El Mercado Fantastico is back. The international co-production market for genre films is putting out a wide alert to find projects made by Latino filmmakers currently in development, pre-production or post. Finalists will go to Austin during this year’s Fantastic Fest (September 18-25) and be hooked up with potential production partners, sales agents, and distributors. The market is co-produced with CANANA and El Rey so you know the platform will attract heavyweight investors and partners.
Seize this unique opportunity to fast track your film, and who knows, your film could be distinguished in a future Fantastic Fest program with as many uncouth visual reference icons that fit your crazy film’s themes i.e. Fishhook Violence, Puppet Sex, Pedophilia, Decapitation, Lactation…. You have until May 31’st to submit.
Along with accepting classic genre staples like horror, action and fantasy, projects can run the genre gamut and include animation, westerns, dark comedies, sci-fi, basically anything other than your run of the mill drama. In its second year, the market will select 12-14 projects and new this year, will select four films in post to screen as works in progress.
Since 2005, Fantastic Fest has nailed its epic niche of being the ultimate festival for a ravenous movie geek audience who embraces the rigorously curated fantastic program. And the international film marketplace has taken note, snapping up rights to several film titles that have screened in the Fantastic Fest program. El Mercado Fantastico feels like a natural step for them to incubate their specialty and sustain their grip on all films fantastic.
Director of Programming Rodney Perkins, along with Festival Director Kristin Bell are and heavily scouting for submissions. They received around 100 submissions last year and Rodney told me that overall, the quality was very high. Out of the 16 participating projects, a majority were by directors and producers who have had previous films in the festival. Rodney says they are looking to mix it up with bringing new talent to the surface, but also choosing projects by filmmakers with proven track records in making good movies and the quality of their new projects.
Rodney commented, “Some of the most interesting genre directors in the world are based out of countries like Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Brazil and Uruguay. Fantastic Fest has featured numerous films from these and other countries. A lot of these talented people don’t get recognized globally, particularly in the U.S. We want to do what we can to help them make films and expose their work to a broader international audience.”
Like Rodney says, since its inception, Fantastic Fest has supported and premiered films from Spanish filmmakers like Nacho Vigalondo (Time Crimes, Open Windows), Eugenio Mira (Agnosia, Grand Piano), Chileans like Ernesto Diaz Espinosa (Kiltro, Mandrill), Nicolas Lopez (Santos, Aftershock) and Mexicans Adrian Garcia Bogliano (Here Comes The Devil), and Jorge Michel Grau (Somos Lo Que Hay), among other filmmakers from all over South America and the Caribbean.
So what are you waiting for? I know there has got to be more than 100 Latino made genre projects out there. They aren’t just looking for international Latinos but U.S. native Latinos to represent. At least one of the filmmakers/producers should be some kind of Latino. Get your application together to submit asap. I was on the documentary jury last year which awarded Best Documentary to Jodorowsky’s Dune and Best Director to Shaul Shwarz for Narco Cultura (Now on Netflix and iTunes) so I know firsthand this festival is a vital film festival. Plus, there’s really nowhere else you’ll find such sanctioned festival shenanigans like Helicopter Hog Hunting, Filmmaker Shotgun outings, the Schlitz chuggin Award Ceremony rite, Nerd rap, Karaoke and Debates that are settled with a good ol boxing fight.
“I’m a compulsive filmmaker,” admits Eddie Muñiz the 33 year old California native who has 12 films under his belt.
One of them is The Never Daunted, his 10th film. Not too long ago I saw it as a festival screener dvd and I vividly and immediately felt that rare exhilarating rush of discovery amid the dvd stacks of derivative story lines. The film is about a man who, unable to cope with his infertility and the monotony of a dead-end job, becomes withdrawn from his relationship and grows obsessed with a strange Western that comes on television late at night – which only he can see. The film’s captivating sincerity and epic male psyche exploration makes Muñiz not only a writer/director to follow, but one to actively support. He’s one of those creative manic types who are actively pursuing their art of storytelling without frills, on the fly and for the love. On the weekends and perhaps limited by budget but never held back by its raw, transcendent humanity. In talking to him you can tell he is completely immersed in and relishes the craft. So much he hasn’t had the bandwith to fully explore the mine of distribution outlets. Thanks to our brave new world of Direct to Fan online distribution, we can finally check out some of his films, in particular the singular The Never Daunted. Now available to stream on Seed & Spark. Once you get hooked you’ll want to see more of his work, some of which is available on his website. Read on, get to know this cool cat and get a taste of his sensibility and work ethic and tell me if he’s not inspiring.
1. Putting together one film no matter how modest the budget requires a lot of collaboration, an insane amount of tenacity and organization. What is it about your creative process and style that has allowed you to be so prolific?
You’re right. Making a film does require a lot of collaboration, and I think there are either filmmakers who embrace this aspect of filmmaking or they don’t. I completely rely on it, but that’s also because I work with a lot of like-minded people and really talented, smart people. I think that the only real trick I have is that I won’t start with a script. The only reason I’m able to complete so many projects and get them done so quickly is because I’ll take care of the scheduling first, which I think is the hardest part, and then force myself to write something under pressure before the day I have to shoot. I never really start with an idea or theme in mind; I’ll start with a person I think is interesting or that I love being around. I know that sounds weird, but so many of the films I’ve done started from just hanging out with a friend or with new people. After hanging out and getting a sense of their personalities and of their views, I always think it’s interesting to take a version of that person and place him or her in different scenarios that I later come up with. This approach not only opens up several narrative possibilities for me, but it also makes it so that I can make the film and keep discovering new things as I’m going along. The part that I play in this is almost nonexistent. I just have to make sure to listen very carefully, work within my means, prepare for any setbacks or last-minute changes and finally remain objective enough to shape a film out of all of it. It is a compulsion in that filmmaking is a priority for me, and I’m constantly thinking about it. I never stop and it drives a lot of my friends and family crazy. I would always rather film than go to bars or to parties or to lunch or to dinner…unless I can film when I’m there!
2. The dialogue feels so natural in your films.
There’ve only been a few times that I’ll have specific lines I want my actors to hit. Sometimes I’ll be married to these lines because I overheard someone say it a certain way, but all of the credit here should really go to my actors. I’ll know the emotion I want from the scene, I’ll know the tone, and specific expository points, but that’s it, and that’s only the structure or the blueprint. They’ll improvise off my sides, and sometimes this will be a page with four or five lines on it – between two or three people – and what would’ve been a 1-minute scene on the page, they’ll turn into a 3 to 4 min. scene full of twists and turns, with sharp, understated, and insightful subtext, sometimes strange, sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious. But always unexpected, and that’s the point.
3. In The Never Daunted, there is such a genuine vulnerability not often found in male driven films. You said you were raised by your mom and aunts, do you think this helped you get in touch with this modern masculinity side? You show such a profound and illuminating notion of the pitfalls of having to live up to a macho masculine, cowboy, protector and provider role, it really expands my perception and elicits my empathy for the male perspective.
That’s really cool of you to say! Because my mom was always working, I’d spend a lot of my days with my aunts and my grandmother…. I have two uncles that I admire very much, but I don’t think I ever measured up to that Mexican macho male thing, nor did I ever really care to. For what it’s worth, I grew up with more of a feminine perspective – because of my aunts and my mothers – and this kind of allowed me to see how proud men can be, how delusional, overbearing, fearful, and how selfish we can be as well. And I do love to look at this in my films, and I’m often guilty of all of this male posturing too. Although I understand the culture of cool cinema and even appreciate some of those films – the cowboys, the gangsters, the hitmen movies- I can’t help but see that same macho bullshit from my childhood being perpetuated over and over again in our culture. It’s also a constant reminder that I’m none of those things and that maybe I should be feeling like I ought to be. I think men are much more interesting than that though, much more complex and multidimensional. But a variation in movies is great – don’t get me wrong. Nevertheless, if there’s a story about a bank robber being chased by the cops, and he’s forced to pull a man and his little boy out of their car, and speeds off, I’d rather see the story about the man having to explain to his boy what just happened.
4. You mentioned you’ve gotten feedback from Guy Maddin and Monte Hellman, have they inspired your approach and aesthetic? Who else contemporary filmmakers do you draw from and connect?
Guy Maddin and Monte Hellman were the only two that took the time to respond, and they were also the two that I was desperately hoping would respond, so I did make more of an effort with them. I do love movies that are very postmodern and abstract and these two guys are still making very interesting and provocative work. Guy Maddin continues to find new ways to tell stories and I can’t passively watch any of his movies. They require my complete attention and that’s what cinema should be, I think. With Monte Hellman’s Road to Nowhere, I had the experience where I had to keep watching the movie over and over again so I can decide whether or not I liked it. And Road to Nowhere was a movie about movies, which is something that still interests me, as indulgent as it might sound, and this meta-fictional element comes up in not only The Never Daunted, but in other movies I’ve completed since then. And I love all types of films and filmmakers, but as far as the ones that make me excited about not only watching their movies but going out and making more of my own, I’d say Hong Sang Soo, Carlos Reygadas, Lynne Ramsay, Agnes Varda, Gus Van Sant, Miranda July, Alfonso Cuaron, Bela Tarr, Tsai Ming-Liang, and Mary Harron are maybe my favorites right now. And obviously, this list is always changing .
5. Does is it get easier with each film you make?
Working with actors and non-actors has gotten easier for me. It’s a different language I use with both, but I’ve learned to appreciate this aspect of filmmaking more than any other. It’s the part where I get to work with them as people, but the discussions aren’t always about choices or behavior or the psychology of a character. A lot of times it’s them telling me personal stories and me sharing personal stories with them as well, which is why I feel that the friendships I’ve made through filmmaking have been so rewarding and amazing to me. There’s no chit-chat or formalities; there’s no time for that. So a person will go from being an acquaintance to a deep personal friend you feel you’ve known for a long time, and this will happen simply because they’re willing to bring their personal experiences and specific views to the table. As cheesy as it sounds, it can feel like the purest expression of the self and art. Learning that a lot of them are willing to do this, or maybe because they trust me, has given me much more confidence when directing a scene, so it feels much easier. All the other technical stuff is a pain in the ass, but I learn it because I have to and because I didn’t go to film school.
6. What do you personally get out of making a film from the creation and observation of the human condition?
I guess it’s the same thing that I get out of teaching, but to be honest, teaching is much more rewarding. Both require a lot of self-reflection and discipline, but in teaching, the results are right there and you can actually see the light bulbs go on in front of you. With filmmaking, it can be very painful and I can think that I’m addressing several questions that are important to me, but once the film is done, I’m sometimes left with even more questions and concerns than before. The greatest pleasure that I derive from making a film is having connected with people in the process. At the end of a film or at the end of a screening, I often feel like a fraud and like I didn’t complete what I set out to do. I start wondering what I even want to gain from all of it, and I’ll just watch other people’s films and wonder, “Who the hell do I think I am, making my own movies, or assuming that people even care?”. But the one constant pleasure is my relationships with my friends. The fact that I built friendships in the process and that they trusted me and that we completed something together. Then, inevitably, I’ll get excited about another project and I’ll bury myself in another opportunity to work with them.
7. In your words, what is Haley, your latest film about?
The Haley Project has a couple of stories running parallel throughout, but at the center is the story about a girl named Haley, who we only see in the beginning of the film and in a flashback at the end. It’s loosely based on my friend Laura Benson, who actually plays Haley, but it’s also about other people in my life who I’m always in awe of. I have a few friends who are always telling me stories about these exotic places that they’ve visited and these crazy adventures that they’ve had. My friend Nick Null, who plays Murray in The Never Daunted, has a lot of stories like this too. But I thought it would be interesting to look at this kind of person, but from the perspective of all the supporting characters in each of their stories. How are these supporting characters, who don’t get to float on from place to place, affected by having met someone with a seemingly more interesting life? So I had two guys, played by Seth Johansson and Brian Randles, become competitive and mean with each other over their love for Haley, without Haley even there anymore. And in the same movie I have a romantic Frenchman who arrives in LA, in hopes of finding love. And I love this idea because it’s usually the other way around: the starry-eyed, American Francophile visits Paris in search of love.
Check out the trailer for The Never Daunted below and click here to watch the film on Seed & Spark.
I really enjoyed finding out about this local community organization, Payasos LA through the documentary shorts film block, Queerer Than Fiction at yesterday’s Outfest screening. This is the first episode of a series called RAD QUEERS by bright-eyed and charming Graham Kolbeins. The doc short form is a kind of an underrated, underplayed piece of film, so this selection of portraits, personal journeys and confrontations was a special and touching treat. I loved that each film reflected a super specific identity yet their plight couldn’t be more universal, and exploratory of the human condition. It’s especially neat to meet the people you just met on film, in real life right after the screening. The block is playing again tonight at 9:30pm so come on down to the DGA on Sunset & Fairfax to get your tickets and party with the most diverse, real and hip people in LA.
“Smashing taboos and redefining philanthropy, Payasos L.A. is an organization of gay Latino men who wear clown make-up, go-go dance, and try to make the world a better place for future generations. Rad Queers: Payasos L.A. takes a look at the Payasos’ optimistic philosophy as well as their sexy fund-raising parties. “Mr. Los Angeles Leather” 2011 title-holder and Payasos founder Leo Iriarte walks us through the wild world of his happy band of clowns, providing a uniquely personal perspective on this extraordinary group.”
From the cutting and pushing edge Miami wrecking production crew, Borscht Corp. here is SOMOS CHAVALOS, adopted and directed by Julian Yuri Rodriguez. It is a modern urban Latino youth interpretation of the Gwendolyn Brooks’ brief and majorly significant poem, We Be Cool. What’s raw and real here is that this perspective is unapologetic and from the youth direct, made searing by the disconcerting casually tragic POV of their short term life. This aint no outsider looking in told tale as we often are given these stories. If we want to ‘get kids these days’ we gotta dig under the surface and give weight to their reality. Do that by really listening between the lines and implications. The street family and code of honor, for all its criminality and corruption, offers a place of respect, love and pocket money – a badge of status – for lower class kids. The easiness and eagerness with which they pursue this avenue of survival is a critical discussion to engage.
Julian (24) may be young blood but his provocative in your face style has this between the lines intensity and import. He’s my latest add on my TALENTO filmmaker list of emerging filmmakers to watch. Check him out on Piratas, a short he narrates and co-directs. And coming soon online is C#ckfight, watch the cheeky trailer here. Borscht has received considerable funding support from the James L. Knight Foundation, one of the more visionary and bold arts foundation out there, based in Miami. Keep up with Borscht’s crazy cool transmedia storytelling stimulation on their Tumblr where they release their own work as they please and for free.
Here’s We Real Cool 1963 poem by Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks:
The theme of this year’s NALIP 2013 conference was “Spotlight on the Trillion $ Latino Market”, but it seems the only tangible currency the Latino community shares is the ‘trillion’ perspectives on the subject. Pushed to pierce through the brown and loud cacophony overheard this weekend, I’ve come up with; On one side there is a tedious concern of defining our hybrid identity and segmented Latin descent/US geography, which plays into the subsequent frustration over tackling our representation within the commercial mainstream marketplace. On the other side, there exists a newer generation of transcultural artists asserting a very specific identity that informs their work, and their greater concern is building awareness and access to an audience within and outside the specialized outlets and innovative digital distribution platforms available. Of course there were a lot more thoughts vocalized and an opposing range of game plans and visions for the future put forth, but the following is what I absorbed and takeaway from this weekend. Before I launch into it though, it is necessary to acknowledge and appreciate the herculean efforts of NALIP, the non-profit organization of volunteers, staff, operations, board members, partners and participants who produced this year’s conference. If nothing else, the community is unified by the love and passion of the arts.
OPENING AND CLOSING PLENARY
The Opening and Closing plenaries offered proof the conversation is at least moving forward in spite of the generalized and misleading titles of the sessions. The reason being is the caliber of forward-thinking speakers and artists who question the implications and who tended to offer a different perception and context to the subject.
At the “Overview of Media Trends and the Trillion $ Latino Market”, the panelists were David Chitel, New Generation Latino Consortium; Steven Benanav, Flama; Alex Fumero, ABC / Univision’s Fusion and Margie Moreno, Mun2. The very first thing they all said was that this was an extremely complicated market. Their job is to figure out how to break down what part of this trillion-dollar market can realistically build an audience. “We are using a misconception to our advantage. Especially when it comes to content”, Alex Fumero said. Even though its kind of corny how these targeted outlets wrestle with coining a demo moniker (YLA, BCA, NGL, Urbano, Hispanic Millenial), it is indicative of how desperate they are to reach out to the young Latino (18-34) audience in a fresh way. They are adopting a doors-wide-open, you-dictate-us approach with their programming. Most importantly, they do not pander nor underestimate their audience. Fumero invited anyone with programming pitches to email him for the network that will launch late this year (____). On one condition: He insisted that they must send a trailer, or some kind of video clip that demonstrates the type of content they aim to make. “There’s no reason you can’t go out and shoot something on your phone”, he said. Margie Moreno from Mun2, Telemundo’s younger sister which started 8 years ago, said, “We don’t let language dictate our content”, a sign of how much more embracing they are of a fluid bi-cultural identity than any other traditional outlet. Flama, is a new digital platform from Univision launching this fall. They have an open submissions call for all kinds of content. Submit your web series and projects at FindYourFlama.com Already in the works is a scripted show called Salseras about two childhood best friends who become fierce rivals in their college campus salsa dancing competition. And then there is NGL, which instead of taking up one kind of channel space, is positioning itself as an aggregator and source of all the “New Generation Latino” content out there on the net. You can submit your web series to get featured on their site and gain some of the ad share they generate by integrating and offering categorical content to brands and advertising companies.
When it came time to take questions from the audience – (which inevitably usually come in the form of comments rather than questions), I can’t help feel that Dennis Leoni, NALIP Founding Trustee and television writer (Resurrection Blvd) invalidated these innovative and exciting ventures when he said that while it is great that these specialized outlets exist, “I want to play in the big leagues”. Where is NBC, ABC, CBS, he asked? The panelists addressed his frustration by reminding all of us about the nature of the beast; studios and networks do everything in their power to hit the biggest number possible. Even if they find a voice as exciting as John Leguizamo who most definitely has an established fan-base, (and who apparently had three pilots none of which were picked up this season), if they don’t see it play broad (safe), they see it as a risk.
The Closing Plenary’s generic topic “Latinos and Media Stereotypes” was likewise immediately called into question by the panelists themselves, starting with Natalia Almada, this year’s NALIP conference Co-Chair and filmmaker. She mentioned that this concern with a type of representation is problematic and baffling to her since as an artist she is drawn to the complexity and difficult… and wants to look at the things that aren’t clear. Richard Montoya echoed the sentiment by saying he is not concerned and is actually unapologetic with whether his characters offer a positive portrayal of Latinos. “I don’t want to have that conversation.. I just want to drag you into the world and to tell stories best I can…Because it has an authenticity to it, a cultural specificity that rings true to the world but seldom gets underneath”. Meanwhile, Yancey Arias, an actor and producer, demonstrated how, by expanding the genre in which you are working with, where it doesn’t matter where a character comes from but the story and world, it is yet another way to subvert and challenge representation. The short film he stars in and produced, The Shooting Star Salesman, is a whimsical tale about a door to door salesman wearing a top hat and three piece suit who sells shooting stars. It will become available on iTunes in August. The filmmaker Kico Velarde is currently adapting it into a feature.
Reading from his laptop on stage, Richard Peña delivered a serious and illuminating context on the history of world cinema, festivals, and shared his personal connection to his Spanish/Puerto Rican identity as it informed his programming career. He’s always been attracted to films outside the purview, the margins. He struck the parallel that US Latinos are the new Jews of the United States, enjoying an insider/outsiders status which vantage and unique perspective could make for astonishing and novel discoveries about our world. The dilemma facing you he said, “Will you erase that sense of difference to an absolute minimum to cross over in to an even bigger market?”
While Richard’s discourse was introspective and left the room in thought , the second keynote on Saturday by Glenn Llopis played like a corporate motivational speech designed to pump up the audience full of Hispanic pride. Yes, he used that 70’s term, “Hispanic”. The author of a best-seller book titled, Earning Serendipity, he is the founder of Center for Hispanic Leadership. He’s basically carved himself out the role of the guy who corporations bring in to figure out how to reach the largest unidentifiable profit center. Overly enthusiastic, bright eyed and bouncy on stage, he showed us a flashy reel touting our numbers and potential power. It literally felt like he was holding up a mirror to us and saying,’Look how awesome and American, we Hispanics are!” Repeating phrases as if mantra’s like “Value your brand”, “Embrace your cultural promise”, “End of the niche,” I found the delivery patronizing, lip-service schtick and inappropriate. Now, in no way do I mean to diminish this man’s considerable accomplishments. He was the youngest business executive at Sunkist, he is a best selling author and a successful entrepreneur with a positive message. We can all relate to his Cuban father’s story because all of our parents’ experiences are character-building for the battles they waged as first generation, back in the day. His positive reinforcement of the immigrant mentality is noble, but so what. He speaks in general, self help, 12 step like morale boosting phrases, instead of offering practical strategy. He threw so much out there that something finally did in fact stick with me; “To change the conversation, you must lead the conversation and be consistent.” I can totally get behind that – but isn’t that like totally obvio?
THE PEN IS MIGHTER THAN THE SWORD
Wordsmith warrior, Richard Montoya is our de-facto leader charged with rescuing Latinos’ non-existent record in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (and across this great nation). Last Friday night’s private screening of his film debut, Water & Power was jam-packed inside the 400 seat theater at the AMC Citywalk. Howard Rodman, the screenwriter and one of Montoya’s Sundance lab advisors gifted the audience with a referential prologue of how classic LA noir has traditionally resisted filling in non-white characters, completely disregarding the makeup of this city – until now. Water & Power has a groundbreaking breadth of modern mestizo and mystical essence enhanced by Gingger Shankhar’s score and a soundtrack that includes Zack de la Rocha and Chicano Batman. The film’s transmission is undeniably enriched if one has an understanding of context/consciousness of LA and Chicano history. But even if you are unfamiliar with named identifiers like Pelican Bay, Lords of Dogtown, La Onda, Sureños, Frogtown muscle, there is some classic symbolism and brilliant metaphors to appreciate in this tale about two brothers locked in each other’s foreshadowed cataclysmic fate, all which takes place over the course of one night. In film, what is not shown onscreen is just as important as what is onscreen. Referring to the comments made to him about the lack of female characters in his film, Montoya responds, ‘This is what men behave like when there is not a strong female presence.”
“The ghosts of our colonial past haunt this continent”, Richard likes to say – and this is the prevailing night-time, tribal mood of this piece. He modernizes and personifies the noir genre’s shadows, dreams, underbelly fixes, secrets and implied provisos which precariously keep harmony during the day. The aerial views of the city are seen as if from our native American Eagle keeping watch over LA’s circulatory system; freeway arteries on which carbon-dioxide powered vehicles flow, and the unseen pipelines underground through which gravity powered water flows, barely keeping this land soluble. I have to say I was looking forward to Richard Peña as Q&A moderator to dive into the rich thematic context but curiously he only asked about the panoramic shots and once he gave the microphone over to the two young child actors to talk about their first acting experience, Montoya took over the Q&A.
AMERICAN LATINO WRITING PANEL
Carlos Gutierrez of Cinema Tropical, Bel Hernandez/Latin Heat, Juan Caceres/LatinoBuzz and I enjoyed an engaging panel about the relative lack of people and literature covering US Latino cinema. Bel refered us to the book and 2002 documentary 100 years of The Bronze Screen. A more contemporary look is Mary Beltran’s 2009 book called Latina/o Stars in U.S. Eyes: The Making and Meanings of Film and TV Stardom. Still, I maintain that more recent films such as the groundbreaking epic, genre-defying film Sleepdealer written and directed Alex Rivera have not gotten its due in wider entertainment outlets (although it has become a major reference in the educational circuit). It’s interesting to note that back when LatinHeat was founded, they were among the first to feature La J-Lo circa Selena which broker her out and made her the international superstar status and entertainment empire she holds today. From her perspective many of the emerging performers and artists she covered back then are now mainstream, it’s only natural that her publication has gotten more Hollywood. LatinHeat continues to feature emerging and independent American Latinos like the Chamacas web series and the independent feature Mission Park and its wildly talented cast including Joseph Julian Soriana, Jeremy Ray Valdez and Walter Perez. Both Juan Caceres and I come from the film festival programming world and we talked about our desire to get these films out there regardless of whether they end up at our festivals. But there is a lack of volume and quality missing, and Juan made no apology about covering the exceptional films out there and not just because they are Latino. Although it has not been officially announced, it was hinted that the New York International Latino Film Festival is not happening this year. Rumor has it that the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival which took a hiatus last summer, is trying to happen in the fall.
THE ACTING TRAILBLAZERS
“If you don’t produce and write your own stories you are going to sit there and wait for the phone to ring”, Jeremy Ray Valdez said that Edward James Olmos once told him. Jeremy took this advice to heart and has recently produced and starred in his own film, Dreamer, written and directed by Jesse Salmeron. Nicolas Gonzalez who is a tour de force as “Power” in Montoya’s film mentioned he sold his house to keep his integrity – implying he did not take a lucrative job because he didn’t believe in the representation. Nicolas is in the upcoming one hour fantasy drama, Resurrection, which ABC picked up to series order this season. Justina Machado, who gained notable success on 6 ft Under also had a picked up pilot this season called Welcome to the Family on NBC. She talked about how she has carefully chosen her roles and has been able to do so because she is not the typical bombshell looking Latina (she looked bombshell gorgeous to me!). Gina Rodriguez was very outspoken about them coming together as actors and saying NO to any roles which were reductive and perpetuated stereotypes. Jesse Garcia who actively works in shorts, indies, blockbusters and theater, mobilizes a network of working film professionals on Facebook so they can support one another. This was one of the more livelier panels both on and off the stage. Old school folks in the audience talked about la envidia (jealousy), and cried out these young actors should be even bigger Hollywood stars. I think this mentality is kind of a throwback to the chicano civil rights activist days where we demanded acceptance and respect from the ‘establishment and powers that be’. But times have changed. Everything is more decentralized. Also, why give them that power? What is so productive about talking about the crabs in a bucket syndrome of how we don’t support each other’s projects? You can’t make anyone do something they don’t want to do and that includes begging traditional distribution models that there is an audience out there, and likewise begging audiences to support Latino film – especially when you frame it that way. So there are not any major Latino leading movie stars, so what? Is that the only barometer of success? To me success looks like what these fine actors are doing; focused on improving their craft, working their asses off, and choosing, effecting and sometimes producing their roles.
The awards show gala on Saturday was entertaining (although why they don’t offer complimentary drinks irks me, and probably reveals the lush in me) thanks to the energy of the host, Joe Hernandez-Kolski who came out like Gangnam Style PSY lifted on a pedestal held up by some sexy brown boys, making it rain fake bills on the audience.
I was so thrilled for Aurora Guerrero being awarded the Estela Award (McDonalds $7,500 cash money) for Mosquita Y Mari. Bird Runningwater, director of the Native program at Sundance Institute broke ground by including this chicana’s screenplay inside the Native Lab, which reflects the out of the box thinking of Sundance’s development programs. Ben DeJesus a well liked, long time Nalipster was the other Estela Awardee for his behind the scenes documentary of John Leguizamo’s one man show Ghetto Klown. Tales of a Ghetto Klown, which premieres on PBS June 29, follows the workaholic performer upping the stakes by taking his one man show to his motherland of Colombia. It’s an admirable and impressive feat watching him immerse himself in the Spanish language, translating and re-writing his comedy.
Gina Rodriguez was absolutely humbled and gave a very emotional speech when she received La Lupe award in post-humous tribute to Latino community godmother and all around wise-cracking fierce spirit Lupe Ontiveros. Holding back tears, Gina said she doesn’t think she deserves the award now but that she would dedicate her whole career towards deserving such an honor. Watching the reel before she came up, where she auditions for Filly Brown by spitting out a rhyme, her magnetism was so clear and evident that she was born that way. As most artists, they have a natural talent that stirs within and an unmistakable calling to fulfill. Finally Ray Liotta was there to give Danny Trejo the lifetime achievement award. Right before, Michelle Rodriguez ran up onstage to add how much she loves her some Danny Trejo.
THE FUTURE OF NALIP AND TAKEAWAYS,
A true artists takes risks and challenges the status quo. What are the new heights we can achieve without sacrificing integrity and voice? What is wrong with working along the margins if the margins are getting bigger and they offer a unique purview? How do we give the public at large access to the exciting work out there? These are the questions I find to be most relevant. Because I don’t see the value or longevity offered in chasing after the big studio films/networks. They are traditional models that are imploding and on the way out. Rather, a more important question that relates to all artists is how can we make the films we want to make without being dictated on what sells? Why can’t we rid ourselves of an Us vs. Them scenario? As artists should we be so concerned why Latinos don’t go to Latino films? We have to remember the scale of our art and work in this decentralized world. Why must we dwell on the question of our cultural identity in such a dated way?
I think there is a slow but seismic progressive shift, and its exciting. It was only my second year so I don’t have comparison but as one of the panelists pointed out, he was surprised there were not more attendees in the room. What does that say? “The conference has shrunk” said Erin Ploss Campoamor, producer of Cristina Ibarra’s amazing documentary, Las Marthas, who has been coming for years. Although I missed his panel, “How to get your film Beyond the Latino market”, Gabriel Reyes, a PR and marketing vet, referred me to one of the more current- thinking marketing firms called Latinworks a company who has literally invented words to describe the current climate of culture. They’ve trademarked words like “Foreculture”, meaning a new generation with a transcultural mindset, and have identified “Transculturation” as the new game in town, in which people deconstruct their initial cultural identity and start forming new connections between elements of cultures. Their identity is multifaceted fluid and situational.
While it’s part of marketing ploy, I have to say I dig it. I especially like the idea that “Ni de Aqui ni de Alla” (not from here nor there), is turning into “De Aqui y Alla” (from here and there). Embracing otherness is the best route towards oneness (Latinworks)
For me the most productive way to keep moving forward is first and foremost the ongoing development of our content creators, and encouraging our peers and next generation to pursue careers as film critics, programmers, media entrepreneurs any kind of cultural gatekeeper. What matters most is that we work tirelessly towards improving our craft, that we empower ourselves by trusting our distinct voices and collaborate with each other. The biggest challenge for NALIP is how to stay relevant and young. Even though they had a social media maven, Lizza Monet Morales reminding us to utilize our social media to get the word out, when I filter out the hashtag #Nalip2013, there is not nearly as much activity as a conference in this day and age should produce. Where are the millenials at this conference??
I met a few new filmmakers and discovered a number of exciting second features coming through the pipeline, as well as one very exciting narrative film project from a master documentary filmmaker – all of which I’m excited to cover right here on my blog. I come away more compelled than ever to bring awareness to the most original and culturally specific talented writer/directors out there by screening their work for film festivals and writing about their projects on this blog. I know I need to arm myself with further academic studies, specifically of the humanities/political kind, in order to draw parallels, articulate, and change the way we are talking about these films as necessary stories that are flipping and re-creating the cultural zeitgeist. Now more than ever I feel like a genuine part of the ecosystem.
Again, these are only my observations. I’d love to hear from you if you went to NALIP, and if you didn’t, por que no? por que si?
Unveiling at the Brooklyn Film Festival this weekend is the world premiere of SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES, the directorial debut of former stand up comic and actor, Nicole Gomez Fisher. Gina Rodriguez plays the hilariously real and spirited star of the movie, Alexis Fish, a role she booked right as Filly Brown started making waves at film festivals last year. A great cast of women join her including Tony Award winning stage and film actor, Priscilla Lopez who plays her mother, and Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty) who is enjoyably pert, as Gina’s sister. Sleeping with the Fishes is also the first feature produced independently by Courtney Andrialis, a rising producer with many more exciting projects in development (she started her career as assistant to Bingham Ray in 2003). I gotta say, I just love the female power of this film! Check out the just- released trailer of the film, and read the interview I did where I check in with Nicole, a week before she releases her first baby (film) into the world.
How did your Latino/Jewish background and childhood inform your creative expression as you started conceiving of your first feature?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn…a true Brooklynite at heart. My mother is Puerto Rican and my father is of Jewish descent, an interesting mix that has clearly influenced my life and my writing. I don’t necessarily identify with one over the other…both sides make up who I am. I knew when starting SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES that my background and my point of view wasn’t a filmmaker’s voice heard too often. I wanted to express myself and tell a story about a young woman trying to find herself in a world that she felt excluded from…not only from the outside world, but from her immediate as well.
What’s your connection with Gina? How was it to work with her in comedy? She’s got great timing and tons of energy.
I did not know Gina Rodriguez before making SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. We met through our casting directors Sig DeMiguel and Steve Vincent. Her agent read the script and loved it, passed it on to her and BOOM! A meeting was set. We actually met in the bathroom of Rosa Mexicana and it was love at first sight! Gina was incredibly energetic, bright, enthusiastic and funny! I was excited to work with someone “fresh”. I knew before we even ordered that we would work well together. She was just coming off the Sundance premiere for “Filly Brown”. It was an exciting time for her and it showed. She’s a natural when it comes to comedy, so she made directing incredibly easy. Gina’s choices were spot on and she just understood the timing of comedy. It takes a real pro to know when to “go there” and when to pull back and she did. I would say try this and within seconds she would make a slight adjustment and go. If she thought something didn’t work or wanted to try another shot, we went with it. Collaborating with her was such fun. She made directing my first feature a pleasure.
The tale of a 30something whose life has not gone as expected and must deal with the pressure of returning to a childhood like dynamic at home with the parents, is so relatable and universal, but it can also be quite personal and individual, how personal is this screen variation to you? What did you want to convey that you had not typically seen in this popular canon?
It’s personal. The story itself is loosely based on my family, but there are many aspects to it that are a mix of truth and fiction. For my lead, Alexis Fish (played by Gina Rodriguez), her coming back home after years of living a lie all in the name of “saving face” is paralyzing for her. As you mentioned, her resilience to stay true to herself has been an exhausting journey. Having to deal with the loss of a loved one while trying to pick up the pieces of your life only makes it that much harder to overcome. I wanted to take a classic story and make it new. Yes, she is returning home to the pressures of family, but in Alexis’ case, returning home to her mother is what is so daunting. You have two strong women who don’t see eye-to-eye: one whose pride identifies her, the other whose pride is crushed as she struggles to find her identity.
I love that you chose to do your first film a comedy. There doesn’t seem to be as many first films as comedies tackled in the indie world, and even less from a female written and directed perspective. What are your influences in this vein? Also, what is it about our passionate Latino culture in particular you think that makes family dysfunction so melodramatic and ripe for comedy?
I was a stand up comic for years and I love writing comedy. I’m a huge fan of films that blend comedy and drama. It’s what life is made of—the ying and the yang. Some of the funniest moments in life are also the saddest. When you can stop and laugh at a time when hope seems dim, that is life changing. Laughter has pulled me through some really hard times. …Where there is passion, there is drama. From my experience, Latinos are very strong-minded, very passionate and very vocal about what we believe. The combination makes for some terrific melodrama. It’s who we are—they go hand in hand.
Who were some key collaborators and mentors for you during the launching of your first feature? Tells us about Courtney as producer – she’s from HD net films, how did you two bond about the making of this film?
Some of the key collaborators were my husband Joe, my friend and fellow screenwriter A.J. Meyers, my casting directors, my father and of course, my producer Courtney Andrialis. Courtney and I have built a solid relationship around SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. I met her via our casting directors. She’s young, eager and has a ton of knowledge. She was an integral part of the making the film. She brought on an amazing team that held me up throughout the entire process, which for a first time director is so integral. There were a lot of learning curves for me. Courtney did a great job of keeping me together and supporting me throughout the entire process.
As you navigate the wild west of distribution, how are you feeling and where are your expectations with getting the film out there? Are you going to be exploring the newly paved roads of direct distribution models or pursuing the traditional theatrical and window route?
It’s great that now filmmakers have so many ways to reach their audience. We are excited for our world premiere at the Brooklyn Film Festival on June 1st. After that, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and see!
Best of luck with the film and have a blast at your premiere, Nik!
If you’ve read my last two WTF is Latino posts on Sundance and SXSW, you know I do my best to embody a manic optimist and find a silver lining when it comes to magnifying the limited representation of Latino stories and writer/directors at mainstream film festivals. I do that by expanding and deconstructing the broad term, hoping to educate myself and the masses on what ‘qualifies’ as Latino. However, the relative dearth of Latinos and Latin America at this year’s 2013 Tribeca Film Festival program has seriously challenged me to find a positive spin on this woeful slate of brown in the world’s most celluloid famous, multi-culti metropolis. It is especially stupefying considering the number of electrifying premiere film submissions there are to choose from at this moment.
I worked as an Industry Coordinator for the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival under Director of Programming David Kwok and Festival Director Nancy Schaefer. Back then Latin America was not only well represented in the program but Tribeca was at the forefront of showing bourgeoning film renaissances taking place in countries such as Panama, Peru and Colombia. No doubt this sensibility and charge came from the legendary jet-setting of one such Peter Scarlet, the cognoscente Artistic Director beloved by many Latin American festivals. At 8 years old, the Festival was fast outgrowing its post 9/11 birthmark and has since stubbornly and desperately struggled to position itself as a blank World Cinema festival. This is a strategy I find puzzling, given it is way out of league and under the heavy shadow cast from uptown by the auteur and discovery art house Lincoln Film Society. One would think it an ideal and very NY synergy thing to do would be to carve out your own identity in specializing in the kaleidoscopic, fertile microcosm of US immigrant odyssey found in every corner from Manhattan to the five boroughs. Not only is there a lack of US Latino stories this year, nowhere to be found are films from Latin America. Seriously. Click on the online film guide’s search by country scroll down menu and visibly absent are Chile, Mexico and Argentina – three of Latin America’s most renowned and heralded world cinema incubators. The closest we get is one feature from Brazil by veteran director, Bruno Baretto, and two shorts from Spain. Its plain to see that the Festival’s new Artistic Director, Fredric Boyer (who headed bougie prestige fests, Cannes’ Directors Fortnight and then Locarno Film Festival) is seriously ‘Euro-cizing’ the Triangle Below Canal.
So, what’s my silver lining? Well, its based on the Short Term 12 lesson I just experienced at SXSW. I did not target the indie film as a Latino film but being familiar and a fan of Hawaiian filmmaker, Destin Daniel Cretton’s work, I went to see it and was immediately absorbed by the effortless kid-adult social psychological narrative. A detail that resonated with me was that one of the main juvy instructors was a foster kid who was raised and adopted into a big loving home by Mexican parents. He’s as white as they come, yet he cooks a mean Mexican dish and expresses his emotions outwardly, attributes of Latino culture that informed his personhood. Maybe that’s how subtle, relative yet impactful Latino culture is seeping into all of our lives. Maybe my barely passing grade on the Latino at Tribeca diagnosis is premature having not seen all of the films. Maybe where we least expect it, beyond cast and loglines, there are films buried in here with deeper social undertones of brown representation. I’m willing to excavate. All that big picture, rant stuff aside, I am quite excited about the six films (out of some 168) I highlight here which offer a diverse, albeit thin, slice of Latino to discover at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival – whether it’s the narrative’s themes, up and coming actors, or real life Americans many times removed from their Latin roots and how cool that looks like.
Without further ado, here it is; WTF is Latino at Tribeca Film Festival.
Logline: When autistic teen Ricky is scolded for skipping class, he escapes into the subway for a days-long odyssey among the subway’s disparate denizens. Meanwhile, his mother wages an escalating search effort above ground. Based on a true story and set in Far Rockaway, Queens, in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy, these parallel stories of mother and son take the viewer on a touching journey of community and connection in and below New York City. Cast Andrea Suarez, Jesus Valez, Azul Rodriguez, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Marsha Stephanie Blake
Sam Fleischner’s first film, Wah Do Dem was about a broken hearted hipster who goes on a cruise and gets stuck in the dangerous wild of Jamaica – just as President Obama is being sworn into office for the first time. The filmmaking felt so fresh, real, tense and engrossing. Just like you were on the adventure with him. Sam and his co-director Ben Chase won the $50,000 Target Filmmaker Award for Best Narrative at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. I’m so happy he is premiering this NY based film which features a Latino cast including Tenoch Huerta (Dias de Gracia), and half of the film is spoken in Spanish. No, Sam is not a Latino but a native New Yorker and I love his take and thematic weaving in this story. His statement and inspiration behind the film demonstrates his sensibility and vision, surpassing and waiving any requirement or notion that says you have to be Latino to tell authentic Latino stories. This is what Sam was able to tell me over email:
“I am not Latino but this story is inspired by true events that happened to a Mexican family. I was attracted to the parallel between people on the autism spectrum and people living as illegal immigrants in the US. Both instances are people wading through systems that aren’t designed for them, interesting to think about the term ‘alien’. “
Logline: Audrey has all of the qualities that her twin sister Laurel wishes she possessed: confidence, style, independence. When tragedy strikes, Laurel has the opportunity to reinvent herself. In a complex performance, Zoe Kazan poignantly captures Laurel’s complex mix of loss and awakening, especially as she begins a new relationship with her neighbor (Jake Johnson). Jenée LaMarque’s first feature film is a quirky, lovely tale of identity and the eternal bond between two sisters. Cast Zoe Kazan, Jake Johnson, John Carroll Lynch, Shae D’lyn, Frankie Shaw, Ron Livingston
I first met Jenee with her edgy girls short film Spoonful, a ridiculous real life scenario in which friends help out their lactating friend, which played the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. She was also kind enough to email me amid the crunch of finishing her first feature for its world premiere. I’m so grateful she responded because she truly personifies what I’m trying to convey about Latino identity (its American and expansive and our creativity relates to it vastly different ways). She says, “As for my Latina origin: my dad is Mexican, born and raised in Chino, California. His mother’s family is Mexican and has been in California for a long time. His father’s family is from Mexico City and has a French last name (presumably because of the French who came to Mexico during the 19th century but I really don’t know anything about my French-Mexican origins). My grandfather came to California during WWII with the Bracero program. My Mom is Danish, Norwegian and French. I do identify as Mexican, as Latina, but I also identify as American, and as white. I really wish that I had more of a connection to my Mexican heritage but unfortunately, my dad didn’t speak Spanish to us growing up (even though he’s fluent) and he really identifies as American. It’s funny, because I’m mixed, I don’t feel I’m fully one thing or another, I feel like my identity is sort of slippery because of it. I think that my mixed heritage plays a central role in my voice as a storyteller; one of the themes of The Pretty One is identity (a struggle with identity) and I also find myself drawn to this theme again in again in my other work.
Logline: Go inside the lives and training regimes of eight of the world’s gutsiest professional skateboarders. These fearless stars face unique obstacles on the way to the Street League Championship and the coveted title of best street skateboarder in the world. Adam Bhala Lough, creator of the independent hit Bomb the System (TFF 2003), directs this fresh, energetic documentary search for that elusive quality that separates winners from the pack.
This skateboarding shred competish doc about the sheer intensity and will to defy the terror of cracked bones features some of the youngest, most successfully branded and competitive skaters in the game like Nyjah Huston (Puerto Rican father), Paul Rodriguez known as P-Rod, and Chaz Ortiz. I can’t wait to meet these guys and get to know them. Adam is good like that. His last film, The Carter, about autodidactic and auto-real voiced rapper Lil Wayne impressed me for its gloss and floss but also by its covert way of infiltrating the hyped up insular world and mind of a subculture pop king. His flashy aesthetic and sneak transparency is bound to capture the badass jaw dropping leaps and outrageous rail tricks along with distilling the high intensity pressure and rush of winning in The Motivation.
Frankenstein’s Army (Netherlands, Czech Republic) directed by Richard Raaphorst and written by Miguel Tejada Flores
Logline: In the waning days of World War II, a team of Russian soldiers finds itself on a mysterious mission to the lab of one Dr. Victor Frankenstein. They unearth a terrifying Nazi plan to resurrect fallen soldiers as an army of unstoppable freaks and are soon trapped in a veritable haunted house of cobbled-together monstrosities. Frankenstein’s Army is the wild steampunk Nazi found-footage zombie mad scientist film you’ve always wanted.
Veteran Hollywood screenwriter, Miguel Tejada Flores has written such horror reboots as Beyond Reanimator and family classics as The Lion King but notably this is the guy who gets story credit for Revenge of the Nerds back in ’84. His next film is the upcoming I Brake for Gringos starring Camilla Belle directed by Mexican filmmaker Fernando Lebrija. A frequent mentor over the years at NALIP’s screenwriting and producing labs, it sounds like this guy is accessible and interested in nurturing the younger generation of Latino talent. A California native, his family is from Bolivia. Read his wordpress blog here.
V/H/S/2 – Eduardo Sanchez is one of the seven filmmakers of the second found footage horror anthology which has screened at Sundance, SXSW and now Tribeca (that might be a record) and most famously director of Blair Witch Project. Cuban born filmmaker.
Logline: Thirteen-year-old Imani Cortes is a gifted photographer longing to experience her first kiss. She has a crush on a quiet artist, Junito, with whom she has a natural connection, but she also faces an enormous challenge: she is slowly losing her sight to retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disease. Will Imani let her disease stop her or be the path to independence? Cast Kimberly Lora, Julian Fernandez-Kemp, Sara Contreras, Victor Cruz, Rhina Valentina, Mia Ysabel
I’m looking forward to seeing this short set in Spanish Harlem. I don’t know much about the filmmaker except that she raised 10k off Kickstarter for this, her directorial debut. And she looks Boricua. Check out her website which shows a number of her photos and videos that show off her ‘eye’.
The Tribeca Film Festival starts April 17-28. Ticket info here