This savage satire written, directed and produced by Omar Rodriguez Lopez topped my list of most excellent American Latino films that popped up in 2012. Los Chidos cracked people’s faces when it premiered in competition at SXSW last year, as you can tell by the savvy mainstream and hard core cult film critic quotes in the trailer. Having seen the film thrice, I can appreciate this sneaky and clever approach in contextualizing the film’s mad provocation. Thanks to Adam Thomson (editor/producer) for giving me a first look. Enjoy. More screening play dates to be announced soon and a unique distro plan is likely. Follow @ORLProductions if you are not already trying to keep up with Omar’s progressive and nonstop music and film creating endeavors.
I recently contributed to a Top 5 Latino Films of 2012 on Indiewire’s Latinobuzz blog. Among the Programmers’ picks were films from Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and Peru, alongside U.S. films like Filly Brown. In fact, when asked for my list, I thought I needed to make a statement by pointing out I picked all “American” Latino films. The exercise indicated once again a lot of us are not on the same page when it comes to the definition of the term “Latino”. As filmmaker, Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer) commented on the post, “It’s important to have a term that describes the diaspora community here in the U.S. Latinos in the U.S. face very different challenges and opportunities than Latin Americans…..in terms of tracking what’s happening in film, we need this distinction, the way there’s a very clear distinction between African Cinema and African-American Cinema.
I couldn’t agree more. Even if it still makes for a fairly broad category to band together the vastly different and culturally rich spectrum of “Latin roots,” at least the unifying reference that can serve as glue or a constant, and help level and monitor the landscape within the context of film, is the social/political experience of life in The United States. It’s these vibrant and unique bi-cultural stories and voices that must be shepherded through the bottleneck gates towards distribution. More so because these groups are largely under-represented or marginalized in the main arteries of film distribution channels. With a growing number of new alternative models of distribution available and the power of the audience/consumer, now more than ever, we can demand our content.
So with that, let’s take a closer look at my Top 5 American Latino Films of 2012 – all of which compellingly portray singular, rarely-represented walks of life and perspectives – and in each case the filmmaker’s personal and distinct multi-cultural makeup adds to the film’s alchemy. Every film on this list has bowed at film festivals and only two of them have had a very limited theatrical run. In a sense, these films have been born but now its time to help these babies walk and talk. There’s no better way than today’s word of mouth: the social media. Please click on the films’ links to follow and interact with the film’s life and if you dig it, be proactive and support these films to help them reach their audience.
A ver ~
Festivals: NY Latino International Film Festival (world premiere) and stay tuned for future festivals this Spring 2013.
Why it stands out: Of all the films on this list this might have the biggest commercial potential because of the broad appeal of the classic, wholesome high school coming of ager comedy genre. Filmmaker Guardado, Jr., who is a video teacher at Heritage High School by day, injects a modern, refreshing representation and empathetic, teen authenticity to the formula. For far too long this type of movie has been domineered by slender-shaped Anglo protagonists with your token black/brown/gay supporting characters. And while it is awesome to see brown leads; curvy, nerdy cute girl played by Angelina Leon and class clown/jock played by Jorge Diaz, at the epicenter of this story, it’s more importantly a perfectly pitched sweet, funny and ‘real’ high school romantic comedy that resonates. Just check out the trailer here. I reviewed it earlier this year here.
Where to see it now: Like I say, this is especially ripe for mainstream release opportunities (cable/DVD/VOD). So far the film had a one night screening in its hometown sponsored by Brenden theaters. The filmmaker is currently approaching other local theaters to arrange more screenings. Interested parties (festivals/distributors/PR) can email the filmmaker directly at: email@example.com.
4. Aqui y Alla (Here & There) – written and directed by Antonio Mendez Esparza (Raised in Madrid and has lived in Mexico and NYC – film shot in Mexico)
Festivals: 45 – among them, Critics Week at Cannes (world premiere), San Sebastian, AFI, Morelia, Mar de Plata, Dubai, Lone Star Festival.
Why it stands out: The magnetic non-professional acting ensemble and the film’s doc-like aesthetic subtly immerses the audience into the psychological aftermath of a story rarely told onscreen. Quite simply it’s about a Mexican father who has recently returned to his family after being away in the states for a long time. The film fills a void within the canons of the Mexican immigrant story. There’s so much more than the grueling border-crossing journey, which is one small part of the ‘immigrant experience’. The more opportunities and support Latino filmmakers can reach to tell their stories, the more their storytelling can evolve to truly capture the whole context. It’s only recently that I’ve started seeing some reflection on those families of immigrants who stay behind and the generation-spanning social effects – and I’m not only talking within US and Mexico panorama. In 2009 Antonio’s short film, Una Y Otra Vez garnered him much attention as it traveled to many festivals worldwide. It probably helped give him a profile when it came time to submit his first feature. Antonio is currently busy with the limited release of his film and is also already at work on his next project; a mother and son story titled, Saudade.
Where to see it now: You are in luck if you are in NY! The film premieres in three different venues for limited release NOW. Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, the reRun Theater in Dumbo, and the Jackson Heights Cinema. (Click on links for tickets and showtimes).
3. Elliot Loves – written and directed by Terracino (Dominican New Yorker, film shot in Harlem)
Festivals: Over 50 film festivals, among them, Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in May (World Premiere); New York International Latino Film Festival, Outfest, San Francisco Frameline, Global Film Festival in Dominican Republic.
Why it stands out: Elliot. He is as lovable and charming as he is emotionally conflicted and flawed. We meet him as a sweet, precocious boy growing up in Harlem with his young, single mother, an ill-equipped parent who suffers from a co-dependency on a string of deadbeat-boyfriends. As we jump forward to Elliot’s adult years, his strained relationship with his mother and deeply rooted childhood fears and dreams continue to play a role in how he pursues love. How else do I put it, I’ve never seen as real of a depiction of a ‘gay cholo’. I enjoyed the romantic dalliances – especially the steamy love scenes, the old school mano-a-mano fights on the street, and the drama that while zany, eschews any of the flamboyant queen diva archetypes or melodrama we’ve seen associated with gays before. Like Mosquita y Mari (next on the list) the gay Latino niche has huge potential. For years, gay representation has been relegated to background or one dimensional characters, or lead roles in a serious coming out/AIDs dramas. But what about mainstream genres like romantic comedies? When a film like Elliot Loves comes around, no wonder it is fiercely celebrated by the gay community and film festival circuit. At the end of the day though, the storyline’s universal resonance (looking for love) is what hits a chord with gay AND straight audiences alike.
2. Mosquita y Mari – written and directed by Aurora Guerrero (Chicana from the Bay, film shot in LA)
Festivals: A whopping 110 festivals, both mainstream and queer including Sundance (world premiere), San Francisco International, Seattle, Sarasota, Melbourne, Sao Paolo….
Why it stands out: I’ve long wanted to articulate that extra magical ingredient and feeling you get when you watch something and find it so incredibly in tune with a part of you. As a first generation Mexican-American I find many of these moments related in Mosquita y Mari. The log line seems simple enough; Two high school Chicanas, one square, one street, make friends and come of age in LA. The palpable emotion and sensitivity in portraying adolescent romance, sexual impulses and tensions with parents who shoulder you with the heavy pressure of achieving a better life on behalf of all your ancestors, drives the heart and veracity of the story. The way they talk, look, the music they listen to, is all me. I’m sure I’m not the only chicanita who feels that way either. When film speaks to you on a specific level – it’s a wonderful feeling of connectedness. Again, early awareness helps; Guerrero worked on getting this film made for several years, reaching out and applying to as many non-profit partners for assistance, including Sundance Institute’s Native Screenwriters lab and San Francisco Film Society’s robust year round Filmmaker grants. Combined with her Kickstarter campaign launched while finishing production, the film attracted attention early on, making it easier for film festivals to track. Guerrero is currently at work with her next feature, Los Valientes which recently obtained a grant from San Francisco Film Society.
Where to see it now: DVD/internet/broadcast rights sold to Wolfe Releasing earlier this year. Let the filmmakers know you want to see it! Express your interest on their film site to purchase a DVD (late 2013) and or request a screening of the film near you. This information will help their ongoing self-release theatrical strategy in partnership with Film Collaborative a non-profit film distribution/consultant outfit catering to specialty releases that is helping the film book theaters and educational outlets. HBO broadcast also in the future late 2013.
1. Los Chidos, written and directed by Omar Rodriguez Lopez (Puerto-Rican, grew up in El Paso, shot the film in Mexico, citizen of the world)
Festivals: SXSW (world premiere), NY Latino International Film Festival, Rio, Santa Fe Independent, Hola Mexico (Australia).
Check out the recently released trailer here:
Why it stands out: Provocative genre. Whether it incites a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reception, taboo-defying, wicked satire and social and political commentary under an unsettling visually graphic aesthetic, elicits a fervent reaction and guarantees a degree of attention. ORL is not one to hold anything back and you can feel an exhilarating rush as he discovers and makes the tools of the visual medium his own to challenge and trans-mutate society’s views about identity, religion and sex, among other hot-button issues. Like the poster tag reads (translated), “Those who don’t criticize their culture don’t love their mother”, signaling the film’s unrelenting attack on every stereotype ever pitted to lazy, homophobic, incestuous, thieving, murdering, macho Mexicans. There’s no doubt his prolific music career (The Mars Volta, currently Bosnian Rainbows) has spawned a specific audience for his work as an uncompromising artist. This built-in audience will be the first to give flight to his flourishing career turn as filmmaker. I personally can’t wait to see future films as I bet he’s only getting started in this arena and has so much to say. Omar returns to his hometown of El Paso next month to begin shooting Niño de la Esperanza.
Where to see it now: Indiewire recently included Los Chidos in their Top Ten Undistributed Films of 2012 piece. So unless a savvy and daring outfit (like Oscilloscope) picks it up, expect ORLP and music management/record label, Sargent House to self-distribute as they are doing with Omar’s 2010 film, the psychedelic identity trip, The Sentimental Engine Slayer (You can buy the DVD, and cool poster art and t-shirt for $35 here). These guys are the perfect example of D2F (Direct to Fan) distribution at work.
Links: Facebook, Website
Next up, top 5 American Latino films to watch out for in 2013!
I’m sad to miss out on all the sexy, steamy fun that will be popping at the 13th New York International Latino Film Festival this week, starting with tonight’s official Opening Night screening of Filly Brown starring Miss Thang Gina Rodriguez. However I’ve been invited to be on the shorts jury for the Monterrey Film Festival so I leave for Mexico mañana (look forward to my dispatch from el otro lado). To all my NY Dominicanos, Cubanos, Boriquas and Chicanitas les mando mushos besos. But not to worry, I wouldn’t leave you hanging without a quickie. Let me give you the scoop on how to proceed amid NYILFF’s multi-culti flavorful spread of this year’s freshest new films. I don’t include typical loglines as much as words that pop into my head to describe the visceral experience. Click on the titles for synopsis and ticket info.
And now, here is my top five CAN-NOT-MISS list at this year’s New York International Latino Film Festival. Your welcome.
1. The Girl is in Trouble, w/d – Julius Onah (World Premiere) A pulsating at times frenetic, breathless city adventure a la french new wave thriller with a thugged out Valderrama who actually displays chops with an angelic and barbaric side to his swaggering performance. This film is an explosive burst of energy, even when the pace takes a breather its story speed keeps trucking and keeps it cinematic by utilizing all the canons of visual play into a story that you get swept up in. I couldn’t find a trailer online so just trust. It’s fresh.
2. Love, Concord, w/d – Gustavo Guardado (World Premiere). I profiled this charming high school rom com earlier this Spring so I’m especially excited that this baby is being delivered to the NYILFF audiences. It succeeds where so many other films of this genre fail and that is portraying the MOMENT back in high school, and unbelievably its so goddamn charming and cute without the heavy and sweet empty calories.
3. Los Chidos, w/d Omar Rodriguez Lopez. The most wildest, fierce and singular voice out there right now. I love talking about this highly provocative and polarizing movie and all its unbridled uncouthness that underlines such themes like the male psyche/ego, exploitation, religion, stereotypes all under the guise of a TJ trip gone wrong. This savage satire from my boy Omar has terrified some people since its premiere at SXSW. I can’t wait to screen it in LA at the Downtown Independent.
4. Waiting for the Beatles -Diego Graue, Raymundo Marmolejo. I’m sorry to say bu the trailer below does not do the documentary justice. Its even a much more jubilant and uncanny tribute to hundreds of Beatle cover bands and Beatlemania in Mexico. This one’s for bringing the whole fan. Ever since it premiered at my favorite fest, The Morelia Film Festival last October I’ve had a special place in my heart for it. I love the intro, “In 1969 Mexico waited for the Beatles to come. Nearly 30 years later they are still waiting”.
5. Elliot Loves, w/d – Gary Terracino Yes, I know this bad boy has been getting around. But its been getting down in the festival circuit for a reason y’all. This simultaneous childhood and adult coming of ager of the eponymous incorrigible, hopeless in love but tough as nails Dominican in NY is utterly romantic and down and dirty real. Never in my life have I seen gay cholos portrayed so candidly, raw and honest. Never. Breaking archetypes and flipping the script.
Other tips. Something says Sold Out? Try Stand-by line, I bet you get in. None of these features grab you? You can never go wrong with a shorts program. Lastly, if you got a steady job, invest in a festival badge and support the Festival. $200 gets you access to any movie and the lounge and its the cheapest inclusive pass I’ve seen on the Festival block.
It seems like only yesterday I stepped off the train after a grueling 29 hour Amtrak from LA and arrived in Austin for my very first SXSW. In reality it’s been over a week ago and I feel like Geoff Marslett in that How Not Be Lame @ SXSW bumper trailer, where he transforms over the course of the Festival from entitled hollywood suit outsider pretentious douche into an entitled keep-it-wierd converted local douche. My attempt of recapping the ruckus that has led up to my current dazed and confused state has proven a bit tricky. Luckily the remnants of fliers, postcards, and business cards in my swagbag, plus scrolling through the week’s sloppy texts, tweets and photos have helped jog my muggy memory of what was an Epic first South By.
The Films – Hard and edgy on the outside, sweet and tender on the inside.
All in, I averaged about 3 films a day. I feel bad for not having seen more, but the nonstop lounges, panels, parties and street grub posed serious detours on my way to see films. The first movie I saw here was the divisive satire comedy, Los Chidos, by Omar Rodriguez Lopez. Having seen a rough cut before, I knew exactly what Janet Pierson, Festival Director who introduced the film, meant when she said with a smirk “ I can’t wait to get your reactions to this”. Los Chidos is by far one of my favorite films so far in 2012. I’m thrilled that SXSW had the balls to put it in competition. The progressive music prodigy and son of a psychiatrist, Rodriguez Lopez has a fierce voice and much to say. At the Q&A he was asked why he chose to portray Mexicans like the mysogynist, homophobic sloths. I wish everyone who saw the film had the opportunity to hear his A because he really provides rich context to the swirling grotesque images that shock your senses, all of which are well thought out subversive analogies about the male psyche.
I also loved Bob Byington’s third feature, Somebody Up There Likes Me in the Narrative Spotlight section. Anyone who knows Bob knows he’s an odd egg and a cynical yet charming singularity infuses his romantic comedies. The film inhabits this non sequitur, pseudo reality yet for all the quirky fancy, the actual moments and feelings of bitterness, regret, heart, and self-deprecating humor couldn’t be more genuine and relatable. I like filmmakers who defy film conventions for story effect. Much like Omar plays with Los Chidos with the obvious dubbing dialogue effect as a throwback tribute to shlocky Mexican 70s movies, here Bob forgoes the phoniness of putting on makeup to show his characters age throughout the thirty years span of the movie. Everyone pretty much looks the same at the end. Because really who likes to see themselves age.
Leave me Like You Found Me, Ms. Adele Romanski’s directing debut really affected me and is also one of my faves. A perceptive, earnestly written and well acted film about when to call a relationship quits and how the nostalgia of a lost love washes over the ugliness of how it actually went down. David Nordstrom (Sawdust City) and Megan Boone give some awesome naturalistic performances. (How many times have you asked or been asked in a relationship, Why do you love me?). I thanked Adele for making the film, and she said many others have, because its one of those films where one gets to entertain the illusion of trying to get back together with the ex and what that might look like. Also worth mentioning and not just for diversity sake is Wolf, a first feature by Ya’Ke Smith. An all black cast film about a teen who protects the preacher with whom he had an illicit relationship. It’s a nuanced storyline that was just shy of gripping because the script and acting were a tad uneven.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Crazy Eyes by Adam Sherman which Strand picked up for a summer release. I tend to be culturally sensitive to the myriad of American films about rich white people’s problems (who cares) but once in a while the filmmaker successfully makes its rich white character relative and poignant, and I would be guilty of dismissing it just because (The Comedy for instance, which I also found tragic brilliant and premiered at Sundance and also played here). That girl from Californication, Madeline Zima and Lukas Haas who plays a Hollywood millionaire have a year long drunken relationship where she refuses to have sex with him. They smoke, do drugs, drink and fight like decadent zealots. She accuses him of not having real problems, when ultimately we find run he is way more dysfunctional than she. Thanks to the Tugg Buzz screenings, where the festival adds a screening of films with the most buzz, I caught King Kelly by Andrew Neel about a self-centered internet sex star brat who does not live a second of her life not filming her navel and drama on her iPhone. Titillating social commentary about our fucked up millenial generation.
The Panels – All you can panel buffet
The number of panels, speakers, and sessions is overwhelming and diverse. And most of them come with cute brand title names. No doubt its due to their panel picker process in which you can vote on what panels you want to see. Yours truly participated in a Mentor session about reaching international audiences. It’s a speed dating style format where registrants sign up and get 15 minutes with you. I took it a bit personal and was disappointed that there was not a line of people waiting to see me (ego anyone?)but I heard from other much more established industry players that overall this was the case perhaps because of the competing multitude of events. In a crazy twist of events and much to my surprise one of the four registrants that met me was a cousin I never met! She had recognized my name and surprised the heck out of me when she said “Hi, I’m Myrna. I’m your cousin”. We had an impromptu reunion and started to piece together our estranged family – most of whom I found out are in Texas or Oklahoma. I caught a little bit of the Have Latin American Media become Social, where the main takeaway is that there is not much overall internet penetration in Mexico and even less in Central America. The big broadcasters like Azteca and Univision are dominating with interactive sports and telenovelas forums. But that said, there’s lots of room growth. I sat through “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love VOD, moderated by Orly Ravid and included, Nolan Gallagher/Gravitas, Eamon Bowles/Magnolia, Dylan Marchetti/Variance films and Matt Harlok who shared his successful case study of his documentary, American: The Bill Hicks Story. Read the PDF presentation here. The last few pages offer some good takeaways by the experts. What I mostly absorbed was that every film needs a ‘specialist’ or a savvy business producer filmmaker to exploit the wild west and not yet tested opportunities out there as its all on a very case to case basis. Second is “Know your windows”. My last panel of the fest was Indiewire’s Eric Kohn asking some very straight to the point questions to Caveh Zahedi, filmmaker of SXSW doc, The Sheik And I, which has some controversy surrounding the filmmaker’s take on Islamic Society and what constitutes as a mockumentary. I think – as I did not see it but I wonder if its as duplicitously brilliant like a Mads Brugger film (Red Chapel, The Ambassador). I also caught the final Indiewire panel in which Dana Harris and Eric talked with a gruffy voiced Festival Director, Janet Pierson and Senior Programmer/Operations Manager Jared Neece about this year’s festival. Its hard to recap an event that is still going but I applaud their programming, spirit, and most of all knowing their audiences.
The Music – where it all began and where it all goes to hell
There was a noticeable shift of crowds – larger and rowdier when the Music portion of
SXSW began on Tuesday. Suddenly it was green badges galore. 6th street blew up with armies of transient musicians, marketing hulu hoop ploys, and impromptu drum circles. I happened across one of the Music pocket guides which lists each venue and the 2000+ bands and got excited at the prospects. Plus there had to have been at least another another hundred of performers in the unofficial and so called “anti-sxsw” vein. If it was difficult to adhere to a screening schedule, it was nearly impossible to try to keep a music schedule. After Wednesday, it was very go with the flow, but I got to see a lot more movies since most film folks had left. Wednesday night I had the pleasure of experiencing Filastine, an international world-like dubstep hard to categorize explosion of sound whose maestro is Greg Filastine an Oklahoma native now living in Barcelona who drums everything including a shopping cart. And right next door at the Speakeasy were the fine firecracker ladies, Lila Downs and Cucu Diamantes who had a documentary, called Amor Cronico in the festival. I also danced my ass off to electro cumbia mixer DJ Mr. Pauer.
The Parties – Messin’ with Texas
I missed the first couple days of parties since I felt the need to see the Midnight flicks but I got up to speed pretty quickly on Monday night with the Gayby/Wholphin party at Cheer Up Charlies. A great Texas joint where I was happy to see all my LA and NY friends. The Film Awards ceremony on Tuesday was thankfully brief and I found a seat next to my homey Trevor Anderson, short filmmaker of High Level Bridge and The Man That Got Away and Sundance pal, David Courier. I also met Louis Black the founder of this here shindig, an old G who was praising Janet Pierson’s helming. Before the actual party at Stage opened, I grabbed a slice and hung out with the Los Chidos posse. By Thursday, I turned into a film zombie fueled by Doritos and Tito’s vodka. I would get downtown by 1030am just in time to go to the lounge for some breakfast tacos to-go and start my day off with an 11am screening. My new Russian friend Selena from St. Petersburg and I became fest buddies this way; we’d go see a movie then go back then to the lounge for drinks. Repeat. After four films on Friday I skipped the downtown melee and went over to the East side, to this rustic but mod spot called Hillside Pharmacy, then later to a rowdy place called Yellow Jacket also on the East side where there was no badge in sight. I seriously thought I was done for by Saturday. That is, until I heard there was a Converse Thrasher party at Scoot Inn where there’d be hot skaters. We rolled up and met up with pro-skaters and derelicts, plus got to see Kreayshawn do her Gucci Gucci, and trip-hop, The Cool Kids from my hometown Chicago perform. I have never seen so many dirty skaters and hot girls in one place. 500 Pabst Blue Ribbons later we went to The Grackle where we heard a pretty cool all girl punk Japanese band, ZZZs and where thanks to the East Side Kings food truck had the best damn pork ribs I’ve ever had in my life. Afterwards a pedi-cab to the car sealed my last night of brouhaha.
Like the 120,000+ SXSW participants that stormed Austin this week, I’m slowly stepping back into ho-drum reality. Now that I got my first SXSW taste I am hooked! Big besos and thanks to Claudette Godfrey, Fest Coordinator and Programmer who is the reason I took on this gonzo-esque journey.
Jury winners here
Audience winners here
How I feel right now here