WTF is Latino @LAFilmFest?

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By LA artist Carolyn Castaño

If you are like me, you make local film festival plans last minute, which makes my annual WTF is Latino at LA Film Festival post not so much late as just (still) in time for you to make a few movie selections this weekend and next week.  The festival started last Wednesday, June 1 and runs through Thursday June 9th.  PDF of schedule here.

 

In full disclosure I am a Programming Consultant for the festival. These aren’t reviews as much as hopefully an insightful guide. My purpose in this series is not only to spotlight Latino writers/directors and monitor representation, but also to challenge notions of WTF is Latino.  It is a U.S. context classification that is vast; a generational and geographic diaspora.  The term Latino is often mistakenly appropriated to international filmmakers/talent from Spanish and Portugese-speaking countries.  Alejandro Gonzales Inñaritu is not Latino or a Person of Color guys.  I’m talking about ‘Merican – Latinos.

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Cars at the Hollywood Lowriders film premiere courtesy of the De Albas

The biggest change at the LA Film Festival is that it has moved from DTLA’s L.A. Live Regal Cinemas to the West side in Culver City’s Arclight Cinemas. The festival has scaled down considerably from 2014’s nearly 200 features to this year’s 56 feature-length film lineup. It underwent a programming department shakeup last year, the result of which it achieved an unprecedented shift towards more inclusive representation. The festival also established a strict world premiere requirement outside of a few special screenings and the Buzz section in order to give new films a shot.  For the second year in a row the festival remains leader of the mainstream festival pack with keeping true to its diversity mission.  43% of the films in competition categories are directed by women; and 38% of the films are directed by people of color. 86% of the films in competition are directed by 1st or 2nd time directors.

About the U.S. Latino rep –  there’s 5 US. Latino feature-length writers/directors I can identify which comes out to roughly under 10%. In front of the camera the program includes co-starring/cameo roles from established actors like John Leguizamo, Eva Longoria, Lauren Luna Velez, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Judy Reyes, Emily Rios as well as hot rising talent like Gabriel Chavarria, Yvette Monreal and Victor Almanzar.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.57.15 AMLOWRIDERS directed by Ricardo de Montreuil, written by Elgin James and Cheo Hodari Coker.

Everyone agrees that the film’s theme made this the perfect LA Film Festival world premiere and while I’ll take full credit in pitching the film to the festival, I certainly cannot take credit for giving it the prestigious Opening Night slot which speaks to Festival Director, Stephanie Allain’s mission of centering underrepresented films as festival headliners. About the film’s pedigree: The film was conceived by Hollywood producer Brian Grazer who grew up fascinated with the lowrider culture. Grazer enlisted Peruvian filmmaker Ricardo de Montreuil to direct, who with his super talented Colombian DP Andres Sanchez, captures the landmark bridges, hills, hotspots and avenues of El Sereno, Echo Park, Elysian Park and Boyle Heights.  But its LA born and bred legendary tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon and photographer Estevan Oriol, listed as executive producers, along with co-writer Elgin James, who lend the film some cred and streak Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.59.21 AMof authenticity into this male-dominated club culture.  In front of the camera is East Los Angeles native Gabriel Chavarria (East Los) who plays Danny Alvarez, the graffiti artist son of a an OG lowrider club member. Cast is rounded out by Italian stallion sweetheart Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy) who plays his brother, Guatemalan-American Tony Revolri as a friend, Academy Award nominated Mexican actor Demian Bichir (A Better Life), Eva Longoria and Yvette Monreal. The Grazer/Blumhouse production, which is said to have cost around 5 million, has yet to announce a release date let alone a trailer or social media campaign.

LUPE UNDER THE SUN written and directed by Rodrigo Reyes

A bittersweet tale about a fascinating and flawed man who comes to an unsettling realization about his impermanence.  Set in Merced, California where Mexican-American filmmaker Reyes is from, Lupe Under the Sun is slotted in the World Cinema competition.  I listed this film as one of my top 10 films to watch out for in 2016 so I’m so excited to see it get its first festival premiere. While it makes sense to tag the docu-fiction film under immigrant struggles, don’t get it twisted. Reyes’ sophomore film smartly eschews politics  and portrays a personal and deeply moving character’s existential crisis.

@LupeUnderTheSun

11:55 directed by Ben Snyder and Ari Issler, written by Victor Almanzar

The title is a sly evocation to a 3:10 to Yuma type western duel in that it sets an increasingly tense timer from Marine Nelson Sanchez’s early morning return back home to that night’s arrival of a bus carrying a dangerous antagonist who blames him for the death of his brother and is out for revenge. Dominican-American Victor Almanzar who is a real life Marine, stars and co-wrote the film.  The story is tight and oozes tension from the get as his homecoming is quickly overshadowed by the looming danger which conflicts with his genuine desire to move forward with his girlfriend and protect his sister and niece. Bomb performances by Victor and Elizabeth Rodriguez as well as John Leguizamo who plays a veteran in a wheelchair (damn he is good at drama). About the directors, both cinematographers in their own right, Ben Snyder notably was a Story Consultant for documentary The Wolfpack and did additional cinematography for Nas: Time is Illmatic, while Ari has shot music documentaries like Brothers Hypnotic and the Hip Hop Project.

 

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72 HOURS in Brooklyn: A Love Story directed by Raafi Rivero, co-written with Bilal N’Dongo

The film had its first world premiere screening Thursday night so if you missed it I urge you to join the campaign to demand an encore screening slot.  I hope it happens. This is a must watch as its an incredible feat of collaborative and guerilla filmmaking.  It is a ridiculously authentic and compelling feature of interweaving slices of Black youth in Brooklyn led by one college-bound 18 year old Caesar Winslow’s pursuit of romance across Brooklyn.

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When I asked Rivero how he defines his cultural background, he said Hip Hop. Which is a good reminder how each person identifies with their own distinct cultural upbringing (Okay he’s got a grandfather from Cuba).

@72HrsBK

#72HrsBK

ACTORS OF SOUND directed by Lalo Molina

The craft and history of Foley for all you Foley junkies. A documentary playing in the LA Muse section.

Making the rounds on the festival circuit since Sundance and SXSW is short film, The Send-Off directed by Ivette Lucas playing in Documentary Shorts program 1.

 

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Dir Amber Tambyln with Emily Rio

 

Emily Rios (From Dusk til Dawn tv, The Bridge, Quinceañera) plays Alia Shawkat’s  punk no nonsense best friend in the film adaptation of Paint it Black written by Janet Finch.  It’s notably quite an impressive and dynamic directorial debut by actor Amber Tamblyn. The film is premiering in the U.S. Competition.

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Lauren Luna Velez has a deliciously wicked role as police chief in the ultra-fun action violent cult comic adaptation Officer Downe about an L.A. supercop who is killed in the line of duty but is  resurrected to clean up the streets. The joy ride is directed by M. Shawn Crahan (Slipknot) screening in the NightFall Section.

Judy Reyes (Scrubs) is called on to soothe the anxiety of a young girl’s first period and welcome her into womanhood in comedy Girl Flu written and directed by Dorie Barton, screening in the LA Muse section.

and now MISC: A couple of my recent festival faves and must-see’s if you can catch them at the fest.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 12.59.04 PM.pngKICKS, the pulsing and striking directorial debut of Justin Tipping is co-written with Joshua Beirne-Golden. Both of whom incidentally wrote an original script for Lowriders at one point and ultimately received co-producer credit. The Oakland set film stars stunner talent Jahking Guillory who decides to go after whats his (the Air Jordans he bought himself which he was jacked for) ultimately sending him on an irrevocable path torwards confronting what it means to be a man in his social construct. The film  premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. #KicksFilm

JEANS OF THE JONESES – saw this really witty matriarchal comedy at SXSW by first time filmmaker Black Canadian Stella Meghie starring Taylor Paige as a hopeless in love, adorably searching writer.

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Follow the latest scoop @LAFilmFest, check out their YouTube videos for daily coverage and interviews, and for more info go to website or call box office: 1 866 Film Fest.

Heading to the Westside so stay tuned for more via my twitter handle: @IndieFindsLA

#Outfest – Where my hip Latinos be at.

If you are wondering where to meet and connect with the hip, new Latino generation of film and television right now, the answer is LA’s very own Outfest Film Festival. So get your booty over here. It runs until this Sunday, July 21.  If you are not in LA, don’t sweat it, I’m on the beat, finding out about all the crazy Latino talent coming up.  On the screen, and in the DGA Atrium where most after-screening receptions are being held, I got the chance this weekend to discover and meet some really fierce brown talent.  I was pleased as punch to look around me and see faces and bodies epitomizing the spectrum of LA diversity on so many levels, not just “Hollywood”.  Old, young, singles, couples. Sure you got your beefcake WeHo boys with jaw dropping sculpted bodies, fine ass butch and girly lesbians who look like they walked off the set of The L Word (and who I secretly wish would  hit on me), and fabulous transgender artists, but what’s more exciting to behold is the plenty of ‘regular’ folks whose unquestionable magnetic air of confidence, smile and style compete for my undivided attention among this colorful crowd.

I’ll be down there all week to meet more folks and hopefully get some video and more intimate conversation regarding the stories being told. For now, lets put these three on the spotlight:

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Eloy Mendez on the left, Polo Munoz of LatinoWeeklyReview.com

ELOY MENDEZ

Outfest’s Opening Night film last Thursday was C.O.G which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is directed by Cuban-American Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Easier With Practice).  Its the coming out and of age story about a college boy, David (based on David Sedaris’ short story) who goes on a sabbatical like journey to spend a summer picking apples.  Naturally the people he encounters on the fields are Latino. Instead of being relegated to background characters, however, Eloy Mendez plays Pedro who embodies him vividly, affecting David’s inner work in progress.  I met Eloy and learned that this role has opened  new doors from him, after years of working in television and film.  BIG SCOOP: He will next be seen in Mike Ott’s upcoming film, Lake Los Angeles, which apparently is mostly told in Espanol!  Mike is the visceral director of such festival faves as Little Rock and Pearblossom Highway.  I applaud Ott’s efforts in making this film in another language, and for really exploring and mining these stories of unanchored souls caught in the greater desert mountain landscape of Los Angeles.  Make sure to check out Lake Los Angeles Facebook page to find out where it will be premiering in early 2014.

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AUGIE ROBLES

Augie Robles graduated from AFI Film school, made a few short films then landed a gig on CSI which ended up being 14 years during which he sharpened his cutting skills as an editor, and became restless and eager to tell his own stories again.  He recently did his editing magic on Aurora Guerero’s film, Mosquita y Mari which y’all know how I feel about. (love).  He edited the film, BIG GAY LOVE  which just premiered at Outfest, directed by Ringo Le and starring Jonathan Lisecki in a super sweet and tender love story about a hopeless romantic in LA who struggles to fit into LA’s lofty pressure and idealized gay man archetype.  Back writing and directing his own work, Robles recently screened his short film,  The Rookie and the Runner, set in Elysian Park at a number of film festivals.  He also has plenty of other projects in the works, including something a la Twilight Zone !  He has a lot of technical and narrative genre skills to unleash in his own voice, and I find it really sweet that he is sharing his wealth of experience as a mentor for Outfest’s program, Outset, created to empower and educate LGBT youth(16-24) to tell their stories through film.

HARVEY GUILLEN

In a show stealing/stopping cameo in Big Gay Love, Harvey plays a kid who represents the essence of gay youth who try with all their might and ferocity every damn day to battle and defy mainstream society’s twisted dictation of what normal, perfection and beauty should look like.  Encapsulating perfectly how important it is to see people like you in order to not feel alone is a bigger theme of the importance of Outfest and for that matter, a diverse representation.  Harvey can next be seen in Pantelion’s luchador comedy, Aztec Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 8.50.24 PMWarrior directed by Scott Sanders (Black Dynamite) starring Luis Guzman and gorgeous Nadine Velasquez.  You might know have seen him in The Internship and on 2010 ABC Family television show, Huge.  He is absolutely charming, playful and a bon vivant with a deliciously fierce streak.

REFLECTIONS OF: Outfest is truly LA’s most inclusive and community driven festival.  Not just for the LGBT community but the organization picks up the slack of other festivals by embracing many underrepresented multi-ethnic voices.  The AFI Festival is a wonderful showcase of international film but as an extension of the film school, it has positioned itself as a program driven for cinephile-centric and auteur platform.  Meanwhile LA Film Festival certainly offers big broad fare for everyone, but also tries to inch in on AFI’s international showcase turf. Don’t get it twisted, I was really happy to see LA Film Fest screen three U.S. Latino films this year.  But just think how much more impactful it would be to tap into the U.S Latino film representing the rich and underplayed walks of life AQUI in Los Angeles.    Films like Water & Power, Vincent & Luzy and Pardon are really original and telling narratives with a distinct aesthetic, and all three have yet to have their official premiere even though they’ve been submitted to the festival circuit.  While I don’t think its reasonable to rely on the big distributors to be the platforms of discovery for these films, I do believe that festivals on this scale have that cultural responsibility, or at least it should behoove them to do so.  An often heard comment that I take issue with is that a film has to be ‘good enough’ to show at these festivals.  Every film is imperfect so this does not hold agua with me when we are talking about the discovery and expanding of marginalized voices.   I previously reported that The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival has announced it is currently taking submissions after its sudden shutter last year. There is no doubt there is a sizable hungry audience and community for these films, and filmmakers who want their films to be seen by them, so even though its bewildering to me that LALIFF does’t have their festival dates set yet, I’ve a feeling they will still be looked to as the last beacon and chance for the array of Latino filmmakers and stories in LA trying to emerge through the bottleneck.

#LAFF2013 Tapia – The Indomitable Spirit & Legacy of Johnny Tapia

TapiaPoster-thumb-300xauto-33284The brief and tumultuous life of prizefighter Johnny Tapia, who passed away last year at the age of 45, elicits overwhelming empathy and incredible awe.  The documentary directed by Eddie Alcazar, intimately reveals the immense emotional agony and pain he suffered in his life but also shows that for the series of extreme, rock bottom lows of misfortune, Johnny always jumped back up to reach equally extreme heights of success and triumph, like winning five boxing championships, meeting the love of his life, Teresa Tapia, with whom he has a young son, and becoming a beloved hero to his hometown Albuquerque, as well as around the world.  Johnny grew up without a father, and his mother was the world to him.  At the tender age of 8, his mother was viciously murdered – a traumatic catalyst for what became the pang of his tortured existence. The documentary, which is world premiering in competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is powerfully narrated through Johnny’s own words.  Alcazar adds a touch of style and a gorgeous cinematic framework.  The film opens with Johnny’s slightly raspy Burqueño slanged voice over young Johnny Jr. punching the air in the New Mexico desert plains and celestial horizon captured in wide panoramic vista at the magic hour, painting a metaphysical element to the legacy he leaves.

Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 12.08.11 PMEddie was working on a dramatic feature about Johnny but after he passed, Eddie took the research footage and made it into this documentary film.  The dramatic feature, which he is co-writing with Bettina Gilois, (Glory Days, The Hurricane) who co-wrote Johnny’s biography, Mi Vida Loca is readying for a fall shoot in Albuquerque.   50 Cent is an executive producer on the documentary and is also onboard for the dramatic version.

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Teresa & Johnny Jr. at the world premiere screening

The documentary is gripping and utterly poignant. Hearing his inner, unwavering fury takes on a dark possession.  His voice and soul feel weary but he is unrelenting against the demons he waged battle with every single day of his life.   Seeing him from his early days rising up through the boxing world first as the “Baby-faced Assassin” to his later years as the lines of anguish take over his face and his body becomes heavily drawn with symbolic tattoos, his killer instinct clashing with his vulnerability. At the world premiere screening, his wife Teresa and son, Johnny Jr. came out to introduce the film but did not return after the screening, as much as everyone wanted to see them.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was too overwhelming for them and Eddie declined to do a Q&A out of respect, feeling that what’s important in the doc is Johnny, and Teresa is the only person who could talk about and for him. He told me that a couple days later when I got the opportunity to interview him.  I learned the ABQ native has some Bolivian lineage and found out more about both Tapia films.  Here’s a redacted transcription of our talk:

How did you know Johnny, how far did you too go back?

I never actually met him until I knew I wanted to do a movie two years ago.  Back then it was about creating the narrative version of his life so I sold him on my idea of doing one year of his life in his youth and he was totally up for it.  Then I got the rights and we basically just started following him around at that point. As I was following him around I was writing the script.  It was all about research and compiling all this archival footage.

Relating to him.

A lot of it is because he embodies the Albuquerque culture, which is a little bit different. Having somebody that stands out from ABQ is always kind of special and he definitely kept it real from his upbringing so I think that’s why everybody in ABQ has that strong connection with him and each other.  It’s distinct.  The community always looked up to Johnny. There is no professional football or baseball team and he was one of the first professional athletes who came out of that area.  More than seven thousand people came out to his funeral.

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Kick ass image by Sam Flores.

How did you manage to contrast the darkness of his life with all the other light and positivity he also experienced?

It was tough, which was I never intended to do the documentary. I wanted to concentrate on one year of his life because there is so much to his whole life, and it was a really really hard process confining everything that he’s been through so I was experimenting and discovering it as I went.  Bu there are as many highs as there is lows and his life in particular is filled with many from each side of the spectrum.  As far as my experience with him I never saw too much of the dark side other than when I interviewed him.  I mean personally it was just fun, just me and him playing around.  He was always active, jumping on the trampoline, playing ping pong, when we’d go out to eat he’d shake everybody’s hand. He really couldn’t stay in one place for too long.

Doc vs narrative, what do you intend to do with the dramatic feature you weren’t able to do with the documentary

filmThe documentary was about trying to hone in on what he said and having him say it directly to the audience. I didn’t want to interrupt anything too much.  We did a little bit of stylistic stuff intertwined to show a little bit of the spiritual side, you know like his connection to his son, and his connection to nature. But I wanted to keep it pretty loose on that, only scratching the surface of what I’m going to do in the feature. The feature is going to definitely be a little dreamy and spiritual.  When I say spiritual, there’s this thing that I recognized when I would talk to Johnny, I was always trying to pin point how his mind works – and he feels like his mother is right next to him.  So that plays a large role in the actual film; the presence of his mother, always around and also that connection with his youth.  In the feature as its written now we pop back and forth in his life from Johnny at 27 years old, and when he was 8 years old when he lost his mother. Its always trying to establish the connection of where he finds all this anger but also power, passion and energy that was super important to have. That drives every action in his life, I think, from that point forward, and I’ve had conversations with people who agree he became stunted at that age.  He still felt like an 8 year old when I’d talk to him, he had a child like spirit, insight.  He was not that formally educated, he was street smart, he improvised with whatever was around him.  He had that excitement, wonder and would be happy to see someone looking to give him love, and made people happy.  He was always surprised at any good news.

In a way its hard to imagine him as anything but a boxer, literally pounding and fighting his demons…

He was really hyper, boxing was a natural thing for him, it was a natural release of energy, it was actually perfect, getting into the ring, always training is what kept him alive.  It’s hard to think of him as anything else, maybe some other kind of athlete.

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Curtis Jackson at the second screening; “It was so interesting to see someone, 3 weeks before they actually passed, reflect on their entire life.”

How did 50 Cent come on board?

It all came through Lou DiBella, (executive producer) the boxing promoter and tv/film producer.  When we finished the film we started showing a handful of people to get people’s thoughts on it.  Lou was actually head of the HBO sports division who helped put together the infamous Johnny Tapia/Danny Romero fight back in the day so he had that connection. He showed the movie to 50 cent with who he has a partnership… 50 felt all these similar things and really connected with what Johnny went through (they both suffered the loss of their mother around the same age).  Also he grew up in similar crazy circumstances.  Its weird how you connect the dots….

Tell me about your producer Andrea Monier

Yes, Andrea Monier has been pivotal. We are friends, she’s also an actress but an amazing producer.  We worked on an Everlast spot first and she did an amazing job.  To do a documentary you have to have a super strong producer because there is a lot of work like archiving footage, etc. I couldn’t have done it without her.

AkiraBeard
And this amazing artwork by Akira Beard

Describe the driving creative process in writing the narrative

(Losing his mother)  that’s the biggest thing.  All his issues stem from that; drugs, psychological conditions, we explore a lot of him meeting and falling in love with Teresa.  It’s a big part of the film; the love story, but then that also connects to the mother. There’s a lot of similarities between Teresa and his mother as far as the expectations Johnny had, he almost felt like Teresa was his mother, she replaced her in a way.Feeling like a baby with your mother, a lot of the treatment you get from your mother at that age.  I come from a single parent as well and it helped me a lot to realize how much Johnny valued his mother.  Like, I don’t’ know where I would be without my mother, those thoughts always trickled through my head.   Johnny was super proud to have Teresa next to him as his woman.  I don’t think he ever constricted her in any way.  She was more the person who kept him in place, she was the one who handled the business and dealt with the promoters and he looked up to her in terms of what direction to take. He trusted her opinion above all.

What do you think she saw in him?

She likes to joke that she was young and stupid but I know there’s a lot more to it.  She has all the traits that he may have needed help on, and likewise, he showed her the excitement, spontaneity that she was looking for in life, and that quality of never expecting or knowing where the day is going to go was interesting and that’s what she gravitated to.

It must have been hard to watch him fight all the time

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Eddie Alcazar

Well, the professional aspect is almost better than the day to day reality in ABQ.  There are worse street fights, guns involved.  Every time I’d go to a party there were gunshots. I wanted to show this world that is not familiar, Breaking Bad does it a little bit but its not as dark or raw as it really is.  (ABQ) is a beautiful place but it’s a weird thing; there’s this subculture, an underbelly. It has a big native American population, Spaniards, Mexicans, I don’t know what leads to so much conflict but maybe the biggest thing I can relate to is there’s not too much to do. So people just …they are bored and act crazy sometimes.

Big thanks to Eddie for the interview. LA folks I urge you to go see Tapia tomorrow night, Saturday at 9:50pm at the Regal at LA Live.  Get tickets here.  Details on the big ABQ screening forthcoming.  Also be sure to queue it up on GoWatchit and like it on Facebook to support it and to get updates on where it lands with its theatrical/television/VOD release.

#LAFF2013 Diversity Speaks – People Like Us

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:

#HotSec Fridays

 

In lieu of a short film this week (busy week covering American Latino films at the Dances with Films Festival and now NALIP this weekend), I’m posting this HOT trailer of the upcoming film, The House That Jack Built. It is one of threeAmerican Latino films in competition at next week’s Los Angeles Film Festival I wrote about earlier. From a script by Joe Vasquez (Hanging with the Homeboys), directed by Henry Barrial and produced by No-Budget Film School guru, Mark Stolaroff. Starring the dually charming and tough guy EJ Bonilla. I previously wrote about it here. Check out the trailer, you can just feel the raw passion pulse. Get your tickets here.

WTF is Latino at the 2013 LA Film Festival?

The summertime, downtown set, glitzy yet ‘cashz’ LA Film Festival, presented by Film Independent has announced their film lineup today.  The verdict on the Latino rep?  Compared to the last three festivals I’ve examined this year, Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca, LA Film Festival comes through with arguably the most valuable representation; there are three films representing American Latino in the narrative competition and one in documentary competition.

736490_402811483141484_1993639310_oThe lineup consists of a handful of new American indies mixed in with many favorited international films from last year’s Toronto, Venice, London and Berlin film festivals, and seven Sundance films screening out of competition including Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, which won both the Audience and Jury Awards in Park City.  Starring Boricua Melonie Diaz as Oakland police murder victim Oscar Grant’s girlfriend, Fruitvale will be given the gala treatment (like last year’s Sundance awarded, Black film, Middle of Nowhere), alongside the direct-from-Cannes, Only God Forgives, the reteaming of director Nicolas Winding Refyn and GQ sensitive alpha hero Ryan Gosling (Drive).

But I’m not here to comb and recycle through the ‘high profile’ films that come armed with buzz. As always I’m spotlighting U.S. films in which the writer/director/cast are native born whose ethnic/cultural roots originates from the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Central or South America.  In addition, films by filmmakers who may not be Latino, but whose narratives explore and relate to the relevant bi-cultural experience/subjects.  And finally I also like to mention the Latin films (international).

While I’m happy to acknowledge and give it up for LA, it’s still painful for this blogger/programmer to know there are so many more fresh American Latino films out there ready to be discovered.  Game-changing films offering such fresh and original perspectives, which have by and large been dismissed by most of the major US Film Festivals.  With the futures of the two highest profile Latino niche festivals in limbo, The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and HBO’s NY International Latino Film Festival, it’s especially crushing to know that these films might also be robbed of their only community platform.  It’s cause for alarm and high time to address this void.  But wait, lets save that for another post. For now, lets get back to the Latino stories coming at you at this year’s LA Film Festival.   For official synopsis and pics check the Film Guide here.

NARRATIVE COMPETITION – Notably 9 of the 12 are US, hopefully giving the scrappy indies a better chance to compete and win the cash prize against the healthy subsidized production value of foreign movies.  Five are first features and only one female narrative director.

40 YEARS FROM YESTERDAY written and directed by Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck and Robert Machoian

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 12.06.58 PMThis is the first feature from the writing/directing team who got a lot of attention with their 2010 short Charlie and The Rabbit.  Ojeda-Beck (whose parents are from Peru) and Machoian who is from the heavily Mexican populated King City, met at Cal State, Monterey Bay where they forged a tight artistic collaboration. Forty Years from Yesterday is described as Machoian’s imagination of how his mother’s death would unfold for his own family, capturing the loss his siblings would feel in losing a parent and his father’s pain in facing the death of his partner.

The duo have their way with documentary, fiction and experimental form, instilling an aura of temporality in an anchored realism.  This unique evocative alchemy is found in Machoian’s doc short, Movies Made from Home #16, a 4 minute existential moment which screened at Sundance this year. The cosmic life themes they tend to broach are treated in such a down to earth and sensitive way, which is further made relatable by the natural non-pro performances they employ.  Robert’s father, Bill Graham has starred in a few of his films and in Forty Years from Yesterday, both Robert’s parents and siblings play themselves. See this endearing behind the scenes clip of the making of the film:

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT written by Joseph B. Vasquez and directed by Henry Barrial

Written by the late Joseph B. Vasquez (d 1995) whose 1991 movie, Hanging with the Homeboys, was a groundbreaking urban comedy when it came out, now very much a classic, albeit sadly forgotten gem.  The only one of Vasquez’s five movies that was distributed (by New Line), Hanging with the Homeboys was shot in the South Bronx where he was born and raised.  About four homeys, two Puerto Rican (one of them played by a baby-faced Johnny Leguizamo) and two Black, the movie, available on dvd from Amazon (or, I found it in 6 parts on Youtube) screened at the Sundance Film Festival at its indie darling peak. Its good-natured humor is derived from neighborhood beefs, trying to rap to ladies, and the racial tensions of the day delivered with unapologetic commentary.  A slice of barrio life, the film is clearly an early influence for the Ice Cube Friday series.

Jack & Lilly Wedding - GRDThe House that Jack Built similarly has that raw and authentic Nuyorican energy but pushed into a rollercoaster of a dysfunctional family drama with warmth, affection and intensity.  The director, born from Cuban parents and raised in Washington Heights, Henry Barrial, is also an alumni of Sundance (Somebody 2001).  The film stars E.J. Bonilla as the hot-blooded self-imposed king of his family who buys an apartment building to keep his family close, only to start dictating everybody’s life since he’s letting them live rent free.   Bonilla is a fiercely charismatic up and coming actor who has been turning heads  in the indie world.  This is his third consecutive time at the festival (Four, Mamitas) and he was in Don’t Let Me Drown (Sundance 2009).  An uproarious and high-edged Harlem set chamber piece, the heavy conflict of gravity that besets Jack is from being pulled in opposite directions by his street values on one side and deeply rooted family values on the other.  See the trailer on their Kickstarter page.

 

my-sisters-quinceanera

MY SISTER’S QUINCEANERA written and directed by Aaron Douglas Johnston

This was reportedly one of the most talked about American films in the experimental leaning Rotterdam Film Festival this year.  The filmmaker who was born and raised in Iowa, Aaron Douglas Johnston, has an impressive academic pedigree having attended world prestigious universities, Oxford and Yale.  His first feature, the small town, gay life set, Bumblefuck, USA screened at Outfest 2011.  In My Sister’s Quinceanera, he uses the local Mexican-American Iowa residents as his non-pro actors with whom he collaborated with on the story.  It’s a gentle and earnest portrayal of a young man named Silas who is convinced he has to leave town to become independent and start his life but must first see his sister’s Quinceanera take place.

WORKERS written and directed by Jose Luis Valle  (Mexico/Germany)  – A quietly simmering artful drama about a retiring factory worker and housemaid in Tijuana circumstantially reunited and trying to compensate for their spent lives.  An accomplished and arresting feature debut, the film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section and won Best Mexican Film at the Guadalajara film Festival.  A full investment into the contemplative tone and rhythm yields an appreciation for the film’s visceral and dry humor undertones.  Born in El Salvador, Jose Luis Valle previously made a documentary short called Milagro del Papa.

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION:  7 out 10 are US, 4 first features, six female directors (incl. 2 co-directors)

tapia_1520167aTAPIA directed by Eddie Alcazar

The 5 time world boxing champion and emotionally damaged blue-eyed Chicano from the 505, Johnny Lee Tapia, survived a series of near deaths before his turbulent life ended at the young age of 45 last year. The sheer volume of tragedy and coping afflictions Johnny endured in his Vida Loca, as he openly shares in his autobiography, includes the scarring experience of seeing his mother’s kidnapping and violent murder at the tender age of eight.  Tapia funneled this heartbreaking formative incident and many other painfully grueling experiences to fuel a successful professional boxing career.  Tapia’s confrontation to such tumult is so impressive, it’s no wonder that former EA video game designer Eddie Alcazar decided to both dramatize and document his harrowing real life story.  Originally announced as a biopic, subsequently the documentary was born of it, in which Eddie captures final interviews and archival footage with the haunted boxer.   This is actually the first feature out of the gate for filmmaker Eddie Alcazar whose radical sci-fi film 0000 has been curiously tracked as in production for a couple years now and the ambitious looking trailer only piqued mad interest.  Watching the clip below of Johnny, there is a poignant sadness yet slight zeal and spirit, however low key and worn, that emanates from the towering rumble of his battered lifetime – unquestionably his refusal to be knocked out.

PURGATORIO directed by Rodrigo Reyes (Mexico) – An elegiac and cinematically shot poem filled with emotional narration and iconography, this border film is told by way of a tapestry of stories that culminates into a strong cry for human compassion. Imagining the border as if purgatory, where migrants must suffer in order to get through to the other side, the dangerous plight in crossing the US/Mexico border is viewed outside political context but rather a metaphysical prism.  This is the fourth film from Reyes, a talented young documentarian from Mexico.

INTERNATIONAL SHOWCASE

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 9.58.48 AMEUROPA REPORT directed by Sebastian Cordero and written by Philip Gelatt – From award winning Ecuador born filmmaker Sebastian Cordero (Rabia, Cronicas, Pescador) Europa Report marks his first film in English. Somewhat shrouded in mystery, the story is written by Philip Gelatt, an adult comic book author, and is set aboard the first manned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. The genre bending sounding sci-fi thriller was recently picked up by Magnolia’s Magnet division and will go straight to VOD on June 27 after its LA Film Festival premiere. Cordero, who is a UCLA grad, has a well-controlled gritty realism to his aesthetic, which might inhabit and distinguish this deep space thriller among the genre’s canon.

CRYSTAL FAIRY written and directed by Sebastian Silva (Chile) – From the crafty young Chilean filmmaker whose first first film, The Maid put him on the international map, this is one of two films he screened at Sundance this year.  A road trip of self-discovery featuring the charming free spirited Gaby Hoffman pitted against a smarmy American tourist Michael Cera in the long and vast Chilean coast side, the film explores their unusual and fluid character dynamic and opposing auras.

THE WOMEN AND THE PASSENGER directed by Valentina Mac-Pherson, Patricia Correra (Chile) – A 45 minute version of this screened at the prestigious documentary film festival in Amsterdam IDFA.  An unobtrusive camera follows four maids as they clean the rooms of one of those clandestine by-the-hour motels.  Amid the moans behind doors and bed aftermaths of torrid love affairs, the women reveal their own perspectives about life, love and sex in some kind of visual love letter to the special place.   I don’t believe the title is translated to interpret its full meaning, its more like, “The Transients’ women”.

SHORTS

I WAS BORN IN MEXICO BUT…. written and directed by Corey OHama – 12min (US) – Per the IMDB description, “using found footage to tell the story of an undocumented young woman who grew up thinking she was American, only to find out as a teenager that she didn’t have papers because she was brought to the U.S. as a young child. “  Sounds like the thousands of Dreamers plights whose stories are being suppressed.

MISTERIO written and directed by Chema Garcia Ibarra (Spain) 12min – So even though this is from Spain (not the Americas),  I mention it if because I’m a huge fan of Chema’s shorts, Protoparticles  and The Attack of the Robots from Nebula-5.   I have no doubt this will share that similar strange, whimsical vibe.

 AL LADO DE NORMA written and directed by Camila Luna, Gabriela Maturana 14min (Chile) – 49 year-old Jorge is a silent, tired man, whose life seems to revolve around Norma, his elderly mother who has Alzheimer’s. But Antonio, who rents a small room in their home, will provide him with the chance to examine himself and question his monotonous life, which might just make for a radical change.

PAPEL PICADO – written and directed by Javier Barboza – From a 2007 Cal Arts Alumnus, and independent animation teacher and filmmaker, this looks wild!  Check out his vimeo works here.

SAINT JOHN, THE LONGEST NIGHT, written and directed by Claudia Huaiquimilla (Chile) 18 min – The filmmaker is of the indigenous Mapuche tribe of Southern Chile.  Set amid the happy Saints celebration of June 24, a young boy must wrestle with the reappearance of his violent father.

TOO MUCH WATER (DEMASIADA AGUA) written and directed by Nicolas Botana, Gonzalo Torrens (Uruguay)  14 min – A young woman fills her backyard pool every night and finds it empty in the morning. Strange neighbors and even stranger circumstances stir her paranoia.

kid-cudiLastly, I have to mention dance beat rapper Kid Cudi’s feature film acting debut in GOODBYE WORLD directed by Denis Hennelly (Rock the Bells doc about Wu Tang Clan) and written by Sarah Adina Smith.   Essentially, the film is about a group of friends hanging out when some kind of apocalypse hits.  Hijinks ensue. (There’s a trend here after It’s A Disaster and the upcoming “look-we’re-so-cool-we-play-ourselves celeb cast partying of This is The End).  Although he’s one of seven players, including Adrian Grenier, Mark Webber and Gaby Hoffman, it is one a few films Kid Cudi is in that are coming through the pipeline.  Born Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi in Cleveland Ohio, he is a beautiful brown mestizo blend of African American on his mother’s side and Native/Mexican mix on his father’s side.

The LA Film Festival kicks off with Pedro Almodovar’s, I’m So Excited on June 13 and runs until the 23.  Tickets and info here.

Middle of Nowhere LA Film Festival gala screening – An inspiring and touching film with a quest to bloom

In the first public screening since Sundance premiered the film in US Dramatic Competition back in January, Middle of Nowhere was embraced by a beautiful black audience who filled the 800 seat LA Live Regal theater 1 at last night’s LA Film Festival.  The energy was full of love and celebration for the highly esteemed colleague and friend to many, Ms. Ava DuVernay.  The stunning Angela Bassett who introduced the screening said the film premiered under the radar at Sundance (it won Best Director Award – how under the radar is that?) before bringing up the poised and radiant DuVernay.

Some red carpet and Ava’s introduction

Somehow and regrettably I lost the footage of the Q&A on the flipcam so I’ll just mention what I remember.   Ava’s actors joined her on the stage including the gorgeous doe-eyed lead Emayatzy Corinealdi, and Elvis Mitchell began to ask them to share their creative and collaborative process on set.  I was struck to hear the artists talk about their craft and the characters they played in such a profound way which is a credit, they all agreed to Ava’s fine-tuned script.  They  highly trusted Ava (an actors director, always a good thing) and felt led by her security and confidence which she exudes on the daily.  No doubt yet another advantage she brings to her directing suit and working ethic.  Lorraine Toussaint was especially poignant and thanked Ava for walking the walk.   Middle of Nowhere is being released through her own distribution company, AFFRM with Participant Media.  Ava is not afraid but admittedly concerned with the uncracked test of whether black people are going to see this film and whether white people are going to see it.  The real challenge is if the public will come out and buy tickets to see the film.  After all, it is a small independent art film.  She asked the audience a question she’s been thinking about; what kind of black movie would white people see?  Precious?  Someone said Men In Black – totally missing and making the point at the same time.

Ava has made a deeply personal film about separation and love, offering a unique point of view from the female who ‘does time’ on the outside while her significant other is incarcerated.  The prison population being disproportionately black and brown it is a film that addresses the effects on such a personal level.  Ava has been able to engage the support of likeminded peers in her corner from having worked in the publicity and business side of the game.  While the road ahead has a pretty big challenge, she’s got the brights on to help her steer through the unprecedented waters of firsts (again, its got to be successful at the box office).

I’m happy to have been present for a really a magical moment.  It felt like the public recognized the gift Ava is giving us in her work as an artist and inspiration as a business woman, totally owning it on all fronts of the film business.  Her fierce desire to drive change and advocate for independent films of which she is the biggest fan is unbridled.  She charged the audience to share and make this all our journey in supporting not just her film, but coming together to prove there is an audience and a profitable market in making and selling ‘our’ stories’.  Because like Angela Bassett said the studios are already making money, they don’t need to do it, we need to and should.  Amen sister!

Middle of Nowhere will be released October 12.

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