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