WTF is Latino at Sundance 2015? – A closer look

We are only a week away from the avalanche of discovery that will unfurl at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so let me give you a heads up on everything Latino.

First, a slew of qualifications, caveats and disclaimers; I like to differentiate between U.S. born artists of Latino heritage and international artists. Second, keep in mind “Latino sounding last names” does not indicate who is Latino behind a film (and a Latino sounding last name does not necessarily indicate that person identifies as Latino and or tells Latino stories). I mention this to emphasize Latino identity is often subjective and always complex.  Lastly, these are not reviews or spoilers but a quick reference for those interested in tracking emerging Latino talent and topics.

Left Tony Revolri is of Guatemalan descent
Left Tony Revolori is of Guatemalan descent

Perhaps more ubiquitous to spot are the Latinos in front of the camera; J-Lo plays Lila opposite queen bee Viola Davis in Lila and Eve. John Leguizamo has a role in The Experimenter, the late Elizabeth Peña has a wicked cameo in Grandma opposite Lily Tomlin. Tony Revolori (Grand Budapest Hotel) plays the Latino kid in Dope. Scott Mescudi is Christopher Abbot’s friend in James White.

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Robert “Beef” Lorie

Exciting acting debuts to watch out for include Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Sean Baker’s pulsing Tangerine and Robert Lorrie in The Strongest Man by Kenny Riches, both in the indie gem Next section.

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Cartel land

There are eight films that have Latino subjects. Two films in U.S. Documentary Competition are about the U.S./Mexico border, which makes me very happy (not the anguishing realities portrayed in the films but the fact that Sundance recognizes the urgency of the conversation and supports these filmmakers novel perspectives in tackling the complexities of the ongoing drugwar.


Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in the U.S. Dramatic Competition with Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. This successful television writer has been quoted  about his bordertown childhood; “Laredo is in my DNA, as much as Nuevo Laredo (Mexican state across the border) is in my DNA”.

Kyle Alvarez who has Cuban roots, is at the festival with his third feature, The Stanford Prison Experiment.

Daniel Garcia who recently was named “Filmmaker to Watch” at the Independent Spirit Awards co-directed the enigmatic film, H. in Next. He is from Texas and has family from Mexico.  Check out the trailer:

10891650_10153504452223761_1003665519324158567_nIn the shorts program we got Reinaldo Green with the powerful Stop, Ryan Gillis with animated short film Palm Rot and Ronnie Rivera and Bernardo Britto are the co-directors of The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.

If we are including writers/directors born and raised in another country but based in the U.S. let’s add:

Rodrigo Garcia – The Colombian born Mexican long time LA resident is back in Premieres with Last Days in the Desert shot by Mexican Oscar winner DP Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity).

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Kristen Wiig and Sebastian Silva

Sebastian Silva from Chile based in NY returns with Nasty Baby featuring another juicy dramatic performance from Kristen Wiig following last year’s Skeleton Twins.

And two international filmmakers who are making their English language debuts:

Claudia Llosa from Peru wrote and directed Aloft starring Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy which premiered at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

J.M Cravioto makes his English language and fiction narrative debut with horror midnight movie, Reversal.

It’s worth noting not one of these films feature Latino actors with the exception of Silva who stars in his film, and Reinaldo Green’s Stop. And I will take a step further to comment those films do not have a storyline that reflects a Latino experience (I know, we can debate what qualifies as a Latino experience).


Mimi Valdes – the former editor of Latina and Vibe Magazine and now creative director of Pharell Williams’ multi-media company is a co-producer on Dope with Nina Yang and Forest Whitaker (Fruitvale).

Felipe Marino of Occupant Entertainment produced creature feature, The Hallow. Named “Producer to Watch’ by Variety, the U.S. born of Colombia descent producer previously brought The Wackness to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

The Borscht Corp powerhouse are behind shorts Papa Machete shot in Haiti and the previously mentioned, The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal.

Nicolas Lopez (Aftershock) co-wrote Eli Roth’s Knock Knock starring Keanu Reeves showing in Midnight.

Mexican cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman shot Rick Alverson’s Entertainment.


Cartel Land by Matthew Heineman. Senior Programmer David Courier’s description is on point; “Brilliant, dangerous, and provocative, Cartel Land is a chilling meditation on the breakdown of order and the borderline where life trumps law.” Here’s an interview with the filmmaker that includes clips of the movie:

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Western by Alex and Turner Ross. If you saw their previous film, Tchoupitoulas you are familiar with their beautiful, observational and visceral style.  Motivated by finding the real iconic cowboys of the dusty old frontier, these two consider this part of their American trilogy.

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The Angulo Brothers of The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack by Crystal Moselle – Its best if you know nothing going in and I will wager that this one will be one of the most talked about films at the festival. I will only mention the pack are the children of a Peruvian man.

The Strongest Man –The lead character’s thoughts and voiceover is uttered in Spanish throughout the film.

Royal Road by Jenni Olson talks about the Mexican land before it became the United States.

Fresh Dressed by Sacha Jenkins– documents the shift from when cats started settling beefs on the dance floor and on the mike instead of violence. Fashion and hip hop style created by urban (read: blacks and Latinos)

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Venus Extravaganza in Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning by Jennie Livingston –celebrating its 15th anniversary a special Collection screening of the film will take place on January 26 at 3pm at the Egyptian. Love love love this film. The House of Extravaganza was one of the first Latino/a Harlem balls. RIP Angie and Venus.

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Making it in America

Making it in America by Joris Debeij is a short film about a Salvadoran immigrant in Los Angeles.

And now for straight up INTERNATIONAL FILMS:

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Paulina Davila in LiveForever

From Mexico/Colombia in New Frontier is Live Forever or QUE VIVA LA MUSICA! by Sundance alum Carlos Moreno (Dog Eat Dog, All Your Dead Ones), a sexy, music driven film starring a magnetic new Colombian actress Paulina Davila

Short film, Spring from Mexico which played at the Morelia Film Festival by Tania Claudia Castillo.

Wild Tales from Argentina/Spain by Damián Szifrón

The Second Mother by well-known Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert

The Games Maker by Juan Pablo Buscarini in the Sundance Kids section is from Argentina.

And a MUST-EXPERIENCE at the New Frontier is virtual reality film Assent by Oscar Raby a Chilean who lives in Australia. Description: In 1973 my father witnessed the execution of a group of prisoners captured by the military regime in Chile, the same Army that he was part of. Assent puts the user in my father’s boots as we walk to the place where that happened.

And lastly, presenting short films in the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are alumni Marialy Rivas, the hip director from Chile of Young and Wild, and actor/filmmaker Diego Luna.

To check out the entire lineup of films, screening times and descriptions go here.  To meet the directors, check out Sundance YouTube Meet The Filmmakers series here.  And lastly follow all the haps as it haps @sundancefestnow

#WTF is #Latino at SXSW Film Festival?

Perhaps the highest profile U.S. Latino film at SXSW this year is the dramatic feature about labor rights organizer Cesar Chavez.  Another film on Chavez, the documentary Cesar’s Last Fast, premiered at Sundance last month.  I’m thrilled to see two of the biggest U.S. Festivals supporting this story getting out there.   I’m also happy to see that the version directed by Diego Luna, starring Michael Peña as Cesar, is not the only US Latino offering at SXSW, the edgiest mainstream film festival in the U.S. of A.  I count 5 U.S. Latino writer/directors on this roster among many other artists and subjects.

chaveztweetBefore we dive in, my caveats:  First, this is at best, a prelim list.  I’m sure I will discover more US Latino talent once I get there and watch more films and meet the artists behind them.  

2.  My goal is to single out the U.S. Latino content creators, that is writer/directors because they are ridiculously under-represented.

3.  By U.S. Latino I mean people born or living in the U.S. who have roots from Mexico, Central & South America and the Caribbean.  

Back to this piece; I’m including actors, producers and cinematographers because they are critical to the making of the film, and subjects of documentaries as well as themes and perceptions of Latino culture because you don’t have to have Latino blood to “get it”.  That’s a sensibility you pickup because of where you live, or because of a best friend/neighbor, or a connection you feel when you experience a an artistic expression outside what your traditional ethnic culture dictates. 

sashaSorry for shutting out Spain and Brazil on this list.  They will be fine.  That said I’m looking forward to Open Windows by Spanish loco, Nacho Vigalondo where Elijah Wood is suppose to go on a date with Sasha Grey.  And there is the Brazilian film,  Wolf at the Door, feature length debut from Fernando Coimbra.

One Night in Old Mexico by Emilio Aragon bears mention. It is a Spanish (that means Spain people) production shot in Brownsville, Texas. Joaquin Cosio (Cochiloco!) is the only Mexican actor I notice in the credits.   Robert Duvall acts and produces in this old-timey South of the Border road trip. I will view with an open mind and hope that Tijuana brothel strippers and corrupt Narco cowboys are not just background to an Anglo, Father and (grand) Son story.  I do like the Julieta Venegas song for the film, “Aqui Sigo”.

Thanks to my SXSW peeps for their descriptions and help.  If I have anything to add, I do so in Italics.  If YOU have anything to add please feel free to COMMENT!


Director/Screenwriter: Jon Favreau
Chef is a rich and vibrant comedy – the story of Carl Casper (Favreau), who loses his chef job and cooks up a food truck business in hopes of reestablishing his artistic promise. At the same time, he tries to reconnect with his estranged family.
Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey, Jr., Emjay Anthony (World Premiere)


Director: Diego Luna
Screenwriter: Keir Pearson, Timothy J. Sexton
Chavez chronicles the birth of a modern American movement led by famed civil rights leader and labor organizer, Cesar Chavez. 
Cast: Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich, Michael Pena, America Ferrera, Gabriel Mann (North American Premiere)

Finally, a U.S. Latino story gets the orchestral score, epic, Hollywood blockbuster-gloss treatment it deserves.  And tomorrow evening, Cesar Chavez is having its World Premiere as a fancy Berlinale Special Gala.  Film is being rolled out in the U.S. starting on Cesar Chavez day, March 29.  John Malkovich, one of the producers of the film, also stars as Bogdanovitch, the grape crop owner and son of immigrants who wages battle against Chavez’s efforts to mobilize.  The filmmakers made the role a very smartly drawn character with dimension and Malkovich plays it with unexpected complexity and compassion.  Meanwhile America and Rosario elevate the contributions of Chavez’s partners, Helen, his wife, and Dolores Huerta, his work ally, respectively,  from background to the fore with their mighty performances.  An inspiring account of the sacrifices and failures necessary for triumph and success.  

Two Step

Director/Screenwriter: Alex R. Johnson
Two Step is a fast-paced Texas thriller in which the lives of James, a directionless college dropout, and Webb, a career criminal with his back against the wall, violently collide.
Cast: Beth Broderick, James Landry Hébert, Skyy Moore, Jason Douglas, Ashley Rae Spillers (World Premiere)

Austin-based Johnson, whose mom is from Ecuador,  is part of SXSW for the first time with his anticipated feature directorial debut, after directing several shorts, videos and producing documentaries.  Indiewirepreviously posted background on Two Step’s music (Andrew Kenny of All American Analog set did the score) and offbeat suspense elements along with clips of his work.  Check it. 


 The Immortalists
Directors: Jason Sussberg, David Alvarado
Two eccentric scientists struggle to create eternal youth in a world they call “blind to the tragedy of old age.” As they battle their own aging and suffer the losses of loved ones, their scientific journeys ultimately become personal. (World Premiere)

David was born in Dallas to a Mexican father, he went to grad school at Stanford and now lives in Brooklyn where he works on films exploring scientific breakthroughs and other fascinating biological radical-ness

Impossible Light
Director: Jeremy Ambers

impossibleImpossible Light reveals the drama and the daring of artist Leo Villareal and a small team of visionaries who battle seemingly impossible challenges to turn a dream of creating the world’s largest LED light sculpture into a glimmering reality. (World Premiere)

 Villareal grew up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso. Per this Times article, “He was the introverted son of a wealthy Mexican-American family, more interested in programming his Apple II than the provincial pursuits of football, rodeo and tequila”.

Director: Aaron I. Naar
Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 4.08.28 PMMateo follows America’s most notorious white mariachi singer on his misadventures in Cuba.
(World Premiere)

Really interesting story, read the 2009 LA Times piece here and the Time Magazine piece here about this ginger haired white man who found his calling singing bolero music after getting out of Maximum Security Prison.

Print the Legendprintlegend

Directors: Luis Lopez, Clay Tweel

The 3D Printing revolution has begun. Who will make it? (World Premiere)

Lopez (from Tijuana) and Tweel were associate producers on 2007’s King of Kong and worked together on 201o’s LA Film Fest Best Documentary, Make Believe.


chapoThe Legend Of Shorty (UK)
Directors: Angus MacQueen, Guillermo Galdos
The Legend of Shorty is the story of a man and a myth. (World Premiere)

The sick but undeniably wild appeal of this ‘untouchable’ narco kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman puts this at the top of my Must-See list.  Not to mention the folks involved; Guillermo Galdos is a respected documentary reporter from Peru.  Submarine is co-repping the film for North America with Protagonist. Produced by Simon Chinn (Searching For Sugar Man, Man On Wire) and Andrew Mackenzie-Betty (Thriller In Manila).


Cumbres (Heights) (Mexico)

Director/Screenwriter: Gabriel Nuncio
Due a tragedy, two sisters abruptly escape from their hometown in Northern Mexico. Their journey creates a bittersweet relationship marked by pain, guilt and love.
Cast: Aglae Lingow, Ivanna Michel, Abdul Marcos, Sergio Quiñones, Ganzo Cepeda (U.S. Premiere)

Really happy about this film and impressed how Nuncio swooshes forward both the on-the-run stakes never leaving behind the actual sister relationship story behind. I’m looking forward to his next film, Los Herederos which Michel Franco (Despues de Lucia is producing).

The Dance of Reality (Chile / France)

Director/Screenwriter: Alejandro Jodorowsky
The Dance of Reality is a 2013 independent autobiographical film written, produced and directed by Alejandro Jodorowosky. 
Cast: Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Jeremias Herskovits, Cristobal Jodorowsky, Bastián Bodenhöfer, Alejandro Jodorowsky (U.S. Premiere)

Almost a year after its premiere in Cannes, the film finally gets its stateside premiere.  It’s like surfing on the neural synapses of an artist fully in tune with his twilight years intertwining nostalgia and fantasy.

EPISODIC – new section

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

Director/Screenwriter: Robert Rodriguez
The Gecko Brothers are back. Based on the thrill-ride film, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a supernatural crime saga from Creator, Director and EP Robert Rodriguez premiering March 11 on El Rey Network.
Cast: D.J. Cotrona, Zane Holtz, Eiza González, Jesse Garcia, Lane Garrison, and Wilmer Valderrama, and Don Johnson (World Premiere) 

Halt and Catch Fire
Director: Juan Jose Campanella, Screenwriters: Christopher Cantwell
Halt and Catch Firecaptures the rise of the PC era in the early 1980s, during which an unlikely trio – a visionary, an engineer and a prodigy – take personal and professional risks in the race to build a computer that will change the world as they know it. 
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Rio Davis, Kerry Bishe, Toby Huss, David Wilson Barnes (World Premiere)

Argentine Campanella has directed several episodes of House, Law & Order, 30 Rock and my ol fave, Strangers With Candy. Before that he got international acclaim with his first film, 2009’s The Secret in Her Eyes.


Lupita-1 KopieQue Caramba es la Vida (Germany)
Director: Doris Dorrie
In the macho world of Mariachi music, very few women can hold their own. Just like the songs they play, this film is a snapshot of life, death and the things in between – seen from a bird’s-eye perspective. (World Premiere)

Rubber Soul

Director/Screenwriter: Jon Lefkovitz
Rubber Soul reconstructs portions of two historical interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono based on available transcripts and audio, juxtaposing them in order to explore the dynamic nature of Lennon’s identity over time. Cast: Joseph Bearor, Denice Lee, Dillon Porter, Andrew Perez (World Premiere)

perezAndrew is first generation Colombian American.  His next feature which he wrote and acts in is being edited by Rubber Soul director, Jon Lefkovitz, takes place in Colombia, called Bastards & Diablos.  He spent six years in my Chi-city, performed at the renowned Steppenwolf Theater with a production of Sonia Flew with Sandra Delgado and Sandra Marquez. 



desertThe Desert (Argentina)

Director: Christoph Behl

The failed story of a love triangle in a post-apocalyptic world.
Cast: Victoria Almeida, William Prociuk, Lautaro Delgado (North American Premiere)

German filmmaker who works in Spanish language films.  The Desert has been validated at all the top international horror festivals, Sitges, London Fright Fest, Fantasy Festival among others.


Director: Eduardo Sánchez, Screenwriter: Jamie Nash
Five friends on a camping weekend in the remote woods of East Texas struggle to survive against a legendary beast that is stronger, smarter, and more terrifying than they would have ever believed exists. Cast: Chris Osborn, Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis (World Premiere)

Cuban born Sanchez shot to cult indie horror kingpin over Blair Witch Project.  His short in the V/H/S 2 short is so bomb.  I can’t wait to see this take on Bigfoot.

latephasesLate Phases
Director: Adrián García Bogliano Screenwriter: Eric Stolze
When deadly attacks from the forests beset a secluded retirement community, it is up to a grizzled veteran to figure what the residents are hiding. Cast: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Erin Cummings, Tom Noonan, Lance Guest (World Premiere)

Adrián was born in Madrid, grew up in Argentina and now lives and works in Mexico City.  This is his first film in English.  He has over 20 credits, about half feature length and half shorts, including most recently the ABCs of Death (B is for Bigfoot, incidentally), and Here Comes The Devil.  I first experienced his suspenseful horror com romp with his 2004 Rooms for Tourists.

Director/Screenwriter: Nicholas McCarthy
When a realtor is asked to sell a vacant home, she and her sister cross paths with its previous tenant: a teenage girl who sold her soul to the devil. Cast: Naya Rivera, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ashley Rickards, Wyatt Russell, Ava Acres (World Premiere)

Puerto Rican Naya Rivera (Glee) who recently was quoted in a Cosmo Latina interview it sucks that she has no one to speak Spanish to , and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace and Magic Magic) get top billing in this  midnight movie from The Pact director McCarthy



Director/Writer:  Bernardo Britto

A man is hired to compile the definitive history of human existence before the planet blows up.

BB is Brasilero from Rio, animated film is produced by the Cuban American Borscht Collective based in Miami.  Won Best Animated Film at Sundance.  I’m so moved by this.  It is so damn profound.


Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 6.38.37 PMWawd Ahp

Directors: Steve Girard, Josh Chertoff
A man raps in the mirror, cuts his head off, and has sex with it. There is also a cartoon.

No seriously, that is the description and even that is not preparation for the deranged awesome-ness that is Wawd Ahp.  The cinematographer Alfredo Alcantara grew up in Mexico City.  Check out his work.

Violent Florence (Australia)
Director: Jaime Snyder
Florence rescues a stray cat from a gang of teenagers. After taking the feline to an isolated building, her true intentions emerge.

Cinematographer Benjamin Hidalgo De La Barrera is from Mexico City, another D.F. DP

TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SHORTS – The future is here!

Directors: Joseph Alvarez, Eric Zelaya
Four teenagers on a mission to create the greatest student short film.

Just Skate
Directors: Alicia Tanguma, Brianna Garza
The boy loves to skate.

Directors: Ryker Allen, Isabella Cabello
A Super-8 esque shot, coming of age music video for the song “Purple” performed by San Antonio based band Islands and Tigers.

Check out the San Antonio multi-media artist Ryker’s impressive work on his website

Directors: Caila Pickett, Max Montoya
Seawolf follows a young girl as she travels to different worlds through magical boxes.

Now that I’ve had a chance to scour through the lineup, I can tell that Latino or not, there’s a whole mixed bag of unadulterated, head-blowing, pants-offing, mind-tripping sing and dancing in store to discover.   Get yourself out there for the film, stay for music if you dare.  SXSW

Cochiloco, frijoleros, mezcal y mas at the 2013 HOLA MEXICO FILM FESTIVAL

255591_10151631102682277_1061244011_nI remember five years ago hearing something about a Mexican Film Festival in LA called Hola Mexico. I was intrigued to hear it was part of an ambitious tour in which a different selection of contemporary Mexican films would be brought to Chicago, New York, San Francisco and LA.  But more than intrigued, I was astounded to realize, is it possible that this was the first time a film festival devoted entirely to Mexican films was taking root in LA?  The city with the largest population of Mexicans only second to Mexico City?  Surely there have been several attempts over the years, some diplomatic consulate affair type of mini-events.  I myself was courted by a well meaning producer to program a weekend festival in collaboration with the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce which quickly turned into some kind of high brow gallery and A-star event at a trendy Hollywood bar.   Like that noble effort, I imagine others similarly weren’t able to bridge mission and execution and therefore failed to make an imprint.  For fifteen years LALIFF has been (was?) our uncontested Los Angeles Latino Film Festival to reign on such grand scale and visibility.   Edward James Olmos’s festival always showed more than a couple films from Mexico within its all-encompassing “Latino” label.  Even so, Mexico was but one country represented within the wide and far-reaching program of films from all over the Spanish language countries.   Although Hola Mexico has done away with its NY/SF/Chicago branches, today I am especially pleased and give big props to Samuel Douek the founder, for valiantly plowing through the much treaded Los Angeles terrain to plant the seed of which we can now see its nopalitos bud and flower.  Demonstrating his foresight for acknowledging the renaissance of Mexican cinema and that there was a void to fill, not to mention for showing off his bold taste and pulse on the diverse content of the festival’s programming, I congratulate him and his team’s herculean efforts for dedicating a platform specific to this underserved majority community hungry to experience the rich mestizo jewels from our Lindo y Querido motherland.

942884_10152770544130632_770623107_nI’m excited to celebrate the festival’s continued success at tonight’s Opening Night Fiesta at the lovely Los Angeles Theater inaugurating the fifth edition of the Hola Mexico Film Festival which will run from the 15-22.  As proof of its growing stability, it’s awesome to see that it has a new venue.  Many of the films will screen at the state of the art projection houses of the Regal Live Downtown Theater.  Last year’s Montalban theater venue, while meaningful in name and spirit, left a lot to be desired with the picture and sound.

Go: Mandoki is a damn fine filmmaker in his element here
photo by Jose Luis Castillo

The festivities will commence by bestowing a Career Achievement Award to the prolific actor, Joaquin Cosio, whose wickedly empathetic portrayal in Luis Estrada’s El Infierno has endeared us to calling him by his wild, everyman narco role, El Cochiloco.  Along with Damian Alcazar (who will also be present!) these two are Mexico’s most esteemed and exceptional actors who have embodied an impressive number of indelible character and leading roles throughout the course of their careers. Nominated for the Ariel Award (Mexico’s Oscar) three times, Cosio’s talent will be seen in the upcoming, A Night in Old Mexico with Robert Duvall, Disney’s The Lone Ranger and can be seen in the festival’s selections, The Brief and Precocious Life of Sabina Rivas by Luis Mandoki as well as tonight’s Opening Night film, Ciudadano Buelna.   Directed by established director, Felipe Vazals whose first feature screened at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival and who in recent years has filmed a series of films about the Mexican Revolution, Ciudadano Buelna is a handsome period piece about an idealist revolutionary whose closely held integrity clashes when caught in the quagmire of the nascent political factions of the Mexican Revolution era.  A somewhat prescient and relevant theme mirroring the crossfire in which today’s political activist youth find themselves.  After the screening, la fiesta will get underway with the groovy sounds of Chicano Batman and of course cerveza and mezcal will be had (Obvio).

For you foodies out there, as part of the food festival, five renowned chefs will be sharing their gastronomical delights at the Viva Mezcal event in which expert mescaleros will be unveiling the art of the Mezcal (I’ll let the experts educate us on its distinct distillation compared to Tequila but basically it’s a smoother and smokier spirit derived from an Agave plant called Maguey) at LA’s Oaxacan cuisine landmark, La Guelaguetza on May 16, and La Gran Parillada at La Plaza de Culturas y Artes complete with a wine tasting will take place May 19. The music showcase will feature artists like the prodigal sons of the venerable Los Tigres del Norte, Raul y Mexia, La Misa Negra, an electro cumbia band and the Closing Night film, a documentary about Celso Pina will be followed by a performance by the extraordinary and ‘rebel’ accordionist.

halleyAmong the Festival’s 13 narrative and 6 documentary features there is a diverse range of seminal moments in Mexico’s history record, personal stories grappling and reacting to the various facets of the social ills affecting Mexico (kidnapping, immigration), narratives reflecting the amalgamated identity in crisis of a country reacting.   There is also ‘lighter’ fare with dark twists;  The black comedy  Fecha de Caducidad, Mexican revolutionary satire La Cebra.  Easily the two most celebrated films this year, heralded for their masterful aesthetics at last year’s Cannes, Carlos Reygadas lyrical puzzle Post Tenebras Lux, and Despues Lucia the staggeringly heartbreaking adolescent bullying film by Michel Franco will also be screening.  Other picks I recommend; the cool, existential zombie film, Halley by Sebastian Hoffman, a personal favorite from Sundance which has captivated audiences worldwide at numerous international film festivals since its world premiere in Morelia last fall.  There is La Demora by Rodrigo Pla, a subtle yet powerful film about a moment of doubt in a woman’s life concerning her aging father (See my interview with the filmmaker here).  There is the startling Errol Morris like documentary, El Alcalde, about an effusive and dangerously candid mayor in the richest and safest municipal in Monterrey, which is subversively brilliant in unleashing the outlaw mayor who credits himself with reigning control over the narco threat, ultimately a revealing psyche portrait.  For you punk rock en Espanol fans, Molotov music doc, Gimme the Power gives us background to the formation and suppressed climate and era in which they came up, along with some behind the scenes inspiration of certain classic songs like Frijolero.  But if you only get one film to get your Mexican rocks off, you must see the documentary Hecho en Mexico produced by the renowned film music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein (currently working on Diego Luna’s Chavez biopic).  More than a ‘what its like to be Mexican’ audiovisual soundtrack, it is an infectious, hyper-energetic cinematic cultural musical in which artists evoke and connect with the indigenous history of the country and what that identity means today and in the future. Fierce musical talents like Amandititita, Carla Morrison, original rebels Café Tacuba, la loca de Gloria Trevi, and many many more rap, sing in folk, hip hop, regional, corridos and a fusion of rock all completely original as part of this grossly enriching example of the modern Mexican identity and sacred mestizo spirit. Here’s the trailer:

Tickets are a cool $10 per screening. It’s not to late to come on down tonight for the Opening Night Fiesta, or make plans now for next week’s Closing Awards – either night is just $30 for screening and after party. Tickets here.

Not bad for movie, mezcal, music and a chance to shake hands and hips with some sexy brown people.  Nos vemos alli!

Mexi-Cannes pt. Deux, er Dos

Today’s kind of a big deal as the royal highness of world cinema, Festival de Cannes announced their Official Competition and Un Certain Regard film lineups.  At the press conference Director General, Theirry Fremaux shared that 1850 feature films were submitted to this edition. Parallel sections, Critics Week and Directors Fortnight are yet to be announced.   A through and through competition of auteurs, once in a while, the more relevant Official and Regard programs takes a chance on a well connected newbie.  About Mexico, Fremaux said, “We are very glad to go on attracting and welcoming this country which has a strong revitalized cinematography”.  And representing Mexico (South & Central America shut out so far):

Amat Escalante – a young yet old soul maestro of impactful formalism

Amat Escalante is now three for three as he will be taking his third film, HELI to La Croisette, but this is his first time in Official Competition. Los Bastardos and Sangre screened in Un Certain Regard.  The screenplay for Heli was developed at the Sundance Screenwriters lab 2010 where it won the NHK Filmmaker Award.  At that stage the logline was described: “In a small Mexican town, where most citizens work for an automobile assembly plant or the local drug cartel, Heli is confronted with police corruption, drug trafficking, sexual exploitation, love, guilt and revenge in the search for his father who has mysteriously disappeared.”  A die hard and impactful formalistic filmmaker, the weight of his films comes from framing, compositions and magnetic usually non pro actor performances.

Rodolfo Domínguez aboard “La Bestia” Foto Moysés Zúñiga Santiago

La Jaula de Oro (refers to a popular Los Tigres del Norte song about a family who crosses over to the states only to feel ‘trapped in the golden cage) directed by Spanish filmmaker Diego Quemada Diez is screening in Un Certain Regard.  Quemada Diez is an AFI grad who has worked as camera assistant/operator with Cannes alums Ken Loach, Oliver Stone, Isabel Coixet, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Spike Lee and Fernando Meirelles.  This first feature project was developed at Cannes incubators L’Atelier and Cinefondation residence.  Quemada Diez has spent ten years in Mexico and this story is described as a visceral migration story from Guatemala towards the United States.  That it is shot in Panoramic (2:40) format will no doubt heighten the cinematic odyssey.  Notably the filmmaker used over 600 real life undocumented immigrants to personify the story.  A Machete production (Leap Year, Cannes 2010).

And in the CineFondation section – a program created in 1998 to inspire and support the next generation of international filmmakers, the short film program will feature Alejandro Iglesias Mendizábal (Abracadabra) with the wicked Grimm Bros sounding title, Contrafabula de una Nina Disecada (Fable of a Blood-Drained girl).  A graduate of the CCC film school (think UCLA or NYU for film in Mexico City).  The short film screened at last fall’s Morelia Film Festival – furthering the Morelia – Cannes relationship. Check out the FILM trailer below.  And I take back my previous comment of the shut out of South America; this film school slate includes the short films, Asuncion by Camila Luna Toledo from Chile, and Mañana Todas Las Cosas by Sebastian Schjaer from Argentina.

A couple other interesting observations is that Valeria Golino, the sultry Italian Greek goddess of such classic films like Rain Main (and Hot Shots pt. Deux) is making her feature directorial debut with Miele (honey).  Sofia Coppola is also three for three with her Bev Hills cat burglar themed movie, The Bling Ring.

All in all I feel it’s the usual elitist exclusive Cannes society club with new films by regulars Takashi Miike, Johnnie To, Paolo Sorrentino, Hirokazu Kore-eda and the Coen brothers.  I can’t say the list on the whole excites me.  I have never had the opportunity to go to Cannes so by the time I see the films, the hype that accompanies their bow is all but gone.  However I am looking forward to seeing Nicolas Wending Refn’s latest, Only God Forgives.  I’ve loved him since the pugilistic criminally twisted Bronson where I first met and fell in love with the brawny but sensitive Tom Hardy (who played Bane in Dark Knight Rises)  I also enjoyed the oddly toned Drive with Ryan Gosling with whom he teams up with again here.  As if there was any doubt that Polanski is safely ensconced and a respected member of the international arthouse club, he has two films showing; Venus in Fur in Official Competition, and Weekend of A Champion, a documentary about Formula 1 race car driver icon Jackie Stewart which Brett Ratner has picked up for distribution.  It’s almost as if Ratner knew the aristocratic vintage Monte Carlo Grand Prix slice of history would tickle the french folks nostalgia they couldn’t help but to special screen it and give him a chance to rub on some high brow.

SNL has a five time member club.  Gimmie a hot sec to google which one of these folks on the list have been to Cannes the most…….update:  So far, The Coen brothers take the honors with their latest Inside Llewyn Davis marking their 8th appearance, and Johnnie To is close behind as his Blind Detective will mark his 6th time at Cannes.