Referring to the comments made to him about the lack of female characters in his film, Montoya responds, ‘This is what men behave like when there is not a strong female presence.”
“The ghosts of our colonial past haunt this continent”, Richard likes to say – and this is the prevailing night-time, tribal mood of this piece. He modernizes and personifies the noir genre’s shadows, dreams, underbelly fixes, secrets and implied provisos which precariously keep harmony during the day. The aerial views of the city are seen as if from our native American Eagle keeping watch over LA’s circulatory system; freeway arteries on which carbon-dioxide powered vehicles flow, and the unseen pipelines underground through which gravity powered water flows, barely keeping this land soluble. I have to say I was looking forward to Richard Peña as Q&A moderator to dive into the rich thematic context but curiously he only asked about the panoramic shots and once he gave the microphone over to the two young child actors to talk about their first acting experience, Montoya took over the Q&A.
AMERICAN LATINO WRITING PANEL
Carlos Gutierrez of Cinema Tropical, Bel Hernandez/Latin Heat, Juan Caceres/LatinoBuzz and I enjoyed an engaging panel about the relative lack of people and literature covering US Latino cinema. Bel refered us to the book and 2002 documentary 100 years of The Bronze Screen. A more contemporary look is Mary Beltran’s 2009 book called Latina/o Stars in U.S. Eyes: The Making and Meanings of Film and TV Stardom. Still, I maintain that more recent films such as the groundbreaking epic, genre-defying film Sleepdealer written and directed Alex Rivera have not gotten its due in wider entertainment outlets (although it has become a major reference in the educational circuit). It’s interesting to note that back when LatinHeat was founded, they were among the first to feature La J-Lo circa Selena which broker her out and made her the international superstar status and entertainment empire she holds today. From her perspective many of the emerging performers and artists she covered back then are now mainstream, it’s only natural that her publication has gotten more Hollywood. LatinHeat continues to feature emerging and independent American Latinos like the Chamacas web series and the independent feature Mission Park and its wildly talented cast including Joseph Julian Soriana, Jeremy Ray Valdez and Walter Perez. Both Juan Caceres and I come from the film festival programming world and we talked about our desire to get these films out there regardless of whether they end up at our festivals. But there is a lack of volume and quality missing, and Juan made no apology about covering the exceptional films out there and not just because they are Latino. Although it has not been officially announced, it was hinted that the New York International Latino Film Festival is not happening this year. Rumor has it that the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival which took a hiatus last summer, is trying to happen in the fall.
THE ACTING TRAILBLAZERS
“If you don’t produce and write your own stories you are going to sit there and wait for the phone to ring”, Jeremy Ray Valdez said that Edward James Olmos once told him. Jeremy took this advice to heart and has recently produced and starred in his own film, Dreamer, written and directed by Jesse Salmeron. Nicolas Gonzalez who is a tour de force as “Power” in Montoya’s film mentioned he sold his house to keep his integrity – implying he did not take a lucrative job because he didn’t believe in the representation. Nicolas is in the upcoming one hour fantasy drama, Resurrection, which ABC picked up to series order this season. Justina Machado, who gained notable success on 6 ft Under also had a picked up pilot this season called Welcome to the Family on NBC. She talked about how she has carefully chosen her roles and has been able to do so because she is not the typical bombshell looking Latina (she looked bombshell gorgeous to me!). Gina Rodriguez was very outspoken about them coming together as actors and saying NO to any roles which were reductive and perpetuated stereotypes. Jesse Garcia who actively works in shorts, indies, blockbusters and theater, mobilizes a network of working film professionals on Facebook so they can support one another. This was one of the more livelier panels both on and off the stage. Old school folks in the audience talked about la envidia (jealousy), and cried out these young actors should be even bigger Hollywood stars. I think this mentality is kind of a throwback to the chicano civil rights activist days where we demanded acceptance and respect from the ‘establishment and powers that be’. But times have changed. Everything is more decentralized. Also, why give them that power? What is so productive about talking about the crabs in a bucket syndrome of how we don’t support each other’s projects? You can’t make anyone do something they don’t want to do and that includes begging traditional distribution models that there is an audience out there, and likewise begging audiences to support Latino film – especially when you frame it that way. So there are not any major Latino leading movie stars, so what? Is that the only barometer of success? To me success looks like what these fine actors are doing; focused on improving their craft, working their asses off, and choosing, effecting and sometimes producing their roles.
The awards show gala on Saturday was entertaining (although why they don’t offer complimentary drinks irks me, and probably reveals the lush in me) thanks to the energy of the host, Joe Hernandez-Kolski who came out like Gangnam Style PSY lifted on a pedestal held up by some sexy brown boys, making it rain fake bills on the audience.
I was so thrilled for Aurora Guerrero being awarded the Estela Award (McDonalds $7,500 cash money) for Mosquita Y Mari. Bird Runningwater, director of the Native program at Sundance Institute broke ground by including this chicana’s screenplay inside the Native Lab, which reflects the out of the box thinking of Sundance’s development programs. Ben DeJesus a well liked, long time Nalipster was the other Estela Awardee for his behind the scenes documentary of John Leguizamo’s one man show Ghetto Klown. Tales of a Ghetto Klown, which premieres on PBS June 29, follows the workaholic performer upping the stakes by taking his one man show to his motherland of Colombia. It’s an admirable and impressive feat watching him immerse himself in the Spanish language, translating and re-writing his comedy.
Gina Rodriguez was absolutely humbled and gave a very emotional speech when she received La Lupe award in post-humous tribute to Latino community godmother and all around wise-cracking fierce spirit Lupe Ontiveros. Holding back tears, Gina said she doesn’t think she deserves the award now but that she would dedicate her whole career towards deserving such an honor. Watching the reel before she came up, where she auditions for Filly Brown by spitting out a rhyme, her magnetism was so clear and evident that she was born that way. As most artists, they have a natural talent that stirs within and an unmistakable calling to fulfill. Finally Ray Liotta was there to give Danny Trejo the lifetime achievement award. Right before, Michelle Rodriguez ran up onstage to add how much she loves her some Danny Trejo.
THE FUTURE OF NALIP AND TAKEAWAYS,
A true artists takes risks and challenges the status quo. What are the new heights we can achieve without sacrificing integrity and voice? What is wrong with working along the margins if the margins are getting bigger and they offer a unique purview? How do we give the public at large access to the exciting work out there? These are the questions I find to be most relevant. Because I don’t see the value or longevity offered in chasing after the big studio films/networks. They are traditional models that are imploding and on the way out. Rather, a more important question that relates to all artists is how can we make the films we want to make without being dictated on what sells? Why can’t we rid ourselves of an Us vs. Them scenario? As artists should we be so concerned why Latinos don’t go to Latino films? We have to remember the scale of our art and work in this decentralized world. Why must we dwell on the question of our cultural identity in such a dated way?
I think there is a slow but seismic progressive shift, and its exciting. It was only my second year so I don’t have comparison but as one of the panelists pointed out, he was surprised there were not more attendees in the room. What does that say? “The conference has shrunk” said Erin Ploss Campoamor, producer of Cristina Ibarra’s amazing documentary, Las Marthas, who has been coming for years. Although I missed his panel, “How to get your film Beyond the Latino market”, Gabriel Reyes, a PR and marketing vet, referred me to one of the more current- thinking marketing firms called Latinworks a company who has literally invented words to describe the current climate of culture. They’ve trademarked words like “Foreculture”, meaning a new generation with a transcultural mindset, and have identified “Transculturation” as the new game in town, in which people deconstruct their initial cultural identity and start forming new connections between elements of cultures. Their identity is multifaceted fluid and situational.
While it’s part of marketing ploy, I have to say I dig it. I especially like the idea that “Ni de Aqui ni de Alla” (not from here nor there), is turning into “De Aqui y Alla” (from here and there). Embracing otherness is the best route towards oneness (Latinworks)
For me the most productive way to keep moving forward is first and foremost the ongoing development of our content creators, and encouraging our peers and next generation to pursue careers as film critics, programmers, media entrepreneurs any kind of cultural gatekeeper. What matters most is that we work tirelessly towards improving our craft, that we empower ourselves by trusting our distinct voices and collaborate with each other. The biggest challenge for NALIP is how to stay relevant and young. Even though they had a social media maven, Lizza Monet Morales reminding us to utilize our social media to get the word out, when I filter out the hashtag #Nalip2013, there is not nearly as much activity as a conference in this day and age should produce. Where are the millenials at this conference??
I met a few new filmmakers and discovered a number of exciting second features coming through the pipeline, as well as one very exciting narrative film project from a master documentary filmmaker – all of which I’m excited to cover right here on my blog. I come away more compelled than ever to bring awareness to the most original and culturally specific talented writer/directors out there by screening their work for film festivals and writing about their projects on this blog. I know I need to arm myself with further academic studies, specifically of the humanities/political kind, in order to draw parallels, articulate, and change the way we are talking about these films as necessary stories that are flipping and re-creating the cultural zeitgeist. Now more than ever I feel like a genuine part of the ecosystem.
Again, these are only my observations. I’d love to hear from you if you went to NALIP, and if you didn’t, por que no? por que si?
Tonight the Brooklyn Film Festival drew to a close and I’m so thrilled to hear the news that Nicole Gomez Fisher was awarded BEST DIRECTOR for her debut feature, Sleeping with the Fishes starring Gina Rodriguez! In case you missed it you can ready the interview I did with Nicole last week here.
Festival wins for indie films often help the visibility and future of their distribution. Make sure to like the film’s FB page to stay tuned for future announcements on where we might see the film next.
Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Ana Ortiz, Steven Strait, Priscilla Lopez, Tibor Feldman, Orfeh, Producer: Courtney Andrialis – Director/Screenwriter: Nicole Gomez Fisher – Cinematographer: Raoul Germain – Editor: Carlos Berrios,
The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) is ramping up for its 14th Annual Conference this weekend and to my great gusto, the discourse promises to be more specific, relevant and fresh than last year on how to empower Latino independent storytellers. Judging by the practical and forward-thinking panel discussions, NALIP’s Official Selection YouTube channel showcasing a curated selection of current film trailers, and the hip, savvy talent invited to represent, NALIP is setting the tone for discovery and healthy debate. Chief among the themes will be a contextualized creative response to the much-propagated Latino trillion dollar purchasing power statistic, and how to strategically seize territorial claim to the wild wild west expansion of online distribution platforms.
Among the established and rising American Latino actors and filmmakers on tap are Richard Montoya, Cristina Ibarra, Aurora Guerrero, Gina Rodriguez, Danny Trejo, Jeremy Ray Valdez, and Jesse Garcia. The keynote speech on Friday will be given by none other than Richard Peña, one of the most influential film curators in the world who headed the prestigious Film Society of Lincoln Center for twenty-five years. It will be an insightful and thoughtful conversation moderated by the sensitive, masterly formal documentarian and MacArthur Genius Grant fellow, Natalia Almada. As this year’s NALIP Conference Co-Chair, Almada helped inform the direction of the conference and scored Peña’s participation. When talking about how each year’s conference organically takes shape with the feedback of board members, staff and hosting committee, Beni Matias, Acting Executive Director of NALIP, referenced Natalia’s concern of prominently featuring the voice of the independent filmmaker over the commercial as a guiding pursuit.
Natalia’s involvement with NALIP goes back to 2003 when she became the recipient of the Estela Award, given in recognition to an emerging filmmaker who has ‘arrived’. Her revelatory documentaries include El Velador, El General and Al Otro Lado – all which have been critically acclaimed worldwide and have been featured in museums and screened at film festivals including Sundance and Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. I asked her to share a few words about NALIP’s import and she replied over email, “I think that more than anything else the conference is a place where we can really exchange ideas, address shared concerns in our community and collectively fuel to keep going”.
Natalia is part of the sub-cine filmmaking crew who came of age through NALIP like Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera and Bernardo Ruiz. In fourteen years the organization has managed to be one of the few consistent Latino forums which has nurtured a family of artists/active organizers. Along with Beni Mathias, Maria Agui Carter who is a filmmaker and the Chair of the Board of Directors, has been actively with NALIP since the beginning. Other members who have continued to be involved with the organization since the beginning include Louis Perego Moreno who use to spearhead chapter leadership meetings, Jimmy Mendiola filmmaker and Director of CineFestival in San Antonio, Frank Gonzalez from Disney/ABC, Kim Meyers and Terri Lopez at WGA, Alex Nogales, to name just a few. NALIP has also enjoyed a sustained relationship with Time Warner and HBO who have taken turns at being the presenting partners of the conference since 2000.
Part of the reason I’m so eager to engage with and synthesize this year’s theme is this following text written by Maria Agui Carter to describe the Opening Plenary:
“Forbes magazine has called the Latino Market the “New Media Jackpot.” What is at stake? Why is every network and cable outlet now chasing the Latino market and how are Latino voices participating in this explosion not just as consumers but as creators?
There it is: “But as creators”. Amid all the hoopla over the rising Latino market data that makes corporate brands salivate over how to exploit us as consumers, I have yet to hear any of us fashion a reckoning of a counter creative force. We should be imagining how to harness, demand and unleash our creative power with that kind of purchasing power. Instead, the data is being used to make us a target of a non-stop branding attack in which the depletion of our capital power and identity is at stake.
Aimed to provide a more significant showcase for Latino filmmakers, NALIP is spotlighting recent films on their NALIP YouTube channel. They’ve done away with the NALIPsters On View programming where members could openly screen their work during the conference. Those screening rooms tended to be lightly attended since there was little visibility and competition from the panel programming. Instead, this year NALIP will be uploading trailers of current and upcoming films starting Thursday, June 6. The plan is to build buzz and promote the curated selection of 15 documentaries, narrative features and shorts.
Without a doubt, the most anticipated happening of this year’s conference will be the NALIP and Sundance Institute screening of Richard Montoya’s debut feature film, Water & Power at the AMC CityWalk. The impact and influence of this Chicano icon will be evident by the droves of fans, familia and homies, a wide range of community activists, artists and politicians who will be in attendance – La raza who reflect the young and old blood of the characters he writes. I listed W&P as number one in my top five movies to watch out for in 2013 so I’m thrilled to see it screen this way. Richard Peña will moderate a Q&A with Montoya after the screening. I couldn’t think of a better filmmaker and moderator pairing.
On Saturday at the Awards Gala, Machete Kills star Danny Trejo, the menacing but actually sweet hood actor will be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Aurora Guerrero, filmmaker of Mosquita y Mari will be honored with the Estela Award that comes with a $7500 grant from McDonalds. And in what will surely be an emotionally inspiring moment, the first ever La Lupe Award will be bestowed to Gina Rodriguez. Her effervescence completely evokes the spitfire tenacity of the late great Lupe Ontiveros. I couldn’t think of a more perfect homage and passing of the torch.
While I found last year’s panel topics all over the place, this year it feels more targeted and practical. Panels like Beyond The Latino Market: Getting Your Film Out To A Wider Audience with Gabriel Reyes, Writing on American Latino films moderated by Carlos Gutierrez of Cinema Tropical, the leading cross platform company promoting Latin and Latino Cinema (and yours truly will be participating!), Whatever It Takes: DIY Technology and the Democratization of Content Creation, Major writing programs and initiatives at networks and studios for writers.
On Sunday the Closing Plenary will be Latinos and Media Stereotypes in which Natalia Almada, Richard Montoya, Maria Agui Carter, Yancey Arias will participate and moderated by Mandalit del Barco of NPR. These are all highly experienced, opinionated individuals with distinct tastes and critical contribution to content so I expect this to be one of the more livelier talks.
Overall, this year’s NALIP conference is about to go off!
NALIP 2013 Spotlight on the Trillion Dollar Latino Market will take place June 7-9 at the Universal Sheraton Hotel.
Unveiling at the Brooklyn Film Festival this weekend is the world premiere of SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES, the directorial debut of former stand up comic and actor, Nicole Gomez Fisher. Gina Rodriguez plays the hilariously real and spirited star of the movie, Alexis Fish, a role she booked right as Filly Brown started making waves at film festivals last year. A great cast of women join her including Tony Award winning stage and film actor, Priscilla Lopez who plays her mother, and Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty) who is enjoyably pert, as Gina’s sister. Sleeping with the Fishes is also the first feature produced independently by Courtney Andrialis, a rising producer with many more exciting projects in development (she started her career as assistant to Bingham Ray in 2003). I gotta say, I just love the female power of this film! Check out the just- released trailer of the film, and read the interview I did where I check in with Nicole, a week before she releases her first baby (film) into the world.
How did your Latino/Jewish background and childhood inform your creative expression as you started conceiving of your first feature?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn…a true Brooklynite at heart. My mother is Puerto Rican and my father is of Jewish descent, an interesting mix that has clearly influenced my life and my writing. I don’t necessarily identify with one over the other…both sides make up who I am. I knew when starting SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES that my background and my point of view wasn’t a filmmaker’s voice heard too often. I wanted to express myself and tell a story about a young woman trying to find herself in a world that she felt excluded from…not only from the outside world, but from her immediate as well.
What’s your connection with Gina? How was it to work with her in comedy? She’s got great timing and tons of energy.
I did not know Gina Rodriguez before making SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. We met through our casting directors Sig DeMiguel and Steve Vincent. Her agent read the script and loved it, passed it on to her and BOOM! A meeting was set. We actually met in the bathroom of Rosa Mexicana and it was love at first sight! Gina was incredibly energetic, bright, enthusiastic and funny! I was excited to work with someone “fresh”. I knew before we even ordered that we would work well together. She was just coming off the Sundance premiere for “Filly Brown”. It was an exciting time for her and it showed. She’s a natural when it comes to comedy, so she made directing incredibly easy. Gina’s choices were spot on and she just understood the timing of comedy. It takes a real pro to know when to “go there” and when to pull back and she did. I would say try this and within seconds she would make a slight adjustment and go. If she thought something didn’t work or wanted to try another shot, we went with it. Collaborating with her was such fun. She made directing my first feature a pleasure.
The tale of a 30something whose life has not gone as expected and must deal with the pressure of returning to a childhood like dynamic at home with the parents, is so relatable and universal, but it can also be quite personal and individual, how personal is this screen variation to you? What did you want to convey that you had not typically seen in this popular canon?
It’s personal. The story itself is loosely based on my family, but there are many aspects to it that are a mix of truth and fiction. For my lead, Alexis Fish (played by Gina Rodriguez), her coming back home after years of living a lie all in the name of “saving face” is paralyzing for her. As you mentioned, her resilience to stay true to herself has been an exhausting journey. Having to deal with the loss of a loved one while trying to pick up the pieces of your life only makes it that much harder to overcome. I wanted to take a classic story and make it new. Yes, she is returning home to the pressures of family, but in Alexis’ case, returning home to her mother is what is so daunting. You have two strong women who don’t see eye-to-eye: one whose pride identifies her, the other whose pride is crushed as she struggles to find her identity.
I love that you chose to do your first film a comedy. There doesn’t seem to be as many first films as comedies tackled in the indie world, and even less from a female written and directed perspective. What are your influences in this vein? Also, what is it about our passionate Latino culture in particular you think that makes family dysfunction so melodramatic and ripe for comedy?
I was a stand up comic for years and I love writing comedy. I’m a huge fan of films that blend comedy and drama. It’s what life is made of—the ying and the yang. Some of the funniest moments in life are also the saddest. When you can stop and laugh at a time when hope seems dim, that is life changing. Laughter has pulled me through some really hard times. …Where there is passion, there is drama. From my experience, Latinos are very strong-minded, very passionate and very vocal about what we believe. The combination makes for some terrific melodrama. It’s who we are—they go hand in hand.
Who were some key collaborators and mentors for you during the launching of your first feature? Tells us about Courtney as producer – she’s from HD net films, how did you two bond about the making of this film?
Some of the key collaborators were my husband Joe, my friend and fellow screenwriter A.J. Meyers, my casting directors, my father and of course, my producer Courtney Andrialis. Courtney and I have built a solid relationship around SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. I met her via our casting directors. She’s young, eager and has a ton of knowledge. She was an integral part of the making the film. She brought on an amazing team that held me up throughout the entire process, which for a first time director is so integral. There were a lot of learning curves for me. Courtney did a great job of keeping me together and supporting me throughout the entire process.
As you navigate the wild west of distribution, how are you feeling and where are your expectations with getting the film out there? Are you going to be exploring the newly paved roads of direct distribution models or pursuing the traditional theatrical and window route?
It’s great that now filmmakers have so many ways to reach their audience. We are excited for our world premiere at the Brooklyn Film Festival on June 1st. After that, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and see!
Best of luck with the film and have a blast at your premiere, Nik!
I’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.
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.
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.
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!?
In 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.
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.
Back by popular demand here is my second in the “WTF is Latino at xyz Festival series”. This time I’m taking a peek of what kind of Latino we got at the weirdest film junkie happening in Austin, the sweaty, youthful and hip South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival.
Last year, provocatively hitting that American Latino crack was Los Chidos by Omar Rodriguez Lopez. It could have easily been thrown to the ravenous midnight wolves of the festival but instead Festival Director, Janet Pierson recognized the socio-cultural critique underneath the Neanderthal nasty, and boldly offered it up on the main storefront display of its Narrative Competition. There was also an entire shorts program presented by those Miami based hooligans, Borscht Corp. They return with their new short, #Postmodem, AND add this to your SXSW schedule, Cuban-American multi-media artist Jillian Mayer will be on a panel called Vagina Puppets and Fair Use.
So what does this first look reveal? There are lots of beautiful brown faces appearing in front of the camera, in particular emerging actors doing their ‘crossover’ thing like Francisco Barreiro and Genesis Rodriguez, popular Tigerbeat cover star Selena Gomez in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, young blood Kevin Hernandez in Short Term 12 (The Sitter, Get the Gringo) the feature based on the acclaimed short by Destin Daniel Cretton, and then there’s handsome Marcus DeAnda who delivers a moving performance in the small town gay drama, that just premiered at Sundance, Pit Stop by Yen Tan.
While onscreen talent is substantial, the films written and or directed by American Latinos in this crop is considerably less than so. By my preliminary account, we got three; Carlos Puga (Burma), Victor Teran (Snap) and Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spiders). I’d love to be corrected.
(Descriptions pulled from festival, italic footnotes by me).
Los Wild Ones
Director: Elise Salomon
Wild Records is an indie label reminiscent of the early days of Sun Records. The label is based in LA and run by Reb Kennedy aka Mr. Wild Records and is comprised of young Latin musicians who write and perform 50s Rock n Roll.
With rockabilly and Mexican rock bands like Rhythm Shakers, AlexVargas, and Pachuco Jose y Los Diamantes signed to the old school label (they don’t do advertising and they are actually going back to vinyl instead of CD production) this is the perfect music doc representing American Latino culture to premiere at SXSW and in which audiences will discover a trove of hybrid Latino influenced music treasures.
Director/Screenwriter: Carlos Puga
On the eve of an annual sibling reunion, a troubled young writer is sent reeling with the arrival of an unexpected guest. Cast : Christopher Abbott, Gaby Hoffmann, Chris McCann, Dan Bittner, Emily Fleischer
Festivals love it when their shorties come back to premiere their features. Chilean born Puga played his documentary short film, Satan Since 2003 at SXSW 2011 and returns with his first narrative feature in which Christopher Abbott shows off some serious dramatic acting chops (HBO’s Girls, Hello I Must Be Going).
Loves Her Gun
Director/Screenwriter: Geoff Marslett, Screenwriter: Lauren Modery
This romantic tragedy follows a young woman’s transition from flight to fight after she is the victim of street violence, but will the weapons that make her feel safe again create problems worse than the ones she is escaping? Cast : Trieste Kelly Dunn, Francisco Barreiro, Ashley Rae Spillers, Melissa Hideko Bisagni, John Merriman
Francisco Barreiro is a rising Mexican star whose recent acting credits include horror films, Here Comes the Devil and Somos Lo Que Hay (We are What we Are). This marks his first English-speaking role. Go Paco!
Director/Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer
Set mostly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hours is the story of a man who battles looters, the elements and exhaustion for two days in a hospital while his newborn daughter clings to life inside a ventilator powered only by a manual crank. Cast : Paul Walker, Genesis Rodriguez
In Casa de Mi Padre, Genesis played the envious role of Sonia, the female lead who gets manhandled by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna’s characters and falls in love with big oaf Will Ferrell. Competing for laughs she held her own opposite the comedic giant and proved she was more than a dime a dozen token Latina bombshell. Before being plucked for that role she was mostly seen in telenovelas so it’s nice to see her find more diverse work like this drama and the upcoming comedy with Jason Bateman, Identity Thief.
Go For Sisters
Director/Screenwriter: John Sayles
Bernice and Fontayne grew up so tight they could ‘go for sisters’. After twenty years apart, they are reunited when Bernice is assigned to be Fontayne’s parole officer- just when she needs help on the wrong side of the law.
Cast: Edward James Olmos, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Yolonda Ross
This was not on my radar at all, but what a cool surprise to learn of a new film by ‘bootstrap’ John Sayles (among his body of work, Lone Star and Casa de los Babys offer distinct povs of Latino culture). Eddie Olmos, the original Chicano movie gets top billing.
Director: Petra Costa
Elena moves to NY with the dream of becoming a movie actress. She leaves behind Petra, her 7-year-old sister. Years later, her sister Petra goes to NY to look for Elena.
This personal and impressionist docudrama by Petra, a NY based filmmaker and actress is a 2012 grantee of Tribeca Film Institute’s Latin America Media Arts Fund. Apparently her country’s Filmmaker Godfathers, Fernando Mereilles and Walter Salles greatly praised the film when it premiered last fall in Brazil and prestigious doc fest in Amsterdam, IDFA.
Directors: Youssef Delara, Victor Teran, Screenwriter: Victor Teran
A stylish psychological thriller set against the underground dubstep DJ scene that takes the audience on a dark and terrifying journey into the depths of the psychopathic mind as it threatens to explode into horrific violence.
Cast : Jake Hoffman, Nikki Reed, Thomas Dekker, Scott Bakula, Jason Priestley
From the team behind Filly Brown, co-directors and producers Delara (Iranian/Spanish) and Teran (Chicago born son of Nicaraguan parents), comes a brand spanking new film that takes us inside the mind of a DJ in a story that is as sick and heavy as the thumping and synth sounds of its Dubstep score. Gina Rodriguez, the eponymous Filly Brown lead who ignited audiences with her breakout performance has a small role.
Diario a Tres Voces / Three Voices (Mexico)
Director: Otilia Portillo Padua
We are always told that love lasts forever like in children’s fairy tales, but the reality is that people change and relationships expire.
I’m very happy to see this beautiful and lyrical documentary, which had its world premiere at the Morelia International Film Festival, included in the program. It is by far one of the most moving glimpses into the female psyche I’ve seen. – A simply elegant and intimate glimpse of three women in three different stages in their life and how they perceive and appreciate the romance they’ve met, loved and lost.
Director/Screenwriter: Fernando Guzzoni
The life of Alejandro, a solitary, fragile and unpredictable man, who is crushed by the hostility of his mysterious past.
Cast : Alejandro Goic, Amparo Noguera, María Gracia Omegna, Alfredo Castro, Sergio Hernández, Cristián Carvajal,
Add Fernando Guzzoni to the growing list of young talented filmmakers from Chile with this chilling feature directing debut. A haunting and psychological post-Pinochet drama – (a reminder of the vast imprint left on the country still reeling and seeking reconciliation in the aftermath of its cruel dictatorship regime), it was awarded Best Film in the venerable San Sebastian Film Festival’s New Directors Competition and recently screened at Rotterdam.
This Ain’t No Mouse Music!
Directors: Chris Simon, Maureen Gosling
Roots music icon Chris Strachwitz (Arhoolie Records) takes us on a hip-shaking stomp from Texas to New Orleans, Cajun country to Appalachia, searching for the musical soul of America.
Features five time Grammy winner, King of the Accordion, Flaco Jiménez, a Tejano musician from San Antonio.
Director/Screenwriter: Fede Alvarez, Screenwriter: Rodo Sayagues
Five friends, holed up in a remote cabin, discover a Book of the Dead that unwittingly summons up dormant demons which possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left to fight for survival.
Cast : Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
Uruguayan born filmmaker caught Hollywood’s attention in 2009 immediately after uploading his disquieting and innovative sci-fi short film, Panic Attack. Suddenly Hollywood was on the line and Fede soon met with Sam Raimi. Four years later and the eagerly anticipated Evil Dead remake and Fede’s directing debut will world premiere at SXSW where it is slotted as one of the main Headliners (reason#132 to love SXSW) In this awesome interview with the geeks at Collider, Fede remarks on the whole recent ratings arbitration with the film, “You know you Americans are crazy, right? The whole ratings system is like “cuckoo!”, he says, referring to the puzzling prescription dose of sex and horror the MPAA deems fit for U.S. mass consumption (mutilation ok, boob no way). Sony releases Evil Dead in April.
Big Ass Spider!
Director: Mike Mendez, Screenwriter: Gregory Gieras
When a giant alien spider escapes from a military lab and rampages across the city of Los Angeles, it is up to one clever exterminator and his security guard sidekick to kill the creature before the city is destroyed. Cast: Greg Grunberg, Lombardo Boyar, Clare Kramer, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Patrick Bauchau
A devoted horror buff and filmmaker (Killers, Gravedancers, Convent) Mike grew up in Pasadena and would work at his parent’s Salvadorean/Mexican restaurant on Hollywood Blvd when he wasn’t making movies with friends. Check out his wicked website.
Si Nos Dejan
Director: Celia Rowlson-Hall
If they let us, we will love each other all our lives.
Homegirl may not be Latina but she knows her classic Mexican ballads from which the title is based (Luis Miguel and Rocio Durcal are among the many great singers who have covered this song). Spanish is THE ultimate romance language and it’s perfectly infused into Celia’s beautifully shot and offbeat cosmic love short.
The Village (Brazil)
Director: Liliana Sulzbach
The daily life of the dwellers of a microtown in the the south of Brazil which is about to vanish.
Director: Hugo Vargas-Zesati
A man disturbed by a dream awakens to realize his unconscious has called his self-awareness into question. When confronting himself, misfortune brings the temporal world into perspective.
This is insanely hilarious and now that I read this logline, ingenious. Young Texas filmmaker.
Dance Till You Drop
Directors: Eric M. Levy, Juan Cardarelli
She thought the house was safe, but under the right circumstances, anything can be dangerous. Even a dance montage.
Juan Cardarelli is originally from Argentina. Together with Levy they are Render Guys, a motion graphic house (Toy’s House, Gasland). Their first feature film Congratulations! played last year’s Austin Film Festival
#PostModem is a comedic satirical sci-fi pop-musical based on the theories of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists. It’s the story of two Miami girls and how they deal with the technological singularity, told in a series of cinematic tweets.
The party starts March 8-17. Follow them on Twitter @SXSW and check out the mega diverse action/info/passes to attend here