The 2017 Sundance Film Festival is officially underway, and its a special one for me because it marks my 10th year with the not for profit. I started working for the institute in 2007 and ever since, every year from from August to November, I screen submissions as a Programming Associate, primarily Latin American and Latino films. More than ever, I feel priviledged to watch such a volume and diverse array of perspectives.
As for my personal mission on this blog, I choose to talk about Latino representation in a laser focused way: highlighting the writers and directors who are out there telling the stories they want to tell the way they want to tell it, and emphasizing the U.S. context. As much as I love to talk about international films, the real void in the U.S. media and therefore urgent need to support, are stories created by first, second, third, multicultural generation Americans.
Overview: Boricuas dominating. Puerto Rico most definitely repping. Also, we got a healthy presence in Digital and Virtual Reality which makes sense beause it (WE) are the future. Without further ado, a rundown of WTF is Latino at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
In the U.S. Documentary Competition
DOLORES AKA Woman in Motion directed by Peter Bratt
Executive produced by none other than Carlos Santana and supported by the San Francisco Film Society’s Documentary Fund, this long overdue celebration of Dolores Huerta’s achievements over the course of her 60something years in civil rights is reverent, timely and galvanizing. Peter Bratt is an alumni of the festival. He wrote and directed the San Francisco set, gay coming of age La Mission which played in the 2009 festival. Armed with a rich archive of footage, banging soundtrack and one-on-ones with Dolores herself, the film chronicles one woman’s boldness in tackling the obstacles she faced on the sociopolitical battlefield along with the personal challenges of being an absentee mother. It encourages all women to seize claim to their often overlooked contributions to society.
New to the festival, Puerto Rican Antonio Santini’s first documentary feature co-directed with Dan Sickles, MALA MALA about the trans sex worker community in Puerto Rico, premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Like the intimate access of that film, Dina also has a striking sense of intimacy, unpresumptiousness and ultimately delivers an unexpected and very honest connection to someone as authentically unique as Dina.
In the high profile out of competition Premieres section
The Sundance Film Festival showed Arteta’s very first film, Star Maps back in 1997. Ever since he’s made a career of crafting indelible characters across film and television. He reteams with Mike White (Chuck and Buck, GoodGirl) on this deliciously wicked tale of a fateful dinner encounter between a humble holistic healer and a mega brazen successful business developer. The two opposing forces are embodied by the superb Salma Hayek and immense John Lithgow. Thought provoking, unpredictable and utterly engrossing, the dark comedy is produced by Killer Films. Watch an exclusive clip here.
Co-written with her star and partner in crime, Brett Gelman, Janicza’s striking feature length debut boasts an insanely big and comedically gifted cast including Michael Cera, Judy Greer, Gillian Jacobs, Martin Starr. Along with a background in design, Bravo has a knack for capturing characters lost in flight with a tragic humor and heart. An alumni of the festival, Gregory Go Boom with Michael Cera and last year’s Woman in Deep with Alison Pill, Bravo is a busy woman. Last May she debuted a Virtual Reality experience at Tribeca Film Festival, called A Hard World for Small Things about a day in the life of South Central, and also directed an episode of the Golden Globe winning show, Atlanta.
Marking their 12th project (features and shorts) at the festival in 7 years, multimedia mischievous artists, Jillian and Lucas bring a japanese inspired marionette short this year which like all of their work is eye-grabbing, provocative and is about more than meets the eye. The Miami full time Borsht Corp is a nonprofit which supports Miami filmmakers, they recently supported 28 filmmakers with cold hard cash all of which are poised to premiere at their festival which has been listed on Moviemakers 25 Coolest Festivals in the world. For more info on this February’s event click here.
Making her directorial debut, actor Rosa Salazar stars in this short shot around the hipster rising area in LA named Frogtown. The logline: A complex chick deals with a vanilla beau, a shitty brunch, and a dead coyote all in a Los Angeles day. Heart. Excited to see more of her writing and directing.
Marvin Lemus who made a short film with Project Involve called Vamonos which I loved (you can watch it on PBS online) will be premiering 3 episodes of this series that takes place in Boyle Heights. Each episode features a resident trying to pursue their living/art. Lemus hits a chord/funny bone here as most of the tension and strife is intergenerational; old school mexican generation clashing with millenials. The series is backed by Mr. Charles King and his company Macro. Lemus is in good company. Macro also produced Denzel Washington’s Fences, and at the festival Dee Ree’s WW2 period Mudbound.
Its only three years ago that William popped up on the radar with his animated series Gran’pa Knows Best, a really funny and sweet series in which he used3-D printed miniatures of his Puerto Rican grandfather over real voicemails that his grandfather from would leave for him. Initially an independent short, it was quickly snapped up with HBO. Victor y Isolina introduces his grandma to the mix, who is the perfect foil to his unapologetic grandpa. Produced by Elaine Del Valle who produced her own webseries, Reasons y I’m Single. Check out his website for more info.
In the New Frontier (the future) section
I don’t know much about this one but the description sounds super fascinating; a beauty salon of the future’. Fingers crossed I get an opportunity to experience it while I’m here. Also I’m dying to meet one of the artist/engineers, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge who founded Hypen-Lab, an international team of women of color working at the intersection of tech, art, science and narrative.
IF NOT LOVE by Rose Troche
I been crushing hard on Rose Troche for as far back as I can remember. Go Fish changed my life. No joke. She was a producer on Concussion, and has since come back to the festival in the New Frontier program with a series called Perspectives, which puts you in the shoes of a person caught in a situation a result which shatters any idea of black and white and makes you swim in the gray. Per the description: IF NOT LOVE challenges the viewer to contemplate another difficult subject—a mass shooting at a nightclub, but this time with the question posited: is another outcome possible?
OUT OF EXILE: DANIEL’S STORY by Nonny de la Peña
I mean, she’s been called the Godmother of Virtual Reality. Nonny de la Peña also returns to New Frontier with this piece that recreates Daniel Ashley Pierce’s coming out video that went viral. If you don’t know the heartbreaking and inspirational story read here This experience puts your body into the middle of the action around audio that Daniel recording during that encounter.
For deeper coverage on Latino and Latin American talent at the festival check out REMEZCLA. For a closer look at all documentaries at the festival head over to What (not) to Doc. Livestream the festival’s panels and watch select shorts from home. And follow my BTS on Twitter @IndieFindsLA and insta ChicanafromChicago.
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
So these are the wild cats from Miami, Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, representing at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival with their latest short #PostModem. I’ll be sure to track them down in Park City for an interview. These guys are insanely and outrageously creative and young audiovisual artists. They form part of a radical collective called Borsht Corp which just put on a killer festival happening last month. Read all about it here and check out this Mark Bell’s immersive festival account on Film Threat. Keep up with this crew on their FB page. Here’s a teaser of #Postmodem followed by three clips of their previous shorts.